Himalayan Art Resources

Subject: Five Schools of Tibet

Buddhism Main Page

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Description (below)
- Four Schools of Tibetan Buddhism
- Four Classifications of Tibetan Buddhism
- Bon Religion
- Jonang Tradition
- Confusions
- Others...

Video: Five Schools of Tibet

Buddhism: Four Schools:
- Nyingma
- Sakya
- Kagyu
- Gelug

Bon Religion
- Many schools & traditions

17th Century:
In the writings of the 5th Dalai Lama, Ngagwang Lobzang Gyatso (1617-1682), reference is made to the Four Schools of Buddhism and the Bon religion of Tibet. He was very clearly not implying that there are, or were, five schools. He was stating that there were four main Buddhist traditions, Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu, Gelug, and there was also the Bon religion. Prior to the 20th century there was not really any controversy concerning this statement.

20th Century:
In North India, in the mid to late 20th century, the Bon religion has casually been mentioned or claimed, by politicians and religious teachers, as the fifth school of Tibet, or within the fold of Tibetan Buddhism, or alongside. It is not entirely clear what was really meant and intended by these modern statements. At that time, Lungtok Tenpai Nyima (1929-2017), the Menri Trizin, made it clear that Bon was a separate and independent religion and not belonging to the newly coined term, so-called, five schools.

It is very likely that the idea of five schools was simply a confusion over what was recorded in the works of the 5th Dalai Lama (17th century) accompanied by, current to the mid 20th century, a convenient understanding and new interpretation. The idea of five schools of Tibet appears to be a matter of modern political or personal opinion.

21st Century:
In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, some followers of the Jonang tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, with a main monastery located in Shimla, North India, have presented a reasoning for being named the 5th school of Tibetan Buddhism alongside the traditional four schools of Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu and Gelug.

Jeff Watt 12-2021

(The images below are only a selection of examples from the links above).