In the New Schools of Tibetan Buddhism, Anuttarayoga Tantra is the highest of four classes and is associated with the Mahamudra route to enlightenment. According to the Gelugpa tradition, in Highest Yoga Tantra, the Buddha taught the most profound instructions for transforming sensual pleasure into the quick path to enlightenment, which in turn depends upon the ability to gather and dissolve the inner winds (Sanskrit: prana) into the central channel through the power of meditation.
In the classification of the Dzogchen system, used by the Nyingma, it is considered equivalent to the Mahayoga tantras. The Dalai Lama XIV states: "old translation Dzogchen and new translation anuttarayoga tantra offer equivalent paths that can bring the practitioner to the same resultant state of Buddhahood".
The practice of Anuttarayoga Tantra in the Vajrayana tradition of Buddhism is characterized by the requirement of empowerment from a qualified guru, usually a lama, use of ritual techniques, and the practice of various meditative and subtle body yogas, to effect personal transformation and to attain enlightenment through the realization of the mindstream as a Meditational Deity, or a Yidam. According to Miranda Shaw, Anuttarayoga Tantra texts "have remained at the forefront of contemplation, ritual, and interpretation throughout the Himalayan Buddhist sphere".
Anuttarayoga Tantra literally means 'Unexcelled Union Continuity'. While the term is frequently translated as 'Highest Yoga Tantra' in English writings, this is not quite accurate. The Tibetan term bla med (back translated to Sanskrit as anuttara) is a negation of a comparativenot or none (med/an-) higher (bla /uttara)rather than a superlative. Had the authors of this term intended to indicate directly "highest," superlatives were readily available: e.g. mchog ("supreme" or Sanskrit uttama, "highest"). Rather, they chose consistently to use a comparative rather than a superlative. Similarly, the terms used in Sanskrit also uniformly utilize comparatives: yogottara ("higher than yoga") and niruttara (also a negation of the comparative). English usage, and European usage in general, has largely overlooked this nuance. The literal translation of the Sanskrit term "Anuttarayoga" would be "Unsurpassable Union" in English.
As scholar Isabelle Onians explains: "Yoginitantras are in the secondary literature often called Anuttarayoga. But this is based on a mistaken back translation of the Tibetan translation (rnal byor bla med kyi rgyud) of what appears in Sanskrit texts only as Yognuttara or Yoganiruttara (cf. SANDERSON 1994: 97-98, fn.1)."
The term appears in the 'Five Groups of Dharma', according to Pabongkhapa Dchen Nyingpo. They comprise:
Dharma of the Shravakas
Dharma of the Pratyekabuddhas
the sutra Mahayana Dharma
the Outer Tantras - the Kriya, Charya and Yoga Tantras
In the New Schools of Tibetan Buddhism, the four categories of tantras are Kriy tantra, Cary tantra, Yoga tantra and Anuttarayoga tantra. A further sub-classification is sometimes made among Anuttarayoga tantras into 'Father', 'Mother', and 'Non-dual' tantras, although this latter category is the subject of some controversy.
In the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, Anuttarayoga tantra is sometimes used as a synonym for the Mahyoga tantra of their nine-yna formulation, wherein six levels are articulated in two triads, the 'Outer' and 'Inner' tantras. The Outer Tantras are Kriy, Cary, and Yoga tantra. The Inner Tantras are Mahyoga, Anuyoga, and Atiyoga.