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Three Vehicles as an Expedient Device of Buddha

Three Vehicles as an Expedient Device of Buddha

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Published by Milan Shakya
The article shows how the Lord Buddha imparted these three forms of Buddhism in accordance with the individual's proclivity, thus proving the three are not separate but unified whole to be practiced in a gradual manner (lam rim).
The article shows how the Lord Buddha imparted these three forms of Buddhism in accordance with the individual's proclivity, thus proving the three are not separate but unified whole to be practiced in a gradual manner (lam rim).

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Published by: Milan Shakya on Jul 14, 2010
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Three Vehicles as an Expedient Device of Buddha
MILAN SHAKYAChakupat, Lalitpur 
1. Introduction
First and foremost, Sakyamuni Buddha in his previous life engendered great compassionfor the sentient beings trapped in the suffering of Samsara. Afterwards, out of that greatcompassion, he made a great resolution saying, ³I will take upon my shoulder the greatresponsibility of liberating all sentient beings from their suffering and filling their liveswith the supreme happiness.´
In this way, he first generated Bodhicitta.
Thereafter hetook numerous lives and practiced six perfections, thereby perfecting both
accumulationof merit and wisdom
. In this way, after completely eliminating both afflictive and cogni
tive obscurations, he became Buddha Sakyamuni.Sakyamuni Buddha during forty five years after his enlightenment presented a vastarray of instructions, both conventional and unconventional. First are the conventionalteachings including the
 preliminary phase of Buddhism
(later called Hinayana) and theMahayana. The Buddha gave these teachings in the three turnings of the Wheel of Dharma.
Each turning contains a comprehensive approach to the spiritual path, including both the general way we should regard reality, ³view´ or doctrinal explanation, as well as practices to be carried out to actualize that view. Second are the unconventional instruc
tions contained in the Vajrayana. It is in the Hinayana and Mahayana that the entire viewof Buddha¶s teachings is articulated and brought to its full maturation, while the Vajra
yana comprises a particularly potent and extensive set of meditation practices throughwhich the view may be realized. Because the Vajrayana addresses primary practice anddoes not present a new and distinctive view, it usually is not considered a separate turningof the wheel of Dharma.It is interesting to note that the Buddha never attempted to formulate a philosophicalsystem, but rather all these three turnings including the teachings of Vajrayana were di
rected towards the needs and spiritual proclivities of every person and audience that heencountered. Buddhists compare the Buddha to a skilled physician, who prescribes the proper remedy for every ailment. As A. K. Warder has noted,
It is most characteristic of the Buddha that he always adapts his talk to the personhe is conversing with. His courtesy in argument results from this: it is certainlynot his way to denounce the opinions and practices of another to his face and
Sakyamuni Buddha in his distant past life was born as Sumedha ascetic during the period of Buddha Di
 pankara. Then he made that solemn vow. The Sumedha Bodhisattva could have attained his own liberationif he had desired so. But as a Great Bodhisattva endowed with supreme compassion, he bore personal suf 
fering in
for the long duration of innumerable great aeons to fulfil the
in order to liber 
ate suffering beings. Bhaddhanta Vicittasarabhivamsa,
The Great Chronicles of Buddhas
, Vol
, Part 2,(Yangoon: Ti=ni Publishing Center,
 p. 2. The book is an explanation of Buddhavamsa. Also see:
at the website: http://www.tipitaka.org/deva/
In Pali, Bodhicitta developed by Bodhisattva is called
. See:
., p. 20.
Tibetans classify Buddhavacana into three turnings because there are three different types of teachingsgiven in three different periods and places.
challenge him to justify them. His method rather is to seem to adopt the other¶s point of view and then by question and answer to improve on it until a positioncompatible with his own has been arrived at. Thus he leads people in discussiontowards the truth as he has discovered it, but so that they seem themselves to con
tinue their own quest, in whatever form it had taken, and to arrive at higher truthsthan they had previously been aware of, or more convincing moral ideas.
2. Three Turnings (
The Lord Buddha Sakyamuni was an epitome of wisdom and compassion. He was onlythe person who had the greatest and perfect skillful means to tame sentient beings of anytype. This is a specially quality of the Buddha or one of the thirty
two and eighty marksof the Buddha. In order words, the Buddha was extremely skilful in leading sentient be
ings of any proclivities, inclinations and types to the noble way by making use of diversetechniques and tactics (Skt:
). Therefore he gave his teachings based onthe inclination, character, capacity and situation of the sentient beings to be tamed. The
Buddha gave a great variety of teachings in different places at different times all garneredinto Three turnings and 84 thousand bodies of teachings (Skt:
). But allhis teachings had only one goal : to free sentient beings from their suffering and itscauses viz. passion, hatred and delusion (Skt:
raga, dvesa and moha
) and lead them to thesupreme state of 
or liberation. Liberation is only essence of all his teachingswhether they be Sravakayana, Pratyekabuddhayana and Mahayana or Vajrayana.
2.1 The First Turning of the Wheel : Sravakayana, Pratyekabuddhayana
Seven weeks after the enlightenment, the Buddha traveled through Varanasi to the Deer Park of Sarnath. There, he gave the teachings fundamental to all schools of Buddhism:the four noble truths (Skt:
), the three marks of existence (Skt:
),the four laws of the Dharma, and the twelve links of Dependent Origination (Skt:
dvadasanga prattyasamutpada
). The audience were Five Ascetic monks (
). These teachings were intended for Sravaka and Pratyeka Buddha. Later theseteachings were collected into Pali and Sanskrit Tripitaka after eighteen nikayas, 6 branch
ing off from Sthaviravada and
branching off from Mahasanghikas were formed. Nowthe only nikaya of these eighteen surviving in its entirety is Theravada.The teachings of the First turning reveal the way in which sentient beings are condi
tioned by ignorance of the true nature of existence and so perpetuate suffering from onemoment to the next, throughout endless cycles of birth and death. The primary cause of suffering is the belief in a self (Skt:
); thus, the cessation of suffering comes with the complete understanding that the self has no reality.The Buddha presented the First Turning teachings to break through the veil of ap
 parent enjoyment that masks the truth of suffering inherent in existence. Desiring to putan end to pain and sorrow, individuals who can hear these teachings abandon clinging tothe cycles of delusion and suffering. Through mastering these teachings, they attain alimited form of 
: the cessation of suffering and attainment of peace. These teach
Warder, A.K,, Indian Buddhism, (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass,
0), pp. 64
ings are the basis for the ways to enlightenment known as the Sravakayana and Pratyeka
 buddhayana. The most extensive collections of First Turning teachings are preserved inPali and Chinese canons.
2.2 The Second Turning Wheel of Dharma (Mahayana I)
This is the Medieval period of the turning of the wheel of Dharma. The place was
or Vulture Peak Mountain near Rajagriha. The audience were Bodhi
sattvas and some Sravakas as well. The contents of the teaching were ³All phenomenaare empty of its characteristics, signless, beginningless, without end and so on, while fo
cussing on wisdom and compassion to work for the benefit of others.´ Later these teach
ings about emptiness were further explained by Nagarjuna in the Madhyamika philoso
 phy. They were collected into a varieties of Prajnaparamita Sutras.The teachings of the Second and Third Turnings, much more difficult to compre
hend, provide the path to complete liberation. These teachings are the basis for the way of enlightenment known as the Bodhisattvayana.While the First Turning teachings reveal the emptiness of the self, the Second Turn
ing teachings demonstrate the emptiness of all elements of reality, transcending all limitsand extreme views (Skt:
antagraha drsti
). As already said, revealing the Prajñaparamita,the transcendent wisdom that ³crosses over´ to fully enlightened knowledge, the SecondTurning teachings proclaim that no thing, no phenomena, no element of existence, existsin and of itself.
The teachings of the Second Turning are the Prajñaparamita Sutras,which convey the Perfection of Wisdom in lengthy texts of 
00000, 25000,
0000and 8000 lines. Shorter expressions of the Prajñaparamita teachings include the DiamondSutra and the Heart Sutra.
2.3 The Third Turning Wheel of Dharma (Mahayana II)
The Buddha turned the wheel of the Dharma for a third time at Vaisal and other places.Two turnings lie at the heart of the third turning. First, the Buddha taught that while allapparent reality is empty, it is not utterly non
existent, thus combatting any misunder 
standing of the second turning as nihilistic. In this way, the Third turning teachings ascer 
tain the ultimate nature of reality by means of an analysis in terms of the three natures of dharma (Skt:
): the imaginary, the dependent, and the absolute (Skt:
 parikal- pita, paratantra
). Once we realize that our own version of reality isrelatively worthless, we begin to make contact with a world that is resplendent. This isthe teaching on luminosity, or 
. Second, the Buddha articulated the teachingsof Buddha nature. The Buddha¶s third turning teachings are found in the Avatamsaka Su
tra, Samdhinirmocana sutra, Ratnakuta Sutra, the Lankavatara Sutra and a series of Tathagatagarbha Sutra. The third turning was held at Vaisali, Padmagarbha and other  places. The audiences were both Sravaka and Mahayanist. The later development andschool was Yogacara.
Tulku, Tarthang,
ays of Enlightenment 
, (Berkeley: Dharma Publishing,
3), p. 25

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abccollective added this note
friend! excellent summary. there is of course only one yana, ekayana - the buddhayana - and a million expedient means for a million different people. as the guatama buddha said - the teachings are only a raft - used to get from one side to the other the teachings are like a finger pointing to the moon ... only academics and those existing in imaginary thought confuse the finger for the moon.
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