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Three Vehicles as an Expedient Device of Buddha

Milan Shakya
MA in Buddhist Studies
Tribhuvan University

1. Introduction

First and foremost, Śākyamuni Buddha in his previous life engendered great compassion
for the sentient beings trapped in the suffering of Saṃsāra. Afterwards, out of that great
compassion, he made a great resolution saying, “I will take upon my shoulder the great
responsibility of liberating all sentient beings from their suffering and filling their lives
with the supreme happiness.” In this way, he first generated Bodhicitta. Thereafter he
took numerous lives and practiced six perfections, thereby perfecting both accumulation
of merit and wisdom (Skt: puṇyasambhāra and jñānasambhāra). In this way, after com-
pletely eliminating both afflictive and cognitive obscuration (Skt: kleśāvaraṇa and
jñeyāvaraṇa), He became Buddha Śākyamuni.
Śākyamuni Buddha during forty five years after his enlightenment presented a vast
array of instructions, both conventional and unconventional. First are the conventional
teachings including the preliminary phase of Buddhism (later called Hīnayāna) and the
Mahāyāna. 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, “view” (Tib: tawa) or doctrinal explana-
tion, as well as practices (Tib: druppa) to be carried out to actualize that view. Second are
the unconventional instructions contained in the Vajrayāna. It is in the Hīnayāna and Ma-
hāyāna that the entire view of Buddha’s teachings is articulated and brought to its full
maturation, while the Vajrayāna comprises a particularly potent and extensive set of
meditation practices through which the view may be realized. Because the Vajrayāna ad-
dresses primary practice and does not present a new and distinctive view, it usually is not
considered a separate turning of the wheel of Dharma.
It is interesting to note that the Buddha never attempted to formulate a philosophical
system, but rather all these three turnings including the teachings of Vajrayāna were di-
rected towards the needs and spiritual proclivities of every person and audience that he
encountered. 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
person he is conversing with. His courtesy in argument results from this: it
is certainly not his way to denounce the opinions and practices of another
to his face and 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 im-
prove on it until a position compatible with his own has been arrived at.
Thus he leads his partner in discussion towards the truth as he has discov-
ered it, but so that the partner seems himself to continue his own quest, in
whatever form it had taken, and to arrive at higher truths than he had pre-
viously been aware of, or more convincing moral ideas.

2. Three Turnings (dharmacakrapravartana, chökhor sum)

The Lord Buddha Śākyamuni was an epitome of wisdom and compassion. He was only
the person who had the greatest and perfect skillful means to tame sentient beings of any
type. This is a specially quality of the Buddha or one of the thirty-two and eighty marks
of 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 diverse
techniques and tactics (Skt: upāyakauśalya). That’s why he gave his teachings based on
the inclination, motivation, character, capacity and situation of the sentient beings to be
tamed. Śākyamuni Buddha gave a great variety of teachings in different places at differ-
ent times all garnered into Three turnings and 84 thousand bodies of teachings (Skt:
dharmaskandha). But all his teachings had only one goal : to free sentient beings from
their suffering and its causes viz. passion, hatred and delusion (Skt: rāga, dveṣa and
moha) and lead them to the supreme state of nirvāṇa or liberation. Liberation or nirvāṇa
is only essence of all his teachings whether they be Śrāvakayāna, Pratyekabuddhayāna
and Mahāyāna or Vajrayāna.

2.1 The First Turning of the Wheel : Śrāvakayāna, Pratyekabuddhayāna

Seven weeks after the enlightenment, the Buddha traveled through Vāraṇasī to the Deer
Park of Sarnath. There, he gave the teachings fundamental to all schools of Buddhism:
the four noble truths (Skt: caturāryasatya), the three marks of existence (Skt: trilakṣaṇa),
the four laws of the Dharma, and the twelve links of Dependent Origination (Skt:
dvādaśāṅga pratītyasamutpāda). The details are as follows:

a. Place: Sarnath, Ṛṣipatana Mṛgadāvana

b. Audience: Five Ascetic monks (pañcabhadrīya varga), Śrāvaka

c. Contents: Four Noble Truths, Dependent Origination, Three Characterics of
Samsara: Impermanence, Suffering and Egolessness (Skt: anitya, duḥkha and
d. Feature: Self-existence of dharmas (Skt: dharma sasvabhāvatā), Vinaya
e. Teachings adopted by: Śrāvaka, Pratyeka Buddha
f. Future Classification and development: 18 nikayas, 6 branching off from
Stharaviravāda and 11 branching off from Mahāsāṅghikas. Now the only nikāya
of these eighteen is Theravāda.
g. Nature of teaching: Preliminary teachings to enter the way of Buddha to free
oneself from the suffering of Saṃsāra.
h. Stage: This is a first stage of the way before entering into the Buddhist Path.
i. Collection: Pāli Tipiṭaka.

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 one
moment to the next, throughout endless cycles of birth and death. The primary cause of
suffering is the belief in a self (Skt: satkāyadṛṣṭi or ātmagrāha); thus, the cessation of
suffering comes ith 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 put
an end to pain and sorrow, individuals who can hear these teachings abandon clinging to
the cycles of delusion and suffering. Through mastering these teachings, they attain a
limited form of nirvāṇa: the cessation of suffering and attainment of peace. These teach-
ings are the basis for the ways to enlightenment known as the Śrāvakayāna and Pratyeka-
buddhayāna. The most extensie collections of First Turning teachings are preserved in
Pāli and Chinese canons.

2.2 The Second Turning Wheel of Dharma (Mahāyāna I)

This is the Medieval period of the turning of the wheel of Dharma. The details are as fol-

a. Place: Vulture Peak Mountail near Rājagṛha,

b. Audience: Bodhisattvas and Śrāvakas
c. Contents: “All phenomena are empty of its characteristics, signless, begin-
ningless, without end and so on. Wisdom and compassion to work for the benefit
of others.
d. Feature: the teaching of Emptiness

e. Teachings adopted by: Bodhisattvas or Mahāyāna.
f. Future Classification and development: Mādhyamika
g. Nature of teaching: The profound Mahāyāna teaching to understand the wisdom
and work for the benefit of others.
h. Collection: Prajñāpāramitā Sūtras, Sanskrit Tripiṭaka.

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 Bodhisattvayāna.
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 limits
and extreme views (Skt: antagrāha dṛṣṭi). As already said, revealing the Prajñāpāramitā,
the transcendent wisdom that “crosses over” to fully enlightened knowledge, the Second
Turning teachings proclaim that no thing, no phenomena, no element of existence, exists
in and of itself. The teachings of the Second Turning are the Prajñāpāramitā Sūtras,
which convey the Perfection of Wisdom in lengthy texts of 100000, 25000, 18000, 10000
and 8000 lines. Shorter expressions of the Prajñāpāramitā teachings include the Diamond
Sūtra and the Heart Sūtra.

2.3 The Third Turning Wheel of Dharma (Mahāyāna II)

The Buddha turned the wheel of the Dharma for a third time at Vaiśālī and other places.
Two turnings lie at the heart of the third turning. First, the Buddha taught that while all
apparent 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: trisvabhāva): the imaginary, the dependent, and the absolute (Skt: parikal-
pita, paratantra and pariniṣpaṇṇa). Once we realize that our own version of reality is
relatively worthless, we begin to make contact with a world that is resplendent. This is
the teaching on luminosity, or prabhāsvara. Second, the Buddha articulated the teachings
of Buddha nature. The Buddha’s third turning teachings are found in the Avataṃśaka Sū-
tra, Saṃdhinirmocana sūtra, Ratnakūta Sūtra, the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra and a series of
Tathāgatagarbha Sūtra. The third turning was held at Vaiśālī. The audiences were both
Śrāvaka and Mahāyanist. The later development and school was Yogācāra.
The Second and Third Turning teachings that have come down to us are just a por-
tion of the original teachings, which are said to have been much more extensive. Hun-
dreds of texts were lost, in part because of hostilities toward the Dharma, when monastic
libraries were burned in the early centuries of the Christian era. Additional texts were lost

in the later Muslim invasions of India. The Second and Third Turning texts that exist to-
day were preserved in both the Tibetan and Chinese canons, while Sanskrit manuscripts
of some works survive to the present day.

3. Why the Different Teachings of the Three Turnings?

Why did the Buddha present these various teachings of the three turnings of the wheel of
dharma? The answer has to do with the Buddha’s skillful means, or upāya, according to
which he presented different teachings and practices to meet the varying needs and levels
of sentient beings. According to the respected Nyingma teacher Tülku Urgyen Rinpoche:

Through his immaculate wisdom, Buddha Śākyamuni always taught after taking
into account the abilities of the recipients. In other words, he would not teach at a
level above a person’s head. He adapted his teachings to what was suitable and
appropriate to the listener. Therefore, we can say that those who heard his teach-
ings only assimilated what was comprehensible to someone of their aptitude.
Later, when they repeated what Buddha Śākyamuni had taught, their account was
according to what they had perceived in their personal experience.

In Saddharmapuṇḍarīka, Mahāyāna sūtra, Śākyamuni Buddha gives an impressive

parable in answer to why he preached these different teachings (Śrāvakayāna), Pratyeka-
buddhayāna and Mahāyāna in the three turnings.

Suppose there was a rich man who had many children, living in a very large
house. But the house was very old, full of refuses and was the haunt of birds,
dogs, worms, reptiles, pretas, yakṣas and piśācas. It had a tottering roof of straw,
and had only one door for exit. Once the rich man went out leaving his children
in the house. The house suddenly caught fire. Meanwhile, the rich man came
back and saw the house was in fire and also came to know that his children was
indulged in their games in the house unaware that it was in fire. The father was
very terrified and shouted at the top of his voice, “Oh sons, please come out of
the house, it is in fire. But indulged as the children were in their play, they
wouldn’t heed his father’s yelling. Finally the compassionate father had an idea.
He knew his children’s inclinations and collected beautiful toy carts drawn by the
bull but tempted the children by saying, “Oh children, please come out, I have
brought here for you all the carts drawn by bull, goat and deer.” This time, listen-
ing to his father’s call, they rushed out of the house.” The expedient father then

gave them each only single cart drawn by the bull, very expensive fast carriages,
replete with all conceivable furnishings.
Buddha then asked Śāriputra whether he would consider the father guilty of
telling a lie. When Śāriputra answered in the negative, Buddha told him that he
himself might be likened to the rich father, the house to the world burning with
the fires of rāga, dveṣa and moha, the root cause of suffering. The sons were like
the sentient beings of the world who are unmindful of the fire they are engulfed
in. Just as the father out of great compassion wanted to make sure their sons run
away from the house as soon as possible, the Buddha also out of his immeasur-
able compassion wants to take the sentient beings away from the world burning
in the fire of suffering to the supremely blissful state. Just as the children in the
house had different inclinations and natures and wouldn’t be easily led, so the
sentient beings of the world have also different inclination. Just as the father
knew the children’s different inclination and accordingly told them to take three
different carts which they liked, the Buddha also through his omniscience see
that the sentient beings of the world have different inclinations, but he had to lead
them out of this painful saṃsāra by any means, so he devised three vehicles as a
means to lead them away from the suffering and to the supremely blissful state.
But just as the father actually gave the children not the cheap toy carts but the ac-
tual vehicles of a very high class, so the Buddha gave his disciples Buddhayāna.
In fact, all the four yānas were of one nature and so Buddha could not be said to
have told a lie by taking recourse to the expedient of teaching his dharma in three
different ways, viz. Śrāvakayāna, Pratyekabuddhayāna and Bodhisattvayāna.

Just as the above parable shows, all the Buddha wants is to free the sentient beings
of all kinds of suffering and establish them on the supreme plane of happiness that is
Buddhahood which he himself has achieved. But in only one way they cannot be tamed,
so he devised different means to take them away from this saṃsāra full of suffering and
establish them on Buddhahood. The three vehicles are only the means, not the ends them-

4. Three Vehicles in the Three Turnings

The Buddha appeared in this world to provide the opportunity for others to realize the
wisdom of complete awakening. Toward this purpose, the Buddha taught differently to
different audiences. thus there arose three vehicles for liberation: the Śrāvakayāna, the
Pratyekabuddhayāna, and the Bodhisattvayāna. The first two together are sometimes
called the smaller vehicle, or Hīnayāna, while the Bodhisattvayāna is also known as the

great vehicle or the Mahāyāna. Within the Mahāyāna is included the Vajrayāna, the dia-
mond vehicle.
The various teachings of the Buddha were not all made widely available at the same
time. From an historical perspective, Hīnayāna, Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna follow one an-
other in succession as more practitioners became able to hear the refined and subtle
teachings. The eighteen early Śrāvaka schools, among which only Theravāda is surviving
in a fullfledged tradition today were established in early centuries after the Buddha’s
parinirvāṇa. The Mahāyāna schools arose later as the Second and Third Turning teach-
ings were studied and practiced by more and more individuals. As this foundation was
established, the Vajrayāna teachings were transmitted by the great Siddhas.

The Three Yānas

Śrāvakayāna The Eighteen Sects
The Lesser Vehicle
Sūtrayāna1 Yogācāra
Mantrayāna Kriyā tantra
The Greater Vehicle Bodhisattva yāna
Caryā tantra
Yoga tantra

4. 1 Śrāvakayāna

The followers of the Śrāvakayāna [vehicle of the listeners] are those who have under-
stood the teachings of the First turning. Relying on what has been heard, they set out to
liberate themselves from suffering and gain lasting peace, the goal of an Arhat. Śāriputra,
Maudglyāyana, Rāhula, Ānanda, and other great Arhats possessed the direct transmission
of these teachings. The Śrāvaka lives a life of purity, peacefulness, and renunciation. Ap-
plying antidotes to attachment, aversion, and confusion, practicing the path that leads to-
ward deliverance from all suffering, the Śrāvaka strives over many lifetimes to attain the
state of an Arhat. All efforts, study, practice, and discipline are directed toward this goal.
The Śrāvakas are said to be the speech sons of the Buddha, embodying the Buddha’s
communication and explications of the inner workings of Saṃsāra.

Sutrayāna also includes the Pāli or the Nikāya suttas

4. 2 Pratyekabuddhayāna

The Pratyekabuddha realizes enlightenment without relying upon a teacher. Practicing for
numerous lifetimes, the Pratyekabuddha accumulates knowledge and meritorious action
to the extent that he is able to reach deliverance independently. In his final lifetime, he is
born into a period when no Buddhas or Śrāvakas appear and ardently sets out to discover
for himself the laws that govern existence. Relying on First Turning teachings, as does
the Śrāvaka, the Pratyekabuddha focusses on interdependent co-operation, thereby realiz-
ing that the self is a fiction.

The Lesser Vehicle (later known as Hīnayāna)

Both Śrāvakayāna and Pratyekabuddhayāna are known as Hīnayāna or the lesser vehicle
(not to be taken as an insult, but the first and lesser step to advance towards the higher
step). What the Buddha taught in the basic vehicle or the Hīnayāna is fundamentally the
cause and result of saṃsāra and the cause and result of nirvāṇa. He showed that the
cause of saṃsāra is the false imputation of a truly existent self and the resultant three
poisons or the three root mental afflictions and that the result of the presence of this im-
putation of the self and the mental affliction is all the varying sufferings of saṃsāra, the
pain and fear of the six realms. He also presented the cause of nirvāṇa, the cause of lib-
eration from this suffering, which is the method one uses to free oneself from this, the
path, which consists of the application of the four noble truths and the twelve links of in-
terdependence. And he taught the result of this path which is the cessation of suffering or
the transcendence of misery, nirvāṇa. This presentation is essentially the presentation of
the four noble truths, two of which present the cause and result of samsara, and the latter
two which present the cause and result of nirvāṇa. All the Hīnayāna teachings can basi-
cally be included in the four noble truths.
The main practice in the Hīnayāna is the discipline of renunciation. This depends
entirely upon the recognition that saṃsāra is suffering and the resultant disgust. If you
want to have genuine renunciation, you must recognize the presence and pervasiveness of
suffering. Obviously, if you do not recognize the presence of suffering, you will have no
reason to earnestly seek liberation. So the basic practice first of all is to recognize the na-
ture of saṃsāra to be the three sufferings, which produces genuine renunciation. It is for
this reason that the Buddha's first teaching, the first truth presented among the four noble
truths, is a clear presentation of the presence of suffering. Generally speaking, we all
know that there’s lots of suffering in saṃsāra, but it’s hard sometimes to recognize ap-
pearances of pleasure as being essentially suffering as well. Essentially suffering is fear.
Even when we are enjoying something, experiencing pleasure or happiness, we are filled
with fear because when we possess or enjoy something pleasurable, we fear losing it. If
we have a position or wealth, we live in fear of losing it. It doesn’t matter how much you
have or how little you have, fear is fundamentally the same. If you are the ruler of a coun-
try, you fear losing that position, if you are a homeless beggar on the street, you fear los-
ing that position. The fear of suffering, the fear not only of losing what you enjoy, but of
encountering what you especially do not enjoy, is the same for a king or for a beggar. So
if you clearly understand the pervasiveness of fear, then you understand how the basic
nature of saṃsāra is suffering. If therefore you understand the truth of suffering (the first
noble truth) and you recognize the presence of suffering, you will have genuine renuncia-
tion. This is basically the recognition that wherever you are born, whatever your circum-
stances are, in saṃsāra, it’s basically an experience of suffering. This renunciation is an
absolutely necessary basis as well for the practice of the Mahāyāna, the great vehicle.
Without genuine renunciation, genuine compassion is impossible. Compassion funda-
mentally consists of recognizing the suffering of others and as a result generating the in-
tense desire that they be free from that suffering. If you do not see your own suffering
and thereby do not recognize the pervasiveness of suffering, it is impossible for you to
see or to empathize with the suffering of others. So if you do not have some degree of
genuine renunciation, you cannot have a genuine or stable compassion. For that reason,
renunciation is very important for Mahāyāna practice. Genuine renunciation leads to
genuine compassion, which becomes the genuine aspiration to bring all beings to full
So the main practice in the Hīnayāna is the cultivation of renunciation and the study
of the four noble truths, leading to one's individual liberation.

4.3 Bodhisattvayāna

The way of the Bodhisattva is inspired by the Second and Third Turning teachings that
bring forth a fuller understanding of the nature of enlightenment, of human being, and of
all existence. Based on a long-range vision of the stages of complete human develop-
ment, the Bodhisattva path culminates in a nearly unimaginable goal: to assist all beings
in attaining the full enlightenment of the Buddha. The realization that such a goal could
be possible rests on insight into complete reality and unshakable confidence in the
enlightened potential of human being.
Those on the Bodhisattva path aspire to great wisdom and great compassion, for the
benefit of themselves and others. The Bodhisattvas are said to be the heart sons of the
Buddha, embodying the love of the Buddha for all beings. Within the Bodhisattvayāna
are two ways of practicing: according to the Sūtras and according to the Tantras. So, Va-
jrayāna is not considered a vehicle separate from Bodhisattvayana or Mahāyāna, but a
variety of Mahāyāna.

4.3.1 Sūtrayāna Practice

The Mahāyāna path starts when you generate genuine bodhicitta. The path of the Sūtra-
yāna also called pāramitāyāna emphasizes wisdom and compassion and the practice of
the six perfections: giving, discipline, patience, effort, meditative concentration, and wis-
dom. The perfection of wisdom or prajñā is the most powerful antidote to ignorance and
confusion, transcending the very root of saṃsāra. This living realization develops not
only through the practice of meditation, but also through understanding that becomes
completely integrated into daily life. The development of the perfections is not acciden-
tal. Arising from the accumulation of meritorious actions and growth of understanding, it
is clearly defined and predictable. The Prajñāpāramitā Sūtras, the Abhisamayālaṅkāra,
the Daśabhūmika and the Mahāyānasūtrālaṅkāra, among other texts set forth the details
of specific stages and the dynamics of development from the initial levels of practice to
the most advance realizations.

4.3.2 Mantrayāna Practice

Sekodeśaṭikā mentions that Buddha gave the tantrik teaching in Dhānyakaṭaka, Āndhra-
pradeśa now to the select few gifted candidates. The Buddha did this simultaneously
while turning the second wheel of the dharma. The tantric texts like Guhyasamāja also
mentions the same. The Tantras encompass a vast number of texts and teachings, com-
mentaries, and explanations that present a vision even broader than the vision of the Sū-
tras. The path based on the teachings of the Tantras, known as the Mantrayāna, empha-
sizes the practice of sādhana, the development (Skt: utpattikrama) and completion stages
(Skt: sampannakrama) of meditation, and the skillful use of a great array of transforma-
tional techniques. Mantrayāna practice is elaborately structured in stages: preliminary
practices (Tib: ngöndro), study of commentaries, formal initiations, and receiving pro-
found oral instructions. Essential to these studies and practices is a qualified teacher who
possesses the full realization lineage the level of consciousness necessary to guide others
through the advanced practices.
To traverse the way of the Bodhisattva and fulfill the vision of awakening pro-
claimed in the Sutrayāna in a single lifetime requires the skilful knowledge uniquely
transmitted within the Mantrayāna.

5. Unity of the Ways

Although the Mahāyāna scriptures explain that the way of the Bodhisattva is greater than
the way of the Śrāvaka in its orientation, practice, wisdom, effort, skilfulness, accom-
plishment, and activity, the way of the Śravaka is seen as the foundation for further study
and practice that opens the gateways to the Mahāyāna.
The heritage of the Śrāvaka tradition lives on the teachings of the Nikāya schools of
which now only Theravāda is surviving as a fullfledged tradition. These fundamental
teachings were also transmitted for centuries within the other Nikāya schools than Thera-
vāda of the Mahāyana schools of India, China and Tibet. The Mahāyāna tradition pre-
served and continued the eight types of Saṅgha described in the Vinaya and Mahāyāna
practitioners adhered to the Vinaya discipline as they followed the expansive and pro-
found philosophical vision of the Mahāyāna. The greatest Mahāyāna masters were often
at once renunciate monks, learned scholars and tantric siddhas, as can be seen from the
lives of Nāgārjuna, Śāntideva and many others. Specially the Tibetan monks took up the
Pratimokṣa vows of Śrāvaka, the Bodhisattva vows of Mahāyāna and the tantric vows of
Vajrayāna at the same time. Thus the Tibetan tradition upholds three types of discipline:
The Pratimokṣa monastic or lay vows, the Bodhisattva vows, and the Samaya vows of
Vajrayāna. All the Tibetan schools transmit these three types of religious practice and
practitioners may take three kinds of vows.
Very advanced and accomplished practioners are able to understand the perfect unity
of the three ways as a living pattern of knowledge. Their external practice follows the
Śrāvakayāna, their internal practice follows the general Mahāyāna and their esoteric prac-
tice follows the Vajrayāna. Longchenpa explains the external, internal, and esoteric prac-
tices in terms of preliminary practices associated with each:

Renunciation: “Awareness of impermanence and disgust with saṃsāra are

the external preliminaries.”
Bodhicitta: Compassion and the thought of enlightenment are the special
preliminaries. They bring everything into the Mahāyāna path.

“Therefore at the beginning activate these two preliminaries. Thereafter

comes the most sublime preliminaries of the Vajrayana.”

The most beautiful and profound aspects of each vehicle are uplifted within the next
most advanced vehicle, where they are preserved and yet transformed. Inspired by the
compassion and wisdom of the Mahāyāna, the practitioner of the Bodhisattvayāna takes
up practices of the Śrāvakayāna, but without being bound by limited views or goals.
Śāntideva explains that higher teachings reveal the limitations of teachings that are
lower and enable the practitioner to transcend those limitations. Whereas the Mahāyāna
encompasses the Śrāvakayāna, the Śrāvakayāna cannot encompass the profound vision
and practices of the Mahāyāna. Likewise the Vajrayāna embraces the complete Mahā-
yāna teachings, while presenting the broader vision and effective means conveyed in the
Tantras. The Hevajra Tantra also clearly states:

pauṣadhaṃ dīyate prathamaṃ tadanu sikṣāpadaṃ dasam /

vaibhāsyaṃ tatra deśata sūtrāntaṃ vai punastathā //
yogācāraṃ tataḥ paścāt tadanu madhyamakaṃ diśet /
sarvamantranayaṃ jñātvā tadanu hevajraṃ ārabhet /

One should practice first three training beginning from Upoṣadha then goes on to
practice Vaibhāṣika, Sautrāntika (the Hīnayāna), Vijñānavāda and Mādhyamika
(Mahāyāna). Only then one should proceed towards Vajrayāna.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama noted the following in the book ‘The Heart Sūtra’:

It is very important to understand that the core teachings of the Theravāda tradi-
tion embodied in the Pāli scriptures are the foundation of the Buddha’s teachings.
Beginning with these teachings, one can then draw on the insights contained in
the detailed explanations of the Sanskrit Mahāyāna tradition. Finally, integrating
techniques and perspectives from the Vajrayāna texts can further enhance one’s
understanding. But without a foundation in the core teachings embodied in the

Pāli tradition, simply proclaiming oneself a follower of the Mahāyāna is mea-
If one has this kind of deeper understanding of various scriptures and their
interpretation, one is spared from harboring mistaken notions of conflicts be-
tween the “Greater” versus the “Lesser” Vehicle (Hīnayāna). Sometimes there is
a regrettable tendency on the part of certain followers of the Mahāyāna to dispa-
rage the teachings of the Theravāda, claiming that they are the teachings of the
Lesser Vehicle, and thereby not suited to one’s own personal practice. Similarly,
on the part of followers of the Pāli tradition, there is sometimes a tendency to re-
ject the validity of the Mahāyāna teachings, claiming they are not actually the
Buddha’s teachings.

6. Conclusion

We must understand what is the real nature of this saṃsāra. It is impermanent, suffering
and egolessness. This is a universal truth. This truth remains constant all the time. That’s
why Aṅguttaranikāya says:

Whether the Buddhas appear in the world or whether the Buddhas do not appear
in the world, it remains a fact, an unalterable condition of existence and an eter-
nal law that all compounded things are impermanent....subject to suffering......and
without a self.

The Dhammapada also describes:

sabbe saṅkhārā aniccā’ti yadā paññāya passati /

atha nibbindati dukkhe, esa maggo visuddhiyā //
sabbe saṅkhārā dukkhā’ti yadā paññāya passati /
atha nibbindati dukkhe, esa maggo visuddhiyā //
sabbe dhammā dukkhā’ti yadā paññāya passati /
atha nibbindati dukkhe, esa maggo visuddhiyā //

Paraphrasing: All conditioned things are impermament. When you truly compre-
hend this, you will no longer be afflicted by suffering. This is the path of purity.

All conditioned things are suffering. When you truly comprehend this, you will
no longer be afflicted by suffering. This is the path of purity.
All dharmas are selfless. When you truly comprehend this, you will no longer be
afflicted by suffering. This is the path of purity.

Buddha Śākyamuni, realizing this truth, i.e. that this world is impermanent, full of
suffering of three types and there is nothing which can be called self, first of all himself
developed a great compassion for all sentient beings who were ignorantly trapped in this
suffering saṃsāra and in the illusive and false notion of self and show them the way out
of it to the real free and blissful state as he had achieved himself. The three vehicles are
just the means and tools to bring the suffering beings out of this vicious saṃsāra to the
blissful state of Buddhahood, or a great nirvāṇa.
But, during these days, oblivious to the true compassionate mission of the Buddha
Śākyamuni,, we are now becoming overly sectarian among ourselves. We say only
Theravāda is the true and pure Buddhavacana while Mahāyāna is not Buddhavacana. Si-
milarly, those following Mahāyāna say Theravāda is a Hīnayāna so humiliate their fol-
lowers. Why such a nonsense quarrel? This is a fact and predicament today. Why do the
followers of the Buddhist teaching not understand all the socalled vehicles Theravāda,
Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna are just the steps or ladder, without the beginning step one can
never imagine ascending the higher ones. It is very difficult to bring about the change in
the mindstream of the followers. But this article may arouse some sort of awareness
among the followers leading to the stoppage of the superstious trend and the way the ve-
hicles are seen.

May all beings be happy.


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