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in Buddhadharma

On the Buddhayâna : the One Buddha Vehicle

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"These three things, monks, are conducted in secret, not openly. What three ? Affairs of woman, the mantras of the Brahmins, and wrong view. But these three things, monks, shine openly, not in secret. What three ? The Moon, the Sun and the Dharma and Discipline proclaimed by the Tathâgata." - Ekottarâgama (Anguttara-nikâya), 3:129.


Lesser Vehicle

Hearer Vehicle

Middle Vehicle

Solitary Realizer Vehicle

Great Vehicle

Great Perfection Vehicle
Pâramitâyâna - Sûtrayâna - Bodhisattvayâna
Diamond Vehicle
Tantrayâna - Mantrayâna
Guhyamantrayâna - Vajrayâna
Outer Tantras
Inner Tantras
Ati-Yoga :
Dzogchen (or Mahâsandhi) - Mahâmudrâ - Zen

As a pragmatical & non-elitist religious philosophy, the Buddhadharma applies to everyday life as well as to abstract thought. It has "84.000 Dharma doors" leading to "nirvâna", the wisdom-mind of enlightenment attending to the ultimate nature of phenomena, emptiness.

"Nirvâna" is either (a) the bliss of liberation for oneself alone (as in the Hînayâna), (b) the final enlightenment of Buddhahood realized with Mahâyâna Bodhicitta, the mind of enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings, in particular "ultimate Bodhicitta", the wisdom-mind realizing the true nature of phenomena, emptiness or (c) the spontaneously self-perfected recognition of the inseparability of emptiness & clarity, as in Dzogchen.

Buddhadharma or Buddha's teachings on the Buddhayâna or "vehicle of enlightenment" is divided into Sûtra, Tantra and Dzogchen. Each of these has a different base, ground or view, a different path and thus a different fruit or result. Compare this to a three-tiered building.

In a general utilitarian sense, cognitive systems bringing benefits to a large number of sentient beings are worthy of respect. These "vehicles" or "paths" help the individual to cross the ocean of suffering and to find better physical, psychological, social, economical & spiritual conditions. Such increased happiness and surplus always benefits others as well.

The Buddhadharma points to three such vehicles ("yânas") :

  1. the human vehicles : invented by human beings for human beings, these secular systems try to guarantee their basic needs : food, housing, health care, education, family life, social services, a system of law, democracy, etc. Despite the many international organisations, humanity has not yet been able to establish a just human vehicle worldwide. Even today, when this should already be the case, it is shamefully not so ! On the contrary, the division between those who benefit from such systems and those who do not is becoming increasingly wider. Social injustice is rampant worldwide ! Hence, one may doubt the stand-alone effectiveness of these vehicles. It seems as if they incorporate the very causes of the suffering they intend to relief ;

  2. the Divine vehicle : invented by the gods for human beings, Buddha spoke of the "Brahma Vehicle", compromizing meditative techniques aiming to achieve the highest possible form of life within "samsâra". In particular, the Divine vehicle promotes the concentrations & absorptions of the form and formless realms of cyclic, conditioned existence, aiming at the highest "Jhâna", the so-called "Peak of Samsâra" (or cosmic consciousness). References to these states are found in all spiritual systems and religions. This vehicle leads to Divine states of consciousness and, according to the Buddha, rebirth as a "Deva" or Deity in the God-realm of cyclic existence. However, the Buddha experienced why these states, although extremely blissful & lasting for a very long time, are, at the end of the day, also transient & painful and so not the result sought. Indeed, Buddhists wish to attain the lasting peace of "nirvâna", i.e. a condition which effectively never ends ! So in final analysis, the power of death must be eradicated, implying one is able to control one's rebirth or stop rebirth altogether, which belongs to liberation & Buddhahood ;

  3. the Buddha Vehicle : the Triyâna or "Three Vehicles" taught by Buddha Śâkyamuni are actually one vehicle, the Buddhayâna or Buddha Vehicle. In other words, the Individual or Lesser Vehicle ("Hînayâna"), the Great Vehicle ("Mahâyâna") and the Diamond Vehicle ("Vajrayâna") are three aspects of the one Buddha Vehicle, leading those gone for Refuge in the Three Jewels to lasting, true peace or "nirvâna", i.e. "passing beyond suffering". This is no longer a samsaric, mundane state of mind (secular or Divine), but an ineffable, totally transcendent, supramundane "Body of Truth" or "Dharmakâya", introduced by direct experiential recognition only.

The Buddha Vehicle accommodates various types of seekers and can be seen as a three-tiered building, each with its view, path & fruit. Reformulating these divisions in more operational terms, classifying the teachings from "lesser" to "highest", we arrive at :

Hînayâna :

Hearer view : Selflessness of persons
path : purification
fruit : liberation of Arhathood
Solitary Buddha
Arhat or Foe Destroyer

Mahâyâna :
of all sentient

 Sûtrayâna view : Mâdhyamaka / Yogâcâra
path of renunciation
fruit : distant Buddhahood
Tantrayâna view : Śûnyâtâyâna
path of transformation
fruit : near Buddhahood
Ati-Yoga view : total primordial purity
path of self-liberation
fruit : immediate Buddhahood

So, depending on their ability to realize a view & its concordant path, the Buddha Vehicle forsees each type of practitioners to generate his or her own co-relative spiritual fruit :

  • listening to the teacher, the Hearer is liberated for himself alone, but only realized the identitylessness of persons ;

  • having eliminated all fetters, the Arhat or Foe Destroyer is no longer subject to rebirth (liberated from cyclic existence), but not yet a Buddha ;

  • on his own, by his own efforts & for himself alone, the Pratyekabuddha or "private Buddha" is liberated, but only realizes the identitylessness of persons. He does not teach the Dharma (except morality), does not bring others to enlightenment (except a few students drawn to him) and arises when there is no Buddha to teach ;

  • the Sutric Bodhisattva is dedicated to save all sentient beings (Bodhicitta), also realizes the identitylessness of all phenomena, approaches the fruit by way of dual cognition (the Two Truths), but has to work very hard for an extremely long time before attaining the goal of final elightenment, Buddhahood ;

  • the Tantric Bodhisattva generates relative & absolute Bodhicitta, has a complete realization of emptiness, still approaches the fruit by way of the Two Truths, has the superior method of Deity Yoga, but may still need several rebirths before enjoying the fruit (or achieve it in a single lifetime) ;

  • the Ati-Yoga Bodhisattva generates Bodhicitta, has a correct view on emptiness and a non-causal, spontaneous, nondual, single introduction to the ultimate, self-liberating all possible thoughts immediately. He may achieve Buddhahood in a single lifetime. He transcends both cyclic existence and "nirvâna". By way of the view, the path is the fruit ...


© Wim van den Dungen, Antwerp - 2017
philo@sofiatopia.org l Acknowledgments l SiteMap l Bibliography

Mistakes are due to my own ignorance and not to the Buddhadharma.
May all who encounter the Dharma accumulate compassion & wisdom.
May sentient beings recognize their Buddha-nature and find true peace.


initiated : 29 XI 2008 - last update : 08 VII 2014 - version n°1