Notes on Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana

This entry is an attempt of a “work in progress”, i am meaning to possibly add more information to it, picture above is of Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa.

The presentation attempted here should include some information on the 3 yana approach to practice, namely: Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana. I will try to mention unique to Nyingma system of nine yana classification as well.

All mistakes and misconceptions are mine and I am sure to have quite a few, regardless of having met excellent teachers.

On philosophical level these 3 vehicles can be understood together with Three Turnings Of the Wheel. However mode of transmission of the Vajrayana teachings makes every opportunity to connect to such teachings very special. Lineage of transmission of Vajrayana teachings usually includes many fully enlightened beings. And teach special direct means on realization of complete liberation which comes through unbroken transmission. It is very fortunate that such teachings are available to us and it is only due to kindness of realized lineage holders.

Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana can also be presented as Vehicles of Self Liberation and Vehicle of Vast Intention to benefit countless sentient beings. With Hinayana as former and Mahayana the later (with Vajrayana having same intention and actually on that level being also Mahayana). These vehicles can also be presented as two types “Casual” and “Resultant”.

As Thinley Norbu Rinpoche writes in the book Small Golden Key, page 28:
“1. “According to the basic Hinayana Sravakayana, the view is realization of the “egolessness of self.”
2. “According to the basic Pratyekabuddhayana, the view is the realization of the egolessness of self,” and the half-realization of the “egolessness (or insubstantiality) of phenomena,…”

page 28 footnotes:
“The doctrine of cause is so called because in these yanas one’s practice uses the cause of buddhahood.”
“The doctrine of result is so called because in these yanas one’s practice uses the result of buddhahood”.

Small Golden Key, page30:
“According to the basic bodhisattvayana, the view is the “two egoless states”: “egolessness of self” and “egolessness” (or insubstantiality) of phenomena”.

On: Superiorities of Mahayana and Vajrayana Small Golden Key [pages 35 / 36]

“There are many ways in which Mahayana excels Hinayana, all of which can be collected into seven great ways:
Great diligence is benefiting all sentient beings with great joy for countless kalpas.
Great Intention is having not just an ordinary aim, but the aim of the Dharmata, which is vast like the sky.
Great achievements is the achievement for the benefit of oneself and all sentient beings.
Great wisdom is the realization of the two egoless states and the wisdom of inseparable great emptiness and compassion which comes from this realization.
Great skilful means is remaining neither in samsara nor in nirvana, thus benefiting all sentient beings, including oneself.
Great fulfillment is the fulfillment of all great qualities of the Buddha, including the ten strengths.
Great activity is the ability to benefit all sentient beings until samsara is empty.”

Both doctrines of cause and of result teach path to liberation, but doctrine of result is said to be superior, for detailed description one can get the book quoted above and read on their own, it is a very clear and concise book by a most qualified master.

On the view of Vajrayana by an American Buddhist scholar, Reginald Ray. Secret of the Vajra World, page 91:
“In Tibet, it is said that the Vajrayana does not have its own distinctive philosophical position or “view.” Instead, the view of Vajrayana is provided by the Mahayana, including both the second and the third turnings of the wheel of dharma comprising the teachings on emptiness and the buddha nature of the third turning. This is not to say that the Vajrayana does not have its own way of articulating Mahayana philosophy. In fact, the teachings of the second and the third turnings appear in a distinctive way in the Vajrayana, in the context and the idiom of the tantric meditation. Nevertheless, the basic understanding of reality present in the Vajrayana is essentially Mahayanist, and to have a correct understanding of the Vajrayana, one needs some grounding in Mahayana philosophy.”

The recap, I have mentioned 3 ways of classification:
1. Three Yana: Hinayana, Mahayana, Vajrayana
2. Casual vehicles of Shravaka, Pratyekabuddha and Bodhisattva. Resultant vehicles of Mahayana practitioners who practice Vajrayana.
3. Nine yana classification: The three that are within “Doctrine of Cause”: Shravakayana, Pratyekabuddhayana, Bodhisattvayana and the six that are within “Doctrine of result”: Kriya, Upa, Yoga are the vehicles of outer tantra, Mahayoga, Anuyoga and Atiyoga (Dzogpa Chenpo) are the vehicles of inner tantra.
For best presentation of the particular attributes of each of the nine yanas it is best to consult “The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism” by Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche.

Out of the nine yana systems the teachings of unsurpassable Great Perfection, the Dzogchen are supreme.

At this point it is difficult to present anything coherent for me because of the vast scope of the materials touched upon in just a name “Dzogpa Chenpo” or Great Perfection / Completion, for I am not a scholar that can retain in memory what I read or understand what is written well. I am also only a very well distracted meditator at most. However whenever all the lamas at the feet of who I ever bowed as crown ornaments of the doctrine mention Dzogpa Chenpo, Dzogchen then just such a mention fills my heart with joy. With aspiration that every one who reads these wonderful quotations and my loose ramblings come to hear about such things in person from a realized Lama.

There is this well known book: by Longchen Rabjam, Introduced, Translated and Annotated by Tulku Thondup, Edited by Harold Talbot The Practice of Dzogchen, Page 91:

Distinctions of the Teachings Of The Two Turnings Of The Wheel
Sogpo Tendar explains the differences between the views of the Second and Third Turnings of the Wheel: [ST 244b/3]
In the Second Turning of the Wheel, Buddha elucidated all the phenomena exists through the “three doors of liberation” (emptiness, freedom from characteristics, and freedom from aspirations) in order to liberate from apprehension of the antidotes (to the defilements)….(The Buddha-essence) is discoursed on (in the Third Turning of the Wheel) but (the Second Turning of the Wheel) is more appropriate, in conventional terms, as the antidote to the elaborate theories…. The Last (Third) Turning of the Wheel is extensively vast in discoursing upon the inconceivable primordial wisdom, the source of (ten) strengths, etc., the ocean of virtues. But it is not the case that the Second Turning of the Wheel doesn’t discourse on it. As, for example, in Sancaya sutra (mDo sDud-pa) it is said:
“If there is no Primordial Wisdom, there is no development and enlightenment.
The ocean-like virtues if the Buddhas will also not be there.” ”

More from the same page:
The Goal of Dzogpa Chenpo Is The Attainment of Buddha-Essence
The meditation in Dzogpa Chenpo is to realize the Intrinsic Awareness, the Buddha-essence, and perfection of the realization is the result, attainment of Buddhahood.”

Page 93:
Dzogpa Chenpo Is Based on The Second Turning Of The Wheel
According to Jigmed Lingpa, Dzogpa Chenpo is based on the second Turning of the Wheel as it emphasizes elimination of elaborations through the means of the “three doors of liberation”: [ns 264b/3]
The discriminating Intrinsic Self Awareness
Which is the essence of the “three (doors of) liberation”
Taught by the Victorious One (Buddha) in the Second Turning of the Wheel,
Is naturally present as the Buddha-essence in the nature (Khams) of living beings, and it is called Dzogpa Chenpo.”

What follows is explanation that Dzogpa Chenpo can be understood as essence of the Second as well as the Third Turnings of the Wheel. Then explanation is given of distinctions of the teachings on Buddha-Essence as it is taught in Sutric yanas and as it is actually taught in Dzogpa Chenpo.
Page 95:

Superiority Of The Buddha Nature As It Is Taught In Dzogpa Chenpo
If Buddha-Essence is Taught in the lower yanas, what distinguishes Dzogpa Chenpo? The unique distinction of Dzogpa Chenpo is not the Buddha-Essence but the profundity of its view of the Buddha-Essence and the swiftness of its path of training in it.”

Now, as Nyingmapas we have these profound teachings still available to us through immeasurable kindness of the Lineage Holders of such teachings and we are blessed with many explanations on all the essential points.

Here is a short quotation from: Mipham’s Beacon Of Certainty: Illuminating The View of Dzogchen, The Great Perfection by an American scholar John Whitney Pettit. Page 127:
“Among the three Dharma wheel teachings the complete unerring path, which were turned by our most skilful teacher in order to train his disciples, the most excellent and sublime is the Prajnaparamita.”
-Above quote is said to be anonymous and comes from opening lines of the preface to Kunzang Palden Rinpoche (who was one of the heart sons of Lama Mipham Rinpoche) commentary on Lama Mipham’s Beacon of Certainty.

On the Theravada.
There are also advantages to referring to adherents of Hinayana as Theravada, for it seems that it is more respectful to replace “Lesser Vehicle” with “Doctrine of the Elders” which has historic roots and traces it’s history to the times of writing of Buddhist Canon during the Buddhist Councils. Here is a “Timeline” as it is presented online at this site:

“543 -479 BCE: 1st Buddhist Council in Rajaghgraha during the rains retreat following the Buddha’s Parinibbana. 500 Arahant Bhikkhus, led by Ven. Mahakassapa, gather to recite the entire body of the Buddha’s teachings. The recitation of the Vinaya by Ven. Upali becomes accepted as the Vinaya Pitaka; the recitation of the Dhamma by Ven. Ananda becomes established as the Sutta Pitaka. {1,4}

443-379 BCE: 2nd Buddhist Council in Vesali, 100 years after the Buddha’s parinirvana, to discuss controversial points of Vinaya. The first schism of the Sangha occurs, in which the Mahasanghika school parts ways with the traditionalist Sthaviravadins. At issue is the Mahasanghika’s reluctance to accept the Suttas and the Vinaya as the final authority on the Buddha’s teachings. This schism marks the first beginnings of what would later evolve into Mahayana Buddhism.

297 BCE: King Asoka (274-236 BCE) converted to Buddhism; Buddhism developed from small local group to state religion.

247 (308?) BCE : 3rd Buddhist Council, convened by King Asoka at Pataliputra (Patan?) India. Disputes on points of doctrine lead to further schisms, spawning the Sarvastivadin and Vibhajjavadin sects. The two Pitakas are enlarged to include the Abidhamma, forming the Tripitaka (three baskets.)The Abhidhamma Pitaka is recited at the Council. The modern Pali Tipitaka is now essentially complete, although some scholars have suggested that at least two parts of the extant Canon — the Parivara in the Vinaya, and the Apadana in the Sutta — may date from a later period. Asoka sends missionaries to Sri Lanka ( his son Mahindra), Kanara, Karnataka, Kashmir, Himalaya region, Burma, Afghanistan and even Egypt, Macedonia and Cyrene.

240 BCE Sri Lanka: Ven. Mahinda establishes the Mahavihara (Great Monastery) of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. The Vibhajjavadin community living there becomes known as the Theravadins. Mahinda’s sister, Ven. Sanghamitta, arrives in Sri Lanka with a cutting from the original Bo tree, and establishes the bhikkhuni-sangha (nuns) in Sri Lanka.”

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