Classic and Contemporary Buddhist Works

Becoming the Compassion Buddha - Selections

Tantric Mahamudra for Everyday Life

1 ~ Sutra: Rejecting Delusion

Hinayana and Mahayana

Lord Buddha gave many different teachings, in accordance with the different levels and needs of sentient beings' minds. It is said that he gave 84,000 teachings as the solutions to the 84,000 delusions. If somebody wanted to gain a mere intellectual understanding of all these methods within their lifetime, it would be almost impossible; however, since enlightenment within a single life is possible, one can not only understand all these teachings intellectually but totally realize them as well.

Take, for example, the gradual path to liberation, the lamrim. It has three different divisions that accord with the three different levels of motivation that sentient beings have for practicing Dharma. Some people want simply to ensure that they get another human rebirth in their next life; others seek only the small liberation of nirvana. Emphasizing that people with these two levels of motivation should focus on releasing their own attachment and delusions, Lord Buddha gave them Hinayana teachings.

Then there are those who are more advanced. Even though they understand their own delusions, they are not particularly concerned with eradicating them or gaining quick liberation for themselves alone. They are far more concerned about the happiness of others, of all universal living beings. Lord Buddha gave such people Paramitayana teachings--the great compassion of bodhichitta--and the other general Mahayana teachings of the bodhisattva's path. Within the Mahayana there are others who are even more advanced, the most intelligent and fortunate ones. Lord Buddha gave them the esoteric Vajrayana teachings. We call such people precious jewels, or precious disciples.

You might think, "I must be at only one of those three levels. Why doesn't Lama just teach me that one?" but that's not how it works. The explanations of one level alone are not enough to lead you all the way to enlightenment. You need gradually to receive all three. Then, acting gradually and continuously, you actualize the first level, then the second, and finally the third.

Whether we call them the 84,000 teachings or the three divisions, everything Lord Buddha taught can be divided into Hinayana and Mahayana. Yana is Sanskrit and means vehicle. If, for example, you want to cross a body of water, you get in a boat, and it carries you to the other side. The Mahayana attitude of bodhichitta is like a boat. If you get into that vehicle, it will automatically carry you to enlightenment.

Those most suited to Hinayana, the Small Vehicle, on the other hand, gain an understanding of their own problems and develop an enthusiastic wish to reach self-realization for their own purpose. That attitude carries them to their goal, self-liberation, or nirvana.

The Mahayana, the Great Vehicle, has two divisions. The first is the causal vehicle; the second, the effect, or resultant, vehicle. The causal vehicle is the Paramitayana, or Perfection Vehicle, which is sometimes called the Sutrayana, or Sutra Vehicle. It explains the path to enlightenment through the gradual development of bodhichitta and the six perfections of the bodhisattva.

The result vehicle is the Vajrayana--Tantrayana, or tantra. We call it result vehicle because the yogi or yogini who actualizes tantric methods brings the result, enlightened action, into the present. The experience of the Buddha's enlightened action is brought directly into the gradual path to enlightenment, right now.

When you receive an initiation into the practice of Chenrezig, Avalokiteshvara, you transform your energy, your consciousness, into Avalokiteshvara, here and now; you become Avalokiteshvara. Instead of thinking, "Impossible! I'm absolutely impure, deluded; I can't be Avalokiteshvara," you transform your ordinary body, speech, and mind into the blissful wisdom of the divine, Avalokiteshvara, total enlightenment experience. You bring that enlightened experience into the path to liberation right now.

You can see within yourself how the lamrim works. The explanations at the beginning of the lamrim place much emphasis on your own everyday actions. When you begin to see all your inner garbage, you start to feel that you are entirely in the nature of negativity. You feel hopeless. But as you continue to practice the lamrim, you gradually begin to think about all living beings instead of only about your own ego-puzzles, conflicts, and delusions. You become more open. Your mind becomes more universal, less narrow. As your attitude changes, so does the vehicle within you.

Sometimes people talk about three categories of vehicle--Hinayana, Paramitayana, and Vajrayana. This can lead you to think that Vajrayana is different from Mahayana, but that's not right. Both Paramitayana and Vajrayana are Mahayana vehicles; each can carry you to enlightenment. They do not bring different results; there are different vehicles because Lord Buddha taught different methods for different levels of practitioner. Both Paramitayana and Vajrayana lead you to enlightenment, but one is slower, the other quicker. Tantra is the vehicle that carries you most quickly to enlightenment.

Both Hinayana and Paramitayana assert that we are caught in samsara-suffering in cyclic existence--because of delusion and karma. Therefore, these must be rejected. Tantra, however, maintains that we continuously circle through samsara because our perception of reality is ordinary rather than divine. When we develop a more refined view and continuously hold in our consciousness a vision of beauty and perfection, there's no way that depression or selfishness can arise. However, we have to develop this experience through practice; we can't just leave it at the intellectual level.