Our teacher, the fourth guide of this fortunate
a eon, the
incomparable lord of sages, Shakyamuni, gave infinite
teachings as means to enter the Dharma of the causal and
resultant vehicles, in accordance with the particular
temperaments, spiritual faculties and attitudes of
disciples. Nevertheless, they may all be included within the
three vehicles, which, in turn, may be further subdivided
into nine successive stages.
As it is said in
The General Sutra:
The ultimate definitive vehicle
Certainly appears as three in number:
The vehicles of leading from the origin, Vedic asceticism,
And powerful transformative methods.
And The Immaculate Confession Tantra says:
The samayas of the nine successive yanas—
Three yanas related to the three pitakas of characteristics,
The outer three of kriya yoga and so on, related to tantras of
And the inner three yogas related to tantras of skilful methods.
Thus the classification of ‘nine successive yanas,’ which is
found in the Nyingma Early Translation tradition, is made up of:
three yanas related to
the outer vehicle of leading from the origin [of suffering]
and the three pitakas of characteristics,
three yanas related
to the inner vehicle of Vedic asceticism
and the three outer classes of tantra, and
related to the secret vehicle of powerful transformative
methods and the three inner classes of tantra.
Let us elaborate a
little on the meaning of these, first of all by considering what
is meant by the term ‘vehicle’ or yana. It is said in The Condensed Sutra:
This vehicle is the supreme of vehicles for reaching
The vast sky-like palace of happiness and bliss.
Riding in this all beings will reach nirvana.
This refers to the literal meaning of the Sanskrit term
yana, a vehicle or means of conveyance, since it is that
which carries us along the paths and bhumis, bringing us ever
greater enlightened qualities.
I. The Three Outer Yanas
Leading from the Origin
The three causal vehicles of characteristics are: the shravaka
vehicle, pratyekabuddha vehicle and bodhisattva vehicle.
Why are these three called ‘vehicles leading from the origin’?
It is because they lead us along the path to the result of
liberation from samsara by abandoning all the actions and
kleshas which are the cause or ‘origin’ [of suffering].
1. The Shravaka Yana
Generally speaking, the Sanskrit word ‘shravaka’ has both the
meaning of listening and of hearing, so [the Tibetan translation
nyenthö literally means] ‘listener-hearer.’
Alternatively, the term can be understood to mean ‘listening and
proclaiming,’ in the sense that the shravakas rely on masters
and then proclaim to others all the words their teachers have
The initial entry point, the view, the meditation, the conduct
and the results of the shravaka yana will now be explained
i. Entry Point
The shravakas are motivated by a feeling of renunciation, the
wish to escape from all the realms of samsara by themselves
alone. With this motivation, they receive one of the seven sets
of pratimoksha vows, those of a male or female lay practitioner,
novice monk or nun, probationary nun, or fully ordained monk or
nun, and having received these vows, they practise moral
restraint, keeping their vows unimpaired, repairing any
impairments that do occur, and so on.
As the basis of their path, they determine their view by
focusing upon all phenomena included within the five aggregates
and realizing that they are devoid of any personal self. They do
not understand that all material and conscious phenomena are
devoid of true reality, and, asserting a truly real partless
particle in perceived objects and an indivisible moment of
consciousness, they fail to realize the absence of phenomenal
In terms of the path, they practise both shamatha and vipashyana
meditation. They realize the state of shamatha by abandoning
obstacles and cultivating factors conducive to samadhi,
according to the nine stages of resting the mind and so on, and
generate the wisdom of vipashyana by meditating on the sixteen
aspects of the four truths.
They keep to the twelve
that avoid the two extreme forms of lifestyle, over-indulgence
in sense pleasures
and excessive self-punishment.
They attain any one of eight levels of fruition, corresponding
to the degree to which they have abandoned the kleshas of the
three realms. There are eight levels because the four results of
stream-enterer, once-returner, non-returner and arhat are each
divided into the two stages known as the emerging and the
2. The Pratyekabuddha
Pratyekabuddhas, or ‘self-awakened’ are so-called because,
having a more profound depth of wisdom than the shravakas, they
manifest their own awakening through the power of their own
wisdom, without needing to rely on other masters.
Let us elaborate slightly by presenting the initial entry point,
view, meditation, conduct and results of the pratyekabuddha
i. Entry Point
As with the entry point to the shravaka yana, the
pratyekabuddhas take up any one of the seven sets of pratimoksha
vows and then keep them unimpaired.
When it comes to the basis of their path, how they determine the
view, they realize the absence of a personal self completely,
but only realize half the absence of phenomenal identity,
because although they realize that the partless particles of
perceived objects are not real, they still believe in the true
existence of indivisible moments of consciousness.
When it comes to their path, and their practice of meditation,
the uncommon approach of the pratyekabuddhas is to meditate on
how the twelve links of interdependent origination arise in
their progressive sequence and how they cease in the reverse
Like the shravakas, they keep to the twelve rules of ascetic
As their fruition, those
with sharper faculties attain the level of a rhinoceros-like
pratyekabuddha arhat and those with duller faculties become
Moreover, they reach their final existence as a result of three
specific aspiration prayers. They pray that their last existence
may be in a world without buddhas and shravakas, that they may
attain awakening by themselves, without relying on any teacher,
and that they may teach the Dharma silently through physical
3. The Bodhisattva Yana
The bodhisattva yana is the part of the mahayana that belongs to
the vehicle of characteristics. It is called the vehicle of
bodhisattvas because once it has been entered it has the power
to lead someone to great enlightenment, because its domain of
experience is vast, in terms of its extensive skilful methods
and its profound wisdom, because it brings about benefit and
happiness, in the higher realms in the short term, and
ultimately at the stage of definitive good, and because it
carries one to greater and greater qualities as one progresses
along the paths and stages. It is called a vehicle of
characteristics because it has all the characteristics of a path
that is a direct cause for bringing about the ultimate fruition,
the level of buddhahood.
will now a give a brief outline of its initial entry point,
view, meditation, conduct and results.
i. Entry Point
The bodhisattvas practise on the basis of their wish to benefit
others. They are motivated by bodhichitta, which has as its
focus all sentient beings and is characterized by the wish to
establish them all at the level of perfect buddhahood, free from
the causes and effects of suffering and endowed with all the
causes and effects of happiness. With this motivation, they take
the bodhisattva vows of aspiration and application in the proper
way, through the ritual of either the tradition of Profound View
or Vast Conduct. They then observe the points of discipline
concerning what should be adopted and abandoned, and heal and
purify any impairments.
Concerning the basis of
their path, how they determine the view, if we speak in terms of
philosophical tenets, the approach of Mind Only is to assert
that outer objects are not real and all phenomena are but the
inner mind, and to claim that the self-aware, self-knowing
consciousness devoid of dualistic perception is truly real. The
approach of the Middle Way is to realize that all phenomena
appear in the manner of dependent origination, but are in
reality emptiness, beyond the eight extremes of conceptual
Through these approaches, on the basis of the explanation of the
two levels of reality, they realize completely the absence of
any personal self or phenomenal identity.
Concerning their path and how they practise meditation, the
bodhisattvas realize and train in developing their familiarity
with the indivisibility of the two levels of reality, and, on
the basis of the yogic meditation that unites shamatha and
vipashyana, meditate sequentially on the thirty-seven factors of
enlightenment while on the path of training.
They practise the six transcendent perfections for their own
benefit and the four means of attraction for the sake of others.
They attain the level of buddhahood, which is the ultimate
attainment in terms of both abandonment and realization since it
means abandoning all that has to be eliminated, the two
obscurations including habitual traces, and realizing everything
that must be realized, included within the knowledge of all that
there is and the knowledge of its nature. They accomplish the
two types of dharmakaya for their own benefit and the two types
of rupakaya for the benefit of others.
II. The Three Inner
Yanas of Vedic Asceticism
These are the three outer classes of tantra: the yana of kriya
tantra, the yana of charya tantra and the yana of yoga tantra.
You might wonder why are these called ‘vehicles of Vedic
ascetism.’ It is because the three outer classes of tantra
stress aspects of ascetic conduct, such as ritual purification
and cleanliness, and in this respect they are similar to the
Vedic tradition of the brahmins.
4. The Yana of Kriya
The kriya tantras, or ‘action’ tantras, are so-called because
they are concerned mainly with external conduct, the practices
of ritual purification and cleanliness and so on.
The entry point, view, meditation, conduct and results of this
vehicle are as follows:
i. Entry Point
The initial point of entry to the path of secret mantra
vajrayana is ripening empowerment, so here one receives the
water empowerment, which establishes the potential for ripening
into the dharmakaya, and the crown empowerment, which
establishes the potential for ripening into the rupakaya. Then
one keeps the general samayas of the kriya yoga as they are
explained in the particular texts themselves.
In terms of determining the view, the basis of the path, one
realizes that the ground of purification, the nature of mind
itself, is the wisdom of empty clarity, and is ultimately beyond
all extremes of elaboration, such as existing, not existing,
appearing or being empty. Then one views the aspects of relative
appearance, which are what must be purified, as the
characteristics of the completely pure deity.
As for the path and the
way of practising meditation, it centres around the four
realities: the reality of oneself and the reality of the deity
are practised by means of the six aspects of the deity,
by visualizing oneself as the samaya form and then invoking the
wisdom being into the space in front, considering oneself as a
servant and the deity as one’s master. One then focuses upon the
reality of the mantra recitation which is the sound, and on the
mind and the ground, and meditates upon the reality of
concentration, which consists of remaining in the ‘flame,’
continuation of sound and culmination of sound.
One performs the three
kinds of ritual purification,
changes the three types of clothing,
adopts a diet of the three white foods
and practices ritual fasting and mantra recitation.
In the short term, one becomes a desire realm vidyadhara, and
ultimately one attains awakening as Vajradhara of one of the
three buddha families: of the family of enlightened body,
Vairochana, of the family of enlightened speech, Amitabha, or of
the family of enlightened mind, Akshobhya.
5. The Yana of Charya
The vehicle of charya or ‘conduct’ tantra is so-called because
it places an equal emphasis on the outer actions of body and
speech and the inner cultivation of samadhi. It is also called
the ‘tantra of both’ (ubhaya tantra) because its view conforms
with that of yoga tantra, while its conduct is similar to that
will now say a little about its entry point, view, meditation,
conduct and results.
i. Entry Point
One is matured by means of the five empowerments, which include
the empowerments of the vajra, bell and name in addition to the
water and crown empowerments, and then maintains the samayas of
charya tantra, as described in the particular texts themselves.
The view is determined in the same way as in the yoga tantra, so
it will be explained below.
One visualizes oneself
as the samaya being and visualizes the wisdom deity, who is
regarded as a friend, in front of oneself, and then practises
the conceptual meditations on the syllable, mudra and form of
the deity, and the non-conceptual meditation on absolute
bodhichitta by means of entering, remaining and arising.
The conduct here is the same as in kriya tantra.
In the short term, one attains the common accomplishments and
ultimately one reaches the level of a vajradhara of the four
buddha families, i.e., the three mentioned earlier plus the
6. The Yana of Yoga
The vehicle of yoga tantra is so-called because it emphasizes
the inner yogic meditation upon reality, combining skilful means
Its entry point, view, meditation, conduct and results are as
i. Entry Point
Having been matured through the eleven empowerments—the five
empowerments of the disciples (water, crown, vajra, bell and
name) as well as the six empowerments of the master (the
empowerment of irreversibility, empowerment of seeing secret
reality, authorization, prophecy, confirmation and praising
encouragement)—one keeps the samayas as described in the
The view is to regard all phenomena as the deity of the
vajradhatu, through the blessing of the emptiness and clear
light in which all phenomena are realized to be beyond
conceptual elaboration on an ultimate level.
One meditates on the
yoga of skilful means, visualizing oneself as the deity by means
of the five aspects of awakening and the four miraculous things,
and summons the wisdom being, who then dissolves into oneself,
and is sealed by means of the four mudras, and so on. There is
also the yoga of wisdom, in which one rests in a state in which
ultimate non-conceptual wisdom is inseparable from the relative
appearance of the deity of the vajradhatu.
One practises ritual purification and cleanliness simply as a
As a worldly attainment, one becomes a celestial vidyadhara, and
as the supermundane accomplishment, one attains enlightenment in
Ghanavyuha, as one of the five buddha families (in addition to
the four families previously mentioned, there is also
Amoghasiddhi’s buddha family of enlightened activity).
III. The Three Secret
Yanas of Powerful Transformative Methods
These are the three inner classes of tantra: the yana of
mahayoga, the yana of anuyoga and the yana of atiyoga.
You might wonder why are these are called ‘vehicles of powerful
transformative methods.’ It is because they include powerful
methods for transforming all phenomena into great purity and
7. The Yana of Tantra
The vehicle of mahayoga, or ‘great yoga,’ is so-called because
it is superior to ordinary yoga tantra since all phenomena are
realized to be a magical display in which appearance and
emptiness are indivisible.
Once again, I will briefly describe its point of entry, view,
meditation, action and results.
i. Entry Point
Once one’s mind has been matured through receiving the ten outer
benefiting empowerments, the five inner enabling empowerments
and the three secret profound empowerments, one keeps the
samayas as they are described in the texts.
By means of
extraordinary lines of reasoning, one establishes and then
realizes the indivisibility of the [two] higher levels of
reality, according to which the cause for the appearance of the
essential nature, the seven riches of the absolute,
is spontaneously present within the pure awareness that is
beyond conceptual elaboration, and all relative phenomena
naturally appear as the mandala of deities of the three seats.
When it comes to the path and the practice of meditation, the
main emphasis is on the generation stage. In the practice of
generation stage yoga, one sets up the practice through the
three samadhis, ensures that the three of purifying, perfecting
and ripening are complete within the visualization, and, once
the visualization is complete, seals it with the instruction on
the four nails securing the life-force. In the practice of the
completion stage yoga, one activates the vital points of the
vajra body, its subtle energies, essences, luminosity and so on.
One maintains elaborate, unelaborate and extremely unelaborate
In the short term one
reaches the four vidyadhara levels, which are the results
belonging to the path, and finally one gains the ultimate
fruition, and reaches the level of the Vajradhara of unity.
8. The Yana of
Scriptural Transmission Anuyoga
The vehicle of anuyoga, or ‘following yoga’, is so-called
because it mainly teaches the path of passionately pursuing (or
‘following’) wisdom, in the realization that all phenomena are
the creative expression of the indivisible unity of absolute
space and primordial wisdom.
Once again, let us say a little about its point of entry, view,
meditation, conduct and results:
i. Entry Point
One’s mind is matured through the thirty-six empowerments in
which the four rivers—outer, inner, accomplishing and secret—are
complete, and one keeps the samayas as described in the texts.
Through logical reasoning one determines that which is to be
known, the fact that all phenomena are characterized as being
the three mandalas in their fundamental nature, and realizes
that this is so.
Meditation practice here consists of two paths. On the path of
liberation one practises the non-conceptual samadhi of simply
resting in a state that accords with the essence of reality
itself, and the conceptual samadhi of deity practice, in which
one visualizes the mandala of supporting palace and supported
deities simply by reciting the mantra of generation. On the path
of skilful means one generates the wisdom of bliss and emptiness
through the practices of the upper and lower gateways.
One practises the conduct that is beyond adopting or abandoning
in the recognition that all perceptions are but the display of
the wisdom of great bliss.
At the culmination of
Anuyoga’s own uncommon five yogas, which are essentially its
and the ten stages
that are included within these five, one attains the level of
9. The Yana of Pith
The vehicle of Atiyoga, or ‘utmost yoga,’ is so-called because
it is the highest of all vehicles. It involves the realization
that all phenomena are nothing other than the appearances of the
naturally arising primordial wisdom which has always been beyond
arising and ceasing.
The following is a brief explanation of the entry point, view,
meditation, conduct and results of this vehicle.
i. Entry Point
One’s mind is matured through the four ‘expressive power of
awareness’ empowerments (rigpé tsal wang), and one
keeps the samayas as explained in the texts.
The view is definitively established by looking directly into
the naturally arising wisdom in which the three kayas are
inseparable: the empty essence of naked awareness beyond the
ordinary mind is the dharmakaya, its cognizant nature is the
sambhogakaya, and its all-pervasive compassionate energy is the
The meditation consists of the approach of cutting through
resistance to primordial purity (kadak trekchö),
through which the lazy can reach liberation without effort, and
the approach of the direct realization of spontaneous presence (lhundrup
tögal), through which the diligent can reach liberation with
The conduct is free from hope and fear and adopting and
abandoning, because all that appears manifests as the display of
Perfecting the four visions of the path, one gains the supreme
kaya, the rainbow body of great transference, and attains the
level of glorious Samantabhadra, the thirteenth bhumi known as
‘Unexcelled Wisdom’ (yeshe lama).
Translated by Adam
1) The stage of uncertain transformation, 2) the stage of
stable foundation, 3) the stage of significant purification,
4) the stage of continuous training, 5) the stage of
supportive merit, 6) the stage of special progress through
stability, 7) the stage bringing focus on the result once
the path of seeing has arisen through clear light, 8) the
stage of steadfast remaining, 9) the stage of expanding
reality, and 10) the stage of riding on perfection. http://www.lotsawahouse.org/id32.html