The Three Vehicles of Buddhist Practice


The Venerable Thrangu Rinpoche Geshe Lharampa
Translated by Ken Holmes
These three teachings are the full text of the book The
Three Vehicles of Buddhist Practice, but do not contain
the Glossary, Tibetan Glossary, Notes, Bibliography.
Namo Buddha Publications

Chapter 3
The Vajrayana
The word vajra means “immutability” or “indestructibility.” On the
conventional level there are all the samsaric phenomena which are
impermanent and change from one thing into another. On the
ultimate level the essence is always there and never changes and is not
affected by one’s relative viewpoint. The main concern of the tantric
teachings then is working on this changeless, immutable essence. That is
why it is called the Vajrayana or “the vehicle of the changeless.”

There are two vehicles: the sutrayana and the Vajrayana. The
sutrayana or the “sutra vehicle” is more related to cause, than result. It is
called “the cause which is the vehicle with characteristics” because by
developing this sutra level, one learns all that is necessary to create the
conditions to achieve the effect or result. The actual result is the
Vajrayana. To attain the result, one needs to train in the sutrayana. The
sutras show the nature of phenomena. They show what is virtuous and
what is not; they show the value of practicing certain things and giving up
other things; they show the nature of cause and effect (karma); and what
one is trying to develop and what one is trying to eliminate in meditation.
We need to train in the sutras first to understand how the relative level
works. So that is why it is called “the causal condition with
characteristics.” Some-times it is also called “the vast aspect” of practice
because it touches upon so many different things.
The sutras are mainly concerned with the development of the various
causal conditions for realization. In the tantric approach, one goes directly
to the very elements that bring results in one’s practice. This result aspect
is called the “Vajrayana” or “the quintessential mantra.”
The problem with the word “tantra” is that it is not only used by
Buddhists but also by Hindus. Apart from having the same name, there is
little correspondence between the Buddhist and Hindu tantras except that
both have their origins in India and used Sanskrit as their main language.
In many Western books there is a tendency to suggest that the Buddhist
tantra is related to Hindu tantra. There are, however, no similarities in
philosophy, in practice, in point of view, in origin, or in teachers. So
Buddhism and Hinduism are different.

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