Buddhist Terms 2


Turning the "wheel of the Dharma" means that the Buddha did not only teach for the disciples who were able to meet him personally, but that his teachings from that time onwards would remain and are available for the coming aeon.

Close to Varanasi, in a deer park called Sarnath, in India, Buddha taught the first Dharmawheel. Before the Buddha turned the first wheel of the Dharma, people did not know anything about the liberating teachings; they had never heard about them before. Therefore, the Buddha first explained how to practice positive actions, how to avoid negative actions, he explained the Four Noble Truths, etc. He generally taught about karma, the relationship between cause and effect, and how it functions.

Most people have a very strong attachment to samsara - the cycle of existence or this world. Therefore it is necessary to show that all experiences in this world are characterised by suffering. That is why the Buddha gave these teachings first. By means of these teachings it is possible to purify one's own negative karma and to reach the fruition of Arhathood - a peaceful state of mind. Arhat means "destroyer of the enemies," someone who has conquered the enemies within his own mind, i.e. disturbing emotions.

The second turning of the Wheel of Dharma took place in Rajgir, where the Buddha mainly taught the Prajnaparamita teachings. The Mahayana is characterised by great compassion and an understanding of emptiness, the spacelike nature of our mind. Thanks to this one is able to work for the benefit of others. By means of the Hinayana one is able to purify the gross obscurations and to reach a state of peace, but one is mainly concerned with one's own benefit. It is very difficult to change this way of thinking, i.e. to first think of others and then of oneself. But at least, as an Arhat, one already has removed the gross obscurations, the gross suffering. On the Bodhisattva levels one then accomplishes the liberating actions (skr. paramitas), one develops further and finally, on the eighth Bhodhisattva level (bhumi) one receives a prophecy about ones future buddhahood.

The third turning of the Wheel of Dharma took place at various locations. However, Vaishali and Shravasti are often mentioned. Besides these two places, the others are unknown because the Buddha taught the Secret Mantrayana there and only very advanced students were allowed to listen to these teachings - the ones who had great confidence towards the Buddha and towards the nature of their own minds. The Buddha always gave teachings according to the capacities of his students and when turning the Dharmawheel the first and second time, he gave only the provisional or relative meaning. At the third turning of the Dharmawheel, he taught the definitive or ultimate meaning, mainly explaining the Buddha-nature which is present within all sentient beings and replete with all perfect qualities of enlightenment. These teachings enable us, by means of identification with the Buddha-qualities in us, to reach full enlightenment within a very short time, for the best practitioners even within one lifetime.

In conclusion one may consider the following:
At the first turning of the Wheel of Dharma, the Buddha taught how to accumulate merit, how to give up negative actions, etc., in order to attain liberation.
In this context he talked about existence in such a way as if karma would truly exist. If one does a certain kind of action, accordingly, one will experience a certain kind of result.
At the second turning, he explained the emptiness of all phenomena in order for beings to overcome the attachment towards true existence. Here he spoke about non-existence, the fact that all phenomena only arise interdependently and at the same time are empty by nature.
In order to avoid people falling into the extremes of either existence or non-existence, he gave the third turning of the Wheel of Dharma. Here he explained the ultimate meaning, free from all extremes, the primordial wisdom beyond concepts.


All teachings given by the Buddha can be subdivided into different vehicles. Traditionally, two, three or nine vehicles are mentioned in the teachings.
If one speaks about two vehicles, the following explanation is given:
A vehicle is something which carries one to fruition, to the goal; therefore it has the two aspects of cause and fruition.
The first is called "causal vehicle," because here the emphasis lies on creating the causes for enlightenment. It is a rather long way; therefore, it is said that it is the cause for enlightenment. This causal vehicle is also called "vehicle of characteristic" and refers to the sutra-approach. Vehicle of characteristic means that it has the characteristic of being an authentic vehicle, which leads to complete buddhahood.
The second, the "vehicle of the Secret Mantrayana" or "vehicle of fruition," is a very short, very fast approach and therefore it is already called fruition. In this approach, one identifies oneself with the fruit, the different aspects of enlightenment.


In general one knows the classifications of Hinayana and Mahayana, as the smaller and the greater vehicle.
The Hinayana is also called Theravada, which means the school of the older members of the religious order, and it corresponds to the Southern Buddhism. The Mahayana is also called Bodhisattvayana and corresponds to the Northern Buddhism.
There are five aspects which distinguish the Mahayana from the Hinayana:

1.Both aspects of essencelessness are realized, the essencelessness of the self and the essencelessness of phenomena.
2. One generates the enlightened attitude (Bodhicitta*) and with that as a basis one practices the six or ten liberating actions.
3. One relinquishes both types of obscurations, the obscurations of disturbing emotions and the obscurations related to wrong views together with the tendencies of such obscurations.
4. One attains the nirvana beyond the two limiting states of samsara and nirvana.
5. According to the teachings of the eighth Karmapa Mikyö Dorje there are seven greatnesses, which characterize the way one proceeds throughout the path. This is the reason why the greater vehicle is called great in comparison to the smaller vehicle.

Why did the Buddha teach the smaller and the greater vehicle?

If one thinks that one can immediately practice the Mahayana, this may give rise to pride. This pride may hinder one to truly understand the suffering of sentient beings. Only by an understanding of the suffering in samsara is it possible to develop deep compassion towards all sentient beings.

Many beings want to practice the Hinayana first and afterwards go on to the Mahayana. By understanding the law of karma, the law of cause and effect more and more, one develops better habits and in this way avoids harming others.
The mind develops more confidence towards itself and becomes more calm. By means of practicing meditation, more awareness about the space-nature of one's mind arises, more distance from disturbing things, which enables one to decide what one wants to experience. One can then consciously choose to stay away from the tragedies of life and instead choose to play only in the comedies, as Lama Ole Nydahl expresses it.

From controlling the disturbing emotions one then develops extra-powers, which one can use for the benefit of others. Then one is able to continue on the Mahayana level. The necessity of both ways in succession is also esteemed by the great Indian masters Nagarjuna and Asanga. In every meditation one at first takes refuge, which corresponds to the Hinayana. Then one develops the enlightened attitude which relates to the Mahayana. The main practice in Tibetan Buddhism is always in accordance with the Vajrayana, the Diamond Way. Finally, the dedication of the accumulated merit again puts the practice in the context of the Mahayana.

If one speaks about the two yanas, then these are the Sutrayana and the Tantrayana, the "causal vehicle" and the "vehicle of fruition."
If one speaks about the three yanas, these are the Shravakayana (lit. the "vehicle of the hearers"), the Pratyekabuddhayana (lit. the "vehicle of the solitary realizers") and the Bodhisattvayana (lit. the "vehicle of the heroes of the enlightened mind").
The nine yanas are the Shravakas, Pratyekabuddhas, Bodhisattvas, Kriya-tantra, Carja-tantra or Upa-tantra, Yoga-tantra as well as Anuttarayoga-tantra with Father-tantra, Mother-tantra and Nondual-tantra. Nine yanas are mainly taught in the Nyingma tradition of the Tibetan Buddhism. Here, the three highest tantra classes are called Mahayoga-tantra, Anuyoga-tantra and Atiyoga-tantra.


Within the three Buddhist vehicles there are different philosophical schools that were developed by the disciples of the Buddha, after they had carefully analyzed his teachings and reflected upon their meaning. The different schools of thought correspond to the respective viewpoint resulting from this analysis.

Buddha himself gave these teachings in the Kalachakra-Tantra and in the Hevajra- Tantra without relating them systematically to basis, path and fruition, as it was later on.

Two of the four main philosophical schools belong to the vehicle of the listeners (Shravakas) and in this way to the Hinayana-tradition. These are the Vabashikas and the Sautrantikas.

The Vaibashikas assert that outer phenomena are made up of subtle, indivisible particles or atoms and that consciousness or mind, the inner aspect, is made up of indivisible instances of consciousness. These indivisible particles and instances of consciousness are said to have relative and absolute existence, relative existence in terms of the gross physical matter being compounded of many subtle particles, and absolute existence in terms of their indivisibility. Furthermore, they assert that objects can be perceived directly via the sense faculties.

The Sautrantikas in general also believe in smallest particles and instances of consciousness, but they say that objects cannot be perceived directly via the sense faculties because a connection between that non-material consciousness and the material world in not possible. They assert a substance, an image of which is only perceived by the sense consciousness.

This is refuted by the Cittamatra- or Mind-Only-school of the Mahayana. This school asserts that it is not possible to directly perceive outer material objects, because they are by nature different from the perceiving mind. From this follows that there can be nothing else than mind, because whatever is perceived must be of the same nature as mind itself in order to be suitable to be perceived at all. A substance hidden behind a transmitter could never be perceived and therefore it also could never exist for our perceiving consciousness.

Thus the Chittamatra followers believe in a truly existent consciousness. They talk about the three natures or characteristics of existence:

Within the Chittamatra school one distinguishes between the followers of the true aspect and the followers of the deceptive aspect according to their respective assertion as to whether outer phenomena are perceived by the perceiving mind as they truly are or not.

The highest philosophical school in Buddhism is the Madhyamaka-school (tib. Uma). The name means, 'Not even the middle.' That means this viewpoint is not even in the middle between the two extremes of existentialism and nihilism. It lies beyond all fixed reference points. Phenomena are beyond all pairs of opposites.
Flawless realization of relative truth means to realize that all phenomena are without any true substance. Even though they appear, they are like the reflection of the moon on water.
Flawless realization of absolute truth is the state of mind free from all mental fabrications, the natural state in which it is recognized that all phenomena are empty of inherent existence.
In this way the base of the Madhyamaka viewpoint is the inseparability of the two truths, the relative and the absolute. One progresses on the path through the practice of the inseparability of the two accumulations - merit and wisdom.
The fruition is the realization of the inseparability of the two Buddha-bodies. The truth-body and the form-bodies, which are obtained through accomplishing benefit for oneself and for others.
One distinguishes between Sutra- and Tantra-Madhyamaka. Sutra-Madhyamaka is further subdivided into Rangtong (lit. empty of self) and one part of Shentong (lit. empty of other). The other part of Shentong refers to Tantra-Madhyamaka.
Rangtong again is subdivided into the Svatantrika- and Prasangika-schools. These two viewpoints assert that the self of the person as well as the self of phenomena do not truly exist. They refute the two extremes of materialism and nihilism by means of five different reasonings.
The difference between the two viewpoints is that the Svatantrikas speak about relative reality in order to arrive at absolute reality, whereas the Prasangikas refute everything by means of syllogisms (reasonings) and do not enter into relative reality.
The teachings of the Shentong relate to the third turning of the Dharma-wheel, where the ultimate reality is called the buddhanature, which is present within all sentient beings.
If one practices the secret Mantra- or Tantra-vehicle, one should combine the Rangtong- and the Shentong view in the same way as a bird needs two wings for flying.
A clear understanding of these four philosophical schools of Buddhism removes all wrong views and therefore is a very important means for the attainment of perfect Buddhahood.

*Term will be explained on the next page of Buddhist Terms.


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