Nine yanas

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The nine yanas (Skt. nava-yana; Tib. ཐེག་པ་དགུ, tekpa gu), or nine vehicles, refer to nine successive stages of the path within the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism.[1][2]


The 14th Dalai Lama states:

In the early translation school of the Nyingma, a system of nine yanas is taught. Three of these--the paths of the sravaka, pratyekabuddha and bodhisattva--constitute the sutra tradition, while the tantric tradition consists of six levels--the three outer tantras and the three inner tantras. The tradition of Dzogchen, or Atiyoga, is considered to be the pinnacle of these nine yanas.[3]

Patrul Rinpoche states:

Just as it is impossible for a king to travel without the aid of his courtiers, in the same way the key points of all the yanas serve as steps and supports for the Dzogchen path.[4]

In his commentary on Mipham Rinpoche's Beacon of Certainty, Anyen Rinpoche writes:

Generally, we present the nine vehicles in the Nyingma tradition. These nine are differentiated based on the faculties, personalities, and abilities of individual practitioners. We should not think that the existence of nine vehicles is definitive, however. We could even say that because the vehicles are classified in various ways, they are innumerable in a sense. A great scholar named Ngari Palchen said, "For however long the mind is afflicted, for just that long the vehicles will not exhaust themselves. But when the mind's afflictions are exhausted, then there are also no vehicles." In any case, we should not think that nine is an absolute number.[5]

Brief descriptions of the nine yanas

The nine yanas of the Nyingma school are shown in the following table:[6]

Sutra/Tantra Three yanas classification Tantras Nine yanas classification Description
Sutrayana Hinayana n/a 1. Sravakayana Vehicle of listening and hearing
2. Pratyekabuddhayana Vehicle of the solitary realizer
Mahayana 3. Bodhisattvayana Vehicle of the bodhisattva
Tantrayana Vajrayana Outer tantras 4. Kriya tantra yana Concerned mainly with external conduct, the practices of ritual purification and cleanliness and so on.
5. Charya tantra yana Places an equal emphasis on the outer actions of body and speech and the inner cultivation of samadhi.
6. Yoga tantra yana Emphasizes the inner yogic meditation upon reality, combining skilful means and wisdom.
Inner tantras 7. Mahāyoga yana Focuses mainly on the development stage (Tib. kyérim), and emphasizes the clarity and precision of visualization as skillful means.
8. Anuyoga yana Focuses mainly on the completion stage (Tib. dzogrim), and emphasizes the inner yoga of channels, winds-energies and essences (Tib. tsa lung tiklé). Visualization of the deities is generated instantly, rather than through a gradual process as in Mahayoga.
9. Atiyoga yana 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.

Classification schemes

There are a variety of different ways to classify the nine yanas. For example, Alak Zenkar Rinpoche presents the following classifications:

Thus the classification of ‘nine successive vehicles,’ which is found in the Nyingma Early Translation tradition, is made up of:

  • three outer vehicles of leading from the origin [of suffering] or those related to the three piṭakas of characteristics,
  • three inner vehicles of Vedic-like asceticism[2] or those of the three outer classes of tantra, and
  • three secret vehicles of powerful transformative methods or those of the three inner classes of tantra.[1]

Special feature of Atiyoga (Dzogchen)

The ninth yana, Atiyoga (also known as Dzogchen) is considered to be unique in that it is a vehicle based on "pure awareness".

The 14th Dalai Lama states:

The other, lower, yanas are said to that depend on ordinary consciousness, and so the path is based on that ordinary consciousness. Here, the distinction being made is between ordinary mind (sem) and pure awareness (rigpa). The ninth yana, the most majestic, is beyond ordinary consciousness, for its path is based on rigpa, not on the ordinary mind.[3]

Thinley Norbu states:

The distinction between Dzogchen and all other vehicles is that Dzogchen is a far more effective approach for recognizing the true nature directly without going through many elaborate processes. This extreme directness is a great blessing. Although simple, it is nonetheless a profound teaching and supreme in its understanding. The practices and understanding of all other vehicles can be contained in Dzogchen, but no other vehicle can encompass Dzogchen.[7]


The nine yanas are referred to in the Kulayaraja Tantra (Kunje Gyalpo) and in the General Sutra of the Gathering of All Intentions (Düpa Do), which is the central scripture of Anuyoga.[8]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 LotsawaHouse-tag.png A Brief Presentation of the Nine Yanas
  2. Tulku Thondop 1999, p. 16.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Dalai Lama 2000, p. 47.
  4. Dalai Lama 2000, p. 87.
  5. Anyen Rinpoche 2005, p. 150.
  6. Categories and descriptions are from LotsawaHouse-tag.png A Brief Presentation of the Nine Yanas and "Tulku Thondop (1999) p. 16"
  7. Thinley Norbu 2016, 3. Nine Vehicles.
  8. RW icon height 18px.png Nine yanas


  • Anyen Rinpoche (2012), Journy to Certainty, Boston: Wisdom 
  • Dalai Lama (2000), Dzogchen: The Heart Essence of the Great Perfection, Ithaca: Snow Lion 
  • Thinley Norbu (2016), Echoes: The Boudhanath Teachings, Boston: Shambhala 
  • Tulku Thondop (1999), Masters of Meditation and Miracles, Boston: Shambhala 

Further Reading

  • Chögyam Trungpa, The Lion's Roar: An Introduction to Tantra, The Collected Works of Chögyam Trungpa, Volume Four (Boston & London: Shambhala, 2003).
  • Dzogchen Ponlop, Wild Awakening (Boston & London: Shambhala, 2003), 'Part 3: The Dzogchen Journey'.
  • Ron Garry, Wisdom Nectar: Dudjom Rinpoche's Heart Advice (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2005), 'Appendix 1: An Explanation of the Nine Vehicles'.
  • S.G. Karmay, Origin and Early Development of the Tibetan Religious Traditions of the Great Perfection
  • Jamgön Kongtrul, The Treasury of Knowledge, Book Six, Part Four: Systems of Buddhist Tantra, translated by Elio Guarisco and Ingrid McLeod (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2005), pages 306-347.
  • Namkhai Norbu (2000), "Appendix One-B: Key to the Groups of Three in the Dzogchen Teachings", The Crystal and the Way of Light: Sutra, Tantra and Dzogchen, Snow Lion 
  • Namkhai Norbu (2008), "Part Two: The Three Dharmas of the Path", The Precious Vase: Instructions on the Base of Santi Maha Sangha, Shang Shung Edition 
  • Padmasambhava; Jamgon Mipham (2016), A Garland of Views: A Guide to View, Meditation, and Result in the Nine Vehicles, translated by Padmakara Translation Group, Shambhala Publications 
  • Thinley Norbu,
    • The Small Golden Key (Shambhala Publications, 1999), ‘5. The Differences Between the Buddha's Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana Teachings'.
    • Echoes: The Boudhanath Teachings (Shambhala Publications, 2016), ‘3. Nine Vehicles'.
  • Tulku Thondup,
    • Masters of Meditation and Miracles, edited by Harold Talbott (Boston: Shambhala, 1999), pages 16-20.
    • The Dzogchen Innermost Essence Preliminary Practice, LTWA, 1982, 'Part Three, The Nine Yanas'.

External links

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