One vehicle (S. ekayāna; T. theg pa gcig pa ཐེག་པ་གཅིག་པ་; C. yisheng 一乘) or single vehicle, refers to a single vehicle or conveyance that carries sentient beings along the path to enlightenment.
The doctrine of the one vehicle is set forth in certain Mahayana sutras such as the Lotus Sutra. These sutras assert that the three vehicles of the Sravakayana, Pratyekabuddhayana and Bodhisattvayana are actually different aspects of one single vehicle of Mahayana. In this view, the three vehicles are different skillful means (upaya-kaushalya) adapted for beings of different capacity, and all three vehicles lead to the same final destination.
The one vehicle doctrine is highly influential within East Asian Buddhism. In particular, this doctrine is influential within the Tiantai/Tendai schools, which subsequently influenced the Chán/Zen schools.
Parable of the burning house
The parable of the burning house is presented in the Lotus Sutra and other sutras as a metaphor to illustrate how the three vehicles of the Sravakayana, Pratyekabuddhayana and Bodhisattvayana are in reality different skillful means within the one vehicle of the Mahayana.
As presented in the Lotus Sutra, the parable tells the story of a wealthy man with many children who are playing inside of his house. The house catches on fire, but the children are distracted by their games and they are unaware that the house is burning. In fact, they do not understand what fire is or even what a house is. Thus, in order to lure his children from the house, the wealthy man promises his children that he has three different types of carts waiting for them outside of the house for them to play in: a goat-cart, a deer-cart, and a bullock-cart. When the children rush out of the house to play with their new carts, the three different carts promised by their father are not there. Instead, their father presents them with a single jeweled carriage drawn by a pure white ox.
In this parable, the three carts that were promised were skillful means to lure the children out of the house.
- The goat-cart represents the Sravaka vehicle (Sravakayana)
- The deer-cart represents the Pratyekabuddha vehicle (Pratyekabuddhayana)
- The bullock-cart represents the Bodhisattva vehicle (Bodhisattvayana)
The jeweled carriage represents the one vehicle of the Mahayana.
Within Mahayana sutras
Prominent Mahayana sutras that set forth the doctrinc of ekayana (one vehicle) are:
- Lotus Sutra,
- Srimala Sutra,
- Tathāgatagarbha sūtras, which also include the Tathāgatagarbha Sūtra, the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra and the Aṅgulimālīya Sūtra.
East Asian Buddhism
The doctrine of one vehicle is prominent in East Asian Buddhism.
Transmission of Buddhism to China
The single vehicle doctrine became a key aspect of the Chinese acculturation and acceptance of Buddhism. The Chinese assimilation of Buddhism met in the vast diversity of Buddhist texts the problem of sorting through them for the core of Buddhist teaching. This problem was solved by adopting one or more of the Ekayana Sutras as central to the understanding of the diversity of Buddhism. The doctrines and practices of Tiantai (J. Tendai) and Huayen (J. Kegon) Buddhist sects were able to present a synthesis of the diversity of Buddhism texts into an understable worldview.
Ekayāna in Chan Buddhism
Chan Buddhism affected this synthesis in a unique way by focusing on the practice of meditation as taught in the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra as the core method of personally realizing the Ekayana teachings while at the same time acknowledging the transcendental and devotional aspects represented by the Avataṃsaka and Lotus Sutras, respectively. The Indian Buddhist monk Bodhidharma (c. 5th to 6th century), who is considered the founder of Chan Buddhism, was said to have brought the "Ekayāna school of Southern India" to China and passed it down along with the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra to his primary disciple, Dazu Huike (487-593), known as the Second Founding Ancestor of the Chan lineage., [page needed]
Guifeng Zongmi (780 - 841) was an accredited master of both the Chan and Huayan lineages. In his treatise, The Original Person Debate (Chinese: 原人論), he explicitly identifies the Ekayāna teachings as the most profound type of spiritual realization and equates it with the direct realization of one's own nature:
Buddha's teaching itself goes from shallow to profound. In outline there are five classes: 1. The teachings of human and heavenly beings. 2. The Small Vehicle's (Hinayana) teaching. 3. The Great Vehicle's (Mahayana) teaching of Dharma characteristics (dharmalaksana). 4. The Great Vehicle's teaching of destroying characteristics. 5. The One Vehicle's (Ekayana) teaching of manifesting Nature."
- Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. ekayana
- Buswell, Robert E., Lopez, Donald S. Jr. (2014). The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, Princeton: Princeton University Press, p.281-2
- Grosnick, William (1981). Nonorigination and Nirvana in the Early Thatagatagarbha Literature, Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 4/2, 34
- D.T. Suzuki in his Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra relates a portion of the biography of Fa-ch'ung on his special relationship with the Lankavatara Sutra: "Fa-ch'ung, deploring very much that the deep signification of the Lankavatara had been neglected for so long, went around everywhere regardless of the difficulties of travelling in the far-away mountains and over the lonely wastes. He finally came upon the descendents of Hui-k'e among whom this sutra was being studied a great deal. He put himself under the tutorship of a master and had frequent occasions of spiritual realisation. The master then let him leave the company of his fellow-students and follow his own way in lecturing on the Lankavatara. He lectured over thirty times in succession. Later he met a monk who had been instructed personally by Hui-k'e in the teaching of the Lankavatara according to the interpretations of the Ekayana (one-vehicle) school of Southern India." (pp. 51-52.)
- Yampolsky, Philip B. (1967). The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch (PDF). Columbia University Press. Retrieved 19 May 2015.
In the biography of Fa-ch'ung in the Hsu kao-seng chuan, T50, p. 666b, there is mention of the 'One-vehicle sect of India (Nan-t'ien-chu i-ch'eng tsung)' in reference to Bodhidharma's teaching.
- 佛教自淺之深。略有五等。一人天教。二小乘教。三大乘法相教。四大乘破相教(上四在此篇中)。五一乘顯性教 T45n1886_p0708c12(00) to p0708c14(01)
- Buswell, Robert E.; Lopez, Donald S. (2014), The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, Princeton University
- Kotatsu, Fujita; Hurvitz, Leon, trans. (1975). "One Vehicle or Three". Journal of Indian Philosophy. 3 (1/2): 79–166. JSTOR 23438660. (Registration required (. ))
- Nattier, Jan (2007). One Vehicle in the Chinese Agamas, Annual Report of The International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology at Soka University 10, 181-200
- Pye, Michael (2003). Skilful Means - A concept in Mahayana Buddhism. Routledge. ISBN 0203503791.
- Teiser, Stephen F.; Stone, Jacqueline Ilyse, eds. (2009). Readings of the Lotus Sutra, New York: Columbia University Press
- Gethin, Rupert M.L. (2001). The Buddhist Path to Awakening, Oxford: Oneworld Publications, pp. 59–66. ISBN 1-85168-285-6
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