Three vehicles (Mahayana)
The three vehicles (Skt. triyāna) or three yanas, in the context of the Mahayana school, are:
- the shravaka yana (shravaka vehicle)
- the pratyekabuddha yana (pratyekabuddha vehicle)
- the bodhisattva yana (bodhisattva vehicle)
This categorization is also presented with Tibetan Buddhism, when explaining the Mahayana path as distinct from Vajrayana.
The 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.
- Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. ekayana