Three vehicles (Vajrayana)

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The three vehicles (Skt. triyāna) or three yanas, within the context of the Vajrayana school, are:

This categorization is particularly emphasized in Tibetan Buddhism.


These three vehicles, or sets of teachings that can carry one to enlightment, can be essentialized as:

In this context, the basic vehicle (Hinayana) emphasizes alleviating one's own suffering, and attaining the state of "enlightenment" for oneself only. In contrast, the great vehicle (Mahayana) emphasizes following the path with the ultimate goal to eliminate suffering for all sentient beings, and to help all beings reach the state of enlightenment. This great motivation is said to lead one to the highest state of enlightenment, called Buddhahood.[1] Finally, the daimond vehicle (Vajrayana) provides a wealth of "skillful means"--special practices that enable the practitioner to progress quickly on the path.[2]

In this system of categorization, the Mahayana includes the teachings of the Hinayana, and the Vajrayana is inclusive of both the Mahayana and Hinayana. Ringu Tulku writes:

All three vehicles form an integral system of instruction, and their categorization is just for the sake of easier understanding. The Shravakayana (Basic Vehicle)[note 1] contains the most fundamental teachings. Without this basis it is not possible to understand the Mahayana or Vajrayana. The relationship of the three yanas can be illustrated in terms of three concentric circles. The outer circle is the Vajrayana. It embraces and encompasses the other two. The next is Mahayana, which embraces the Shravakaya at the center... Whatever is taught in the Shravakayana system is not rejected by the Mahayana or Vajrayana teachings. It is just further clarified and revealed to open the way for our understanding to develop into ever deepening levels, until true depth is attained.[3]

The goal of the Vajrayana path is Buddhahood, where Buddhahood is defined as a state free of the obstructions to liberation as well as those to omniscience.[4] When one is freed from all mental obscurations,[5] one is said to attain a state of continuous bliss mixed with a simultaneous cognition of emptiness.[6] In this state, all limitations on one's ability to help other living beings are removed.[7]

See also


  1. Ringu Tulku uses the term "Shravakyayana" to refer to the Hinayana (Basic Vehicle).


  1. Thurman, Robert (1997). Essential Tibetan Buddhism. Castle Books: 291
  2. Thurman, Robert (1997): 2-3
  3. Ringu Tulku 2005, pp. 16-17.
  4. Cf. Dhargyey (1978), 64f; Dhargyey (1982), 257f, etc; Pabongkhapa Déchen Nyingpo, 364f; Tsong-kha-pa II: 183f. The former are the afflictions, negative states of mind, and the three poisons – desire, anger, and ignorance. The latter are subtle imprints, traces or "stains" of delusion that involves the imagination of inherent existence.
  5. Pabongkhapa Déchen Nyingpo, 152f
  6. Pabongkhapa Déchen Nyingpo, 243, 258
  7. Dhargyey (1978), 61f; Dhargyey (1982), 242-266; Pabongkhapa Déchen Nyingpo, 365


  • Pabongka Rinpoche (2006), Trijang Rinpoche, ed., Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, A Concise Discourse on the Path to Enlightenment, Michael Richards (transl.), Somerville, MA: Wisdom, ISBN 0-86171-500-4 
  • Thurman, Robert (1997), Essential Tibetan Buddhism', Castle Books 
  • Ringu Tulku (2005), Daring Steps Toward Fearlessness: The Three Vehicles of Tibetan Buddhism, Snow Lion 

Further reading

  • Ringu Tulku (2005). Daring Steps Toward Fearlessness: The Three Vehicles of Tibetan Buddhism. Snow Lion.
  • Traleg Kyabgon (2001), The Essence of Buddhism, Shambhala (this text is organized according to the three vehicles)
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