“Why is the thegpa chenpo known as Mahayana or the great vehicle? There are many different explanations of why the Mahayana is a greater vehicle than the “Hinayana,” or Foundational Vehicle. The future buddha Maitreya summarizes all of these reasons in his teaching known as the Sutra Alamkara, or Dode Jen (mdo sde rgyan). In this teaching, Maitreya says that there are seven different reasons why Mahayana is the great vehicle. In contrast with the Hinayana, each of these seven qualities is greater or more developed in the Mahayana. The qualities are: 1) great joyful effort (pronounced as tsondrü chenpo in Tibetan); 2) great focus or object, which is pronounced migpa chenpo; 3) drubpa chenpo or great completion; 4) yeshe chenpo or great wisdom; 5) great skillful means or thab khe chenpo; 6) great fulfillment or trubpa chenpo; 7) tinley chenpo or great activity.
1. Great Joyful Effort
Let us investigate the meaning of these seven qualities. The first is joyful effort. Compared with the Hinayana, Mahayana practitioners have great joyful effort which lasts for three countless eons. They have great courage, commitment and joy to strive for the goal without becoming tired and bored by the many different circumstances and challenges that they face. They go on and on to fulfill the final goal. Depending on the individual capabilities of the Hinayana practitioners, often it is said that it can take three or seven lifetimes to reach arhathood. Since Hinayana practitioners don’t have the long-term goal of continuing to work for the enlightenment of all beings, they don’t have to make such long-term plans. This is why the Mahayana practitioners are said to possess great joyful effort.
2. Great Focus
The focus of the Mahayana is also great. The focus of Mahayana practitioners is great emptiness, which includes realizing the emptiness of both self or ego, as well as the emptiness of all phenomena. The Hinayana mainly focuses on realizing the emptiness of self. Mahayana practitioners realize that the nature of all existing phenomena, including the self is great emptiness. Since Hinayana practitioners don’t go further than realizing the emptiness of self, the view or focus of Mahayana is said to be greater than that of the Hinayana.
3. Great Completion
The next one is great completion. Mahayana practitioners try to accomplish the benefit of all living beings. In comparison, the Hinayana practitioners mainly think of releasing themselves from suffering by attaining arhathood. Since the Mahayana attempts to reach enlightenment in order to help all living beings, a Mahayana practitioner focuses on other beings’ well beings more than his or her own well-being. Therefore, the completion and accomplishment of the Mahayana is greater than that of the Hinayana.
4. Great Wisdom
The great wisdom of the Mahayana includes the wisdom of the egolessness of self and the egolessness of phenomena. This is known as the two wisdoms which realize the egolessness of self and the entire universe without any distinctions. On the other hand, Hinayana practitioners mainly realize the egolessness of the self without fully realizing the egolessness of all other phenomena. In addition, Mahayana wisdom is the union of wisdom and compassion. The wisdom of the Hinayana is without great compassion.
5. Great Skillful Means
The fifth quality is that of skillful means. According to the Mahayana teachings, there are many different skilful means one can apply to remove the obscurations of oneself and others , all in order to accomplish the benefit of all living beings. The skillful means of the Mahayana are based on the Buddha’s entire teachings. Mahayana practitioners apply skillful means based on emptiness meditation, as well as on one’s own activities. These activities include: rejoicing, dedicating merit, making aspirations, and performing the activities of the six paramitas or perfections, applied continually to all circumstances. There are numerous skillful means. The Mahayana’s skillful means are known as the skillful activities that are neither caught in the pain of samsara, nor in the tranquility of nirvana. They go beyond both samsara and nirvana. Hence, in comparison with, the skillful means of the Mahayana are greater than those of the Hinayana.
6. Great Fulfillment
Next is the quality of great fulfillment. By continually practicing and applying oneself according to the Mahayana path, the achievement will be Buddhahood, whereas the attainment of the Hinayana is arhathood. Buddhahood however, is completely free of all defilements and blockages, bondages and every type of habitual pattern. Both arhathood and Buddhahood are free from negative emotions. However, unlike arhathood, when you reach buddhahood there are no longer any shadows or stains of any type of obscuration that remain in one’s consciousness.
7. Great Activity
Once you reach the final goal of buddhahood, you continually engage with the world in order to benefit all living beings. This happens through the four kayas and the five wisdoms. Reaching buddhahood is reaching out to every living being without partiality. In contrast, in the Hinayana once you reach arhathood, your activity ceases. According to the Buddha’s teaching, there is nothing more than to accomplish or do for the Hinayana practitioner. These are the seven special reasons why the Mahayana is known as the great vehicle.”
Venerable Khenpo Rinpoches
Opening the Clear Vision of the Mind Only School (pgs 15-18)
“If we look at the whole range of the Buddha’s teachings, we see that all of his teachings are related to our own mind. In the sutric approach, the body, speech, and mind are described more or less separately. In the Buddha’s tantric teachings, the body, speech, and mind are all synchronized and brought together, with a special emphasis on the importance of the mind. In Dzogchen, the whole thing is seen from the point of view of self-liberated awareness, where everything is experienced and understood according to our self-awareness.
If we look at the evolution of the Buddha’s teachings in this way, we see that even though the Buddha taught in different ways, his intention was always the same: to pacify our negative emotions and tame our minds. Some of the Buddha’s teachings are straightforward and explicit, while other teachings are implicit and concealed, but their purpose is the same.
If we look at the Dharma from another perspective, we can say that it has two aspects: tradition and experience. Tradition, known as lung [lung] in Tibetan, is the authority, transmission, or legacy of the teachings. Experience, or togpa [rtogs pa] in Tibetan, is the practice or application of the Dharma. Both of these aspects of the Dharma are oriented toward bringing about a positive change in our mind.
If we look at the aspect of scriptural authority, or lung, there are different ways that we can describe this. One way is to say that there are eighty-four thousand teachings. Then there is the division of the Dharma into the Three Baskets of the Vinaya, Sutra, and Abhidharma. We can also categorize the Buddha’s teachings according to the three vehicles of the Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana, or in terms of the nine yanas of the Shravaka, Pratyekabuddha, Bodhisattva, Kriya, Upa, Yoga, Maha, Anu, and Ati. All of these descriptions are related to the scriptural aspect of the Dharma. If we analyze and contemplate the Dharma by using even only one of these modes of description, we will be able to make full use of the whole exercise. The reason we analyze, contemplate, and debate about the different Buddhist philosophies is not to compete or excel in terms of scholarship, intelligence, or reputation. We study the Dharma to have a greater understanding of ourselves and a deeper insight into our condition.
We must listen to the teachings and analyze and contemplate them, but this should be followed by meditation. Analysis without meditation is incomplete. Just hearing the teachings is not able to bring about meditative experience. It is very difficult for that to happen. If you really want to achieve some realization of your true condition, then you must meditate. Sometimes it also happens that people throw themselves into meditation without listening to and reflecting on the Dharma, which is just as incomplete. We should study the Dharma by hearing and contemplating the teachings before we engage in meditation practice, because we have to know what meditation is all about before we can practice it properly.
In fact, Arya Maitreya [phags pa byams pa] said that practicing meditation without hearing and contemplating the teachings is a disparagement of the Dharma. If we could achieve realization just through meditation, then why would the Buddha have given so many types of teachings?
On the other hand, if we hear and contemplate on the teachings, but then just constantly talk about them without meditating, then the fact that the Buddha said we must meditate becomes devoid of meaning. At the same time, we must be reasonable because the Buddha’s teachings are so vast. Even what is contained in the Tibetan Tripitaka [sde snod gsum] and the commentaries on the original Indian texts is so vast that one person would not be able to understand all of it. But we do need to have sufficient understanding as the basis of our meditative experience. This will enhance our meditation.
Not only should we study, contemplate, and meditate, we also have to depend on a reliable teacher. A qualified teacher should not focus only on study, nor should he or she fall into the extreme of complete introversion. A reliable teacher must embody a balance of intellect as well as meditative experience.”
Ven. Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche
Turning the Wisdom Wheel of the Nine Golden Chariots (pgs 23-26)
“Once the relative truth is thoroughly comprehended, it becomes much easier to identify and abide in the absolute truth.”
Venerable Khenpo Rinpoches
The Nature of Mind (pg 103)
Photo of Ven. Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche at PBC Palm Beach Dharma Center in 2016.