“In meditation, we enter rigpa. As Dzogchen practitioners, we should perceive the entire universe—including ourselves—as a dream land, as magical displays, mirages, or reflections of the moon in water. That is how we should see everything. We experience everything clearly, distinctly, and precisely without mixing anything up, yet everything is still a great magical display of rainbow light. Everything arises like a rainbow, remains like a rainbow, and evaporates like a rainbow. Or everything appears like a dream, continues like a dream, and dissolves like a dream. We should always have this thought and understanding.
We are not making this up, or trying to change things into something they’re not. The reality of the nature is like this. Connecting our hearts and minds to the true nature as it is, is Dharma practice. We’re following in the footsteps of the buddhas, Guru Padmasambhava, and all the great masters. With this understanding, and by reflecting and generating magical love, kindness, and compassion for ourselves and all living beings, we will live with joy and happiness. And later we will leave this world with joy and happiness in having achieved our goal. This is known as being a true practitioner.”
Venerable Khenpo Rinpoches
Supreme Wisdom: Commentary on Yeshe Lama (pg 328)
Photo of Ven. Khenpo Tsewang Rinpoche at PBC Orgyen Samye Chokor Ling Nunnery in Sarnath, India in 2013.
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“There are many explanations on why the Vajrayana teachings are more direct and detailed than those of the Sutrayana, and these explanations can be categorized as “very detailed,” “medium-detailed,” and “condensed.” One very detailed teaching on the distinctive and special qualities of the Vajrayana in relation to the Sutrayana was given by Buddha Shakyamuni in the Inner Tantra known as Dechok Rali in Tibetan, or the Chakrasamvara Tantra in Sanskrit. This tantra explains that the Sutrayana teachings of the Shravakayana do not include complete pith instructions on the true nature, whereas the Vajrayana includes them completely. Therefore, the Vajrayana teachings are considered to be more detailed.
We will briefly highlight some of the principal differences between the Sutrayana and Vajrayana. In total, there are fifteen differences explained in the Dechok Rali Tantra: (1) the views are different; (2) the conduct is different; (3) the methods, or styles, of concentration are different; (4) the causes are different; (5) the applications (i.e., paths) are different; (6) the achievements are different; (7) the distinctions between the bhumis and the levels of the path are different; (8) the time it takes to achieve the result is different; (9) the use and application of luxuries, circumstances, and surroundings are different; (10) the practices and meditation techniques are different; (11) the ability to fulfill the two benefits of self and other is different; (12) the visions are different; (13) the levels of hardship are different; (14) the use of conveniences is different; and (15) the accumulations are different. Now that we have listed these fifteen differences, let us briefly discuss their meaning.
You probably already know that the view of the Sutrayana is only related with emptiness. The Vajrayana, however, always describes emptiness and blissfulness as an inseparable union; thus emptiness and blissfulness are always united, along with skillful means and wisdom. So the views described in the Sutrayana and Vajrayana are slightly different.
Generally speaking, the conduct of the causal teachings, or the Sutrayana, is closely connected with acceptance and rejection. But the Vajrayana teachings don’t make the distinction between rejection and acceptance—they use everything as part of the display of wisdom. Therefore, the conduct between both teachings is different.
The various techniques of concentration discussed in both vehicles are also slightly different. The teachings of the Causal Yanas always explain the techniques of Shamatha and Vipashyana in a pretty focused way. In contrast, the Vajrayana teachings explain Shamatha and Vipashyana meditation in terms of the two stages of visualization (creation) and completion. By means of these two stages, a practitioner instantly brings the entire universe and world into the purity state of the nature; that is, he or she recognizes the essential nature of subject, object, and action. Along with this recognition, the practitioner maintains concentration (i.e., Shamatha) and discovers the innate nature, also known as the Vipashyana nature.
The Sutrayana explains that establishing good causes will bring about good results. For the most part, these teachings state that a cause is present, followed by a result that comes sometime later. But the Vajrayana explains that causes and results are really not so distant from each other: one should simply discover the transcendental nature and bring forth that realization immediately. Thus, the result is not something we have to wait a long time for—it is either discovered or not discovered, right at that moment. To state it in different terms, the nature of causes and results are the same. So by immediately recognizing this nature, one has attained the result of practice without delay.
From the Sutrayana perspective, the path is something gradually achieved, one step at a time. Thus meditation and postmeditation are kind of combined one after the other. However, the Vajrayana path views meditation and postmeditation as inseparable, seeing both as wisdom display. Whether one is engaged in visualization during formal meditation or simply perceiving everyday phenomena, everything is already in the enlightened state. Consequently, there is no substantial basis upon which to make any divisions or distinctions.
According to the perspective of the Sutrayana, the result of enlightenment is very far in the future, achieved only after three countless aeons of accumulating the merits. The Vajrayana, however, does not consider the result to be something one must wait a long time to achieve—it is right here. Therefore, a Vajrayana practitioner can discover this result in a very short time.
(7) Bhumis/Levels of the Path
The Vajrayana and Sutrayana teachings enumerate the stages and levels of the path in slightly different ways as well. For instance, the Sutrayana describes “five paths” and ten or eleven “bhumis.” Yet the Vajrayana describes thirteen and sometimes sixteen bhumis, or stages of realization. And a Vajrayana practitioner can very swiftly and easily actualize these different levels of understanding. Thus both systems differ in the way they enumerate the stages and levels of the path.
This is related to what we briefly mentioned when discussing the “result.” The Vajrayana and Sutra teachings also differ in terms of how long it takes practitioners of each system to achieve enlightenment. The Sutrayana teachings often explain that it takes three, seven, or even thirty-two countless aeons to achieve enlightenment. However, skillful practice of the Vajrayana can lead to enlightenment within a single lifetime, right before the moment of death, or in the bardo. If a practitioner somehow fails to achieve realization at one of those times, he or she can actualize enlightenment in three, six, or sixteen lifetimes. Whatever the case may be, the time frames discussed in both groups of teachings are different.
(9) Luxuries, Conditions, and Circumstances
The Sutra teachings generally stress that all luxuries should be avoided, including luxurious circumstances and conditions. From this perspective, a practitioner should keep him or herself away from luxurious circumstances. As we saw before, the Vajrayana does not emphasize this teaching; rather, it explains that luxuries can be applied to the path by means of meditation and practice, so it is not essential that one give up all kinds of luxurious things and circumstances.
(10) Practice and Meditation
Of course, the Sutra teachings emphasize meditation in which everything is in the emptiness state; in postmeditation everything is perceived as a dream, or magical display. Although the Vajrayana also teaches in this, it further explains that one should bring forth the realization of the state of the divine, enlightened mandala that is inseparable from great blissfulness. Again, for tantric practitioners there is really not a big difference between the meditation and postmeditation states—a good Vajrayana practitioner does not discriminate between both of these states at the level of experience.
(11) Fulfilling the Benefit of Self and Others
The Sutrayana teachings explain how to benefit all living beings by cultivating bodhichitta as the foundation of our practice and everyday activities. But using this method alone takes a long time to benefit all beings, since it entails a very gradual process. According to the Vajrayana, one instantly and continually maintains the visualization of oneself in the enlightened state—such as in the form of Buddha Shakyamuni—and begins to emanate many wisdom lights from one’s heart center. These lights perform countless beneficial activities on behalf of all sentient beings, benefitting them. This, in turn, results in spontaneous benefit to oneself. Actually, there is no distinction between subject and object in this context, so a Vajrayana practitioner spontaneously fulfills the benefit of self and others while simultaneously and instantly (1) pacifying, (2) increasing, (3) overpowering ego-clinging, and (4) subduing the neurotic states of duality. Therefore, the methods used to benefit oneself and others are different in the Sutrayana and Vajrayana practices.
The vision of the Sutrayana gradually develops realization through analysis and contemplation. In contrast, the vision of the Vajrayana is the heart of the Buddha’s realization, so by practicing the Secret Mantra we are immediately approaching the core of this realization. As the Dorje Tsemo Tantra states, “The nature—or vision—of the Mantra teachings is the heart of all buddhas; here we are practicing the essence of the teachings. By this means we perfectly realize the dharmadhatu state.” In other words, the vision of the Vajrayana involves immediately and directly connecting with the absolute true nature. A practitioner of the Secret Mantra brings this certainty vision into his or her mind and is instantly in the heart of the true nature, the teachings of the Buddha.
There is also a difference between the Sutrayana and Vajrayana regarding the levels of hardship involved in the practice of their respective techniques. The Sutras describe various kinds of ascetic practices that involve a great deal of hardship and strong endeavor in order to actualize the realization of the teachings. Although the Vajrayana also requires that individuals strongly endeavor on the path with courage and commitment, its ways are simpler, easier, and more open-minded, thereby quickly leading to the actualization of the realization of the teachings.
(14) Use of Conveniences
In general, the Vajrayana teachings use so many conveniences, including mandala offerings, vajra songs and dances, tsok ceremonies, and so forth. Although these techniques may look very casual and simple, or even ordinary, as skillful means practices they can be very powerful tools to transform grasping and clinging. Such practices will invoke the wisdom power of realization if done properly. Sutrayana practitioners, however, may consider these same conveniences as a hindrance to realization.
(15) Accumulation of Merit
The Sutrayana uses many techniques to accumulate merit through the practice of the six paramitas. While the Vajrayana does take these paramitas as the foundation for cultivating merit, they are practiced along with many different types of skillful means activities. Each of these activities is practiced with the view of the Vajrayana teachings. This expands the scope of the paramitas, which consequently become deeper, stronger, and wider, without too much rejection or acceptance. Practicing in this way brings forth the achievement of the paramitas more quickly and easily than the Sutrayana teachings.
These are the distinctions between the Sutrayana and Vajrayana paths which are explained in very elaborate detail in the Dechok Tantra, or Chakrasamvara Tantra.”
Venerable Khenpo Rinpoches
Opening the Wisdom Door of the Outer Tantras (pgs 45-51)
“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)