The Buddha’s Teachings
It is said that all of the Buddha’s teachings can be summarized in a few points:
Do not do anything unwholesome,
Do wholesome deeds plentifully,
Tame your mind completely.
These are the teachings of the Buddha.
The Buddha lived and taught in the northern part of India (and parts of Nepal) in the sixth century B.C.E., nearly 2,600 years ago. There were many different traditions of Buddhism that developed through the centuries across Asia. Most of the traditions share core beliefs and meditation methods; however, there is great diversity in customs, practices, and doctrines.
The Tibetan Tradition – The Three Vehicle Approach
The Tibetan tradition of Buddhism classifies the rich and varied teachings of the buddhadharma – the Buddhist teachings — into three distinct vehicles or approaches. Keep in mind that the three vehicles are not exclusive to one another, but are to be integrated into one’s practice life as a whole. For example, if you are drawing mainly from the first vehicle, the hinayana, then that is sufficient for you. If you are practicing the mahayana, then you integrate both the hinayana with the mahayana teachings. And if you follow vajrayana, then you skillfully combine all three vehicles in your practice and understanding.
Hinayana (small vehicle): The basic teachings of the Buddha are simple and direct. If followed they help extinguish one’s suffering and bring a basic peace and serenity to one’s life.
Mahayana (great vehicle): The Mahayana approach is centered on achieving buddhahood – full awakening – for the benefit of all sentient beings. The Mahayana teachings also point to a transcendent knowledge into the true nature of things.
Vajrayana (diamond or indestructible vehicle): The profound vajrayana teachings connect one with the sacredness of reality. One uses various techniques such as visualization, mantra recitation, and so forth to leave behind any limiting view of reality and enter into a clear mind that rightfully sees all experience as immaculate or perfect as-it-is. In this approach one necessarily relies on a guru or vajra master for blessings and personal instruction. This relationship ensures that one doesn’t deceive oneself with the profound teachings and become spiritually unbalanced. Vajrayana also makes use of devotion and prayers of supplication. Although some might consider this to be contradictory to the Buddha’s original teachings, vajrayana has many skillful means that bring about awakening.