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One City

Hardcore Dharma: My other vehicle is the Mahayana*

This past Saturday at Hardcore Dharma we settled atop our cushions to discuss one lens through which to view the Buddhist path, the three yanas (vehicles).  Descriptive of Tibetan Buddhism, the three yanas are the Hinayana (literally translated as the lesser vehicle, pertaining mainly to conduct), the Mahayana (the great vehicle) and the Vajrayana (the indesctructible/diamond vehicle). 
The historical facts about these yanas are best discussed by the precise-minded and research oriented so I plan on staying far far away from those, thank you very much.
That said, the issue that comes up for me when thinking about the three yanas is that it seems contradictory and perhaps discouraging to create a hierarchy out of the experience of awakening and the path of Buddhism.  I know that you’ll always keep the hina with the maha an the vajra, but it feels psychologically restrictive to have to (the way practicing Buddhism works right now) spend a ton of money at Buddhism centers across the world in order to access those diamond teachings (and, implicitly suggested, diamond mind).  I’m not saying I’m going to get enlightened tomorrow, and I understand that basically all of these levels are indications of a growing commitment to the path, but I do want to feel as though awareness is available to me at any point and at any level.  What do you all think about that?  Is it an immature or incomplete view?  What are the benefits of this three pronged system?
Honestly, I feel a trifle over my head and under the weather so I’m going to leave it at that today, wish you well and in exchange for an abbreviated post provide some links for some of my all-time favorite Buddhist podcasts:

and my main man, GIL
See you on the other side of Choose a President 2008.
Stay warm,
*This joke belongs to Snow Lion Publications, brought to my attention by Eva.  I can take no credit, only dweeby delight.

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posted November 1, 2008 at 11:06 am

Hope you’re feeling better!
The way I see the hierarchy issue with the three yanas, and the path in general is that it’s a matter of practicalities/what works. You start by working on basics, and then keep going from there, like learning anything else.
One nice element at play- it seems like the way the path is “designed,” the profound stuff is there right from the start of your studies. It’s not totally hidden and reserved for people who’ve been studying 50 years, with such and such credentials. I think this is one way of seeing the idea of “open secret”- even when we start with basic, foundational teachings, the good stuff is there, built in, if we’re ready for it, and work for it.
As far as the money issue, I hear you. That’s something I think about a lot, too. Why should I have to take 3 years to complete X set of workshops, when a wealthier person can do it in 1? I think there are a couple of responses.
1. It depends what you mean by access. If you want to hear a talk by a well-practiced, wise teacher, that’s relatively easy. If you want to “get” the practices and start Vajrayana practices, that’s less easy, but doable. I know of a teacher who’s giving an initiation for a Chenrezig practice that’s open to just about anyone. It’s not expensive either.
2. If you want to go to a certain center, but they’re expensive, you could probably find a way to save/earn the money. I have this thought when I’m griping about it- there are folks out there who manage to hold down two or even three jobs. It’s our decision whether we do that to go a certain route with our training.
3. I think part of the idea with charging for big retreats and initiations was that it should be taken seriously. It’s not super-serious/grim, but it’s not a small thing, like going to see a movie. So, I think one thing that’s going on is the attempt to discourage a casual or consumerist attitude toward these things.
4. I’m almost done. In my brief experience as a Buddhist, when I meditate MORE, interesting things happen. No visions or flying, but my thoughts lighten a bit, my emotions flow better, I feel more raw, but good. So, it would be nice to be doing dzogchen or serious sadhana or what have you, but if you want to go deeper with practice, just practice more. That’ll also build a great foundation for when we do move on to vajrayana practice.
Sorry for the length of my ramble. Hope that addressed what you were writing about!

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posted November 2, 2008 at 7:13 pm

Buddha taught many paths (84000?) for different people. So if the current lineage is working for you, you can keep it. If there are opportunities to listen to other lineages’ teaching, you don’t have to avoid it. Generally it can be helpful to know about other lineage’s teachings since each has its own focus. That is actually what I am doing. I never spend a lot of time studying Buddhism. I mostly focus on what I am doing everyday. I feel if I work hard at things I am doing, I should be able to solve my own problems and come to the same thing that Buddhism is trying to teach me. I generally refrain from listening too much of Buddhism teaching because it in a way denies my own searching power. I would rather find things out myself.
The cheapest (and the most valuable) way to practice Buddhism, to me, is just doing what I am doing now. When eating, eat. When walking, walk. It doesn’t waste time and money.
One thing about the mermaid story on Mahayana’s teaching, I think it is a very good metaphor. The mermaid story says the teaching is discovered by going under very deep water. Similarly, when you do sitting meditation, you breath deeply. At the deepest place, you can discover the treasure.
I haven’t heard of anyone in history who was enlightened at birth and was never confused throughout life. I know many people who awakened to their own nature of no-self. So all of us grow up with a self. Only after a lot of experiences in life, we realize it is better to have no self. So experiencing life, reflection, self-inquiry is the best way of practice. Thus it was said Dharma is your best teacher. It will teach you a lesson.

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Julia May Jonas

posted November 3, 2008 at 10:42 am

Thanks guys,
I’m with everything you say, most of the time. I will say that I experience profoundly deep effects when I attend a program. I think you’re right Jake, paying money for these programs (besides upkeeping the venerable institutions that bring the dharma to me in the first place) changes my treatment of the event. Maybe, in my own American way, I’m highly motivated to get my money’s worth… Anyway, my “problem” with a three tiered system is all speculative. I just took the refuge vow and feel no particular other Buddha ambition other than becoming familiar and confident with what that vow means and how to manifest it. Maha and Vajra can wait.

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