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One Vehicle and Three Vehicle Practices

by: Joe Hing Kwok Chu


The following explanation is based on Mahayana point of view.


One vehicle ( eka-y─na):

The term "One Vehicle" or eka yana comes from Saddharma pundarika Sutra (A製) and Śr┤m─l─ Sutra (摧N).

The term y─na or vehicle refers to communicating tools. In here it means the method to become buddhas (enlightened beings) and the Buddhist philosophy is considered here to be the only truth because it can make all beings into buddhas (enlightened ones); thus it is called one vehicle, meaning the only vehicle, also called single vehicle teaching method.


Three vehicles (trini-y─na):

The teaching of "Three Vehicle" is aimed toward the characteristics and abilities the beings (masses) and is divided into

  1. Sravaka y─na (  Vehicle of Learning by hearing (teachings) from teacher(s) ),

  2. Pratyeka buddha y─na (Self Made Vehicle for Enlightening  X核, X)

  3. Bodhisattva yana 鳶_核.



From the point of view of the Mahayana, the Hinayana (meaning small vehicle, a derogatory term by the Mahayana) is composed of the Sravaka y─na 核 and Pratyeka buddha y─na X核 (X核) . They are deemed by the Mahayana to be selfish, and can not enlighten the masses.

Bodhisattva yana: Bodhisattva is a Mahayana concept, where the enlightened beings do not go to nirvana but stay in this mundane world to help enlighten other beings. This vehicle delivers one to bodhisattva-hood.

The Sravaka y─na (hearing or disciple vehicle) of the Theravada (Hinayana) mainly studies the  four noble truth and the highest attainment is the result of Arhathood. The ultimate goal is to get rid of disturbances and defilement The passive, inactive emotion and selfish desire cause the defilement which brings the unnecessary annoyance to the originally peaceful mind.

Arhat means a person who is strict in practising the Buddhist canons, study diligently, understand and practise the four noble truth, thus successfully get rid of all temptations, desires and emotion that cause vexation. The person understand the nature of emptiness, thus attaining the unconditional freedom and can avoid the rebirth and death but does not possess the ability to help others to achieve enlightenment and rid of their sufferings.

The highest attainment of the Pratyeka buddha y─na (Vehicle of theSelf Enlightening X核, X)  of the Theravada (Hinayana) is Pratyekabuddha.  Pratyeka buddha y─na (Self Made Enlightening Vehicle X核, X) practises the twelve links (see the Heart Sutra).  Pratyekabuddha (Self Made Enlightening Vehicle X核, X) although fully understand the truth but does not possess the ability to help others to achieve enlightenment and rid of their sufferings. Those practising Pratyekabuddha yana (Self Made Enlightening Vehicle X核, X) do not have teachers to guide them. They are trying to get enlightened by their own effort.


Traditionally, there are eight major sects of Buddhism in China. Each of them is characterized by the Buddhist scriptures being used. Today the mainly practised ones are Pureland sect, Chan sect (Zen) and Tantric sect.  Zen is the old Chinese pronunciation of Chan during the Tang dynasty. The Chan sect has been integrated with the Pureland Sect.


  1. Fa Xing Sect (隈來忱) also called San Lun Sect (眉忱). The sutras being used by this sect:  M┗lamadhyamakak─rik─  (Sanskrit meaning: Fundamentals of the Middle Way) (嶄^) , (為), (噴屈T)。

  2. Fa Xiang Sect (隈獨), also called Yu Jia (Yoga Sect) (茲戮忱). The sutras being used by this sect: (盾侮畜), (茲戮仇), (撹率R)吉。

  3. Tian Dai sect (爺岬忱).  The scriptures being used by this sect:  Saddharma-Pundarika-Sutra (Lotus sutra 隈A), Mahaprajnaparamita ś─stra (寄崘業), M┗lamadhyamakak─rik─  (Sanskrit meaning: Fundamentals of the Middle Way) (嶄^) 吉。

  4. Hua Yan Sect (A跡), also called Suan Shou Sect (t遍忱). The sutra being used by this sect: Avatamsaka sutra, also called Buddhavatamsaka-mahavaipulya Sutra(A製)。

  5. Chan Sect (Zen U忱). Although the Chan Sect does not has written scriptures. It only does heart transmission but the pioneer Bodhidharma taught Lankavatara-sutra (雪戮) and Hui Neng (the founder) taught people to recite the Diamond Sutra (Vajracchedik─-prajñ─p─ramit─-s┗tra 署違飛襖_築謹 ) (abr. 署).Thus Lankavatara-sutra (雪戮) and Diamond Sutra (Vajracchedik─-prajñ─p─ramit─-s┗tra 署違飛襖_築謹 ) are being used. It also has the Sixth Patriarch Altar Sutra (鎗怕) written by the disciples of Hui Neng based on his lecture. The famous Shaolin (富爽紡monastery is the pioneer monastery. The Chan sect was later developed into 5 sub sects: Cao Dong (蝦挟), Yun Men (T), Fa Yan (隈凛), Gui Yang (壬), Lin Ji (R) . But after Song dynasty, only Cao Dong (蝦挟), and Lin Ji (R) are left.  In Japanese, Cao Dong Zong (sect)(蝦挟忱) is pronounced as S┃t┃-sh┗ and Lin Ji Zong (sect) (R忱) is pronounced as Rinzai-sh┗.

  6. Pure Land Sect (Q輿忱). The sutras being used by this sect: Amitabha sutra (唖羊倹), Amitayurbhavana-sutra (o楚杤), (寄核o楚税繻o峠吉X)吉。

  7. Lu Sect (Canon sect) (舵忱).  This sect mainly studies the Buddhist canon.

  8. Tantric Sect (畜忱), also called Mantrayana Sect (寔冱忱) or Varjayana Sect (署核). This sect uses Mah─vairocana sutra (寄晩), Vajrasekhara sutra (署). 秀羨眉畜茲戮並尖^佩and uses a designated tutelary deity (ishtadeva or Yidam) as tutor ( 俐云恊隈)。 The Tantric sect has 2 branches: the Eastern Tantric |畜and Tibetan Tantric sect (茄畜. The Eastern Tantric sect is  popular in inland China, Korea, and Japan. and Tibetan Tantric set is popular in Xizang Tibet), Sichuan, Yunnan, Qinghai, Beijing, Mongolia, Manchurian, and other western and southwestern parts of China.

    From other sects' point of view, they are the same as other secular sects except they are heavy in rituals. The Eastern Tantric sect does not have the sexual tantra in their practice, while the Tibetan Tantric sect includes sexual tantra. There are many sub sects in Tibetan Tantric sect: the  Gelug, Nyingma, bKar-gyud, and Sakya are the major group. Within each group there are also sub group. See this.



Tian Tai sect and Hua Yan sect consider the One Vehicle is the real Buddhism. Their positions are that One Vehicle is real and 3 Vehicles is for convenience.  San Lun sect (Three Treatises sect) considers Bodhisattva Yana is real and the 2 yanas are for convenience. The Tian Tai sect and Hua Yan sect, beside the 3 vehicle, established the Buddha Vehicle. So, Fa Xiang sect and San Lun sect also being called the Three Vehicle Family (expert). Hua Yan sect and Tian Tai sect are also called Four Vehicle Family (expert). The so called the differences of  3 Vehicle Family and 4 Vehicle Family is based on the  Saddharma-Pundarika-Sutra (Lotus sutra 隈A).




The Four Noble Truths
1. Life means suffering.
2. The origin of suffering is attachment.
3. The cessation of suffering is attainable.
4. The path to the cessation of suffering.

Sravaka: this Sanskrit work literally means hearing the voices/sound; so it means learning from teachers. It is also translated as disciple. Thus, comes the "Disciple vehicle" for Sravaka Yana.

Bodhidharma: the first patriarch of Chan (Zen) sect, according the historians, was a made up story by Hui Neng, the 6th patriarch (who was actually the first patriarch).

According to the story of Hui Neng he is the 6th patriarch of Chan (Zen) sect in China; but by Chan (Zen) lineage, he is the 26th patriarch. and Bodhidharma is the first patriarch in China. The first disciple of Sakyamuni Buddha, Mah─k─śyapa is the first patriarch of Chan lineage.

Bodhisattva, pronounced as bodi saht tua, a term created by the Mahayana group,  is a being who is enlightened and elect to remain in this mundane world to help the masses to be enlightened. In Theravada (Hina yana), the term of arhat (arhan, plural) is being used for enlightened being. But the Mahayana group thought arhan do not know how to enlighten the masses.


Note: during the early writing, the writer used Meriam Webster pronunciation to translate the Chinese pronunciation, later he switched to Pinyin method which is being used as official Chinese phonetics in Mainland China. This causes the inconsistency in the Chinese Romanized pronunciation written in these web pages on Buddhism.

Note: Many Western teachers incorrectly pronounce the Sanskrit word Bodhisattva as Bodhi sat va. The correct pronunciation should be bodhi saht tua. The Chinese sound translation is closer to bodhi saht tuae according to the Chinese Tang dynasty pronunciation which is closer to the now Fujianese pronunciation.   Chinese writing is not based on phonetics, so it is more difficult to imitate another the sound of other languages with Chinese written characters.                    

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