Buddhism is a path of spiritual practice, first taught by the Buddha, 2500 years ago. According to the Buddhist tradition, the spiritual path is the process of cutting through our confusion, of uncovering the awakened state of mind.
The heart of our confusion is that we are continually concerned about ourselves. We centralise on ourselves and relate to the world around us not with openness and warmth, but rather with passion, aggression or ignorance.
According to the Buddha, no one can attain basic sanity or Enlightenment without practising meditation. The practice of meditation is a way of working with who we are, our confusion and continual stream of thoughts, and bringing out the intelligence and sanity that exists within our minds.
The teachings of the Buddha are a treasury of wisdom that have been passed down from teacher to student for over 2500 years. Many different styles of teaching have developed, but all of the schools of Buddhism present the means to realize the awakened state of mind, through forms of meditation and study.
Three Vehicles of Buddhism
In the Shambhala community, we practice the teachings of Buddhism according to the Tibetan tradition. This tradition divides the path of Buddhism into three vehicles, or paths: the hinanyana, mahayana, and vajrayana.
The new student starts with the Hinayana. Hinayana literally means the “small”, or “lesser” vehicle, but it would be more accurate to call it the “narrow vehicle”. The Hinayana is small or narrow vehicle in the sense that, at the beginning of our path, we need a strict discipline of meditation to narrow down, or tame, the speed and confusion of our mind, allowing the mind to rest in its own place. In the Hinayana, we work directly with our lives and our minds in a very simple way, and we begin to realise that whatever we experience – whether good or bad, positive or negative – is workable, tamable. The ideal of Hinayana is individual liberation, which is known as Nirvana. It is a common western misconception to think of Buddhism as containing only the Hinayana, and thus to believe that Buddhism focuses solely on escaping the misery of samsara and attaining Nirvana.
The Mahayana, or “great vehicle”, however, goes beyond the Hinayana ideal of individual salvation alone. Its aim is the liberation of all sentient beings, which means that everyone, and everything is included in the vast vision of Mahayana. The primary discipline of the Mahayana is helping others, putting others before ourselves. This attitude and exertion do not spring however from self-denial and martyrdom, but rather from genuine warmth and compassion for others.
The third vehicle, the Vajrayana, literally means the “diamond or indestructible vehicle”. The idea of indestructibility here is the discovery of indestructible wakefulness, the discovery of our own innate awakened state of mind, or vajra nature, which permeates and empowers all of our existence. The Vajrayana is a continuation of the previous two vehicles, and without the proper trainijng in the Hinayana and the Mahayana disciplines, it is impossible to step into the Vajrayana or tantric path.