10 January 2011

What Is Ekayana?

Ekayana is a Sanskrit word. It means "single vehicle." Buddhism is famous for being of one, two, three, or more (up to nine in Nyingma) -yanas, or vehicles. The Ekayana doctrine claims that all these vehicles are but devices, conveniences, teaching tools, training wheels, or gimmicks: that the real intention of the teaching is single, coherent, subsuming all of the above into one logic. The Buddha's behavior may seem pranksterish in this context, but his pedagogy is relentless, as he expresses it in The Lotus Sutra:

That is why, O Shariputra, I devised the method of teaching
The way to extinguish all suffering through Nirvana.
Even though I taught Nirvana,
It is not the true extinction.
Every existing thing from the very beginning
has always had the mark of quiescence.
The heirs of the Buddhas who practice this path
Whill thereafter become Buddhas in the future.
With the power of skillful means
I have presented the teachings of the three vehicles.
Yet all the Bhagavats
Teach the path of the single vehicle.
This great assembly should now rid itself of bewilderment.
Of those hearing this Dharma
There will be no one
Who will not become a Buddha.
The original vow of the Buddhas,
Was to make all sentient beings universally
Attain the very same Buddha-path
Which I have practiced.
(from Chapter 2, as recited at the Tendai Buddhist Institute)

Fundamentally, Ekayana means that the Buddhist teaching is in its most transcendental moments a contrivance, a method, a means to an end: not a transcendent doctrine.

Practically, Ekayana means that our path is the recognition and cultivation of the Buddha-mind. One can call this "taking the goal as the path."


You should know that the Dharma
Of all the Buddhas is like this.
They teach the Dharma
With myriads of kotis of skillful means,
According to the capacities of sentient beings;
The inexperienced cannot understand this.
All of you, have no further doubts!
Let great joy arise in your hearts
And know that you will all become Buddhas!

This is what our Sangha is about: the Great River, the single stream, of the Ekayana teachings.

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