The Buddhist path leading toward nirvana is one properly undertaken with the understanding that enlightenment is something coming in degrees, and perhaps without a finite ending point.' It is not unlike the mathematical concept of a limit. The limit of the function of x' as x approaches infinity illustrates the spiritual progress of a person on the Buddhist path. Though the infinity point might never be reached, except in the Buddha's ultimate parinirvana, a practitioner can aim to approach the line nonetheless. Buddhism is thus a system of existential calculus. Accordingly, the Buddha's teachings are divided into three vehicles customized to drive different sorts of people along the same path. The Hinayana constitutes the original teachings of the Shakyamuni Buddha to his monk followers. The Mahayana scriptures are composed of teachings that were transmitted to the Buddha's more advanced students and thus constitute more refined knowledge. The Vajrayana tradition of terma mind-treasure allows for a continuous stream of new teachings to be uncovered by highly-realized practitioners beyond the time of the historical Buddha. The three yanas are thus skillful means (upaya) that allows all people to benefit from the teachings regardless of their current position along the curve towards enlightenment; each yana' assumes a different amount of life understanding and teaches accordingly. All teach, as summarized by aphorism 183 of the Dhammapadda, not to do any evil, to cultivate good, to purify one's mind (Rahula, 131).
[...] Thus, the Bodhisattva is the embodied culmination of the full understanding of the Noble path's three aspects of prajna, sila and samadhi. The ten stages of bodhisattva practice, which takes place over many lifetimes, distinguish the Mahayana from the Hinayana in terms of understanding the interplay of ethics, concentration and wisdom. The perfections,' the first six stages of the Bodhisattva path, are generosity, ethics, patience, effort, concentration, and wisdom. The Prajnaparamita Sutra describes how, in practice, the perfection of wisdom itself subsumes and leads to the other five perfections: “Without wisdom, these five perfections are eyeless: Those who are without the guide are unable to experience enlightenment (Verse VII.1).” Once the apprehension of emptiness- wisdom (prajna)- is attained through the practice of meditation and ethical, selfless living, skillful means and liberative power enable the Bodhisattva of the seventh and eighth level to aid in the enlightenment of other sentient beings. [...]
[...] The result are archetypal personalities that differ in their approach to the attainment of nirvana. The model of the Sakyamuni Buddha is of course the prime exemplar of the Buddhist path. The lifestory of Siddhartha Gotama is central to both Hinayana and Mahayana conceptions of the path. This is, however, subject to different interpretations by each vehicle. His story can be summarized by the following twelve deeds: 1. descent from the Tushita heaven entry into the mother's womb taking birth learning the arts marriage renunciation of the worldly household life ascetic practice journey to the Bodhi tree defeat of the hosts of maras attainment of Buddhahood turning of the wheel of Dharma, Buddhism, and 12. [...]
[...] With practice of meditation, one can gain the insight that makes self-apparent the basic Hinayana teachings of the four noble truths of suffering and the twelve limbs of conditioned genesis (taught in the Great Discourse on Origination). With the understanding gained by that wisdom, the ethical component falls into place almost by default. If one understands that the origin of suffering is craving, and cultivates compassion, then it follows that one would be able to live ‘rightly' in speech, livelihood, thought and action. [...]
[...] Therefore, the meaning of the Eightfold Path is construed differently than in the earlier yanas. According to the tantric mandala, in ignorance there lies the potential for dharmadhatu, spaceless awareness. Thus, through meditative practice, an ignorant man may cultivate the wisdom characteristic of a Mahayana bodhisattva of the tenth level. The key to success is the skillful means of a tantric teacher, who can create the individualized path necessary to enable the transcendence of one's vices. This adaptation allows for enlightenment within one lifetime, contrasted to the previous understanding that countless aeons of practice are necessary for enlightenment. [...]
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