The One Vehicle and Expedients

(Dharma Lecture, Full Moon of the 11th Month, 1981, Haein-sa)

All ten directions are permeated with the One Vehicle Dharma. There are no Two Vehicle or Three Vehicle Dharmas―these are merely expedients used by the Buddha for teaching.1

The entire universe is the eternal Dharma realm, it is the all-pervading Dharma realm, it is the Dharma realm of the One Reality. In Buddhism this is also called the One Vehicle Dharma, or Law of the One Vehicle.

You must understand that this all-pervading, unobstructed world of the Dharma is not something that comes from Buddhism; rather, Buddhism comes from it. It was taught by the Buddha after this one true reality untolded before him during his Great Enlightenment. So everything in the universe and beyond is this one vehicle, and there is nothing else. It encompases everything that is, and everything that isn’t.

Yet we think the Buddha taught a great deal in addition to this Dharma. But everything else he taught was an expedient so that people could understand this one teaching more easily. And to understand the Buddha’s Teachings, you have to come to understand the One Vehicle Dharma.
After the Buddha was enlightened, he first delivered the entire Avatamsaka Sutra. But it was so difficult, so beyond the comprehension of the average person that he might as well have been talking to the deaf. And of what use would that have been, if, after the Great Enlightenment, he were the only one to be enlightened for ever and ever? Consequently, he decided that he would have to use expedients. He decided to talk in simplified terms understandable to people so that eventually they would come to know the truth of the One Vehicle. He reverted to the Three Vehicles as a means to make the One Vehicle more easily understandable.
The Buddha spoke to meet the needs of the occasion and to meet the needs of whoever he was addressing. He spoke like a child to children, like a student to students, to commoners like a commoner, to royalty like royalty so that whoever was listening would understand him.
If everyone had understood what he was saying when he delivered the Avatamsaka Sutra, there would have been no need to proceed this way. But he had to work his way gradually, by beginning with simple explanations. This eventually led to the other Sutras, and as people became more attuned to what he was saying, he delivered his final two Sutras, the Lotus Sutra and the Mahaparinirvana Sutra. He had begun with the One Vehicle in the Avatamsaka Sutra, and finally returned to the One Vehicle in the Lotus Sutra. His forty years of teaching in between were expedients in trying to get across the concept of this One Vehicle.
Consequently, we have the 84,000 Dharma Teachings to meet the needs of so many kinds of people. So these are not the real Truth, but expedients for coming to an understanding of the One Truth. In between the Avatamsaka and Lotus Sutras we have all kinds of Sutras, all of which contribute in one way or another to bring about an understanding of the One Vehicle. It was through these other Sutras that people gradually came to an understanding of the One Vehicle.
Well, what is this One Vehicle that we’re talking about, this one and only Truth? We regard the Avatamsaka and Lotus Sutras as the representative Sutras of this One Vehicle. But what is it that they contain that makes them so representative?
First to compile systematic doctrine based on the perfect Doctrine of the One Vehicle was the Chinese Master T’ien-t’ai Chih-i.2 Concerning the Lotus Sutra, Chih-i said that the perfect Doctrine came from The Middle Way, and that this is a parting from reality based on relative dualities. The world based on subject and object is one of dualities, but such a world of discrimination is not the real Dharma.
He also said that it was through strenuous endeavor that the mind would become bright and clear, and when it did that, one was beyond dualities; but at the same time, this would reflect what appeared to be another duality, that of the eternal truth and the false truth. At this point, however, one would syncretize these apparent dualities, as well, into one. Truth and non-truth are syncretized just as good and evil are.
So The Middle Way becomes one of syncretizing dualities in addition to transcending them, and this is the Perfect Doctrine of the One Vehicle. Chih-i concentrated on the Lotus Sutra from which we get the term Bhutatathata or ultimate reality. The Perfect Doctrine claims that to transcend dualities completely is to syncretize them completely, and this is The Middle Way, the One Vehicle.
What is the difference between transcending dualities and syncretizing dualities? Let me make an analogy for you. For our purposes, think of it this way, and think carefully. When it is cloudy, we cannot see the sun. But if the sky clears, then the sun comes out. To transcend the dualities of cloudy and sunny, we could say that the sky cleared.
But to syncretize the dualities, we would say that the sun came out. However, to say that the sun came out is the same as saying that the sky cleared, and to say that the sky cleared is to say that the sun came out. So transcending and syncretizing are not two different things. The dualities are both transcended and syncretized.
To transcend dualities is to syncretize them, and this is the Perfect Doctrine of the One Vehicle, and it is The Middle Way.
Consequently, the Dharma realm of the One Reality, the ultimate, the fundamental true reality, the absolute or whatever you want to call it―it is all equal, it is all real, it is all eternally Thus. Eyerything is freely syncretized into one, that which we call the all-pervading Dharma. There are no dualities; they are all transcended, they are syncretized, and everything is free-flowing, unobstructed. The Bhutathatha is the all-pervading, and the all-pervading is the Bhutathatha.
Let’s take a minute here to see what the Avatamsaka Sutra, the complete teaching of the One Vehicle, has to say on the matter. Chinese National master Ch`ing-liang3 in his Treatise on the Avatamsaka Sutra, grasped the meaning of the Sutra quite well:

While brightening, clearing,
while clearing, brightening;
together brightening and together clearing;
evenly, fully bright,
and the meanings have been syncretized.

What he is saying here is that to unite or syncretize is to transcend, and to transcend is to syncretize. The dualities are both transcended and syncretized at the same time; and the dualities transcend themselves and at the same time syncretize. This is the Perfect Doctrine―everything is comprehensive, everything is complete, everything is round and bright, and this is the meaning of the Avatamsaka Sutra. All apparent dualities are both transcended and syncretized as Ch’ing-liang has very aptly pointed out.
Chih-i said the same thing, but he was using the Lotus Sutra as the basis for interpretation. So if you can grasp the meaning of this “both transcend and syncretize,” then you have come to an understanding of the Avatamsaka Sutra.
Ch’ing-liang and Chih-i both reached this same conclusion, so one would assume that they would agree completely. However, the Avatamsaka sect regarded the Lotus Sutra as the last Sutra to be taught, and therefore not the original Perfect Doctrine. That is the only difference―the meanings of the Sutras are the same. So we consider both the Avatamsaka Sutra and the Lotus Sutra to be representative of the Perfect Doctrine of the One Vehicle.
The deeper you get into the logic of this thought system, the more complicated it becomes. And this leads us into the Four Dharma Realms of the Avatamsaka Sutra: l) the noumenal with unity, 2) the phenomenal with differentiation, 3) the noumenal and phenomenal are interdependent and unobstructed, and 4) all phenomena are interdependent and unobstracted. The duality of the noumenal and the phenomenal is transcended and syncretized, for the noumenal is found in the phenomenal and the phenomenal is found in the noumenal. So this applies to everything in the universe, and from that we conclude that everything is The Middle Way, and that everything conse-quently is absolute. This is the basic theory behind both the Avatamsaka Sutra and the Lotus Sutra.
Following this logic, then, is the fact that paradise or heaven cannot be a separate entity. If everything is unobstructed, free-flowing and The Middle Way, then wherever you are must necessarily be paradise.
So the main point of concern is whether we are aware of this absolute reality or not. If your Eye is closed, then everything is dark no matter how bright the sun may be. But whether you understand this or not does not in any way detract from the fact that the we are living in the world of the free-flowing Light. If you can’t see, or if you refuse to see, that’s that. But the fact still remains that we are living in this world of the all-pervading Dharma. So we must strive to become aware of this. We must strive to open the Eye.
This all-pervading Dharma realm is the One Truth, the One Vehicle. Of course we have all kinds of other terminology, all kinds of contradictions and all kinds of other logic and reasoning. But as I stated earlier, these are all falsities, these are all expedients in bringing about gradually increased understanding and eventual awareness of the all-pervading Dharma realm.
Once you have truly become aware of this, then you must abandon all the falsities and all the expedients. To do otherwise would be foolishness. But one who is unaware of this One Vehicle, this One Truth, must pace himself with these other expdients, and work towards a gradual understanding through them.
To summarize, the whole universe and beyond is the One Vehicle Dharma Realm, and there is nothing else. Everything is originally, fundamentally the all-pervading Dharma, the Absolute.
So is this the end to the argument? No. The One Vehicle is the reality, and the Three Vehicles are expedients. But the Three Vehicles themselves must necessarily also be The Middle Way, the One Vehicle. Why? Because we have syncretized the duality of One Vehicle and Three Vehicles.

Zen-Beyond the One Truth

And then we have the Zen School. No matter how much you may shout or talk about or expound upon this One Vehicle, it is exactly that―talk. It is doctrine, but not practice. You can talk about tood, but that does not fill your stomach. If you are hungry, then you must eat. You can take a cooking course for years, but of what good is it if you don’t put it to use for you? Doctrine is the Teachings of the Buddha, but Zen is the actual transmission of the Buddha-mind. So to Zen, even the Perfect Doctrine of the One Vehicle is false and it is merely an expedient. It is only through Zen that one can really come to know, that one can fill one’s stomach so to speak, through practice. Ch’an master Chin-jong4 said that self nature was inexhaustible, and that everything was “the one flavor” but that Zen had to go beyond even this “one flavor.” He was talking about the One True Dharma, the allpervading Dharma. But how can “the one flavor” be inexhaustible if everything in the universe is different? Only by syncretizing can we undetstand everything as being of “the one flavor.” Thus good and evil, form and formlessness, everything is syncretized into the same inexhaustible flavor.
You all know the saying, “Pointing at the moon but seeing only the finger.” One Vehicle Buddhism is saying, “This is reality, this is reality,” but it, too, is seeing only the finger. This is true also of the Avatamsaka Sutra and the Lotus Sutra, and the Perfect Doctrine of the One Vehicle. It is all talk, and the One Vehicle, too, becomes an expedient, a falsehood. You must understand this if you are to enter the path to become enlightened. To go around saying that the Perfect Doctrine of the One Vehicle is Buddhist Truth, to say that it is the ultimate, to say that it is the greatest is to be seeing only the finger, and you will never see the moon.
To come to know genuine Truth, rather than just knowing about it, we must rid ourselves of all expedients. We must toss away the One Vehicle and the Perfect Doctrine into the middle of the Pacific Ocean. We have to look beyond the finger to see the moon.
There is an old saying that you have to regard the Buddha and all the Zen predecessors as enemies before you can begin to study. Right now you probably think that all the Zen classics and written records of the predecesso rs are true, and that the Avatamsaka Sutra and the Lotus Sutra are nothing but pure Truth. But if and when you become really enlightened, you will realize that all of these are nothing but thorns to the Eye. To become enlightened, and thus free-flowing, you must transcend the Buddha and you must transcend the records of the masters. If you feel that you have to listen to this person talk or that person talk, or if you get tied up in this expedient or that expedient, you will continue to do nothing but fail in your quest and you will not live eternally.