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three vehicles        trois véhicules     Tam thừa    三乘     trīṇi yānāni
the three vehicles, or conveyances which carry living beings across saṁsāra or mortality (births-and-deaths) to the shores of nirvāṇa. The three are styled 小,中, and 大. Sometimes the three vehicles are defined as 聲聞 Śrāvaka, that of the hearer or obedient disciple; 緣覺Pratyeka-buddha, that of the enlightened for self; these are described as 小乘 because the objective of both is personal salvation; the third is 菩薩Bodhisattva, or 大乘 Mahāyāna, because the objective is the salvation of all the living. The three are also depicted as 三車 three wains, drawn by a goat, a deer, an ox. The Lotus declares that the three are really the One Buddha-vehicle, which has been revealed in three expedient forms suited to his disciples' capacity, the Lotus Sūtra being the unifying, complete, and final exposition. The Three Vehicles are differently explained by different exponents, e.g. (1) Mahāyāna recognizes (a) Śrāvaka, called Hīnayāna, leading in longer or shorter periods to arhatship; (b) Pratyeka-buddha, called Madhyamayāna, leading after still longer or shorter periods to a Buddhahood ascetically attained and for self; (c) Bodhisattva, called Mahayana, leading after countless ages of self-sacrifce in saving others and progressive enlightenment to ultimate Buddhahood. (2) Hīnayāna is also described as possessing three vehicles 聲, 緣, 菩 or 小, 中, 大, the 小 and 中 conveying to personal salvation their devotees in ascetic dust and ashes and mental annihilation, the 大 leading to bodhi, or perfect enlightenment, and the Buddha's way. Further definitions of the Triyāna are: (3) True bodhisattva teaching for the 大; pratyeka-buddha without ignorant asceticism for the 中; and śrāvaka with ignorant asceticism for the 小. (4) (a) 一乘 The One-Vehicle which carries all to Buddhahood: of this the 華嚴 Hua-yen and 法華 Fa-hua are typical exponents; (b) 三乘法 the three-vehicle, containing practitioners of all three systems, as expounded in books of the 深密般若; (c) 小乘 the Hīnayāna pure and simple as seen in the 四阿合經 Four Āgamas. Śrāvakas are also described as hearers of the Four Truths and limited to that degree of development; they hear from the pratyeka-buddhas, who are enlightened in the Twelve Nidānas 因緣; the bodhisattvas make the 六度 or six forms of transmigration their field of sacrificial saving work, and of enlightenment. The Lotus Sūtra really treats the 三乘. Three Vehicles as 方便 or expedient ways, and offers a 佛乘 Buddha Vehicle as the inclusive and final vehicle.