Initial Stage Lesser Vehicle Stage* Mahayana Stage
GOAL To stop non-meritorious (evil) behavior and practice good behavior to accumulate necessary merit so as to gain high status and a favorable rebirth in the future. In Buddhism this is seen only as a provisional goal and not as an end in itself. However, mastery of this stage is necessary to progress to higher levels. To escape suffering of samsara (cycle of birth and death). This includes Sravakas or Arhats (Lo-hans) as well as the Pratyekabuddhas who obtain liberation on their own without a teacher in their current lifetime. This is also seen as a provisional goal or respite on the way to Buddhahood whereby the conflicting emotions are eliminated but the goal of ultimate nirvana has not been reached. The superior goal of the Bodhisattva to bring all beings to complete enlightenment or ultimate nirvana before gaining the goal of Buddhahood for one’s self. Here the double veils of conflicting emotions and primitive beliefs about reality have both been lifted and one achieves complete enlightenment.
VEHICLE Of Gods & Men
Of Brahma
Of Sravakas
Of Pratyekabuddhas
Of Bodhisattvas
PATH Path of Favorable Rebirth
(Not a Buddhist Path)
Path to Liberation
(Sravakayana)
(Pratyekayana)
Paramita or Open Mahayana Path to Buddhahood
(Bodhisattvayana)
Tantric or Secret Mahayana Path to Buddhahood
(Vajrayana or Tantrayana)
TYPE OF TEACHING OTHER WORLD RELIGIONS EXOTERIC BUDDHISM
(open)
ESOTERIC BUDDHISM
(secret)
Level of Attainment Possible Rebirth in the 3 Higher Realms of Samsara (various Heavens), but will still have to take unfavorable rebirths to pay off karmic debts unless they become enlightened while in these realms Arhat or Lohan
(Sravakas)
Pratyeka-Buddha
(Not true Buddhas)
Ten levels or stages of Bodhisattvas Buddhahood
Buddha Body Attained None None Dharmakaya.
[Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya are both revealed, but not emphasized.]
Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, Nirmanakaya, and Real Nature Body.
Advanced adepts may also obtain the Immortal Body or Rainbow Body.
TIME REQUIRED 1-7 lifetimes to become an Arhat 100 kalpas to become a Pratyeka-Buddha 3 asaïkhya kalpas Liberation possible in current lifetime with higher empowerments. Lower level practices can take up to 16 lifetimes.
VOWS Sometimes Take Refuge in Three Jewels Take Refuge in Three Jewels Take Refuge in Three Jewels Take Refuge in Four Jewels as represented by the Guru or Three Jewels when there is a Buddha in this world
Pratimoksha Vows for Individual Liberation Bodhisattva Vows to Liberate All Beings Tantric Vows (vary to fit practitioner’s karma)
Pratimoksha Vows Bodhisattva Vows
Pratimoksha Vows
Non-Buddhist LESSER VEHICLE OPEN MAHAYANA SECRET VAJRAYANA
MAJOR PRACTICES-Training Ten Good Characteristics or Commandments IMPERMANENCE DEVELOPMENT OF BODHICHITTA** PRELIMINARY TANTRIC PRACTICES
(100,000 minimum)VARIOUS TANTRIC PRACTICES
(vary to fit practitioner’s karma) Perfection of the Lesser Vehicle & Open Mahayana Practices
FOUR LIMITLESS STATES OF MIND (Brahma world) FIRM BELIEF in the SUFFERING of SAMSARA SIX PARAMITAS
CAUSE and EFFECT (karma) FOUR ALL-EMBRACING BODHISATTVA VIRTUES
APPRECIATION FOR PRECIOUS HUMAN BIRTH FIVE VIDYAS (Healing, Art-Technology, Sound, Logic, & Inner Realization)
FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS
(Ten Good Characteristics)
Perfection of the Lesser Vehicle Practices+
12 LINKS OF DEPENDENT ORIGINATION (Nidanas)
FOUR LIMITLESS STATES OF MIND
37 BRANCHES OF ENLIGHTENMENT
MORALITY, Sometimes practice forms of concentration (meditation) Practice “What Is Cultivation?” Practice “What Is Cultivation?” Practice “What Is Cultivation?”
MORALITY, CONCENTRATION, & WISDOM MORALITY, CONCENTRATION, & WISDOM MORALITY, CONCENTRATION, & WISDOM

*In most sources the term “hinayana” is used to describe the Lesser Vehicle. It is believed that this was a mistranslation of very early texts as “hina” is considered a very insulting and derogatory term in Pali and Sanskrit. The word used in Tibetan and Chinese is translated as “lesser” without that connotation to denote that a lesser goal (short of full Buddhahood) is sought. Some use the term Sravakayana as this is the vehicle of the Sravakas or Arahats. Others refer to Early Buddhism or Conservative or Fundamental Buddhism to describe those who follow this path as compared to the Mahayana path. And some only want to refer to Northern and Southern Buddhism, but that does not portray the essential differences in goals of the two groups. Whatever this path is called, it should not be considered inferior in its methods or teachings and they were taught by Shakyamuni Buddha as what was appropriate for those living when He taught and for many people today. As shown on this chart, the Mahayana followers, must also master or understand these teachings to become accomplished. However, the use of any derogatory term that is insulting in its meaning is not appropriate and should not be used.

**It is not correct to assume that those following the lesser vehicle do not develop compassion or bodhichitta. H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III has taught that one cannot become an Arhat without having Bodhichitta. These categories should only be considered as guides and used for reference.

+ Although the truths of these practices are the same for the followers of the Lesser Vehicle and Mahayana, the levels of realization of these factors are different. You should  read Expounding the Absolute Truth Through the Heart Sutra to understand this.