We use a traditional, if overly simplistic, way of grouping Buddhist philosophical systems and ritual-contemplative practices into “three vehicles”, three programs of theory and practice supporting the personal journey from suffering to enlightenment. This scheme became normative in India and Tibet: (i) the Lesser Vehicle (Hīnayāna), (ii) the Great Vehicle (Mahāyāna), and (iii) the Adamantine Vehicle (Vajrayāna), also referred to as “esoteric Buddhism” or “Buddhist tantra”. To this, we will add a fourth Vehicle which is explicit in many Tibetan materials, though no standard term ever emerged that was accepted by all sectarian traditions - we will thus term it as the “Natural Vehicle” or “Post Tantra”. We follow an indigenous Tibetan tradition in terms of characterizing each with a specific orientational paradigm - repression, refinement, transformation, and natural freedom. These twelve meditative traditions constitute the framework for the course’s discussion of the main streams of Tibetan Buddhist meditation.
The five modules of the present course, dedicated to "Lesser Vehicle" practices and perspectives, treat the first five of these twelve types. Each module in turn has four components: (i) the specific Buddhist meditation in its traditional presentation and practice; (ii) modern scientific research into its efficacy and dynamics, or on practices, principles, and processes related to this type of meditation in our analysis; (iii) the fact, problems, and opportunities of modern secular adaptations in a variety of educational, professional, and personal settings; and (iv) secular practices for experimentation, which are either direct adaptations or new practices designed to give an experiential sense of some of the principles underlying the Buddhist meditative practice.