QUESTION: It is said of some teachings that through them persons of the two vehicles can never attain Buddhahood. Does this mean that through them bodhisattvas likewise can never attain Buddhahood, or does it not?
Answer: In volume two of the Lankāvatāra Sutra we read: “‘[Bodhisattva] Great Wisdom,1 what is meant by the group who are without the nature of enlightenment? It means the icchantikas. Great Wisdom, the icchantikas do not have the nature to attain nirvana. Why? Because when it comes to the possibility of emancipation they do not have a believing mind, and therefore they will never enter nirvana.
“‘Great Wisdom, the icchantikas are of two kinds. What are the two kinds? The first kind is those who have burned all the roots of goodness. The second kind is those who, feeling pity and compassion toward all living beings, vow to save all those in the realm of living beings.
“‘Great Wisdom, what does it mean to burn all the roots of goodness? It means to speak slanderously of the storehouse of bodhisattva teachings, saying, “These do not accord with the teachings of the sutras, the monastic rules, and emancipation, and will cause one to abandon the roots of goodness.” Because they say such things, they can never attain nirvana.
“‘Great Wisdom, those who out of pity for living beings take a vow to save all those in the realm of living beings are called bodhisattvas. Great Wisdom, these bodhisattvas as an expedient means make their vow, saying, “So long as there are other living beings who do not enter nirvana, I myself will not enter nirvana!” Therefore these bodhisattvas and mahāsattvas do not enter nirvana.
“‘Great Wisdom, the persons described above constitute the two kinds of icchantikas, or those who are without the nature to attain nirvana. And for this reason they invariably pursue the way of the icchantika.’
“Bodhisattva Great Wisdom then said to the Buddha, ‘World-Honored One, of these two kinds of icchantikas, which will never enter nirvana?’
“The Buddha replied to Great Wisdom, ‘Those icchantikas who are bodhisattvas and mahāsattvas will never enter nirvana. Why? Because they know that all things in their original state are in nirvana. Therefore they do not enter nirvana.
“‘But this is not true of those icchantikas who have cast aside the roots of goodness. Why? Because, Great Wisdom, if those icchantikas who have 175cast aside the roots of goodness should meet with a Buddha or with a good friend, then they will conceive a desire for enlightenment and will cultivate good roots and thus be able to attain nirvana.’”
In this passage from the sutra, one should note the words “So long as there are other living beings who do not enter nirvana, I myself will not enter nirvana.”
In the sutras that represent the first four of the five flavors, it is said that persons of the two vehicles cannot attain Buddhahood. If that is so, then it would seem that in the four types of teachings2 represented by the four-flavor sutras, it must be impossible for bodhisattvas as well to attain Buddhahood.
The Flower Garland Sutra says, “Until all those in the realm of living beings have been saved, my vow will not be fulfilled.”3
All bodhisattvas invariably take the four universal vows. And if they do not fulfill the first of those four vows, which says, “Living beings are numberless: I vow to save them,” then they can hardly claim to have fulfilled the fourth vow, which says, “Enlightenment is supreme: I vow to attain it.”
In view of all this, if persons of the two vehicles cannot attain Buddhahood through the sutras preached in the first forty and more years of the Buddha’s preaching life [of which the Buddha said, “I have not yet revealed the truth”4], then it is hardly possible for bodhisattvas to fulfill their vow [to save all living beings].
Question: What passages of proof can you offer to support the view that if persons of the two vehicles cannot attain Buddhahood, then bodhisattvas likewise cannot attain Buddhahood?
Answer: Volume thirty-six of the Nirvana Sutra states, “Though one believes that living beings possess the Buddha nature, one supposes this does not mean that all of them invariably do so. This is called the state of insufficient belief.” (Volume thirty-two in the thirty-six volume version of the sutra.)
If we go by this passage, we must understand that the bodhisattvas of the teachings that are likened to the first four of the five flavors are all to be regarded as icchantikas. In such teachings, persons of the two vehicles cannot attain Buddhahood. And not only can persons of the two vehicles not attain Buddhahood, but bodhisattvas likewise are numbered among those who cannot attain Buddhahood. In view of this, we can see that in the sutras designated by the passage “In these more than forty years [I have not yet revealed the truth],” since persons of the two vehicles cannot attain Buddhahood, bodhisattvas likewise cannot do so.
In The Essentials of the One Vehicle Teaching we read: “Volume thirty-six of the Nirvana Sutra states, ‘Though one believes that living beings possess the Buddha nature, one supposes this does not mean that all of them invariably do so. This is called the state of insufficient belief.’ (Volume thirty-two in the thirty-six volume version of the sutra.)
“Volume thirty-one of the same sutra says, ‘To believe that all living beings, including icchantikas, possess the Buddha nature is the first of the ten rules5 to be followed by bodhisattvas, and is known as sufficient belief.’ (Volume thirty in the thirty-six volume version of the sutra.)
“This makes it clear that when the sutra says that all living beings possess the Buddha nature, it does not mean that only a small portion of them do so. To insist that ‘all’ means only a small portion not only contradicts what is said in the sutra, but represents a state of insufficient belief. But why would one deliberately choose to enter such a state and thus become an icchantika? From this we can see that what is 176meant is that all living beings possess the Buddha nature. And from this one may logically conclude that all living beings can attain Buddhahood.”
Tz’u-en’s Praising the Profundity of the Heart Sutra states: “Seen in terms of their great compassion for living beings, bodhisattvas are always to be regarded as icchantikas. But seen in terms of their great wisdom, it is only natural to conclude that they can attain Buddhahood. Pao-kung says, ‘To call them icchantikas of great compassion is to see them in terms of the teachings set forth in the pre-Lotus sutras. But it is not permissible to use the earlier teachings to criticize the later teachings. The commentaries of the Buddhist scholars are for the most part in agreement on this point.’”6
A commentary on The Diamond Scalpel7 states: “The object to be observed through practice is the four noble truths. The realm of birth and death made up of the hundred worlds and three thousand realms is indeed characterized by suffering. And when we come to realize that this realm of birth and death is none other than nirvana, this is what is indicated in the first of the four universal vows, ‘Living beings are numberless: I vow to save them.’
“The hundred worlds and three thousand realms are permeated by the three categories of illusion. And when we come to realize that these earthly desires [or illusions] are none other than enlightenment, this is what is indicated in the second of the four vows, ‘Earthly desires are countless: I vow to eradicate them.’
“To realize that the realm of birth and death is nirvana, that is, to gain enlightenment into the Buddha nature of the perfect teaching, is what is indicated in the fourth of the four vows, ‘The Buddha way is supreme: I vow to attain it.’
“And to realize that illusions are enlightenment and that all are part of wisdom is what is indicated in the third of the four vows, ‘The teachings are endless: I vow to master them.’
“Since illusions and wisdom are not two different things, living beings and Buddhas must be one in entity. And since suffering and the cause of suffering are products of the mind alone, the four universal vows are thus resolved and brought to fulfillment. The one is the many, the all—that is what these words are saying.”
The Great Teacher Jikaku in his On the Quick Attainment of the Stage of Buddhahood8 says: “First of all, it is only through the power and effectiveness of this sutra, the Lotus, that the Buddha is able to fulfill his vow to convert living beings. Therefore he appeared in the world and preached it. It represents the causal stage or process by which the Buddhas attain enlightenment, the fulfillment of the four universal vows to benefit living beings, cut off earthly desires, master the doctrines, and attain Buddhahood.
“Since the cause is perfect and the result fully satisfactory, one can fulfill the three latter objectives. But the first vow, that aimed at benefiting living beings, is extremely difficult to fulfill. The power of the Flower Garland Sutra is insufficient to insure that all beings in the Ten Worlds attain the Buddha way, and the same may be said of the Āgama, Correct and Equal, and Wisdom sutras. And the teachings that in the Nirvana Sutra are likened to the five flavors are similarly incapable of fulfilling the Buddha’s original objective, which was to enable all beings to attain the Buddha way.
“But now when we turn to the Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law, it becomes clear that all beings in the Ten Worlds can attain the Buddha way. Devadatta had fallen into the hell of incessant suffering, and yet he is given a prophecy that he will become 177a Buddha named Heavenly King. The dragon girl attains Buddhahood, the ten demon daughters likewise gain the Buddha way, and the asuras are given prophecies that they will attain Buddhahood. Human beings, heavenly beings, persons of the two vehicles, bodhisattvas of the first three of the four teachings—all are able to attain the perfect and wonderful Buddha way.
“Thus in the Lotus Sutra the Buddha says: ‘What I long ago hoped for has now been fulfilled. I have converted all living beings and caused them all to enter the Buddha way.’9 Since those in the realm of living beings are numberless, even though there may be those living beings who have yet to enter the Buddha way, the power of this sutra insures that all living beings in the Ten Worlds attain the Buddha way. Since this is so, the Buddha’s original vow to benefit all living beings has been fulfilled.”
He also says: “First of all, if we were to clearly state the overall meaning of the Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law, it is that the Buddhas appear in the world for one great reason alone, namely, to teach that all living beings possess the Buddha nature, and that if they heed the Law and observe the religious practices they will all be able to attain Buddhahood.
“For what reason did the Buddha teach that all living beings in the Ten Worlds possess the three inherent potentials of the Buddha nature? Bodhisattva Vasubandhu in his Treatise on the Buddha Nature, in the first section that deals with dependent origination, states: ‘The Thus Come One, in order to free living beings from the five types of faults and allow them to gain the five types of virtues, teaches that all living beings possess the Buddha nature.’
“The five types of faults are (1) to possess an inferior and unworthy mind, (2) to possess an arrogant mind, (3) to cling to what is unreal and illusory, (4) to slander the true doctrine, and (5) to think only of oneself. The five types of virtues are (1) assiduousness, (2) reverence, (3) wisdom, (4) knowledge, and (5) great compassion.
“To doubt that one can bring forth the Buddha nature and therefore to fail to set one’s mind on the attainment of enlightenment is what is meant by possession of an inferior and unworthy mind. To be confident that one possesses the Buddha nature and to go about declaring that one has set one’s mind on the attainment of enlightenment is what is meant by possession of an arrogant mind. Though all things are lacking in an inherent self, to cling to the idea that they have a self is what is meant by clinging to what is unreal and illusory. To deny and speak slanderously of the wisdom and blessings inherent in the purity of all phenomena is what is meant by slandering the true doctrine. To be conscious only of one’s own existence and to have no wish to show pity toward all living beings is what is meant by thinking only of oneself. By replacing these five faults with the five virtues and understanding once and for all that all beings possess the Buddha nature, one can set one’s mind on the attainment of enlightenment.”