Recently, someone showed me a cool website by the Nichiren-Shu Buddhist homepage here:
The theme is “You’re A Buddha”. The teaching comes from the 20th Chapter of the Lotus Sutra, which talks about a Bodhisattva named Never-Disparaging. The story, as translated by Burton Watson, is as follows:
“After the original Awesome sound King Thus Come One had passed into extinction, and after his Correct Law had also passed away, in the period of his Counterfeit Law, monks of overbearing arrogance exercised great authority and power. At this time there was a bodhisattva monk named Never Disparaging. Now, Gainer of Great Authority, for what reason was he named Never Disparaging? This monk, whatever persons he happened to meet, whether monks, nuns, Laymen or laywomen, would bow in obeisance to all of them and speak words of praise, saying, ‘I have profound reverence for you, I would never dare treat you with disparaging and arrogance. Why? Because you are all practicing the bodhisattva way and are certain to attain Buddhahood.’
“This monk did not devote his time to reading or reciting the scriptures, but simply went about bowing to people. And if he happened to see any of the four kinds of believers far off in the distance, he would purposely go to where they were, bow to them and speak words of praise, saying, ‘I would never dare disparage you, because you are all certain to attain Buddhahood!’
The notion of “universal buddhahood” was not entirely universal within Mahayana Buddhism though. For example, the Yogacara school of Buddhism taught the Five Natures Doctrine where all beings would eventually become enlightened, but not necessarily all of them would become buddhas. This is somewhat similar to the Theravadin approach where all beings have the potential to become arhats (e.g. “noble ones”), but only a very few have the innate talent and dedication to reach the state of Buddhahood like Shakyamuni did.
Whether Universal Buddhahood is possible or not, I still think it’s a nice teaching to share.1 Even if “buddhahood” is not achievable for everyone in the traditional sense, the greater message I think is that people are not static.2 They can change and can grow. They just need the right push, which is why there are so many paths in Buddhism.
P.S. The point made by Nichiren-shu, I think, is the potential for all beings to become Buddhas. It is not quite the same as “all beings are buddhas” as taught in some Zen schools.
1 It’s a good lesson for young children learning about Buddhism too.
2 Consider the famous words of Nagarjuna.