5 types of potential to reach Buddhahood


We use to say that all living beings have a potential to reach enlightenment. This is what the Third Noble Truth of Path to Enlightenment assumes. Although due to our past karma, not all beings have the same abilities and potential to reach the realization. For this reason Buddha Shakyamuni were giving different teachings for different people with different level of realizations, abilities and hence – a potential.

According to the philosophy of Mahayana Buddhism all living beings can be grouped according to 5 types of potential:

1.Potential of outcasts.
2.Uncertain potential
3.Potential of Shravaka
4.Potential of Pratyekabuddhas
5.Potential of Mahayana, the Great Vehicle

1. Beings with the potential of outcasts are those, who cannot reach the Buddhahood in their particular situation. These beings are characterised by these qualities:

1.They don’t feel any sorrows seeing defilements of Samsara.
2.They don’t feel the slightest devotion when they meet with Buddha.
3.They don’t feel any embarrassment, don’t have a conscience.
4.They don’t feel a slightest regret when they act badly.
5.As a result of all those aforementioned qualities they accumulate a bad karma.

It doesn’t mean they never really can reach enlightenment, but it can take a very long time. While they are living beings and have a Buddha nature, they can reach Buddhahood, but only if they will abandon all those negative actions they have done. If they continue to behave badly they cannot reach Buddhahood.

2. Undefined potential means there is no certainty in what direction those beings are going to progress. For example, if this person meets a teacher practicing Shravakayana and he becomes his teacher, this being follows this path and obtains a potential of Shravaka. If his teacher becomes the one practicing Mahayana, and he accepts him as his teacher, he may get a potential of Mahayana. The same way, if he accepts as his teacher a non-Buddhist, he can follow the path of outcasts and obtain a potential of outcasts.

3. Qualities characterizing the potential of Shravaka are that living beings with a potential of Shravaka see the defilements of Samsara and failures of Samsara and is afraid of Samsara. They are trying to renounce the Samsara. The second quality is that they are striving for Nirvana, they like Nirvana and they have a temper to reach Nirvana. And the third quality is – they have a very little compassion towards living beings. They think: If I will renounce the sufferings of Samsara, I will reach the Nirvana; it will be enough for me. If a one has those three traits, he has a Shravaka potential or Hinayana potential.

4. Living beings with potential of Pratyekabuddhas have 6 main traits: The first 3 qualities they share with Shravakas:

a) They try to renounce Samsara
b) They like Nirvana and they strive to reach it
c) They have a little compassion.
And additional three, characterizing a potential of Pratyekabuddhas:
d) They have a great pride
e) They keep secret their teachers; nobody knows their teachers
f) They love to be alone. The reason they love to be alone is because when there are a lot of people around they are not able to realize the teaching and they are not able to learn.

The beings with last two potentials, the potential of Shravaka and potential of Pratyekabuddha are both Buddhists, but attributed to the Lesser Vehicle. And the main treat of the followers of Lesser Vehicle is that when they reach Nirvana – it is not the absolute Nirvana. However they still renounce the sufferings of Samsara completely. But they cannot reach a perfect Buddhahood. Buddha Shakyamuni did teach this path to Small Nirvana to people who were not able to understand the teachings of the Great Vehicle. When the beings with the potential of the Lesser Vehicle reach this Small and incomplete Nirvana, they stay in this state for a very long period of time. But they have not realized yet the full potential of Buddha qualities, they have removed only obscuration of emotions, but obscuration of wisdom is not completely removed. At the very end they enter the path of Greater Vehicle and reach the absolute Buddhahood. At least this is the view Mahayana Buddhism adheres.

5.People with Mahayana potential have a great love and compassion to living beings. They have a soft voice and behaviour and act for the benefit of all beings, not their own.

Practitioners on the Mahayana path remove both obscurations – obscuration of emotions and obscuration of wisdom, while Hinayana practitioners remove only obscuration of emotions. Practitioners of the Lesser Vehicle realize that there is no permanent self, but Mahayana practitioners realize that all phenomena are empty in their essence, i.e. they do not really exist. Mahayana path is considered the shortest of all.