The Buddha addressed Śāriputra, saying: “The Buddha Tathāgatas lead and inspire only bodhisattvas. All the acts of a buddha are always for one purpose. The buddhas manifest their wisdom and insight solely to inspire sentient beings to enlightenment.
“O Śāriputra! A Tathāgata teaches sentient beings the Dharma only through the single buddha vehicle. There is no other, neither a second nor a third.
“O Śāriputra! The true nature of all the buddhas of the ten directions is exactly like this.
“O Śāriputra! All the buddhas of the past expounded the teachings for the sake of sentient beings, using incalculable and innumerable skillful means and various explanations and illustrations. These teachings were all for the sake of the single buddha vehicle. All these sentient beings, hearing the Dharma from the buddhas, finally attained omniscience.
“O Śāriputra! All the future buddhas who will appear in the world will expound the teachings for the sake of sentient beings, using incalculable and innumerable skillful means and various explanations and illustrations. These teachings will all be for the single buddha vehicle. All sentient beings who hear this Dharma from these buddhas will ultimately attain omniscience.
“O Śāriputra! All the Buddha Bhagavats of the present, in immeasurable hundreds of thousands of myriads of koṭis of buddha worlds of the ten directions, teach the Dharma to sentient beings using incalculable and innumerable skillful means with various explanations and illustrations to benefit many of them and cause them to feel at peace. These Dharmas are all of the single buddha vehicle. All the sentient beings who hear the Dharma from these buddhas will ultimately attain omniscience.
“O Śāriputra! These buddhas lead and inspire only bodhisattvas, because they want to teach sentient beings with the wisdom and insight of the Buddha, to enlighten sentient beings with the wisdom and insight of the Buddha, and to cause sentient beings to enter the path of the wisdom and insight of the Buddha.
“O Śāriputra! I too am now like this. Having understood the various desires and deep-rooted inclinations of sentient beings, I teach the Dharma according to their capacities through the power of skillful means, using various explanations and illustrations.
Exactly what the Buddha means by two vehicles here is not entirely clear. One might think first of the common distinction, invoked in the subsequent verse section of Chapter 2, between the vehicles called “lesser” (hīnayāna) and “greater” (mahāyāna); but here the Buddha may well have in mind the vehicles of the śrāvaka (śrāvakayāna) and pratyekabuddha (pratyekabuddhayāna), the two types of followers, we may recall, that the Buddha declared in his opening remarks could not understand his wisdom. His reference to three vehicles, then, adds to these the vehicle of the bodhisattva (bodhisattvayāna), typically identified with the greater vehicle. In any case, the point remains that, whatever other vehicles the Buddha may have mentioned, they are not real alternatives to his one buddha vehicle (ekabuddhayāna).
(2010-06-01). Readings of the Lotus Sutra (Columbia Readings of Buddhist Literature) (Kindle Locations 2101-2111). Columbia University Press. Kindle Edition.
Scholars continue to ponder the true meaning behind what is exactly the nature of the “One Vehicle”. Could it be the Bodhisattva as opposed to the śrāvakayāna or pratyekabuddhayāna? Or is it simply in reference to the “Great-Vehicle”, or Mahayana? Or even perhaps the One Dharma that encompasses them all? The fact remains that the Lotus Sutra never explicitly defines it; it does however give broad hints that whatever its true variable is, it rests solely in leading all people to attain Buddhahood. At this junction I’m going out on a limb and conjecture that the One Vehicle=Buddha-nature. I believe that the ongoing study of the sutra will support this thesis. Indeed, this One-Vehicle is meant to supplant the former-three, which had provided provisional expedient means to enlightenment but never quite satisfied the Core Element of Buddhism itself which can be argued, in particular through the latter Ch’an schools, that the Bodhikaya, or the fully awakened Body is non- other than the One Mind, or one’s innate Buddha-nature.