Deciphering the Lotus Sutra: Commentary by Thich Nhat Hanh (Chapter 2)
Whatever eyes you use to look at the Buddha, you will see the Buddha only through those eyes. If you feel angry, and regard others with eyes of anger and small-mindedness, then you will see everyone as angry and small-minded too. So if you look at the Buddha through the eyes of a shravaka or pratyekabuddha, you will not be able to see the real Buddha as he is, you will see the Buddha only as a shravaka or pratyekabuddha.
It is very important that the hearer of a teaching be appropriately prepared to receive its true import, its deepest insight – otherwise they may fall into doubt and refuse to accept the teaching, which would be more harmful for them than not hearing that teaching at all. Later on, when the time is right and their practice and insight has ripened sufficiently, they will be able to receive the teaching.
When the time is ripe, the Buddha reveals the path of the One Vehicle (ekayana), the Great Vehicle of the Mahayana, which embraces all three of these paths – the shravakayana, pratyekabuddhayana, and bodhisattvayana. The one Vehicle teaching says you can do more – you can arrive at the fruit of the highest awakening, become a Buddha, and help many other beings cross the river of suffering to the shore of freedom.
The Buddha affirms that the two vehicles are worthy paths, but they are not the ultimate teachigns because they are not founded on bodhicitta – the great aspiration to dedicate one’s own practice and realization to help bring liberation, peace, and joy to the whole world.
The Buddha taught these three vehicles to respond to the different levels and capacities of beings, the different causes and conditions, and the different times and situations in which the teachings are given. The three vehicle teaching is a skillful means in the historical dimension. In terms of the ultimate dimension, however, the Buddha always aims to reveal the deepest meaning, the absolute truth – reunites all the disciples and paths of practice into the one great family of the Buddha.