In a way, Buddhas confer predictions
of future attainment of Buddhahood
as the purest ‘self-fulfilling’ prophesies –
by inspiring greater practice towards it,
with which definitely reaches it, as predicted.
As I was reading the Lotus Sutra again recently, one chapter in particular, ‘Prophesy of Enlightenment for Five Hundred Disciples [五百弟子授记品],’ caught my attention. It describes the Buddha giving a prophesy [and guarantee] of complete enlightenment to his five hundred disciples, telling them that they will all become Buddhas after a certain period of time… Hearing the Buddha’s encouraging words about their future, the five hundred disciples are elated and make a vow to engage continuously in spiritual practice.
Whenever I come across this story of the Buddha’s prophesy, it reminds me of my elementary school teacher Ms. Lee, who predicted great things about my future… ‘You’re going to be a good student and a role model for your friends. I trust that you will become a great person who brings wisdom and happiness to a lot of people.’ My young heart was moved beyond words. After that day, I studied very hard and tried to be a role model for the other students. I was determined not to disappoint her. I think I have become who I am today thanks to what she said to me that afternoon. Without her kind words, I would not have had the confidence to excel academically or to become a professor or spiritual teacher.
According to the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha makes the prophecy about his disciples because he has a supernatural ability to foresee when they would achieve the final stage of Buddhahood. But I do not think they automatically attained enlightenment because they received the Buddha’s prophesy; I think it has a lot to do with the Buddha’s faith in them, which motivated them to work harder to accomplish what their teacher predicted. Like Ms. Lee’s words to me, the Buddha’s trusting words and his loving gaze transformed the lives of his five hundred disciples. One word of encouragement, said with kindness and hope, can change a person’s future, the way it did for the five hundred disciples and for me.
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