Apologies for not providing any source for this entry because it is just for collecting my thoughts. I have been interested in the idea of “soteriological exclusivism” in Buddhism for quite sometime and have discussed in some detail elsewhere. So I may not repeat it here. A careful, comprehensive, and systematic treatment of the theme is still wanting. By “soteriological exclusivism” (in the Buddhist context), I mean a kind of theory or doctrine according which one cannot obtain release from saṃsāra (and obtain Arhatship or Buddhahood) without realizing the true reality of some kind or without realizing it to a minimum required degree (Wangchuk 2007; RZ1: on thabs shes; gNubs-chen, bSam gtan mig sgron, p 259: thabs dang shes rab ma rogs pas || ma grol khams gsum ’khor ba yin || [citing the rGyad bcu pa]). This is actually a quite a significant, complex, and knotty issue. We will have to leave up to the scholars specializing in Theravāda or Sino-Japanese Buddhism to inform us regarding the issue of “soteriological exclusivism” in these traditions. My study concerns primarily ideas of “soteriological exclusivism” found in Indian sources and their interpretations by various schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
(a) To be sure, the issue is naturally pertinent to only those Buddhist doctrines or theories that deal with soteriology. Most Buddhist traditions would perhaps agree that Buddhism also teaches ways of obtaining a fortunate destiny in saṃsāra. In other words, Buddhism is not all, though primarily, about obtaining Arhatship and Buddhahood. I argue, however, that Buddhism, like perhaps all major world religions, is unique because of its unique soteriology. A form of Buddhism that has no soteriology would be no Buddhism at all.
(b) Here comes the first difficulty. Historically speaking, Buddhist tradition eventually split up into eighteen (or more) Nikāyic schools. Are all these schools authentic? Importantly, this question is tantamount to the question as to whether one can, by following any one of these eighteen or more Nikāyic schools, obtain at least Arhatship. How do various Tibetan Buddhist scholars answer this question? This is the first venue for exploration. While most Tibetan scholars world not even doubt the Buddhist status of most of these schools, the ability of the doctrine of Vātsīputrīya school to lead one to Arhatship becomes an issue. How do the various Tibetan scholars view this issue? This is fascinating.
(c) Fundamentally in the Madhyamaka context, as I already suggest elsewhere, Tibetan positions seem to fall into two distinct camps: (1) one that follows either- everything-or-nothing kind of interpretation, and (2) each-according-to-his/her-capacity kind of interpretation. The former is represented mainly by the anti-Yogācāric interpreters of Madhyamaka (e.g. dGe-lugs-pas) and the latter by the pro-Yogācāric interpreters of Madhyamaka (e.g. non-dGe-lugs-pas). Each group has its own arguments. The issue now comes to be differentiated. The issue is no longer whether a Buddhist system x is capable of leading one to the soteriological goal but rather whether that system is “independently” able to lead one to the soteriological goal. For the former camp, the only system that is “independently” able to lead one to the soteriological goal is the Prāsaṅgika-Madhyamaka school.
(d) The next significant issue is how (or in what respects) is Mantric Mahāyāna superior to Sūtric Mahāyāna and whether the latter form of Mahāyāna is capable of leading one to the Mahāyānic soteriological goal, namely, the Buddhahood. The rNying-pa-pas are divided on this. According to one strand (i.e. Zur-lugs), the answer is in the negative. According another strand (i.e. Rong-lugs), the answer is in the affirmative. But even the Rong-lugs (RZ1: 202) proposes a kind of soteriological exclusivism, that is, there is no way of becoming a buddha without realizing the great reality of equality or homogeneity (mnyam pa chen po’i don). Is this also taught by the Sūtric Mahāyāna? If so, how and why should Mantric Mahāyāna excel Sūtric Mahāyāna? If not, it would be impossible for one to attain Buddhahood by following the Sūtric Mahāyāna. These are yet some additional venues for exploration.
(e) For most Sa-skya-pas and dGe-lugs-pas, Mantric views does not excel Sūtric (Madhyamic) view. This is usually the position in a Sūtric context. But in a Mantric context, the issue becomes complicated. How about Sa-skya-pa’s ’khor ’das dbyer med kyi lta ba? Is this view identical with Sūtric (Madhyamic) view? For the dGe-lugs-pa, there is yet another issue. Is Sūtric Mahāyāna able to bring about saṃbhogakāya? If not, Sūtric Mahāyāna is after all not adequate in bringing about the full qualities of a buddha, and one must rely on the sexual yogic initiation offered by only the highest Yoga system.
(f) Last but not the least, there is yet another venue for exploration. More or less every Tibetan Buddhist school associates itself with what it believes is its highest doctrine. Perhaps one might subsume all of these highest doctrines into the “Three Great Ones” (Chen-po-gsum), namely, dBu-ma-chen-po, Phyag-rgya-chen-po, and rDzogs-pa-chen-po. The most fascinating issue here is how the proponents of each of these Three Great Ones view the Great Ones of other competing schools. The elements of soteriological exclusivism among Tibetan Buddhist schools become very conspicuous in such contexts. For example, from a radical dGe-lugs-pa perspective, gZhan-stong-dbu-ma-chen-po falls outside the domain of the Buddha’s doctrine.