Yes, it can. In fact, it is the only religion that has the potential to become one.
All religions were tribal in origin. They carry the tribal stamp even today. Which is why they are not acceptable as universal religions. How can I, a member of the Hindu civilisation, the greatest in the world, give it up for the tribal religions of the Middle East?
That is why there is a desire for a universal religion—a religion above all other religions, a religion, which is scientific, a religion which we need not be ashamed about. It is time we gave it our serious thought. True, it is not easy to create universal religion. And yet Advaita (the final reach of the Hindu philosophical mind) is the nearest we have come to a universal religion. It has a God without form; it has a God without a habitat; it has a God without a lingua. In other words, he has all the attributes of a universal God, who does not run the risk of being identified with any people or place.
Buddhism is one of the most scientific of all religions. Its beliefs are in line with modern thoughts. And it is the first religion to proclaim the equality of man and woman. Which is why many intellectuals are attracted to Buddhism.
The Buddha never claimed that he was associated with a god as the Semitic prophets. He tells his disciples: “I also am subject to decay and am not free from the power of old age, sickness and death.” In other words, he was like them.
Paul Dahlke, the German philosopher, writes in his Buddhist Essays, “Never before a founder of a religion spoke like this.” In fact, all others spoke as if they were close to God.
Thus, Allah spoke in Arabic, his habitat is the Kaaba and the Arabs are his “chosen people” Yahweh spoke in Hebrew and he chose to ‘dwell” among the Jews. As for Christians, their god spoke in Latin, the language of imperial Rome. But the Buddha spoke in Pali, the language of the common people, not in Sanskrit, the language of the Aryan aristocracy. The Buddha even allowed his disciples to learn his doctrines in their own mother-tongue.
These are not the one reasons why Buddhism should become the universal religion. There are many other reasons. Buddhism has a sense of the human family. It is opposed to the caste system. And man is the master of his destiny in Buddhism.
Towards the end of Buddha’s life, Ananda, his chief disciple, asked the Master, how the Buddhist Order should go about its future. The Buddha told him that he (Buddha) had given everything to his disciples, that he had held back nothing. “And after I’m gone,” he said, “let the Truths and Rules of the Order, which I have set forth and laid down for you all be the teacher to you.” And yet he allowed them freedom to judge for themselves. He says: “O Ananda, be ye lamps unto yourselves. Be ye a refuge unto yourselves. Betake yourselves to no external refuge. Look not for refuge to anyone besides yourselves.” Here is a religion which fostered the independence of the individual—a rare thing.
There is an impression that Buddhism is all about monks and renunciation. This is not true. “Not nakedness, not dirt, not a fasting, or lying on the earth…can purify a mortal who has not overcome desire,” says the Buddha. Once he told a rich merchant: “Only do not cleave increasingly to wealth, life and power.” Buddha and greater regard for the men of action, and not for those who had renounced life.
The Buddha says: “The Dharma does not require a man to go into homelessness or resign the world unless he has an inner call.”
The Buddha deprecated special honour bestowed on him. He said that anyone could achieve enlightenment. He was for a society that cared. Once he told a congregation: “Brothren, he who would wait on me, let him wait on the sick.”
Buddhism is based on logic and reason, and not on faith as most other religions are. Buddha says: “Reason is our only way to know what is right and wrong.” There is no place in Buddhism for faith or tradition, dogmas or conventions, Super-natural authority or the inspired word of God.
The central task of Buddhism is not to change the world, but to change man—to promote spiritual self-perfection. And to bring about happiness in a world of sorrow.