Universal Vehiclism is a Buddhist concept first postulated by the Venerable Sheng Yen of the Dharma Drum foundation Taiwan in one of his books (it must be said, however, that his concept of Universal Vehicalism differs from Chua's concept), and later on developed by the philosopher Calvin Chua of Singapore. To even grasp the basic ideas of Universal Vehicalism, it is absolutely necessary and essential for one to first have an understanding of the obstacles which present-day Buddhism is facing, with specific reference to Buddhism in Asia.
Broadly speaking, Buddhism has failed to effectively capture the attention of the majority of youths in Asia, due to their common misinterpretations and misconceptions. This, together with the onslaught of evangelical Christianity in Asia, contributed mainly to the decrease of Buddhists in Asia. A considerable amount of Buddhists in Asia felt that something serious needed to be done regarding the dwindling amount of Buddhists, and from this enthusiasm and fervor Universal Vehiclism was born.
Despite the fanciful name for this minor but growing subdivision of Buddhism, the ideology which rests behind Universal Vehiclism remains surprisingly simple and unsophisticated. The lack of unity and wholeness amongst the Buddhists has been identified as one of the major problems which influences the efficacy of spreading the Buddha's word (perchance a good example would be when a Theravada Buddhist is requested to explain the concept of Pureland, of which he has absolutely no clue about), and Universal Vehicalism attempts to correct this problem by positing a philosophy which effectively combines all three major divisions of Buddhism into one single, all encompassing school of thought.
The sine qua non of Buddhism still remains in Universal Vehiclism - the quintessential Noble Eightfold Paths and the Four Noble Truths continue to be the cornerstone of the Universal Vehiclism philosophy. The cardinal difference of Universal Vehicalism as compared to the other branches of Buddhism like Mahayana or Theravada lies in the fact that, although Universal Vehiclism does not deny the existence of Bodhisattvas, Arahants and other Buddhas, the emphasis and central figure of worship and guidance is the Buddha Shakyamuni. In this sense, followers of Universal Vehiclism have a common figure for which they can look to for unity. Vis a vis run-of-the-mill Vajrayana or Mahayana concepts of having many Bodhisattvas and/or Buddhas, Universal Vehiclism has indeed successfully managed to tackle the problem of dissenion among the major branches of Buddhism by focusing their attention soley on the teachings of the Buddha Shakyamuni as present in the Pali Canon.
This concept was further developed by the philosopher Calvin Chua of Singapore. Chua argues that it is inappropriate for early Universal Vehicalism to completely ignore certain aspects of the major branches of Buddhism, some of which are extremely attractive to the majority of Buddhist youths in Asia. In his essay, "Fundamental Errors of Universal Vehiclism", Chua tries to incorporate and integrate these aspects into early Universal Vehiclism. He argues that while the Christians have their Holy Bible as a symbol of unity, Buddhists on the other hand are at sea when it comes to understanding concepts of other foreign branches. Therefore, he argues, this causes Buddhism to be easily targeted by the Christian evangelists, and as a result of this uncertainty, some skeptical Buddhists switch their faith. In order to prevent these skeptical Buddhists from becoming the primary target of proselytizing by Christian evangelists, Chua has inculcated certain salient aspects of major Buddhist traditions into Universal Vehicalism. This, in effect, strengthens most of the concepts of Universal Vehiclism, and forms the basis of what is considered to be present-day Universal Vehicalism. Some of the aspects include the Mahayanese strong emphasis on Compassion, Theravadan's focus on Shakyamuni Buddha as the fundamental teacher of Buddhism and so on and so forth.
It is important to note that Universal Vehiclism, while not exactly condemning the reciting of mantras and meditation, does not specifically support it. This is in line with the concepts of the Evangelical Buddhism branch, and some Buddhologists have argued that Universal Vehicalism should therefore be considered as a subdivision of the Evangelical Buddhism branch. However it is vital to realize that Chua, considered to be the founder of present-day Universal Vehicalism, does not exactly support some of the core tenets of Evangelical Buddhism, which he argues will only result in religious fanaticism. Therefore Universal Vehicalism does not exactly fit as a subdivision of Evangelical Buddhism, and should be properly considered as an entity of its own.
Universal Vehiclism encourages what it calls "practical" Buddhism, in which they persuade Buddhists to bring metta (loving-kindness) and other Buddhist values into their daily lives, instead of restricting them to meditation or mantra-reciting hours. It also encourages the active involvement of Buddhists in society, instead of estranging oneself to some isolated place for mantra-reciting or meditation. Therefore the concept of Universal Vehicalism, simply put, encourages Buddhists to lead a more meaningful, vibrant and lively existence.
In the final analysis, Universal Vehiclism seeks to be the answer to the revival of Buddhism in Asia and especially amongst its youths, through the fusion of important and attractive concepts of the major branches of Buddhism. While retaining the core aspects of Buddhism, they pay less attention to certain practises such as mantra-reciting and meditation. In simple words, their philosophy is to bring whatever is present and evoked during mantra-reciting and meditation into the real world.