B. Mahayana (the “greater
Around the beginning of the first century BCE a distinct movement arose
within Buddhism. This movement believed that the members of the
sangha were too concerned with their own salvation. They therefore
labeled the Buddhism of their day as hinayana (the lesser way) and called
their own movement - which encompassed monks and laypersons, male and
female - Mahayana (the greater way).
are numerous subdivisions or "denominations" within Mahayana,
it is possible to list several common characteristics.
the scriptures of Theravada Buddhism were limited to the Tipitaka,
Mahayana embraced many additional writings including the Lotus Sutra
and a large group of scriptures known as the Perfection of Insight (or
Sutras (prajna-paramita). Most of these scriptures claim to be
teaching that the Buddha imparted to a few select disciples who were
capable of understanding them. In reality, the scriptures represent a
reworking of the Buddha’s teachings to “bring out new meanings that were
not originally stressed.”
a bodhisattva was simply a "buddha to be." Consequently, there was
only one bodhisattva who, over the course of many lives, became the Buddha
for this age. In contrast, in Mahayana a bodhisattva was anyone (not just a
monk) who devoted his or her energies to seeking enlightenment for the
sake of others. Notice that this marks a shift in the focus of Buddhism.
In Theravada, the goal was enlightenment. In Mahayana, the real goal
is to rescue others; enlightenment is simply the best way to save others.
A bodhisattva thus focuses on both developing compassion and achieving
vow that one takes to become a bodhisattva is:
Beings are infinite in number, I vow to save them all;
The obstructive passions are endless in number; I vow
to end them all;
The teachings for saving others are countless, I vow
to learn them all:
Buddhahood is the supreme achievement: I vow to
bodhisattvas have been reborn into one of the heavenly realms. From these
celestial realms, they are able to
hear and answer pleas of those in need. One
of the most important celestial bodhisattvas is Avalokistesvara,
the Buddha of compassion.
In China, he is known as Kuan-yin and in Japan he is known as
Kannon. It is worth noting that Kuan yin often appears as a
female. Moreover, the Dalai Lama is believed to be the human
incarnation of the bodhisattva of compassion.
3. The Three Bodies of
In Therevada Buddhism, the Buddha ceased to exist as soon as he entered
Nirvana. Moreover, the Buddha was never considered to be a god.
In Mahayana, the
Buddha become god like in that he is an eternal presence with three aspects or bodies
Pure universal consciousness
Body of bliss “radiant celestial aspect of Buddhahood that
communicated the dharma to Bodhisattvas
Body of transformation –the human Siddhartha Gautama
The doctrine of the three bodies of the Buddha becomes important when one
considers that bodhisattvas can, through enlightenment, attain the body of
bliss (by which they may do supernatural feats) and also embody the universal
consciousness or Buddha nature. Over time, some Mahayana schools
taught that all individuals actually possess a Buddha nature.
4. Emptiness (Sunyata)
emphasis of Mahayana Buddhism is the doctrine of sunyata or
doctrine grew naturally out of the Buddha's teachings about impermanence
and interdependent arising. Although different Mahayana schools had
different interpretations, the doctrine of sunyata can be stated as
earthly things have no eternal reality/independent origin
world of samsara is empty of inherent existence
aggregates of a person are empty of absolute self-nature; exist only
in relation to other.