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Mahayana Buddhism


Gold Image of Tsongkhap, Founder Buddhist Mahayana Yellow Hat Sect


Mahayana Buddhism 

Meaning:   

  • The dominant Buddhist tradition in East Asia, the Himalayan region including Tibet, Nepal, and northern India. The name Mahayana refers to a later group of Buddhist teachings from India arising after the first century of the Common Era. The word ‘Maha-‘ means ‘Great’ while ‘-yana’ means ‘vehicle.’ Taken together, the name refers to the “Greater Vehicle” of Buddhist tradition. Put simply, it means the “Great School” that eclispes all other Buddhist schools and traditions because it is the culmination of the Buddha’s teachings. The Mahayana Buddhist tradition refers to all other Buddhist schools as “Hinayana” which is a pejorative term meaning “Lesser Vehicle.” Theravada Buddhism, also known as the Southern School since its prominent in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, and elsewhere, is mistakenly called the “Lesser Vehicle” even though its own name for itself is actually “The School of the Elders.” As such, each school of Buddhism believes that its own teachings are the best teachings stemming back to the Buddha himself. Mahayana Buddhism, like all other forms of Buddhism, includes monks, nuns, and lay people but often has expanded categories of renounciation. For instance, some monks in Japan may marry and have children. Such family traditions are disallowed in the older, sometimes more conservative traditions of Buddhism like Theravada. The Mahayana religious tradition is very focused on the capacity for enlightenment of all beings in this lifetime or one soon thereafter. One also does not need to be a monk or nun in order to achieve liberation from the cycle of suffering, although it may help the path of some. Religious achievement in Mahayana Buddhism is highly dependent upon the values of compassion, potential to be reborn in the Pure Land, the latent enlightenment potential of all beings, and the celestial bodhisattvas such as Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri, Tara, etc., who assist in realizing that enlightenment potential. 

History: 

  • Mahayana Buddhism is very much an umbrella term for a multiplicity of Buddhist traditions including Pure Land Buddhism, Tantric Buddhism, Vajrayana Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, Ch’an Buddhism, Yogacara Buddhism, and still yet others. Generally, these schools of Mahayana Buddhism exist in and come from northern India, the Himalayas, China, and Japan, however some Mahayana Buddhists may be found in southeast Asian countries, and in Western countries, particularly western Europe and the United States. 
  • All of these concepts probably date back to the idea that one should look inward for enlightenment rather than outward. After the Buddha’s death, his followers disagreed on what his precise teachings were since they all had different heard recensions of his speeches, talks, and life accounts. Many different schools developed and created their own bodies of literature, including their own monastic rules, stories, and core views towards the universe. Nevertheless, despite their differences, most schools largely agreed on core principles and had relatively minor disagreements. Over the course of time, however, these small differences gradually became larger and larger, especially as
  • Buddhism dispersed geographically. One school, known as the Mahasanghikas, were probably the ancestors to the medieval and modern Mahayana tradition. Rather than being a totally separate sect entirely, the Mahasanghikas, like all monastic traditions in India around the first century CE, inhabited the same monasteries as all other schools. The first Mahayana sutras were likely written during the last century BCE or the first century CE. Quickly they caught on along the trade routes to China and in the first and second centuries CE the texts were translated into Chinese by Chinese monks.