MAHAYANA BUDDHISM VERSUS THERAVADA BUDDHISM

THERAVADA BUDDHISM


Theravad Buddhist forest monk

Theravada Buddhism ("doctrine of the elders") is the oldest and most orthodox of Buddhism's three major sects. Regarded as the belief closest to the one taught by The Buddha himself, it is based on the recollections of The Buddha's teachings amassed by the Elders---the elder monks who were Buddha's companions. It is practiced in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and the Mekong Delta areas of Vietnam.

Theravada Buddhism was one of 18 schools that existed in centuries after The Buddha's death.. It spread from India to Sri Lanka and then to Southeast Asia and remained close to the original Pali canon (See Below). The other 17 schools disappeared when Muslims swept into northern India and destroyed the Buddhist monasteries that existed there. Theravada Buddhism is sometimes referred to in a somewhat dismissing way as Hinayana (“Lesser Vehicle”) Buddhism by Mahayana Buddhists.

Theravada Buddhism stresses spirituality, the enlightenment of the individual, self-discipline, the importance or pure thought and deed, the importance of the monastic life and the strict observance of the ancient Vinaya code It has distinct roles for monks and lay people, emphasizes that each individual is responsible for his or her salvation and takes the position that only monks are capable of reaching nirvana.

Websites and Resources on Buddhism: Buddha Net buddhanet.net/e-learning/basic-guide ; Religious Tolerance Page religioustolerance.org/buddhism ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Internet Sacred Texts Archive sacred-texts.com/bud/index ; Introduction to Buddhism webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/buddhaintro ; Early Buddhist texts, translations, and parallels, SuttaCentral suttacentral.net ; East Asian Buddhist Studies: A Reference Guide, UCLA web.archive.org ; View on Buddhism viewonbuddhism.org ; Tricycle: The Buddhist Review tricycle.org ; BBC - Religion: Buddhism bbc.co.uk/religion ; Buddhist Centre thebuddhistcentre.com; A sketch of the Buddha's Life accesstoinsight.org ; What Was The Buddha Like? by Ven S. Dhammika buddhanet.net ; Jataka Tales (Stories About Buddha) sacred-texts.com ; Illustrated Jataka Tales and Buddhist stories ignca.nic.in/jatak ; Buddhist Tales buddhanet.net ; Arahants, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas by Bhikkhu Bodhi accesstoinsight.org ; Victoria and Albert Museum vam.ac.uk/collections/asia/asia_features/buddhism/index ; Mahayana Buddhism: Seon Zen Buddhism buddhism.org ; Readings in Zen Buddhism, Hakuin Ekaku (Ed: Monika Bincsik) terebess.hu/zen/hakuin ; How to do Zazen (Zen Buddhist Meditation) global.sotozen-net.or.jp ; Wikipedia article ; Comparison of Buddhist Traditions (Mahayana – Therevada – Tibetan) studybuddhism.com ; The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra: complete text and analysis nirvanasutra.net ; Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in Mahayana Buddhism cttbusa.org ; The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravāda Theory and Practice by Jeffrey Samuels info-buddhism.com ; Zen Buddhism zen-buddhism.net ; The Zen Site thezensite.com ; Wikipedia article on Zen Buddhism Wikipedia ; Theravada Buddhism: Readings in Theravada Buddhism, Access to Insight accesstoinsight.org/ ; Readings in Buddhism, Vipassana Research Institute (English, Southeast Asian and Indian Languages) tipitaka.org ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Encyclopædia Britannica britannica.com ; Pali Canon Online palicanon.org ; Vipassanā (Theravada Buddhist Meditation) Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Pali Canon - Access to Insight accesstoinsight.org ; Forest monk tradition abhayagiri.org/about/thai-forest-tradition ; BBC Theravada Buddhism bbc.co.uk/religion

Theravada Buddhist Beliefs

The Noble Virtues of Therevada Buddhism are loving kindness, understanding, serenity and satisfaction for others’ well-being. The three principal aspects of existence are: 1) dukkha (suffering, disease and pursuit of desire); 2) anicca (impermanence and the temporary state of all things); and 3) anatta (the illusion of reality). The guiding principal in Theravada Buddhism is that nothing is permanent and attachment to things will only bring unhappiness and distract one from intrinsic spiritual matters. Anicca teaches that nothing lasts. Trying to embrace experiences, states of mind and objects only causes dukkha. Annatta is coming to the understanding that there is there is no point dwelling on one's place in this world.

In Theravada Buddhism worship and devotion to persons is frowned upon. The offerings of fruit and flowers made are temples are symbols of impermanence not an object of worship. Chants are not prayers but are reminders of the beneficence of The Buddha, Dharma and the monk community.

Theravada Buddhists insist that Gautama, both as Siddhartha and The Buddha, was a man, not a god or myth or legend, and was subject to the same pain and suffering as other humans but sought a transcendent state beyond human life. They say The Buddha took a vow aeons ago under the First Buddha to pursue the enlightenment on his own, and was reincarnated hundreds of times in that quest before he became a Buddha. They view his death as such a complete break from material existence that is he so free from the human world that he no longer exists.

Mahayana Buddhism


Korean Bodhisattva

Mahayana Buddhism encompasses a wide range of philosophical schools, metaphysical beliefs, and practical meditative disciplines. It is more widespread and has more followers than Theravada Buddhism and includes Zen and Soka-gakkai Buddhism. It is practiced primarily in northern half of the Buddhist world: in China, Tibet, Korea, Mongolia, Taiwan, Vietnam and Japan.

"Mahayana” means "the Great Vehicle." The word vehicle is used because Buddhist doctrine is often compared to a raft or ship that carries one across the world of suffering to better world. Greater is reference to the universality of its doctrines and beliefs as opposed to narrowness of other schools. Theravada Buddhism is sometimes referred to in a somewhat dismissing way as the Hinayana (“Lesser Vehicle”) sect. Mahayana Buddhism is not a single group but a collection of Buddhist traditions: Zen Buddhism, Pure Land Buddhism, and Tibetan Buddhism are all forms of Mahayana Buddhism.

According to “Topics in Japanese Cultural History”: The embodiment of this Mahayana ideal was the bodhisattva. A bodhisattva is one who has eliminated all desires and is therefore eligible to pass into nirvana. Out of a feeling of compassion for the millions of other suffering creatures, however, the bodhisattva withholds his/her/its entry into nirvana to remain in this world and help others. The various bodhisattvas have taken vows to remain in this world until all creatures are ready to enter nirvana.” Mahayana Buddhism is not one, unified entity. “The division between Mahayana and Theravada is roughly comparable to the divisions like Catholic vs. Protestant or Roman Catholic vs. Eastern Orthodox in Christianity. Just as there are many denominations of Protestant Christianity, so too are there many denominations of Mahayana Buddhism. [Source: “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org ]

Mahayana Buddhist Beliefs

Mahayana Buddhists believe in a multitude of heavens, hells and descriptions of nirvana and have great reverence for Bodhisattvas “Buddhist "saints" on the verge of nirvana who stopped short of attaining it, so, like Buddha, they could teach their method to others.

Mahayana Buddhists believe that salvation is accessible to all those who have faith and regard their religion as a way of life that can be embraced by any one. They also enjoy philosophical discussion and intellectual gymnastics and enlist the help of female deities and magical forces and worship a pantheon of gods, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

Mahayana Buddhists see The Buddha as the sum total of everything there is; discount his historical personage; view his life on earth in magical and transcendent terms; and have Bodhisattvas and Buddhas that address issues important to ordinary people. The Supreme Buddha became an all knowing force that pervaded every part of the universe, like a creator God.

Mahayana Buddhism places an emphasis on the process of attaining nirvana through the purification of the consciousness and has been “expanded” to respond to the needs of local people it severed. Its followers a number of mythologies and ontological doctrines. They see true reality as “Emptiness”; define ten stages which Bodhisattvas must pass through to reach Buddhahood; and see everything being connected by a kind of cosmic thread rooted in true reality.


Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism compared


Similarities Between Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism

According to the BBC: Theravada and Mahayana are both rooted in the basic teachings of the historical Buddha, and both emphasise the individual search for liberation from the cycle of samsara (birth, death, rebirth...). The methods or practices for doing that, however, can be very different.”

Dr. W. Rahula wrote: “I have studied Mahayana for many years and the more I study it, the more I find there is hardly any difference between Theravada and Mahayana with regard to the fundamental teachings. 1) Both accept Sakyamuni Buddha as the Teacher. 2) The Four Noble Truths are exactly the same in both schools. 3) The Eightfold Path is exactly the same in both schools. 4) The Paticca-samuppada or the Dependent Origination is the same in both schools. 5) Both rejected the idea of a supreme being who created and governed this world. 6) Both accept Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta and Sila, Samadhi, Panna without any difference. These are the most important teachings of the Buddha and they are all accepted by both schools without question. [Source: Dr. W. Rahula, BuddhaSasana (budsas.org), Wisdom Quarterly: American Buddhist Journal, August 14, 2008; Grant Olson, Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Northern Illinois University +++]

Key Differences Between Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism

Mahayana Buddhists claim their doctrines are rooted in early teachings of Buddha and say they do not reject the beliefs of Theravada Buddhism, but have just expanded on them. Theravada Buddhists view Mahayana Buddhism as a corrupted form of Buddha's teaching plus see it as too easy. Theravada Buddhists are taught that one must “work out one's own salvation with diligence” whereas Mahayana Buddhists believe faith is enough to earn all believers eventual salvation. Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism differ greatly on the matter of Bodhisattvas. Mahayana Buddhists recognize many of them as well as many Buddhas. Theravada Buddhists recognize just one, The Buddha.

The tenets of Mahayana Buddhism are more vague and all-encompassing than the strict tenets of Theravada Buddhism, but its followers often conform to a very regimented routine as is the case with Zen. Mahayana Buddhists believe in a multitude of heavens, hells and descriptions of nirvana and have great reverence for Bodhisattvas—Buddhist "saints" on the verge of nirvana who stopped short of attaining it, so, like Buddha, they could teach their method to others.

Mahayana Buddhists see The Buddha as the sum total of everything there is; discount his historical personage; view his life on earth in magical and transcendent terms; and have Bodhisattvas and Buddhas that address issues important to ordinary people. The Supreme Buddha became an all knowing force that pervaded every part of the universe, like a creator God.


Arhats at Sam Poh Chi Temple in Malaysia


On ways Mayahana and Theravada Buddhism are different, Dr. W. Rahula wrote: “There are also, however, some points of difference, or at least of emphasis. An obvious one is the “Bodhisattva ideal.” Many people say that Mahayana is for a Bodhisattvahood that will lead to Buddhahood, while Theravada is for Arahantship (immediate enlightenment as taught by the Buddha). I must point out that the Buddha was an arahant (an enlightened one). A Nonteaching (Prateka or Pacceka) Buddha is also an arahant. A disciple can also be an arahant. Mahayana texts never use the term “Arahant-yana,” the Arahant Vehicle. Instead, Mahayanists use three terms: Bodhisattva-yana, Prateka-Buddha-yana, and Sravaka-yana (the Bodhisattva-vehicle, the Nonteaching-Buddha vehicle, and the Disciple-vehicle). In the Theravada tradition these three are called Bodhis. [Source: Dr. W. Rahula, BuddhaSasana (budsas.org), Wisdom Quarterly: American Buddhist Journal, August 14, 2008; Grant Olson, Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Northern Illinois University +++]

“Some people mistakenly imagine that Theravada Buddhism is “selfish” because it teaches (what the historical Buddha taught) that people should diligently work towards their own salvation without helping others. But how could a selfish person ever gain enlightenment? (It would be impossible because selfishness precludes the compassion and wisdom necessary for realizing the truth that leads to enlightenment and the liberation of nirvana). Both schools accept the three Yanas or Bodhis and consider Bodhisattvahood the ideal, the highest. The difference is Mahayana Buddhism has created many mystical Bodhisattvas, while Theravada Buddhism considers a “bodhisattva” a person among us who devotes his or her entire life to the attainment of perfection, ultimately attaining buddhahood [enlightenment] for the benefit, welfare, and happiness of the world.” +++

Buddhism Before the Theravada -Mahayana Split

Dr. W. Rahula wrote: What is the difference between Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism? To see things in their proper perspective, let us turn to the history of Buddhism and trace the emergence and development of Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism. [Source: Dr. W. Rahula, BuddhaSasana (budsas.org), Wisdom Quarterly: American Buddhist Journal, August 14, 2008; Grant Olson, Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Northern Illinois University +++]

“The Buddha was born in the 6th Century B.C. After attaining Enlightenment at the age of 35 until his Mahaparinibbana at the age of 80, he spent his life preaching and teaching. He was certainly one of the most energetic man who ever lived: for forty-five years he taught and preached day and night, sleeping for only about 2 hours a day. +++

“The Buddha spoke to all kinds of people: kings and princes, Brahmins, farmers, beggars, learned men and ordinary people. His teachings were tailored to the experiences, levels of understanding and mental capacity of his audience. What he taught was called Buddha Vacana, i.e. word of the Buddha. There was nothing called Theravada or Mahayana at that time. +++

“After establishing the Order of monks and nuns, the Buddha laid down certain disciplinary rules called the Vinaya for the guidance of the Order. The rest of his teachings were called the Dhamma which included his discourses, sermons to monks, nuns and lay people.” +++

First Buddhist Council


Sattapanni or Sattaparni Cave, on one of the hills around Rajgir, Bihar, India, is where the First Buddhist Council took place, in the year after the Buddha's passsing away (Parinirvana)

Dr. W. Rahula wrote: “Three months after the Buddha’s final nirvana, his immediate disciples convened a council in Rajagaha, India. Maha Kassapa, the most respected and elderly monk, presided over that council. Two very important Great Disciples (mahatheras) who specialized in the two distinct areas of the Teaching (the Dharma and the Vinaya) were present. The first was Ananda, the Buddha’s closest companion and disciple over the preceding 25 years. Endowed with a remarkable memory (even in an age of remarkable memories), Ananda was able to recite all the discourses the Buddha had uttered. [When sutras begin “Thus have I heard,” Ananda is that “I” and he made this statement in front of the First Council of enlightened elders]. The other monastic was Upali, who had committed all of the Discipline to memory. The other personality was Upali who remembered all the Vinaya rules.[Source: Dr. W. Rahula, BuddhaSasana (budsas.org), Wisdom Quarterly: American Buddhist Journal, August 14, 2008; Grant Olson, Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Northern Illinois University +++]

“Only these two sections, Discourses and Discipline, were recited at the First Council. Although there were no differences of opinion on the Dharma (no mention was yet made of the Abhidharma, “Higher Teaching,” the metaphysical and psychological explanations), there was some discussion about the Rules. Before the Buddha’s was to pass into nirvana, he told Ananda that if the Order wished to amend or modify some “minor” rules after his passing, they could do so. But on that occasion Ananda, overpowered by grief on hearing of the Buddha’s impending passing, it did not occur to him to ask what the “minor” rules were. +++

“As the members of the First Council were unable to agree as to what constituted those minor rules, Maha Kassapa finally ruled that no disciplinary rule laid down by the Buddha should be changed and that no new ones should be introduced. No intrinsic reason was given. Maha Kassapa did say one thing, however: “If we changed the rules, people would say that Ven. Gautama’s disciples changed them even before his funeral pyre had gone out.” At the First Council, the Dharma was divided into various sections, and each section was assigned to an Elder (a Thera) and his pupils to commit to memory. The Dharma (or “Teaching,” the Vada) was then passed on from teacher to pupil orally. The Dharma was recited daily by groups of monastics who often cross checked each other to ensure that no omissions or additions were made. Historians agree that an oral tradition is more reliable than a report written by one person from memory several years later.” +++

Emergence of Theravada Buddhism at the Second and Third Buddhist Councils


early Bodhisattvas statue from Gandhara

Dr. W. Rahula wrote: One hundred years later, the Second Council was held to discuss some Vinaya rules. There was no need to change the rules three months after the Parinibbana of the Buddha because little or no political, economic or social changes took place during that short interval. But 100 years later, some monks saw the need to change certain minor rules. The orthodox monks said that nothing should be changed while the others insisted on modifying some rules, Finally, a group of monks left the Council and formed the Mahasanghika - the Great Community. Even though it was called the Mahasanghika, it was not known as Mahayana, And in the Second Council, only matters pertaining to the Vinaya were discussed and no controversy about the Dhamma [Teaching] is reported. [Source: Dr. W. Rahula, BuddhaSasana (budsas.org), Wisdom Quarterly: American Buddhist Journal, August 14, 2008; Grant Olson, Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Northern Illinois University +++]

In the 3rd Century B.C.E., during the reign of Emperor Asoka, the Third Council was held to discuss the differences of opinion among the monks of different sects that had arisen. By the Third Council the differences were not confined to the Rules but were also connected with the Teaching. At the end of the Third Council, the president of the council, Moggaliputta Tissa, compiled a book he called Kathavatthu refuting the heretical, false views and theories held by some sects. +++

“The Teaching approved and accepted by the Third Council was known as Theravada -- the “Teaching of the Elders” or what the Buddha’s original-hearers (those Theras) had rehearsed and passed down through the students dedicated to memorizing, reciting, and cross checking the various sections of the Dharma. The Abhidharma collection -- the Higher Teaching, that is, the philosophical commentaries and metaphysical treatises as distinct from the bare discourses -- was also included at the Third Council. +++

“After the Third Council, Asoka’s son, Venerable Mahinda, brought the Three Collections (Tripitaka: Teaching, Rules, and Abhidharma) to Sri Lanka, along with the commentaries and explanations which were recited at the Third Council. The texts brought to Sri Lanka were preserved to the present day without losing a single page. The texts were written in the Pali language, which was based on the Magadhi dialect spoken by the Buddha. There was still nothing known as “Mahayana.”“ +++

Emergence of Mahayana Buddhism


Theravada monk novices praying before a Buddha in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Dr. W. Rahula wrote: “Between the 1st Century B.C. to the 1st Century A.D., the two terms Mahayana and Hinayana appeared in the Saddharma Pundarika Sutra or the Sutra of the Lotus of the Good Law. About the 2nd Century A.D. Mahayana became clearly defined. Nagarjuna developed the Mahayana philosophy of Sunyata and proved that everything is Void in a small text called Madhyamika-karika. About the 4th Century, there were Asanga and Vasubandhu who wrote enormous amount of works on Mahayana. [Source: Dr. W. Rahula, BuddhaSasana (budsas.org), Wisdom Quarterly: American Buddhist Journal, August 14, 2008; Grant Olson, Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Northern Illinois University +++]

“After the 1st Century AD., the Mahayanists took a definite stand and only then were the opposing terms Mahayana and Hinayana introduced and propagated, the latter as a foil or strawman for the former. [Mahayana teachings were a criticism of those now defunct Indian sects (not of Theravada) particularly the Sarvastivada School, which taught the theory that all exists]. +++

“We must not confuse Hinayana with Theravada (“the Teaching of the Elders”) because the terms are not synonymous. Theravada Buddhism went to Sri Lanka during the 3rd Century B.C. when there was no Mahayana at all. Hinayana schools [among the 18 sects that had] developed in India [200 years after the Buddha’s passing] and had an existence independent from the form of Buddhism existing in Sri Lanka. Today there is no Hinayana sect in existence anywhere in the world. Therefore, in 1950 the World Fellowship of Buddhists inaugurated in Colombo unanimously decided that the term Hinayana should be dropped when referring to Buddhism existing today in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, etc. [sometimes referred to as “Southern Buddhism”] This is the brief history of Theravada, Mahayana and Hinayana.” +++

Mahayana and Theravada Differences: Buddha and Bodhisattvas


Mahayana monks praying at Qibao Temple in China

1) The Buddha: A) Theravada Buddhism: Only the historical Gautama (Sakyamuni) Buddha and past buddhas are accepted.B) Mayahana Buddhism: Besides Sakyamuni Buddha, other contemporary buddhas like Amitabha and Medicine Buddha are also very popular. [Source: Tan Swee Eng, buddhanet.net ^|^]

2) Bodhisattvas: A) Theravada Buddhism: Only Maitreya bodhisattva is accepted. B) Mayahana Buddhism:Avalokitesvara, Mansjuri, Ksitigarbha and Samanthabadra are four very well known bodhisattvas besides Maitreya. ^|^

3) Sakyamuni Buddha's disciples: A) Theravada Buddhism: Basically historical disciples, whether arahats or commoners. B) Mayahana Buddhism: A lot of bodhisattvas are introduced by Sakyamuni Buddha. Most of these are not historical figures. ^|^

4) Buddha nature: A) Theravada Buddhism: Absent from the teachings of Theravada tradition. B) Mayahana Buddhism: Heavily stressed, particularly by schools inclined practices. ^|^

Mahayana and Theravada Differences: Texts and Language

1) Organisation of Buddhist scriptures: A) Theravada Buddhism: The Pali Canon is divided into Three baskets (Tipitaka): Vinaya Pitaka of Five books, Sutta Pitaka of Five collections (many suttas) and Abhidhamma Pitaka of Seven books. B) Mayahana Buddhism: The Mahayana Buddhist Canon also consists of Tripitaka of disciplines, discourses (sutras) and dharma analysis. It is usually organised in 12 divisions of topics like Cause and Conditions and Verses. It contains virtually all the Theravada Tipikata and many sutras that the latter does not have. [Source: Tan Swee Eng, buddhanet.net ^|^]

2) Language of dharma teaching: A) Theravada Buddhism: Tipitaka is strictly in Pali. Dharma teaching in Pali supplemented by local language. B) Mayahana Buddhism: Buddhist canon is translated into the local language (except for the 5 untranslatables), e.g. Tibetan, Chinese and Japanese. Original language of transmission is Sanskrit. ^|^

Mahayana and Theravada Differences: Concepts and Ideas

1) Concept of Bodhicitta: A) Theravada Buddhism: Main emphasis is self liberation. There is total reliance on one-self to eradicate all defilements. B) Mayahana Buddhism: Besides self liberation, it is important for Mahayana followers to help other sentient beings. [Source: Tan Swee Eng, buddhanet.net ^|^]

2) Trikaya concept: A) Theravada Buddhism: Very limited emphasis on the three bodies of a buddha. References are mainly on nirmana-kaya and dharma-kaya. B) Mayahana Buddhism: Very well mentioned in Mahayana buddhism. Samboga-kaya or reward/enjoyment body completes the Trikaya concept. ^|^

3) Nirvana: A) Theravada Buddhism: (Nibbana in Pali) No distinction is made between nirvana attained by a buddha and that of an arahat or pacceka buddha. B) Mayahana Buddhism: Also known as 'liberation from Samsara,' there are subtle distinctions in the level of attainment for the three situations. ^|^

Mahayana and Theravada Differences: History, Schools and Outside Differences

1) Transmission route: A) Theravada Buddhism: Southern transmission: Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Laos and Cambodia and parts of Southeast Asia. B) Mayahana Buddhism: Northern transmission: Tibet, China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Mongolia and parts of Southeast Asia. [Source: Tan Swee Eng, buddhanet.net ^|^]


Burmese-Pali manuscript of a Theravada text


2) Schools/Sects of the tradition: A) Theravada Buddhism: One surviving major school following years of attrition reducing the number from as high as 18. B) Mayahana Buddhism: Eight major (Chinese) schools based on the partial doctrines (sutras, sastras or vinaya) of the teachings. The four schools inclined towards practices like Pure Land/Amitabha, Ch'an, Vajrayana and Vinaya (not for lay people) are more popular than the philosophy based schools like Tien Tai, Avamtasaka, Yogacara and Madhyamika. ^|^

3) Non Buddhist influences: A) Theravada Buddhism: Mainly pre-Buddhism Indian/Brahmin influences. Many terms like karma, sangha, etc were prevailing terms during Sakyamuni Buddha's life time. References were made from the Vedas and Upanishads. B) Mayahana Buddhism: In the course of integration and adoption by the people in other civilizations, there were heavy mutual influences. In China, both Confucianism and Taoism exerted some influence on Buddhism which in turn had an impact on the indigenous beliefs. This scenario was repeated in Japan and Tibet. ^|^

Mahayana and Theravada Differences: Rituals and Worship

1) Objective of training: A) Theravada Buddhism: Arahant or pacceka-buddha. B) Mayahana Buddhism: Buddhahood (via bodhisattva path). [Source: Tan Swee Eng, buddhanet.net ^|^]

2) Rituals and liturgy: A) Theravada Buddhism: There are some rituals but not heavily emphasized as in Mahayana schools. B) Mayahana Buddhism: Owing to local cultural influences, there is much more emphais on the use of rituals; e.g. Rituals for the deceased, feeding of Petas, tantric formalities (in Vajrayana). ^|^

3) Use of Mantras and Mudras: A) Theravada Buddhism: Some equivalent in the use of Parittas. B) Mayahana Buddhism: Heavily practised in the Vajrayana school of Mahayana Buddhism. Other schools also have included some mantras in their daily lithurgy. ^|^

4) Focus of worship in the temple: A) Theravada Buddhism: Simple layout with the image of Sakyamuni Buddha the focus of worship. B) Mayahana Buddhism: Can be quite elaborate; with a chamber/hall for Sakyamuni Buddha and two disciples, one hall for the 3 Buddhas (including Amitabha and Medicine Buddha) and one hall for the 3 key bodhisattvas; besides the protectors, etc. ^|^


Lotus sutra, the primary Mahayana text


Mahayana and Theravada Differences: Death, Food, Vegetarianism

1) Dying and death aspects: A) Theravada Buddhism: Very little research and knowledge on the process of dying and death. Usually, the dying persons are advised to meditate on impermanence, suffering and emptiness. B) Mayahana Buddhism: The Vajrayana school is particularly meticulous in these areas. There are many inner and external signs manifested by people before they die. There is heavy stress in doing transference of merit practices in the immediate few weeks following death to assist in the deceased's next rebirth. [Source: Tan Swee Eng, buddhanet.net ^|^]

2) Bardo: A) Theravada Buddhism: This in-between stage after death and before rebirth is ignored in Theravada school. B) Mayahana Buddhism: All Mahayana schools teach this after death aspect. ^|^

3) One meal a day practice: A) Theravada Buddhism: This the norm among Theravada sanghas. B) Mayahana Buddhism: This is a highly respected practice but it is left to the disposition of each individual in the various sanghas. ^|^

4) Vegetarianism: A) Theravada Buddhism: This aspect is not necessary. In places like Thailand where daily morning rounds are still practised, it is very difficult to insist on the type of food to be donated . B) Mayahana Buddhism: Very well observed in all Mahayana schools (except the Tibetans due to the geographical circumstances). However, this aspect is not compulsory. Some of the Mahayana scriptures, notably the Lankavatara Sutra, take a strong position in favor of vegetarianism. ^|^

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ; Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei npm.gov.tw \=/; Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua; China.org; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated September 2016


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