Saturday, December 8, 2012

Theravada - Mahayana Buddhism

What is the difference between  Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism.
Let us discuss a question often asked by many people: 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. 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 person who ever lived  for 45 years he taught and preached day and night.
The Buddha spoke to all kinds of people: kings, princes, Brahmins, farmers, beggars, learned man and ordinary people. His teaching were tailored to the experiences, levels of understanding and mental capacity of his audience. What he taught was called Buddha Vacana.
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 order. The rest of his teaching were called Dhamma which included his discourses, sermons to monks, nuns, lay people.
Now what is the difference between Mahayana and Theravada? I have studied Mahayana for two semester already 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.
-         Both accept Sakyamuni Buddha as the teacher .
-         The Four Noble Truths are exactly the same in both schools.
-         The Eightfold path is exactly the same in both schools.
-         The Paticca-samuppada or the Dependent Origination is the same in both schools.
-         Both rejected the idea of a supreme being who created and governed this world.
-         Both accept Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta and Sila, Samadhi, Panna without any difference.
Those are the most important teaching of the Buddha and they are all accepted by both schools without question.
There are also some points where they differ. An obvious one is the Bodhisattva ideal. Many people say that Mahayana is for the Bodhisattavahood which leads to Buddhahood while Theravada is for Arahant. The Mahayana texts never use the term Arahant yana, Arahant Vehicle. They used three terms: Bodhisattvayana, Prateka Buddhayana, and Sravakayana. In the Theravada tradition these three are called Bodhis.
Some people imagine that Theravada is selfish because it teaches that people should seek their own salvation. But how can a selfish person gain Enlightenment? Both school accept the three Yanas or Bodhis but consider the Bodhisattva ideal as the highest. The Mahayana has created many mystical Bodhisattvas while the Theravada considers a Bodhisattva as a man amongst us who devotes his entire life for the attainment of perfection, ultimately becoming a fully Enlightened Buddha for the welfare of the world, for the happiness of the world.

Kanai, Lai hazar. History of Theravada Buddhism in Southeast Asia, Published by Munshiram Monoharlal Publishers Co.,Ltd., New Delhi.


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