Branch of Buddhism / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Mahāyāna (/ˌmɑːhəˈjɑːnə/ MAH-hə-YAH-nə; "Great Vehicle") is a term for a broad group of Buddhist traditions, texts, philosophies, and practices. Mahāyāna Buddhism developed in ancient India (c. 1st century BCE onwards) and is considered one of the three main existing branches of Buddhism (the other being Theravāda and Vajrayana).[1] Mahāyāna accepts the main scriptures and teachings of early Buddhism but also recognizes various doctrines and texts that are not accepted by Theravada Buddhism as original. These include the Mahāyāna Sūtras and their emphasis on the bodhisattva path and Prajñāpāramitā.[2] Vajrayāna or Mantra traditions are a subset of Mahāyāna, which make use of numerous tantric methods considered to be faster and more powerful at achieving Buddhahood by Vajrayānists.[1]

An illustration in a manuscript of the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra from Nalanda, depicting the bodhisattva Maitreya, an important figure in Mahāyāna
The Five Tathāgatas in Shishoin Temple (Tokyo). A unique feature of Mahāyāna is the belief that there are multiple Buddhas which are currently teaching the Dharma

"Mahāyāna" also refers to the path of the bodhisattva striving to become a fully awakened Buddha (samyaksaṃbuddha) for the benefit of all sentient beings, and is thus also called the "Bodhisattva Vehicle" (Bodhisattvayāna).[3][note 1] Mahāyāna Buddhism generally sees the goal of becoming a Buddha through the bodhisattva path as being available to all and sees the state of the arhat as incomplete.[4] Mahāyāna also includes numerous Buddhas and bodhisattvas that are not found in Theravada (such as Amitābha and Vairocana).[5] Mahāyāna Buddhist philosophy also promotes unique theories, such as the Madhyamaka theory of emptiness (śūnyatā), the Vijñānavāda doctrine, and the Buddha-nature teaching.

Although it was initially a small movement in India, Mahāyāna eventually grew to become an influential force in Indian Buddhism.[6] Large scholastic centers associated with Mahāyāna such as Nalanda and Vikramashila, thrived between the seventh and twelfth centuries.[6] In the course of its history, Mahāyāna Buddhism spread throughout South Asia, Central Asia, East Asia, and Southeast Asia. It remains influential today in China, Mongolia, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines, Nepal, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Bhutan.[7]

The Mahāyāna tradition is the largest major tradition of Buddhism existing today (with 53% of Buddhists belonging to East Asian Mahāyāna and 6% to Vajrayāna), compared to 36% for Theravada (survey from 2010).[8]