Mahayana

Branch of Buddhism / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Mahāyāna (Sanskrit: महायान, /ˌməhɑːˈjɑːnə/ Mə-hAH-YAH-nə; lit.'Great Vehicle') is a term for a broad group of Buddhist traditions, texts, philosophies, and practices developed in ancient India (c.1st century BCE onwards). It is considered one of the three main existing branches of Buddhism, the others being Theravāda and Vajrayāna.[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 makes use of numerous tantric methods Vajrayānists consider to help achieve Buddhahood.[1]

An illustration in a manuscript of the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra from Nalanda, depicting the bodhisattva Maitreya, an important figure in Mahāyāna
Shishoin_temple_shibamata_Five_Tathagatas_2020.jpg
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 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 ("the doctrine of consciousness" also called "mind-only"), and the Buddha-nature teaching.

While 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 7th and 12th centuries.[6] In the course of its history, Mahāyāna Buddhism spread from South Asia to East Asia, and Southeast Asia. Mahāyāna is the predominant form of Buddhism found in China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia.[7] It has also been traditionally present elsewhere in Asia as a minority among Buddhist communities in Nepal and Mongolia.

As of 2010, the Mahāyāna tradition was the largest major tradition of Buddhism, with 53% of Buddhists belonging to East Asian Mahāyāna and 6% to Vajrayāna, compared to 36% to Theravada.[8]

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