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Compare Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism

Over its long history, Buddhism has taken a wide variety of forms. The Mahayana tradition tends to emphasize rituals and the worship of deities, while the Theravada tradition rejects rituals and gods in favor of pure meditation. Yet all forms of Buddhism share respect for the teachings of the Buddha and the goal of ending suffering and the cycle of rebirth.

The following chart provides an introduction to the similarities and differences between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism.

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 Mahayana BuddhismTheravada Buddhism
EtymologySanskrit, "Great Vehicle"Pali, "School of the Elder Monks"
LocationsNorthern (Tibet, China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, parts of Southeast Asia)Southern (Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Laos, Cambodia, parts of Southeast Asia)
Cultural InfluencesHeavily influenced by local religious ideas as transmitted to new cultures (China, Japan, Tibet).Mainly pre-Buddhist Indian influences like concepts of karma, sangha, etc.
ScripturesTripitaka plus many other sutras (e.g. Lotus Sutra)Pali Canon/Tripitaka only
BuddhasGautama Buddha plus Amitabha, Medicine Buddhas, and othersHistorical Buddha (Gautama) and past Buddhas only
BodhisattvasMaitreya, Avalokitesvara, Mansjuri, Ksitigarbha and SamanthabadraMaitreya only
Goal of TrainingBuddhahood via bodhisattva pathArhat
Trikaya (3 Buddha Bodies)Emphasized, including the samboga-kaya or reward/enjoyment bodyVery limited emphasis; mainly on nirmana-kaya and dharma-kaya
Buddha's DisciplesMany bodhisattvas that are not historical figuresHistorical disciples described in Scriptures
Buddha NatureEmphasized, especially in practice-based schoolsNot taught
Bardo (Limbo)Taught by all schoolsRejected
RitualsMany, owing to local cultural influencesVery few; not emphasized
Mantras and MudrasEmphasized in Vajrayana; sometimes incorporated in other schoolsSome equivalent in the use of Parittas

For sources, please see linked articles.

Article Info

Title Compare Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism
Published
Last UpdatedApril 10, 2017
URL www.religionfacts.com/charts/mahayana-theravada
Short URLrlft.co/3778
MLA Citation “Compare Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism.” ReligionFacts.com. 10 Apr. 2017. Web. Accessed 26 Jul. 2017. <www.religionfacts.com/charts/mahayana-theravada>

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