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 Buddhism||Theravada Buddhism|
|Etymology||Sanskrit, "Great Vehicle"||Pali, "School of the Elder Monks"|
|Locations||Northern (Tibet, China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, parts of Southeast Asia)||Southern (Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Laos, Cambodia, parts of Southeast Asia)|
|Cultural Influences||Heavily influenced by local religious ideas as transmitted to new cultures (China, Japan, Tibet).||Mainly pre-Buddhist Indian influences like concepts of karma, sangha, etc.|
|Scriptures||Tripitaka plus many other sutras (e.g. Lotus Sutra)||Pali Canon/Tripitaka only|
|Buddhas||Gautama Buddha plus Amitabha, Medicine Buddhas, and others||Historical Buddha (Gautama) and past Buddhas only|
|Bodhisattvas||Maitreya, Avalokitesvara, Mansjuri, Ksitigarbha and Samanthabadra||Maitreya only|
|Goal of Training||Buddhahood via bodhisattva path||Arhat|
|Trikaya (3 Buddha Bodies)||Emphasized, including the samboga-kaya or reward/enjoyment body||Very limited emphasis; mainly on nirmana-kaya and dharma-kaya|
|Buddha's Disciples||Many bodhisattvas that are not historical figures||Historical disciples described in Scriptures|
|Buddha Nature||Emphasized, especially in practice-based schools||Not taught|
|Bardo (Limbo)||Taught by all schools||Rejected|
|Rituals||Many, owing to local cultural influences||Very few; not emphasized|
|Mantras and Mudras||Emphasized in Vajrayana; sometimes incorporated in other schools||Some equivalent in the use of Parittas|
For sources, please see linked articles.
|Title||Comparison Chart: Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism|
|Published||March 17, 2004|
|Last Updated||January 19, 2017|
|MLA Citation|| “Comparison Chart: Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism.” ReligionFacts.com. 19 Jan. 2017. Web. Accessed 24 Feb. 2017. <www.religionfacts.com/|