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What is Mahayana Buddhism?

by Eddy Hsu กันยายน 27, 2023

What is Mahayana Buddhism?

Mahayana Buddhism is one of the three major branches of Buddhism, the others being Theravada Buddhism and Vajrayana Buddhism. Mahayana Buddhism is the dominant form of Buddhism in East Asia, including China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Tibet.

Here are some key characteristics and concepts associated with Mahayana Buddhism:

1. Bodhisattva Ideal: One of the central tenets of Mahayana Buddhism is the Bodhisattva ideal. Bodhisattvas are enlightened beings who, out of compassion, choose to postpone their own entry into Nirvana (enlightenment and liberation from the cycle of birth and death) in order to help all sentient beings attain liberation. This altruistic aspiration to help others achieve enlightenment is a defining feature of Mahayana.

2. Emphasis on Compassion: Mahayana Buddhism places a strong emphasis on compassion and the idea of universal salvation. Bodhisattvas are seen as compassionate beings who work tirelessly to relieve the suffering of all sentient beings, not just their own.

3. Expanded Canon: The Mahayana tradition has a larger and more varied set of scriptures compared to Theravada Buddhism. While both traditions share some common scriptures (such as the Tripitaka or Pali Canon), Mahayana Buddhists accept additional texts known as Mahayana Sutras. These texts include the Lotus Sutra, the Heart Sutra, and the Diamond Sutra, among others.

4. Deity-like Bodhisattvas: In Mahayana Buddhism, some Bodhisattvas are revered almost like deities. Avalokiteshvara (the Bodhisattva of Compassion), Manjushri (the Bodhisattva of Wisdom), and Tara are examples of Bodhisattvas who are highly venerated in Mahayana traditions.

5. Emptiness (Sunyata): Mahayana philosophy places a significant emphasis on the concept of emptiness or sunyata. This idea suggests that all phenomena lack inherent, independent existence and are interdependent. Emptiness is a key concept that helps practitioners transcend conventional notions of reality and gain insight into the nature of existence.

6. Pure Lands: Mahayana Buddhists often speak of Pure Lands or Buddha Lands, which are paradisiacal realms where it is easier for beings to attain enlightenment. Amitabha Buddha's Pure Land of Sukhavati is one of the most famous examples.

7. Diverse Schools and Traditions: Within Mahayana Buddhism, there are various schools and traditions, each with its own interpretations and practices. Some well-known Mahayana traditions include Zen Buddhism, Pure Land Buddhism, Tiantai (Tendai) Buddhism, and Tibetan Buddhism.

It's important to note that Mahayana Buddhism, like all major religious traditions, has evolved and diversified over time. Different Mahayana schools and traditions may emphasize particular aspects of its teachings and practices while maintaining core Mahayana principles, such as the Bodhisattva ideal and the concept of emptiness.



Eddy Hsu
Eddy Hsu

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