Difference Between Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism

Mahayana vs Theravada Buddhism
 

There is quite a lot of difference between the Mahayana and the Theravada Buddhism in terms of their teachings and topics. It is important to understand these differences because they are the biggest branches of Buddhism. Both Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism follow the Buddhist philosophy, but in different ways. That is just as there are different branches of Christianity as Protestantism, Catholicism, etc. Anyway, these differences between Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism will be discussed in this article so that it can be of use to you to quench your curiosity.

What is Theravada Buddhism?

In Theravada Buddhism, only Gautama (Sakyamuni) Buddha is accepted. Theravada accepts only Maitreya bodhisattva. In Theravada Buddhism, the Pali Canon is divided into 3 Tirpitakasas Vinaya, Sutra, and Abhidhamma. The main emphasis of the Theravada sect is on self-liberation. It is interesting to see that Theravada has spread in the southern direction including places like Thailand, Sri Lanka, Burma, Laos, and Cambodia. Tripitaka is strictly written in Pali in the Theravada tradition. There is no distinction in the nirvana attained by the Buddha and the Arahat Buddha in the case of Theravada tradition.

Rituals are not emphasized in the Theravada sect. It is important to note that the stage between death and rebirth is ignored in the Theravada school. One meal a day principle is strictly followed by the Theravada practitioners. There are no steadfast rules about vegetarianism among the Theravada practitioners because when sanghas follow daily morning rounds they cannot insist on the type of the food to be donated. They cannot be choosy and have to accept what is donated by people. So, vegetarianism is not necessary.

Difference Between Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism

What is Mahayana Buddhism?

Other than Gautama Buddha, other contemporary Buddhas like Amitabha and Medicine Buddha are also accepted in the Mahayana school. While Theravada accepts only Maitreya bodhisattva, Mahayana Buddhists accept Mansjuri, Avalokiteswara, Ksitigarbha Samantabhadra forms of bodhisattva as well. The organization of Buddhist scriptures too differ between the two schools. Mahayana sect also accepts Tripitakas of disciplines, discourses, and dhammas.

Helping other sentient beings comes primary along with aiming for self-liberation in the case of the Mahayana Buddhists. Mahayana is characterized by the transmission to northern places like Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Tibet, China, and parts of Southeast Asia as well. One of the main differences between Mahayana and Theravada sects is the language in which Tripitaka is written. While Tripitaka is strictly written in Pali in the Theravada tradition, the original language of spreading the teachings was Sanskrit in the case of the Mahayana tradition.

When there is no distinction in the nirvana attained by the Buddha and the Arahat Buddha, in the case of Theravada tradition, the Mahayana Buddhists call it ‘liberation from Samsara’. Rituals are heavily stressed in the Mahayana tradition.

The Mahayana believes in the stage between death and rebirth. The Mahayana school leaves high respect the one meal a day principle, but leave it to the respective Sanghas to decide and act. The aspect of vegetarianism is strictly followed by the Mahayana tradition.

What is the difference between Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism?

• Theravada accepts only Gautama (Sakyamuni) Buddha, contemporary Buddhas are also accepted in the Mahayana.

• Theravada accepts only Maitreyabodhisattva, Mahayana accepts different forms of bodhisattva.

• The objective of training in Theravada is Arahant or Pacceka Buddha whereas, in Mahayana, it is Buddha-hood.

• In Theravada, the scripture is organized in to Tripitaka but, in Mahayana, in addition to Tripitaka, many sutras are included.

• Theravada emphasizes on self-liberation, but Mahayana emphasizes more on helping other sentient beings along with self-liberation.

• Theravada does not emphasize on rituals, but Mahayana strongly believes in rituals.

• Theravada ignores the stage between death and rebirth, but Mahayana believes in the stage between death and rebirth.

• Theravada strictly follows one meal a day principle but, in Mahayana, it is the Sanghas that decide.

• Theravada does not emphasize on Vegetarianism, but Mahayana strictly follows Vegetarianism.

 

Images Courtesy:

  1. Buddhist Monks by Darren On The Road (CC BY 2.0)