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Difference Between Mahayana and Hinayana Buddhism

Mahayana vs Hinayana Buddhism

Mahayana Buddhism and Hinayana Buddhism are two sects of Buddhism that have differences between them in their religious concepts. Mahayana literally means ‘travelers by a greater vehicle’ and Hinayana literally means ‘travelers by a lesser vehicle’.

Mahayana Buddhism introduced the idea of a deity in the religion. Buddha became the principal deity. According to them, Arhats are more limited than Buddhas or the enlightened beings.

Hinayana follows the underlying principles of the Pali canon. Hinayana Buddhism stresses the importance and the significance of the four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. This is the reason why they are considered as the sect that closely follows the teachings of the Buddha. On the other hand, Mahayana Buddhism tries to reinterpret the obscure doctrine in its own way.

Hinayana Buddhism asserts that one follows the Bodhisattva path before becoming a Buddha.  Mahayana Buddhism believes in the versions of the Jataka tales that describe the previous births of Buddha Shakyamuni as a Bodhisattva. Mahayana believes that there are one thousand Buddhas who will begin universal religions. They say there were many more before and will be many more after them too.

Mahayana says that everyone can become a Buddha. This is because of the fact that everyone is blessed with the Buddha-nature factor that can propel the attainment of the status of Buddha. Hinayana does not go into the details of Buddha-nature factors at all.

Mahayana believes that Bodhisattvas alone practiced the ten far-reaching attitudes. Hinayana Buddhism does not hold this view. According to Mahayana Buddhism, the ten far-reaching attitudes are generosity, skill in means, patience, ethical self-discipline, mental stability, joyful perseverance, strengthening, deep awareness, aspiration-filled prayer and discriminating awareness. Hinayana replaces mental stability, skill in means, aspiration-filled prayer, strengthening and deep awareness by renunciation, being true to one’s word, resolution, love and equanimity.

The two sects differ in the treatment of the four immeasurable attitudes as well. It is indeed true that both the sects teach the practice of the four immeasurable attitudes of love, compassion, joy and equanimity. At the same time they differ in the definitions of these attitudes. Although, there is an agreement between them in terms of the definitions of love and compassion, there is some difference in the treatment of immeasurable joy and equanimity. While, Hinayana defines immeasurable joy as rejoicing in the happiness of others in the absence of jealousy, Mahayana defines immeasurable joy as the wish that others have the experience of joy or happiness of continuous enlightenment.

According Mahayana Buddhism equanimity is the state of mind that is bereft of attachment, indifference and repulsion.  Hinayana Buddhism defines equanimity as the outcome of our compassion, love and rejoicing. These are the important differences between the two sects of Buddhism, namely, Mahayana Buddhism and Hinayana Buddhism.


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