Mahayana Buddhism and Tradition

Mahayana Buddhism

Mahayana Buddhism
Mahayana Buddhism, also known as the Great Vehicle, is the form of Buddhism prominent in North Asia, including China, Mongolia, Tibet, Korea, and Japan.

Mahayana is one of the main existing branches of Buddhism and the Sanskrit word “Mahayana” means great vehicle. The other existing branches of Buddhism are Theravada and Vajrayana but under some classification, Vajrayana is classified as a part of Mahayana Buddhism. Mahayana refers to the path of Bodhisattva to attain the Enlightenment to help all the sentient beings from all sufferings and pain. This is called “ Bodhisattvayana” or the “Bodhisattva Vehicle”. Over the years, the Mahayana subdivided into more schools which practices different doctrines and spread from India to China, Tibet, Korea, Japan and thus became the dominant form of Buddhism. The people following and supporting Mahayana Tradition is around 53.2% of the total Buddhism practitioners and Theravada tradition is around 35.8% and Vajrayana tradition is around 5.7%.
There are many other traditions that follow the principle of Mahayana Buddhism. They are Zen , Chinese Chan, Pure Land, Nichiren, Tiantai, Vajrayana (according to some tradition), Tendai and Tibetan Buddhism. The teaching of Mahayana is quite distinctive than that of Theravada. In Mahayana, bodhisattvas who are likely to manifest the great compassion postpone the final enlightenment to help and assist those beings still suffering from the cycle of rebirths. Mahayana Buddhism is sometimes interpreted as more devotional form of Buddhism since Buddha and Bodhisattva are greatly respected and worshiped.


The origin of Mahayana Buddhism is still quite mystery, but there are some views about the origins of Mahayana. It states that Mahayana emerged as a separate school from another existed school Theravada. But some historical record shows Mahayana had been developing long before that.

"Traces of Mahayana teachings appear already in the oldest Buddhist scriptures. Contemporary scholarship is inclined to view the transition to Mahayana as a gradual process hardly noticed by people at that time."
- Heinrich Dumoulin, Historian
Mahayana Buddhism

During the 1st Century BCE, the name Mahayana was found to distinguish the Mahayana tradition from Theravada tradition. Theravada was called “Hinavana” during the same century. These are the works of Buddhist monks who oppose the idea of attaining the Enlightenment by oneself and accused Theravada a selfish tradition. During the time of early Mahayana Buddhism, the Mahayanists developed four major types of thought. They are

  1. Madhyamaka
  2. Yogacara
  3. Buddha Nature
  4. Buddhist logic

Bodhisattva Ideal

The Mahayana is one of the three alternatives through which one can attain the state of Nirvana. The Mahayana emphasizes on postponing one’s liberation so that one may help, assist and guide all the sentient beings to the state of Nirvana. According to Mahayana teachings, a high-level Bodhisattva possesses a mind of great compassion and wisdom.

"The most essential part of Mahayana is its emphasis on Bodhisattva ideal, which replaces that of the arhat, or ranks before it."
- Ananda Coomaraswamy

According to Mahayana teachings and practices , six perfections are needed to Bodhisattva. They are

  1. Perfection of giving or generosity
  2. Perfection of good conduct or behavior
  3. Perfection of Patience
  4. Perfection of vigor and diligence
  5. Perfection of Meditation
  6. Perfection of wisdom

Trikaya or Three Body Doctrine
The concept of Three Body Doctrine of Buddha is purely Mahayana concept. Mahayana Tradition believes that Lord Buddha have three bodies. They are:

  • Nirmanakaya Body

It is also known as appearance body or material body of Sakyamuni Buddha .

  • Dharmakaya Body

Also known as Dharma body which refers that the eternal Dharma lies beyond all conceptions and dualities.

  • Sambhogakaya Body

Also known as The Bliss or Enjoyment body in which Bodhisattva appears in a celestial realm.


Agamas is a collection of early Buddhist scriptures. There are five agamas in Buddhism and together they comprise Suttapitaka of early Buddhist Schools. The five agamas are:

1. Dirgha Agama – Long Discourses
2. Madhyama Agama – Middle-Length Discourses
3. Samyukta Agama – Connected Discourses
4. Ekottara Agama – Numbered Discourses
5. Ksudraka Agama – Minor Collection

Three Turning of Wheels of Dharma

The turning of Wheels of Dharma refers to understanding of a sutra of teachings of Lord Buddha which was originally devised by Yogachara School. The three turning of Wheels of Dharma are as follows:

  1. First Turning

    Consist of teaching of Four Noble Truths, other elements of Tripitaka (abhidharma, sutrapitika, and Vinaya). It is said to have taken place at Deer Park of Sarnath.
  2. Second Turning

    Second Turning mainly emphasis on emptiness and compassion. And these two elements form bodhicitta which is an epitome of Second turning. Second Turing is said to have taken place at Vulture Park in Bihar.
  3. Third Turning

    Third Turning mainly emphasis on Buddha nature and Tathagatagarbha doctrine. The third turning of Wheels of Dharma is said to have taken place in Shravasti and other Indian locations such Kushinagara.

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