Mahayana Buddhism

The Mahayana, or “Great Vehicle”, changes the style, the tone and the content of Buddhist practice in profound ways. It opens up the practice of Buddhahood to lay people as well as to monks and nuns. It also involves a far more extended vision of the cosmos than anything that came before.

The Mahayana movement emerged in the Indian Buddhist community around the beginning of the Common Era. Eventually, the Mahayana spread to China, Tibet, Japan, Korea and Vietnam.

In the following articles we are going to study the core beliefs of this tradition and its history:

  1. Mahayana: The Great Vehicle: The name Mahayana is used to distinguish itself from what it saw as the Buddhism that came before. Mahayana texts refer to themselves as a great vehicle, in contrast to what they call the Hinayana, or lesser vehicle, that preceded it.

  2. The One Vehicle and the Skillful Means: One of the most important doctrines in the Lotus Sutra is the doctrine of the One Vehicle, the Buddha teaches in the end one particular way to salvation. Another concept that is important here that runs all the way through the Mahayana tradition is the concept of Skillful Means. It raises the question about whether the Buddha lies to people by presenting these preliminary teachings.

  3. The Origin of Mahayana Buddhism: Where such a radical reform movement arises in the community of the early Sangha? The Mahayana texts claim to be the teaching of the Buddha himself delivered to a special assembly of boddhisattvas. Was it really like that? Some scholars have suggested that the Mahayana arose among circles of lay people, who were worshipers at particular Shrines where the relics of the Buddha were the focus of devotion.

  4. Mahayana and the Boddhisattva Ideal: The fundamental teaching of Mahayana Buddhism is what is called the Boddhisattva Ideal.A Boddhisattva is a Buddha-to-be, somebody who isn’t a Buddha yet but plans to be one in a future life.

  5. Mahayana and the Lay Boddhisattva: Boddhisattvas described in Mahayana literature are often human beings just like ourselves. In earlier Buddhism, the ideal practitioners of the Buddhist path were monks and nuns who engaged in an act of renunciation and pursued a monastic life. Now, this tradition was opening up explicitly for lay people.

  6. The Extended Vision of the Mahayana: The Mahayana brought Buddhism into realms and practices very different from anything we saw before.

  7. Bodhicitta and the Boddhisattva Path: The most important concept to express the Boddhisattva ideal is the concept of the Bodhicitta, a word we translate as the “mind of enlightenment” or you might say the mind that seeks enlightenment.

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