Mahayana (Sanskrit:mahāyāna, Devanagari:, 'Great Vehicle') is a term of classification of Buddhism that is used in three main senses:
- As a living tradition, Mahayana is the larger of the two major traditions of Buddhism existing today, the other being Theravada.
- As a branch of Buddhist philosophy, Mahayana refers to a level of spiritual motivation, namely the Bodhisattvayana. The alternate philosophical approach is the Hinayana, which is the Arhatyana.
- As a practice path, Mahayana refers to one of the three yanas, or routes to enlightenment, the other two being the Hinayana and the Vajrayana.
The historical source of the name Mahayana is polemical, having its origin in a debate about what the real teachings of the Buddha are. As such, its use in any context except as that pertaining to a living tradition is controversial amongst Theravadin practitioners and some Pali Canon scholars. Although the Mahayana movement traces its origin to Gautama Buddha, the consensus of historical evidence indicates that it originated in South India in the first century CE. It was first propagated into China by Lokaksema, the first translator of Mahayana sutras into Chinese.
The earliest mention of "Mahayana" occurs in the Lotus Sutra between the first century BCE and the first century CE. The earliest Mahayana scriptures probably originated during the first century CE in the Indian subcontinent, and spread to China during the second century CE. Only in the fifth century CE did Mahayana become an influential school in India. In the course of its history, Mahayana spread throughout East Asia. The main countries in which it is practiced today are China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam and worldwide amongst Tibetan Buddhist practitioners as a result of the Himalayan diaspora following the Communist invasion of Tibet.
Some of the main Mahayana sutras, codified in Sanskrit, have not survived over time and have been lost. Versions later translated into Tibetan language and Chinese language have survived. The main schools of Mahayana Buddhism today are Pure Land, Zen, Nichiren Buddhism, Shingon, Tibetan Buddhism and Tendai. The latter three schools have both Mahayana and Vajrayana practice traditions.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 July 2011 00:14