The Differences Between Mahayana And Theravada Buddhism Essay

Length: 2 pages Sources: 2 Subject: History - Asian Type: Essay Paper: #45200585 Related Topics: Buddhism, Cambodia, Enlightenment, Meditation
Excerpt from Essay :

¶ … Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism are related more to practice than to core doctrine, as both branches honor the Shakyamuni Buddha as the historical founder of Buddhism, believe in the efficacy of the sangha, and honor concepts central to Buddhism like the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. However, the geographic and historical evolution of Mahayana and Theravada has led to some significant cultural differences and differences in expression and ritual between these two branches. Whereas Mahayana Buddhism spread more widely throughout East Asia including China, Korea, Japan, Tibet, and Nepal, Theravada Buddhism has historically been centered more in South and Southeast Asia, with hubs in Sri Lanka, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand.

Goals such as wisdom and enlightenment remain common between Mahayana and Theravada, but the main difference between the two branches is with the sutras. Theravada is a branch of Buddhism that holds the Pali Canon as the main and only valid Buddhist text, whereas Mahayana Buddhism recognizes the value and validity of "hundreds" of other sutras (Peto, 2013). As a result, Theravada has been considerably more "conservative" and orthodox in nature than Mahayana and less flexible in its approach to the teachings of Buddha given the strict stance on scripture...


Mayahana Buddhism allows for liberal intellectual inquiry. Theravada Buddhism literally translates as "teaching of the elders," and Mahayana means "great vehicle," (Epstein, 1999). The reasons for why Mahayana and Theravada might have gone in their respective directions may have to do with culture and context. It is likely that the orthodox elements of Theravada Buddhism enabled the establishment of monastic orders separate from the laity, whereas in North and North-East Asia, the study of Buddhism was not necessarily viewed as being incompatible with the duties of mundane life.

Theravada Buddhism's strict adherence to the Pali Canon provides a clear-cut approach to study and practice. On the other hand, Mahayana Buddhism can be more complex and challenging, allowing for multiple interpretations of texts and multiple points-of-view regarding issues such as how to attain enlightenment and what to do once a person achieves enlightenment. One of the central differences in belief has to do with the willingness to become a Boddhisatva. A Mahayana Buddhist holds dear the concept of Boddhisatva, a being who chooses to remain in the cycle of rebirth in order to assist other beings in attaining the same goal (Epstein, 1999). Likewise, the…

Sources Used in Documents:


Epstein, R. (1999). Clearing up some misconceptions about Buddhism. Retrieved online:

Peto, A. (2013). Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism. Retrieved online:

Cite this Document:

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