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Mahāyāna (; for "Great Vehicle") is one of two main existing branches of (the other being ) and a term for classification of Buddhist philosophies and practice. This movement added a further set of discourses, and although it was initially small in India, it had long-term historical significance.

9780415858809 .
The Buddhist tradition of is sometimes classified as a part of Mahayana Buddhism, but some scholars consider it to be a different branch altogether.

According to the teachings of Mahāyāna traditions, "Mahāyāna" also refers to the path of the seeking complete enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, also called "Bodhisattvayāna", or the "Bodhisattva Vehicle". (2003), A Dictionary of Buddhism, Oxford University Press, p. 38 A bodhisattva who has accomplished this goal is called a samyaksaṃbuddha, or "fully enlightened Buddha". A samyaksaṃbuddha can establish the and lead disciples to enlightenment. Mahayana Buddhists teach that enlightenment can be attained in a single lifetime, and this can be accomplished even by a layperson.

The Mahāyāna tradition is the largest major tradition of Buddhism existing today, with 53.2% of practitioners, compared to 35.8% for and 5.7% for in 2010.

In the course of its history, Mahāyāna Buddhism spread from India to various other , and countries such as , , , , , , , , , , and . Mahayana Buddhism also spread to other South and Southeast Asian countries, such as , , , , the , , , , and other Central Asian countries before being replaced by Theravada Buddhism or other religions. Large Mahāyāna scholastic centers thrived during the latter period of Buddhism in India, between the seventh and twelfth centuries. Major traditions of Mahāyāna Buddhism today include , , , Pure Land Buddhism, Nichiren Buddhism and Vietnamese Buddhism. It may also include the traditions of , , , and , which add esoteric teachings to the Mahāyāna tradition.


Etymology
According to Jan Nattier, the term Mahāyāna ("Great Vehicle") was originally an honorary synonym for Bodhisattvayāna (" Vehicle")Nattier, Jan (2003), A few good men: the Bodhisattva path according to the Inquiry of Ugra: p. 174 — the vehicle of a bodhisattva seeking for the benefit of all sentient beings. The term Mahāyāna (which had earlier been used simply as an epithet for Buddhism itself) was therefore adopted at an early date as a synonym for the path and the teachings of the bodhisattvas. Since it was simply an honorary term for Bodhisattvayāna, the adoption of the term Mahāyāna and its application to Bodhisattvayāna did not represent a significant turning point in the development of a Mahāyāna tradition.

The earliest Mahāyāna texts often use the term Mahāyāna as a synonym for Bodhisattvayāna, but the term is comparatively rare in the earliest sources. The presumed dichotomy between Mahāyāna and Hīnayāna can be deceptive, as the two terms were not actually formed in relation to one another in the same era.Nattier, Jan (2003), A few good men: the Bodhisattva path according to the Inquiry of Ugra: p. 172

Among the earliest and most important references to Mahāyāna are those that occur in the (Skt. Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra) dating between the 1st century BCE and the 1st century CE.W. Rahula, (1996). Theravada - Mahayana Buddhism; in: "Gems of Buddhist Wisdom", Buddhist Missionary Society, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Seishi Karashima has suggested that the term first used in an earlier Gandhāri version of the Lotus Sūtra was not the term mahāyāna but the Prakrit word mahājāna in the sense of mahājñāna (great knowing).Williams, Paul. Buddhism. Vol. 3. The origins and nature of Mahāyāna Buddhism. Routledge. 2004. p. 50.Karashima, Seishi (2000), Who composed the Lotus Sutra?, Annual Report of The International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology at Soka University 4, p. 170 (note 115) At a later stage when the early Prakrit word was converted into Sanskrit, this mahājāna, being phonetically ambivalent, was mistakenly converted into mahāyāna, possibly because of what may have been a double meaning in the famous Parable of the Burning House, which talks of three vehicles or carts (Skt: yāna).Karashima, Seishi (2015), Vehicle (yāna) and Wisdom (jñāna) in the Lotus Sutra - the Origin of the Notion of yāna in Mahayāna Buddhism, Annual Report of The International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology at Soka University 18, 163-196


History


Origins
The origins of Mahāyāna are still not completely understood.Akira, Hirakawa (translated and edited by Paul Groner) (1993. A History of Indian Buddhism. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass: p. 260. The earliest Western views of Mahāyāna assumed that it existed as a separate school in competition with the so-called "Hīnayāna" schools. The earliest Mahāyāna texts often depict strict adherence to the path of a bodhisattva, and engagement in the ascetic ideal of a monastic life in the wilderness, akin to the ideas expressed in the .

The earliest textual evidence of "Mahāyāna" comes from sūtras originating around the beginning of the common era. Jan Nattier has noted that some of the earliest Mahāyāna texts such as the Ugraparipṛccha Sūtra use the term "Mahāyāna", yet there is no doctrinal difference between Mahāyāna in this context and the early schools, and that "Mahāyāna" referred rather to the rigorous emulation of in the path of a bodhisattva seeking to become a fully enlightened buddha.Nattier, Jan (2003), A few good men: the Bodhisattva path according to the Inquiry of Ugra: p. 193-194

There is also no evidence that Mahāyāna ever referred to a separate formal school or sect of Buddhism, but rather that it existed as a certain set of ideals, and later doctrines, for bodhisattvas. Paul Williams has also noted that the Mahāyāna never had nor ever attempted to have a separate or ordination lineage from the early schools of Buddhism, and therefore each or adhering to the Mahāyāna formally belonged to an early school. Membership in these nikāyas, or monastic sects, continues today with the nikāya in East Asia, and the nikāya in . Therefore, Mahāyāna was never a separate rival sect of the early schools.Williams, Paul (2008) Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations: pp. 4-5 Paul Harrison clarifies that while monastic Mahāyānists belonged to a nikāya, not all members of a nikāya were Mahāyānists.Guang Xing. The Concept of the Buddha: Its Evolution from Early Buddhism to the Trikaya Theory. 2004. p. 115 From Chinese monks visiting India, we now know that both Mahāyāna and non-Mahāyāna monks in India often lived in the same monasteries side by side.Williams, Paul (2000) Buddhist Thought: A Complete Introduction to the Indian Tradition: p. 97 It is also possible that, formally, Mahāyāna would have been understood as a group of monks or nuns within a larger monastery taking a vow together (known as a " kriyākarma") to memorize and study a Mahāyāna text or texts.

The Chinese monk Yijing, who visited India in the 7th century CE, distinguishes Mahāyāna from Hīnayāna as follows:Williams, Paul (2008) Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations: p. 5

Much of the early extant evidence for the origins of Mahāyāna comes from early Chinese translations of Mahāyāna texts. These Mahāyāna teachings were first propagated into by Lokakṣema, the first translator of Mahāyāna sūtras into during the 2nd century CE.


Earliest Mahayana sutras
Based on the testimony of (7th cent.) several scholars have suggested that the , which are among the earliest ,Williams, Paul. Buddhist Thought. Routledge, 2000, pages 131.Williams, Paul. Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations 2nd edition. Routledge, 2009, pg. 47. developed among the Mahāsāṃghika along the in the Āndhra region of southern India.Guang Xing. The Concept of the Buddha: Its Evolution from Early Buddhism to the Trikaya Theory. 2004. pp. 65-66 "Several scholars have suggested that the Prajñāpāramitā probably developed among the Mahasamghikas in Southern India, in the Andhra country, on the Krishna River." However, more recently Seishi Karashima has argued for their origin in the Gandhara region.Karashima, 2013.

The earliest Mahāyāna sūtras include the very first versions of the Prajñāpāramitā genre, along with texts concerning , which were probably written down in the 1st century BCE in the south of India.Akira, Hirakawa (translated and edited by Paul Groner) (1993. A History of Indian Buddhism. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass: pp. 253, 263, 268"The south (of India) was then vigorously creative in producing Mahayana Sutras" – Warder, A.K. (3rd edn. 1999). Indian Buddhism: p. 335. Guang Xing states, "Several scholars have suggested the Prajñāpāramitā probably developed among the Mahāsāṃghikas in southern India, in the Āndhra country, on the Kṛṣṇa River." A.K. Warder believes that "the Mahāyāna originated in the south of India and almost certainly in the Āndhra country."Warder, A.K. Indian Buddhism. 2000. p. 313

Anthony Barber and Sree Padma note that "historians of Buddhist thought have been aware for quite some time that such pivotally important Mahayana Buddhist thinkers as Nāgārjuna, , Candrakīrti, Āryadeva, and , among many others, formulated their theories while living in Buddhist communities in Āndhra."Padma, Sree. Barber, Anthony W. Buddhism in the Krishna River Valley of Andhra. SUNY Press 2008, pg. 1. They note that the ancient Buddhist sites in the lower Kṛṣṇa Valley, including Amaravati, and "can be traced to at least the third century BCE, if not earlier."Padma, Sree. Barber, Anthony W. Buddhism in the Krishna River Valley of Andhra. SUNY Press 2008, pg. 2. Akira Hirakawa notes the "evidence suggests that many Early Mahayana scriptures originated in South India."Akira, Hirakawa (translated and edited by Paul Groner) (1993. A History of Indian Buddhism. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass: p. 252, 253

Some scholars think that the earliest Mahāyāna sūtras were mainly composed in the south of India, and later the activity of writing additional scriptures was continued in the north. However, the assumption that the presence of an evolving body of Mahāyāna scriptures implies the contemporaneous existence of distinct religious movement called "Mahāyāna", may be a serious misstep. Some scholars further speculate that the Prajñāpāramitā sūtras were written in response to the ultrarealism of .Skilton, Andrew (2004 ). A Concise History of Buddhism. p. 94.

Some early Mahāyāna sūtras were translated by the monk Lokakṣema, who came to China from the kingdom of . His first translations to Chinese were made in the Chinese capital of between 178 and 189 CE. Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism (2004): p. 492 Some Mahāyāna sūtras translated during the 2nd century CE include the following:Akira, Hirakawa (translated and edited by Paul Groner) (1993). A History of Indian Buddhism. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, p. 248-251

  1. An early sūtra connected to the

This corpus of texts often emphasizes ascetic practices and forest dwelling, absorbed in states of meditative concentration.Williams, Paul (2008) Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations: p. 30


Earliest inscriptions
The earliest stone inscription containing a recognizably Mahāyāna formulation and a mention of the Buddha Amitābha was found in the Indian subcontinent in Mathura, and dated to around 180 CE. Remains of a statue of a Buddha bear the Brāhmī inscription: "Made in the year 28 of the reign of King , ... for the Blessed One, the Buddha Amitābha." There is also some evidence that Emperor Huviṣka himself was a follower of Mahāyāna Buddhism, and a Sanskrit manuscript fragment in the Schøyen Collection describes Huviṣka as having "set forth in the Mahāyāna."Neelis, Jason. Early Buddhist Transmission and Trade Networks. 2010. p. 141 Evidence of the name "Mahāyāna" in Indian inscriptions in the period before the 5th century is very limited in comparison to the multiplicity of Mahāyāna writings transmitted from to at that time.


Early Mahāyāna Buddhism
During the period of early Mahāyāna Buddhism, four major types of thought developed: , , ( Tathāgatagarbha), and as the last and most recent.Akira, Hirakawa (translated and edited by Paul Groner) (1993. A History of Indian Buddhism. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass: p. 8,9 In India, the two main philosophical schools of the Mahāyāna were the Mādhyamaka and the later Yogācāra.Harvey, Peter (1993). An Introduction to Buddhism. Cambridge University Press: p. 95. During the , Mahayana Buddhism teachings encouraged societies to give generous donations to the Buddhist monasteries, which gave the people "religious merits".Xinru Liu, The Silk Road in World History, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 52.

Earlier stage forms of Mahāyāna such as the doctrines of Prajñāpāramitā, Yogācāra, Buddha Nature, and the Pure Land teachings are still popular in East Asia. In some cases these have spawned new developments, while in others they are treated in the more traditional syncretic manner. Paul Williams has noted that in this tradition in the Far East, primacy has always been given to study of the sūtras.Williams, Paul (1989). Mahayana Buddhism: p.103


Late Mahāyāna Buddhism
Various classes of literature developed as a result of royal courts sponsoring both Buddhism and .Sanderson, Alexis. "The Śaiva Age: The Rise and Dominance of Śaivism during the Early Medieval Period." In: Genesis and Development of Tantrism,edited by Shingo Einoo. Tokyo: Institute of Oriental Culture, University of Tokyo, 2009. Institute of Oriental Culture Special Series, 23, pp. 124. The Mañjusrimulakalpa, which later came to classified under Kriyatantra, states that mantras taught in the Shaiva, Garuda and Vaishnava tantras will be effective if applied by Buddhists since they were all taught originally by .Sanderson, Alexis. "The Śaiva Age: The Rise and Dominance of Śaivism during the Early Medieval Period." In: Genesis and Development of Tantrism,edited by Shingo Einoo. Tokyo: Institute of Oriental Culture, University of Tokyo, 2009. Institute of Oriental Culture Special Series, 23, pp. 129-131. The Guhyasiddhi of Padmavajra, a work associated with the Guhyasamaja tradition, prescribes acting as a Shaiva guru and initiating members into scriptures and mandalas.Sanderson, Alexis. "The Śaiva Age: The Rise and Dominance of Śaivism during the Early Medieval Period." In: Genesis and Development of Tantrism,edited by Shingo Einoo. Tokyo: Institute of Oriental Culture, University of Tokyo, 2009. Institute of Oriental Culture Special Series, 23, pp. 144-145. The Samvara tantra texts adopted the pitha list from the Shaiva text Tantrasadbhava, introducing a copying error where a deity was mistaken for a place.
(2018). 9780226356488, University of Chicago Press.


Doctrine
Few things can be said with certainty about Mahāyāna Buddhism, especially its early Indian form, other than that the Buddhism practiced in China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Korea, Tibet, and Japan is Mahāyāna Buddhism. Mahāyāna can be described as a loosely bound collection of many teachings with large and expansive doctrines that are able to exist simultaneously.

Mahāyāna constitutes an inclusive tradition characterized by plurality and the adoption of new in addition to the earlier āgamas. Mahāyāna sees itself as penetrating further and more profoundly into the Buddha's . An Indian commentary on the Mahāyānasaṃgraha, entitled Vivṛtaguhyārthapiṇḍavyākhyā, gives a classification of teachings according to the capabilities of the audience:Hamar, Imre. Reflecting Mirrors: Perspectives on Huayan Buddhism. 2007. p. 94

There is also a tendency in Mahāyāna sūtras to regard adherence to these sūtras as generating spiritual benefits greater than those that arise from being a follower of the non-Mahāyāna approaches to Dharma. Thus the Śrīmālādevī Siṃhanāda Sūtra claims that the Buddha said that devotion to Mahāyāna is inherently superior in its virtues to following the śrāvaka or paths.Hookham, Dr. Shenpen, trans. (1998). The Shrimaladevi Sutra. Oxford: Longchen Foundation: p.27

The fundamental principles of Mahāyāna doctrine were based on the possibility of universal liberation from for all beings (hence the "Great Vehicle") and the existence of buddhas and bodhisattvas embodying Buddha-nature. The Pure Land school of Mahāyāna simplifies the expression of faith by allowing salvation to be alternatively obtained through the grace of the buddha Amitābha by having faith and devoting oneself to . This devotional lifestyle of Buddhism has greatly contributed to the success of Mahāyāna in East Asia, where spiritual elements traditionally relied upon mindfulness of the Buddha, mantras and dhāraṇīs, and reading sutras. In Chinese Buddhism, most monks, let alone lay people, practice Pure Land, some combining it with .Welch (1967). Practice of Chinese Buddhism. Harvard: p. 396

Most Mahāyāna schools believe in supernatural bodhisattvas who devote themselves to the pāramitās, ultimate knowledge (Skt. sarvajñāna), and the liberation of all sentient beings.


Bodhisattva
The Mahāyāna tradition holds that pursuing only the release from suffering and attainment of Nirvāṇa is too narrow an aspiration, because it lacks the motivation of actively resolving to liberate all other sentient beings from saṃsāra, "suffering". One who engages in this path is called a bodhisattva. Bodhisattvas could reach nirvana, but they believe it is more important to help others on their path of finding nirvana rather than committing fully to nirvana themselves.Xinru Liu, The Silk Road in World History, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 53.

The defining characteristic of a bodhisattva is , the intention to achieve omniscient Buddhahood () as fast as possible, so that one may benefit infinite sentient beings. Sometimes the term bodhisattva is used more restrictively to refer to those sentient beings on the grounds. As Ananda Coomaraswamy notes, "The most essential part of the Mahayana is its emphasis on the Bodhisattva ideal, which replaces that of the , or ranks before it." According to Mahāyāna teachings, being a high-level bodhisattva involves possessing a mind of great compassion and prajñā (wisdom) to realize the reality of inherent emptiness and dependent origination. Mahāyāna teaches that the practitioner will finally realize the attainment of .

Six pāramitās are traditionally required for bodhisattvas:

  1. : the perfection of giving
  2. : the perfection of behavior and discipline
  3. : the perfection of forbearance
  4. : the perfection of vigor and diligence
  5. : the perfection of meditation
  6. : the perfection of transcendent wisdom


Expedient means
Expedient meansPye, Michael (1978). Skilful Means — A concept in Mahayana Buddhism. London, UK: Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd. (Skt. ) is found in the , one of the earliest-dated sutras, and is accepted in all Mahāyāna schools of thought. It is any effective method that aids awakening. It does not necessarily mean that some particular method is "untrue" but is simply any means or stratagem that is conducive to spiritual growth and leads beings to awakening and . Expedient means could thus be certain motivational words for a particular listener or even the Noble Eightfold Path itself. Basic Buddhism (what Mahāyāna would term śrāvakayāna or pratyekabuddhayāna) is an expedient method for helping people begin the noble Buddhist path and advance quite far. But the path is not wholly traversed, according to some schools, until the practitioner has striven for and attained Buddhahood for the liberation of all other sentient beings from suffering.

Some scholars have stated that the exercise of expedient means, "the ability to adapt one's message to the audience, is also of enormous importance in the Pāli canon." In fact the Pāli term upāya-kosalla does occur in the Pāli Canon, in the Sangiti Sutta of the Digha Nikāya.Walshe, M. trans. (1987). Thus Have I Heard: the Long Discourses of the Buddha. Wisdom: p. 486


Liberation
Mahāyāna Buddhism includes a rich cosmology, with various Buddhas and bodhisattvas residing in different worlds and buddha-realms. The concept of ( trikāya) supports these constructions, making the Buddha himself a transcendental figure. Dr. Guang Xing describes the Mahāyāna Buddha as "an omnipotent divinity endowed with numerous supernatural attributes and qualities ...He is described almost as an omnipotent and almighty godhead."Guang Xing (2005). The Three Bodies of the Buddha: The Origin and Development of the Trikaya Theory. Oxford: Routledge Curzon: pp.1 and 85

Under various conditions, the realms Buddha presides over could be attained by devotees after their death so, when reborn, they could strive towards buddhahood in the best possible conditions. Depending on the sect, liberation into a buddha-realm can be obtained by faith, visualization, or sometimes even by the repetition of Buddha's name. These practices are common in Pure Land Buddhism.{Dr. Guang Xing, The Three Bodies of the Buddha: The Origin and Development of the Trikaya Theory, RoutledgeCurzon, Oxford, 2005, p. 1}


Buddha nature

Buddha-nature, Buddha-dhatu or Buddha Principle (: Buddha-dhātu, Tathāgatagarbha; Jap: Bussho), is taught differently in various Mahayana Buddhism traditions. Broadly speaking Buddha-nature is concerned with ascertaining what allows sentient beings to become Buddhas.Williams, Paul. Buddhist Thought. Routledge 2000, page 160. The term, Buddha nature, is a translation of the Sanskrit coinage, 'Buddha-dhātu', which seems first to have appeared in the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra,Paul Williams, Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations, Second Edition, Routledge, Oxford, 2009, p. 317 where it refers to "a sacred nature that is the basis for beings' becoming buddhas",Kevin Trainor, Buddhism: The Illustrated Guide, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 207 and where it is also spoken of as the 'Self' ( atman).Zimmermann, Michael (2002), A Buddha Within: The Tathāgatagarbhasūtra, Biblotheca Philologica et Philosophica Buddhica VI, The International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology, Soka University, pp. 82-83

It is called Tathāgatagarbha Buddha-dhātu at the stage of sentient beings because it is covered with defilements, and it is called at the stage of Buddhahood, because its pure nature is revealed.Xing Guang (2005), The Concept of the Buddha: Its Evolution from Early Buddhism to the Trikāya Theory, p.88

The teaching of a "Buddha nature" (Skt. tathāgatagarbha) may be based on the "" concept found in the Āgamas. The essential idea, articulated in the Buddha nature sūtras, but not accepted by all Mahāyānists, is that no being is without a concealed but indestructible interior link to the awakening of and that this link is an uncreated element ( dhātu) or principle deep inside each being, which constitutes the deathless, diamond-like "essence of the self". Nirvāṇa Sūtra The Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra states: "The essence of the Self ( ātman) is the subtle Buddha nature..." while the later Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra states that the Buddha nature might be taken to be self ( ātman), but it is not. In the sagathakam section of that same sutra, however, the Tathagatagarbha as the Self is not denied, but affirmed: "The Atma Self characterised with purity is the state of self-realization; this is the Tathagata's Womb ( garbha), which does not belong to the realm of the theorisers."Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, The Lankavatara Sutra, Prajna Press, Boulder, 1978, p. 282 In the Buddha nature class of sūtras, the word "self" ( ātman) is used in a way defined by and specific to these sūtras. (See Atman (Buddhism).)

According to some scholars, the Buddha nature discussed in some Mahāyāna sūtras does not represent a substantial self ( ātman); rather, it is a positive language and expression of ( śūnyatā) and represents the potentiality to realize Buddhahood through Buddhist practices. Heng-Ching Shih, The Significance Of "Tathagatagarbha"—A Positive Expression Of "Sunyata". It is the "" in representing the innate aspect of the individual that makes actualizing the ultimate personality possible.

The actual "seeing and knowing" of this Buddha essence is said to usher in nirvanic liberation. This Buddha essence or "Buddha nature" is stated to be found in every single person, ghost, god and sentient being. In the Buddha nature sūtras, the Buddha is portrayed as describing the Buddha essence as uncreated, deathless and ultimately beyond rational grasping or conceptualisation. Yet, it is this already real and present, hidden internal element of ( bodhi) that, according to the Buddha nature sūtras, prompts beings to seek liberation from worldly suffering, and lets them attain the spotless bliss that lies at the heart of their being. Once the veils of negative thoughts, feelings, and unwholesome behaviour (the kleśas) are eliminated from the mind and character, the indwelling Buddha principle ( Buddha-dhātu: Buddha nature) can shine forth unimpededly and transform the seer into a Buddha.

Prior to the period of these sūtras, Mahāyāna was dominated by teachings on , in the form of philosophy. The language used by this approach is primarily negative, and the Buddha nature genre of sūtras can be seen as an attempt to state orthodox Buddhist teachings of dependent origination and on the mysterious reality of nirvana using positive language instead, to prevent people from being turned away from Buddhism by a false impression of nihilism. In these sūtras the perfection of the wisdom of not-self is stated to be the true self; the ultimate goal of the path is then characterized using a range of positive language that had been used in Indian philosophy previously by essentialist philosophers, but was now transmuted into a new Buddhist vocabulary that described a being who has successfully completed the Buddhist path.King, Sallie B. The Doctrine of Buddha-Nature is impeccably Buddhist. In: Jamie Hubbard (ed.), Pruning the Bodhi Tree: The Storm Over Critical Buddhism, Univ of Hawaii Press 1997, pp. 174-179.

A different view is propounded by Tathagatagarbha specialist, Michael Zimmermann, who sees key Buddha-nature sutras such as the Nirvana Sutra and the Tathagatagarbha Sutra, as well as the Lankavatara Sutra, enunciating an affirmative vision of an eternal, indestructible Buddhic Self. Zimmermann observes:

The (an treatise on ) sees Buddha nature not as ( saṃskṛta), but as eternal, uncaused, unconditioned, and incapable of being destroyed, although temporarily concealed within worldly beings by adventitious defilements.Sebastian, C. D. (2005), Metaphysics and Mysticism in Mahayana Buddhism. Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications: p. 268 According to C. D. Sebastian, the Uttaratantra's reference to a transcendental self ( ātma-) should be understood as "the unique essence of the universe",Sebastian, C. D. (2005), Metaphysics and Mysticism in Mahayana Buddhism. Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications: p. 151; cf. also p. 110 thus the universal and essence of Buddha nature is the same throughout time and space.Sebastian, C. D. (2005), Metaphysics and Mysticism in Mahayana Buddhism. Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications: p. 278


Scriptures


Āgamas
Mahāyāna Buddhism takes the basic teachings of the Buddha as recorded in early scriptures as the starting point of its teachings, such as those concerning karma and rebirth, , , dependent origination, and the Four Noble Truths. Mahāyāna Buddhists in East Asia have traditionally studied these teachings in the Āgamas preserved in the Chinese Buddhist canon. "Āgama" is the term used by those traditional Buddhist schools in India who employed Sanskrit for their basic canon. These correspond to the Nikāyas used by the Theravāda school. The surviving Āgamas in Chinese translation belong to at least two schools, while most of the Āgamas teachings were never translated into Tibetan.

In addition to accepting the essential scriptures of the early Buddhist schools as valid, Mahāyāna Buddhism maintains large collections of sūtras that are not used or recognized by the Theravāda school. These were not recognized by some individuals in the early Buddhist schools. In other cases, Buddhist communities were divided along these doctrinal lines. In Mahāyāna Buddhism, the are often given greater authority than the Āgamas. The first of these Mahāyāna-specific writings were written probably around the 1st century BCEAkira, Hirakawa (translated and edited by Paul Groner) (1993). A History of Indian Buddhism. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass: p. 252 or 1st century CE. Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism (2004): p. 293

In the 4th century Mahāyāna abhidharma work Abhidharmasamuccaya, refers to the collection which contains the āgamas as the Śrāvakapiṭaka and associates it with the and .Boin-Webb, Sara (tr). Rahula, Walpola (tr). Asanga. Abhidharma Samuccaya: The Compendium of Higher Teaching. 2001. pp. 199-200 Asaṅga classifies the Mahāyāna sūtras as belonging to the Bodhisattvapiṭaka, which is designated as the collection of teachings for bodhisattvas.


Turnings of the Dharma Wheel
Dating back at least to the Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra is a classification of the corpus of Buddhism into three categories, based on ways of understanding the nature of reality, known as the "Three Turnings of the Dharma Wheel". According to this view, there were three such "turnings": (2002). The Religious Traditions of Asia: Religion, History, and Culture. Routledge. : p. 80

  1. In the first turning, the Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths at for those in the vehicle. It is described as marvelous and wonderful, but requiring interpretation and occasioning controversy.Keenan, John (2000). The Scripture on the Explication of the Underlying Meaning. Numata Center. : p. 49 The doctrines of the first turning are exemplified in the Dharmacakra Pravartana Sūtra. This turning represents the earliest phase of the Buddhist teachings and the earliest period in the history of Buddhism.
  2. In the second turning, the Buddha taught the Mahāyāna teachings to the bodhisattvas, teaching that all phenomena have no-essence, no arising, no passing away, are originally quiescent, and essentially in cessation. This turning is also described as marvelous and wonderful, but requiring interpretation and occasioning controversy. Doctrine of the second turning is established in the Prajñāpāramitā teachings, first put into writing around 100 BCE. In Indian philosophical schools, it is exemplified by the Mādhyamaka school of .
  3. In the third turning, the Buddha taught similar teachings to the second turning, but for everyone in the three vehicles, including all the śravakas, pratyekabuddhas, and bodhisattvas. These were meant to be completely explicit teachings in their entire detail, for which interpretations would not be necessary, and controversy would not occur. These teachings were established by the Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra as early as the 1st or 2nd century CE. In the Indian philosophical schools, the third turning is exemplified by the Yogācāra school of Asaṅga and .

Some traditions of Tibetan Buddhism consider the teachings of Esoteric Buddhism and Vajrayāna to be the third turning of the Dharma Wheel. Tibetan teachers, particularly of the school, regard the second turning as the highest teaching, because of their particular interpretation of Yogācāra doctrine. The teachings are normally included in the third turning of the wheel. The Chinese tradition has a different scheme.

The Chinese T'ien-T'ai believed the Buddha taught over Five Periods. These are:Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism, 'Five Periods'

  1. The Flower Garland Period.
  2. The Agama Period.
  3. The Correct and Equal Period (provisional Mahayana Sutras, including the Amida, Mahavairochana and Vimalakirti Sutras).
  4. The Wisdom Period (Perfection of Wisdom Sutras).
  5. The Lotus and Nirvana Period (when Shakyamuni taught from the standpoint of his Enlightenment).


Early canon
Scholars have noted that many key Mahāyāna ideas are closely connected to the earliest texts of Buddhism. The seminal work of Mahāyāna philosophy, Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, mentions the canon's Katyāyana Sūtra (SA 301) by name, and may be an extended commentary on that work.Kalupahana, David (2006). Mulamadhyamakakarika of Nagarjuna. Motilal Banarsidass: p. 5. Nāgārjuna systematized the school of Mahāyāna philosophy. He may have arrived at his positions from a desire to achieve a consistent exegesis of the Buddha's doctrine as recorded in the canon. In his eyes the Buddha was not merely a forerunner, but the very founder of the Mādhyamaka system.Lindtner, Christian (1997). Master of Wisdom. Dharma Publishing: p. 324. Nāgārjuna also referred to a passage in the canon regarding "nirvanic consciousness" in two different works.Lindtner, Christian (1997). Master of Wisdom. Dharma Publishing: p. 322. Lindtner says that Nāgārjuna is referencing the DN.

, the other prominent Mahāyāna school in dialectic with the Mādhyamaka school, gave a special significance to the canon's Lesser Discourse on Emptiness (MA 190).Nagao, Gadjin M.; Kawamura, Leslie S., trans. (1991). Madhyamika and Yogachara. Albany: SUNY Press: p. 53. A passage there (which the discourse itself emphasizes) is often quoted in later Yogācāra texts as a true definition of emptiness.Nagao, Gadjin M.; Kawamura, Leslie S., trans. (1991). Madhyamika and Yogachara. Albany: SUNY Press: p. 200. According to , the thought presented in the Yogācāra school's Abhidharma-samuccaya is undeniably closer to that of the Pali than is that of the Theravadin .Dan Lusthaus, Buddhist Phenomenology. Routledge, 2002, page 44, note 5. Lusthaus draws attention to Rahula's Zen and the Taming of the Bull.

Both the Mādhyamikas and the Yogācārins saw themselves as preserving the Buddhist Middle Way between the extremes of nihilism (everything as unreal) and substantialism (substantial entities existing). The Yogācārins criticized the Mādhyamikas for tending towards nihilism, while the Mādhyamikas criticized the Yogācārins for tending towards substantialism.Harvey, Peter (1993). An Introduction to Buddhism. Cambridge University Press: p. 106.

Key Mahāyāna texts introducing the concepts of and also use language parallel to passages in the canon containing the Buddha's description of "" and may have been based on this idea.Harvey, Peter (1989). Consciousness Mysticism in the Discourses of the Buddha. In Werner, Karel ed., The Yogi and the Mystic. Curzon Press: p. 97.


Theravāda school

Role of the Bodhisattva
In the early Buddhist texts, and as taught by the modern Theravada school, the goal of becoming a teaching Buddha in a future life is viewed as the aim of a small group of individuals striving to benefit future generations after the current Buddha's teachings have been lost, but in the current age there is no need for most practitioners to aspire to this goal. Theravada texts do, however, hold that this is a more perfectly virtuous goal.Harvey, Peter (2000). An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics. Cambridge University Press: p. 123.

Paul Williams writes that some modern Theravada meditation masters in are popularly regarded as bodhisattvas.Paul Williams, Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations. Taylor & Francis, 1989, page 328.


Theravāda and Hīnayāna
In the 7th century, the Chinese Buddhist monk describes the concurrent existence of the and the Abhayagiri Vihara in . He refers to the monks of the Mahāvihara as the "Hīnayāna Sthaviras" ( Theras), and the monks of the Abhayagiri Vihara as the "Mahāyāna Sthaviras".Baruah, Bibhuti. Buddhist Sects and Sectarianism. 2008. p. 53 Xuanzang further writes:Hirakawa, Akira. Groner, Paul. A History of Indian Buddhism: From Śākyamuni to Early Mahāyāna. 2007. p. 121

The modern Theravāda school is usually described as belonging to Hīnayāna.Gombrich, Richard Francis (1988). Theravāda Buddhism: P.83Collins, Steven. 1990. Selfless Persons: Imagery and Thought in Theravāda Buddhism. P.21Gellner, David N. (2005). Rebuilding Buddhism: P.14Swearer, Donald (2006). Theravada Buddhist Societies. In: Juergensmeyer, Mark (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Global Religions: P.83 Some authors have argued that it should not be considered such from the Mahāyāna perspective. Their view is based on a different understanding of the concept of Hīnayāna. Rather than regarding the term as referring to any school of Buddhism that hasn't accepted the Mahāyāna canon and doctrines, such as those pertaining to the role of the bodhisattva, these authors argue that the classification of a school as "Hīnayāna" should be crucially dependent on the adherence to a specific phenomenological position. They point out that unlike the now-extinct school, which was the primary object of Mahāyāna criticism, the Theravāda does not claim the existence of independent entities ( dharmas); in this it maintains the attitude of early Buddhism.Hoffman, Frank J. and Mahinda, Deegalle (1996). Pali Buddhism. Routledge Press: p. 192.King, Richard (1999). Indian Philosophy: An Introduction to Hindu and Buddhist Thought. Edinburgh University Press: p. 86.Nyanaponika, Nyaponika Thera, Nyanaponika, Bhikkhu Bodhi (1998). Abhidhamma Studies: Buddhist Explorations of Consciousness and Time. Wisdom Publications: p. 42. Adherents of Mahāyāna Buddhism disagreed with the substantialist thought of the Sarvāstivādins and , and in emphasizing the doctrine of , Kalupahana holds that they endeavored to preserve the early teaching.Kalupahana, David (2006). Mulamadhyamakakarika of Nagarjuna. Motilal Banarsidass: p. 6. The Theravādins too refuted the Sarvāstivādins and Sautrāntikas (and other schools) on the grounds that their theories were in conflict with the non-substantialism of the canon. The Theravāda arguments are preserved in the .Kalupahana, David (2006). Mulamadhyamakakarika of Nagarjuna. Motilal Banarsidass: p. 24.

Some contemporary Theravādin figures have indicated a sympathetic stance toward the Mahāyāna philosophy found in texts such as the (Skt. Prajñāpāramitā Hṛdaya) and Nāgārjuna's Fundamental Stanzas on the Middle Way (Skt. Mūlamadhyamakakārikā).Lopez, Donald S. and Dge-ʼdun-chos-ʼphel (2006). The Madman's Middle Way: Reflections on Reality of the Tibetan Monk Gendun Chopel. University of Chicago Press: p. 24.


See also
  • Buddhist holidays
  • Creator in Buddhism
  • Early Buddhist schools
  • Faith in Buddhism
  • Golden Light Sutra


Notes

Sources

Further reading


External links

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