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What is the difference between Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism?


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It seems like there are a lot of flavors of Christianity, there are several fashions of Buddhist practices.
Which ones is best for our times?

Answer by bnr
Establishment of Theravada Buddhism (Southern Tradition)
Main article: Theravada
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The only existing record of Asoka, aside from Edicts of Asoka are from Buddhist source. Dípavamsa, Mahavamsa, Samantapasadika are from southern Vibhajjavada lineage while Divyavadana and Avadanasataka are from northern Sarvastivadin lineage. According to Vibhajjavada record, King Ashoka convened the third Buddhist council around 250 BCE. The objective of the council was to reconcile the different schools of Buddhism. In the assembly, Tipitaka (the three baskets) was composed comprising monastic code (vinaya), discourse of the Buddha (sutra) and commentaries (abhidharma). The language use in compilation was Pali. Schools from Sthaviravada were reorganised as Vibhajjavada and were declared authoritative. The Vibhajjavada, meaning analytica discourse claim that the first step to insight has to be achieved by the aspirant's experience, critical investigation, and reasoning instead of by blind faith. According to Theravada record, Sarvastivadin and the Dharmaguptaka schools were rejected by the council. However, they became influential in northwestern India and Central Asia and likely to have had some formative influence to Mahayana in later period as their teaching are pareserved in Mahayana tradition. It was long believe in Theravada tradition that Pali is derived or equivalent to Magdhi, the eastern dialect used by the Buddha. However, the comparative lingustic study of Edicts of Ashoka and Pali Tripitaka suggest origin in the western dialect around Girnar in Gujarat where one of Ashoka's Rock edict still exists. There is no record of the third Council in Sarvastivadin lineage.
According to Theravada record, Vibhajjavada Tipitaka was introduced to Sri Lanka by Mahinda, son of Emperor Asoka.
Rise of Mahayana Buddhism (Northern Tradition)
Expansion of Mahayana Buddhism between the 1st—10th century CE.Main article: Mahayana
Mahayana as a distinct movement began around the 1st century BCE in the area around Kushan Empire (now area within Pakistan) before it was transmitted in a highly evolved form to China and Tibet. On one side, Mahayana was a laity movement focused around stupa devotion. Pictures within the wall of stupa representing the story of the Buddha and his previous reincarnation as bodisattva were used to preach Buddhism to the mass. The devotion to transcendent all precent Buddha and bodisattva which is distinct from Sangha become increasingly emphasised. Sangha, at the same time, became increasingly fragmented both in term of Abhidharma and vinaya practice. This led to widening distance between laity and Sangha. The Mahayana movement, on the other hand, was ecumenical, reflecting wide range influence from various sects. Still, in term of Abbhidharma, Sarvastivadin (who had been rejected by the 3rd council, according to the Theravada tradition) and the Dharmaguptaka which were both dominant in Kushan Empire seems to have had major influence. In term of vinaya practice, Mahasamghaka branch of sects which emphaised greater openeness might played dominant role. Monks representing different theological orientation could live in the same Sangha as long as they practice the same vinaya. Moreover, those who believe that Mahayana sutras were composed during this period speculate that the process of reshuffeling of sutras according to various Abbhidharma eventually led to editing which made the composition of new Mahayana sutras possible.
Around 100 AD, the Kushan emperor Kanishka convened the fourth Buddhist council and is usually associated with the formal rise of Mahayana Buddhism. This council is not recognised by Theravada line of buddhism. This council did not simply rely on the original Tipitaka in the third council. Instead, a set of new scriptures, mostly notably, Lotus Sutra, early version of Heart Sutra and Amitabha Sutra were approved, as well as fundamental principles of doctrine based around the concept of salvation for the mass (hence Mahayana-greater vehicle) and the concept of Buddhas and bodhisattva who embody transcendent buddha-nature who strive to achieve such goal. The new scriptures were rewritten in the classical language of Sanskrit. From that point on, and in the space of a few centuries, Mahayana was to flourish and spread in the East from India to South-East Asia, and towards the north to Central Asia, China, Korea, and finally to Japan in 538 CE.

3 Answers
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Zen seems to be interesting to a lot of Buddhist practitioners in the West.

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If you have religion, and that religion is not based on Jesus, that religion is of no use. Jesus is the way, the truth and life, no one goeth to the Father but through Him. He is the answer, you have no life without Him. So think again, if you don't have Jesus you are in grave danger!!!!!

Community Member <<< differences on Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism.
Buddhism is the same: there is Theravada Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, Pure Land Buddhism, Yogacara Buddhism and Vajrayana Buddhism but it is all Buddhism and it all has the same taste - the taste of freedom. Buddhism has evolved into different forms so that it can be relevant to the different cultures in which it exists. It has been reinterpreted over the centuries so that it can remain relevant to each new generation. Outwardly, the types of Buddhism may seem very different but at the centre of all of them is the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. All major religions, Buddhism included, have split into schools and sects. But the different sects of Buddhism have never gone to war with each other and to this day, they go to each other's temples and worship together. Such tolerance and understanding is certainly rare.
The Buddha – the "Awakened One" – called the religion he founded Dhamma-vinaya – "the doctrine and discipline". To provide a social structure supportive of the practice of Dhamma-vinaya (or Dhamma for short [Sanskrit: Dharma]), and to preserve these teachings for posterity, the Buddha established the order of bhikkhus (monks) and bhikkhunis (nuns)– the Sangha – which continues to this day to pass his teachings on to subsequent generations of laypeople and monastics, alike.
As the Dhamma continued its spread across India after the Buddha's passing, differing interpretations of the original teachings arose, which led to schisms within the Sangha and the emergence of as many as eighteen distinct sects of Buddhism.One of these schools eventually gave rise to a reform movement that called itself Mahayana (the "Greater Vehicle") and that referred to the other schools disparagingly as Hinayana (the "Lesser Vehicle"). What we call Theravada today is the sole survivor of those early non-Mahayana schools. To avoid the pejorative tone implied by the terms Hinayana and Mahayana, it is common today to use more neutral language to distinguish between these two main branches of Buddhism. Because Theravada historically dominated southern Asia, it is sometimes called "Southern" Buddhism, while Mahayana, which migrated northwards from India into China, Tibet, Japan, and Korea, is known as "Northern" Buddhism.
The main branches:
1. Theravada / Hinayana (The great tradition or the way of the elders)
2. Mahayana or "Greater Vehicle" : Variants of Mahayana Buddhism:
-Tibetan Buddhism
-Zen Buddhism
-Pure Land Buddhism
-Nichiren Buddhism <<< world buddhist directory (you may want to go to a temple or monastry near you & make enquiries).
If for whatever reason Buddhism appeals to you, obviously a bit of reading cannot do any harm. You could try a few introductory books from any tradition to get a closer idea of what Buddhism can mean for you.
- Try not to get confused with the various traditions: just go for what feels right and ideally do a course. Amazingly, it seems to me that at least 90% of the people stick to the tradition they started in - somehow karma seems to be at work there... Anyway, the biggest differences between the Buddhist traditions are usually more on the surface than in the ideas behind the appearances. Although for example in Zen you will find very little ritual etc., and in Tibetan Buddhism you may be overwhelmed by it, at the core of the practice are the same ideas, just different methods.
- Once you decide to get involved with a specific tradition, make sure you are not dealing with a controversial/dubious teacher or school; although someone may wear Buddhist robes or calls him/herself a lama, guru or even Acharya, that does not make him or her a saint.... There are unfortunately a fair amount of questionable 'Buddhist' teachers and centers around the world.
- Try to be critical at everything you see and hear, but do not be afraid to open yourself up, and give new ideas the chance to settle in; in other words, avoid accepting things before you have taken time to 'sit on it' (meditate), and also avoid rejecting things before you 'sat on them'. Especially if we grew up in a different religious tradition, our prejudices often go deeper than we think - be aware of your own mind.