- Are the differences between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhis...
Are the differences between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism matters of doctrine or matters of practice?
This essay compares and contrasts the Theravada and Mahayana
Buddhist traditions, examining both belief systems and how
followers of both traditions differ in their everyday adherence to
the Buddhist philosophy. First the similarities are discussed and
then the main differences between the two strands are examined.
Finally a comparison of the two belief systems will be made,
looking at the pros and cons of both branches.
After the passing away of the Buddha, his teachings were split
between two traditions, Theravada, which moved Southwards towards
Ceylon, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos and Mahayana which moved
northward towards Nepal, Mongolia, China, Korea and Vietnam.
To the Western way of thinking the Mahayana way of thinking can
seem attractive, in that the sacrificial model of the bodhisattva
seems to compare with a Christ-like selflessness and concern for
the well-being of others. There is also the attraction of the
possibility of achieving enlightenment within a single lifetime as
opposed to the aeons suggested by the Theravadin tradition. Not to
mention the possibility of sudden enlightenment as suggested by one
strand within Mahayana, namely Zen.
However, there are many concepts which the two schools agree
upon. Namely, that there is no-self and that the world and all
within it are in a constant state of flux. Sentient being are in a
continual state of samsara (cycle of death and rebirth) and must
strive to move beyond the contrains of anicca, anatta and dukkha by
realizing the Four Noble Truths and following the Eightfold Path to
Enlightenment. For both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhists the goal
is nirvana. It seems that the main teachings of the two schools of
thought are the same. Both schools have the same goal and are not
critical of each other. The Mahayana school of thought seems to
appeal more to our Western society which expects more instant
answers to all problems, but to the Buddhist time is of no
consequence as all existence is 'maya'.