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Buddhism Of Theravada And Mahayana

A question asked by many people is ” What is the difference between
Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism?” To find the answer let us look at the
history of Buddhism and compare and contrast the beliefs and philosophies of the
two. The Buddah, Siddhartha Gautama, was born in the 6th century B.C.E. in
Northwestern India. The Buddah was the son of an aristocrat and grew up in a
world of affluence and privilege. His father, Suddhodana took every precaution
to make sure Siddhartha didn’t experience anything that would hurt his
happiness. The Buddah attained enlightenment at the age of 35 and spent his life
teaching. He taught for 45 years and only slept for about two hours a day. What
he taught was called Buddha Vacana, i.e. the word of the Buddha. Three months
after the Buddha’s death five hundred of his disciples convened the First
Council at Rajagaha. Maha Kassapa, the most respected and elderly monk, presided
the council. Since members of the council were not able to agree on any changes,
Maha Kassapa ruled that no rules laid down by the Buddha should be changed and
no new ones should be introduced. Maha Kassapa also said “If we changed the
rules, people would say that Ven. Gotama’s disciples changed the rules even
before his funeral fire ceased burning.” On hundred years later a Second
Council was held and they made some changes to certain minor rules. In the 3rd
Century B.C.E., the Third Council was held to discuss the difference between
different sects. At the end of this Council, the President of the Council,
Moggaliputta Tissa, wrote a book called the Kathavatthu refuting the heretical,
false views and theories of some sects. The teaching approved by this council
was known as Theravada. There was nothing known as Mahayana at this time.


Between the 1st Century B.C.E. and the 1st Century A.D., the term Mahayana
appeared in the Saddharma Pundarike Sutra or Sutra of the Lotus of the Good Law.


About the 2nd Century A.D., Mahayana became clearly defined. Theravada and
Mahayana have a lot of similarities: n Both accept Sakyamuni Buddha as the
Teacher. n The Four Noble Truths are exactly the same in both schools. n The
Eightfold Path is exactly the same in both schools. n The Paticca-samuppada or
the Dependent Organization is the same in both schools. n Both rejected the idea
of a supreme being who created and governed this world. n Both accept Anicca,
Dukkha, Anatta and Sila, Samadhi, Panna without any difference. There are also
some differences. The Mahayanists did not see themselves as creating a new start
for Buddhism. They claimed that their canon of scriptures represented the final
teachings of Buddha. They accounted for the non-presence of these teachings in
over 500 years by claiming that these were secret teachings entrusted only to
the most faithful followers. “Like the Protestant Reformation, the overall
goal of Mahayana was to extend religious authority to a greater number of
people, rather than concentrating it in the hands of the few.” World
Civilizations, Richard Hooker, 1996. The goal of Theravada Buddhism is very hard
to accomplish. In order to make Buddhism a more esoteric religion, the
Mahayanists invented two grades of Buddhist attainment below becoming a Buddha.


The Buddha was the highest goal, the level before that is to become a Pratyeka-Buddha
which is one who is awakened to the truth but keeps it secret. Below the
Pratyeka-Buddha is the Arhant or “worthy”; who has learned the truth
from others and has come to realize it as the truth. Mahayana Buddhism
establishes Arhant as the goal for all believers. The believer hears the truth,
comes to realize it as the truth, then passes into Nirvana. This doctrine of
Arhanthood is the basis for calling Mahayan the “Greater Vehicle”
because it is meant to include everyone. The Mahayanists completed the
conversion of Buddhism from a philosophy to a religion. Theravada Buddhism says
that Buddha was a person who ceased to exist after his death. However Buddhists
tended to worship him as a god of some sort, even when he was alive. The
Mahayanists developed a theology of Buddha called the doctrine of “The
Three Bodies,” or Trikaya. The Buddha was not a human being, as the
Theravada Buddhists believed, but a manifestation of a universal, spiritual
being. This being had three bodies. When it occupied the Earth as Siddhartha
Gautama, it took on the Body of Magical Transformation. This body comes out from
the Body of Bliss, which occupies the heavens in the form of a ruling god of the
universe. There are many forms of the Body of Bliss, but the one that rules over
our world is Amithaba who lives in a paradise in the western heavens called
Sukhavati or “Land of Pure Bliss”. Finally, the Body of Bliss comes
out from the Body of Essence, which is the principle underlying of the whole
universe. This Body of Essence became synonymous with Nirvana. It was a kind of
universal soul, and Nirvana became the wonderful joining with this universal
soul.