51 Facts About Mahayana


Mahayana is a term for a broad group of Buddhist traditions, texts, philosophies, and practices.

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Mahayana accepts the main scriptures and teachings of early Buddhism, but recognizes various doctrines and texts which are not accepted by Theravada Buddhism as original.

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Vajrayana or Mantra traditions are a subset of Mahayana, which make use of numerous tantric methods considered to be faster and more powerful at achieving Buddhahood by Vajrayanists.

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Mahayana includes numerous Buddhas and bodhisattvas that are not found in Theravada .

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The term Mahayana was therefore adopted at an early date as a synonym for the path and the teachings of the bodhisattvas.

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In Chinese, Mahayana is called, which is a calque of maha yana .

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The term appeared in some of the earliest Mahayana texts, including Emperor Ling of Han's translation of the Lotus Sutra.

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Origins of Mahayana are still not completely understood and there are numerous competing theories.

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The earliest Western views of Mahayana assumed that it existed as a separate school in competition with the so-called "Hinayana" schools.

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Warder and Paul Williams who argue that at least some Mahayana elements developed among Mahasamghika communities, possibly in the area along the Krsna River in the Andhra region of southern India.

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Mahasamghika origins theory has slowly been shown to be problematic by scholarship that revealed how certain Mahayana sutras show traces of having developed among other nikayas or monastic orders .

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Cult of the book theory, defended by Gregory Schopen, states that Mahayana arose among a number of loosely connected book worshiping groups of monastics, who studied, memorized, copied and revered particular Mahayana sutras.

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Some important evidence for early Mahayana Buddhism comes from the texts translated by the Indoscythian monk Lokaksema in the 2nd century CE, who came to China from the kingdom of Gandhara.

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Indian Mahayana never had nor ever attempted to have a separate Vinaya or ordination lineage from the early schools of Buddhism, and therefore each bhiksu or bhiksuni adhering to the Mahayana formally belonged to one of the early Buddhist schools.

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Therefore, Mahayana was never a separate monastic sect outside of the early schools.

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Some major Mahayana traditions are Prajnaparamita, Madhyamaka, Yogacara, Buddha-nature, and the school of Dignaga and Dharmakirti as the last and most recent.

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Mahayana Buddhists seem to have been active in the Kushan Empire, a period that saw great missionary and literary activities by Buddhists.

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Mahayana movement remained quite small until it experienced much growth in the fifth century.

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Still, even after the 5th century, the epigraphic evidence which uses the term Mahayana is still quite small and is notably mainly monastic, not lay.

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Over time, Central Asian Buddhism became heavily influenced by Mahayana and it was a major source for Chinese Buddhism.

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Mahayana works have been found in Gandhara, indicating the importance of this region for the spread of Mahayana.

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Central Asian Mahayana scholars were very important in the Silk Road Transmission of Buddhism.

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In some cases Indian Mahayana traditions were directly transplanted, as with the case of the East Asian Madhymaka and East Asian Yogacara .

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Later, new developments in Chinese Mahayana led to new Chinese Buddhist traditions like Tiantai, Huayen, Pure Land and Chan Buddhism .

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Whatever the case, this new tantric form of Mahayana Buddhism became extremely influential in India, especially in Kashmir and in the lands of the Pala Empire.

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Mahayana can be described as a loosely bound collection of many teachings and practices .

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However, Mahayana adds numerous Mahayana texts and doctrines, which are seen as definitive and in some cases superior teachings.

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Mahayana has a vastly expanded cosmology and theology, with various Buddhas and powerful bodhisattvas residing in different worlds and buddha-fields .

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Buddhas unique to Mahayana include the Buddhas Amitabha, Aksobhya, Bhaisajyaguru and Vairocana .

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An important feature of Mahayana is the way that it understands the nature of a Buddha, which differs from non-Mahayana understandings.

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Idea that Buddhas remain accessible is extremely influential in Mahayana and allows for the possibility of having a reciprocal relationship with a Buddha through prayer, visions, devotion and revelations.

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Mahayana Buddhists generally hold that pursuing only the personal release from suffering i e nirvana is a smaller or inferior aspiration, because it lacks the wish and resolve to liberate all other sentient beings from samsara by becoming a Buddha.

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Some key Mahayana teachings are found in the Prajnaparamita texts, which are some of the earliest Mahayana works.

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The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana refers to "a sacred nature that is the basis for [beings] becoming buddhas", and it describes it as the 'Self' .

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Indian Mahayana Buddhists faced various criticisms from non-Mahayanists regarding the authenticity of their teachings.

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The main critique they faced was that Mahayana teachings had not been taught by the Buddha, but were invented by later figures.

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Certain traditional accounts state that Mahayana sutras were hidden away or kept safe by divine beings like Nagas or bodhisattvas until the time came for their dissemination.

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Similarly, some sources state that Mahayana teachings were revealed by other Buddhas, bodhisattvas and devas to a select number of individuals .

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Mahayana often sees itself as penetrating further and more profoundly into the Buddha's Dharma.

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Central practice advocated by numerous Mahayana sources is focused around "the acquisition of merit, the universal currency of the Buddhist world, a vast quantity of which was believed to be necessary for the attainment of Buddhahood".

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Yogacarabhumi-Sastra, which is the most comprehensive Indian treatise on Mahayana practice, discusses classic Buddhist numerous meditation methods and topics, including the four dhyanas, the different kinds of samadhi, the development of insight and tranquility, the four foundations of mindfulness, the five hindrances, and classic Buddhist meditations such as the contemplation of unattractiveness, impermanence, suffering, and contemplation death .

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Mahayana 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, anatman, emptiness, dependent origination, and the Four Noble Truths.

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Some influential Mahayana sutras are the Prajnaparamita sutras such as the Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita Sutra, the Lotus Sutra, the Pure Land sutras, the Vimalakirti Sutra, the Golden Light Sutra, the Avatamsaka Sutra, the Sandhinirmocana Sutra and the Tathagatagarbha sutras.

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Mahayana Buddhism developed a massive commentarial and exegetical literature, many of which are called sastra or vrittis .

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Mahayana produced the Pramanasamuccaya, and later Dharmakirti wrote the Pramanavarttika, which was a commentary and reworking of the Dignaga text.

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Scholars have noted that many key Mahayana ideas are closely connected to the earliest texts of Buddhism.

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Key Mahayana texts introducing the concepts of bodhicitta and Buddha nature use language parallel to passages in the canon containing the Buddha's description of "luminous mind" and appear to have evolved from this idea.

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Contemporary Chinese Mahayana Buddhism is practiced through many varied forms, such as Chan, Pure land, Tiantai, Huayan and mantra practices.

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New Mahayana movements have developed in the modern era, perhaps the most influential of which has been Thich Nhat Hanh's Plum Village Tradition, which draws from Theravada Buddhism.

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Mahayana refers to the monks of the Mahavihara as the "Hinayana Sthaviras", and the monks of the Abhayagiri Vihara as the "Mahayana Sthaviras".

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Adherents of Mahayana Buddhism disagreed with the substantialist thought of the Sarvastivadins and Sautrantikas, and in emphasizing the doctrine of emptiness, Kalupahana holds that they endeavored to preserve the early teaching.

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