The Mahayana movement study

6/29/2018 Theravada and Mahayana – 18.SU.REL.1111.C50 EASTERN RELIGIONS 1/2
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Although there are several hundred denominations of Buddhism, the t w o m a j o r ea rl y s p l i t s result in the
Theravada and the Mahayana. These splits can be compared to Catholics and Protestants in Christianity in
many ways. Though of the same roots of Buddhism, they will differ greatly in practice and belief.
The ravada – Way of the El de rs
Theravada Buddhism is the oldest organized form of Buddhism. They are
found predominantly in south and southeast Asia (Sri Lanka, Burma
(Myanmar), Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, etc.) This sect of Buddhism is
based on the traditional monastic lifestyle of Buddha and his rst
Traditionally, Theravada hold the a rh a t (enlightened monk) as the ideal
to strive for. Therefore, it is believed that nirvana is usually only reached
by an exclusive few (renunciates/monks) while the rest of us can earn
good merit and hopefully be reborn as a monk in our next life.
In this tradition, emphasis is on wisdom, individual discipline,
renunciation, solitary practice, and seclusion. Because the monks spend
their days focused on spiritual salvation, they rely on the lay Buddhists (householders) to feed and clothe
them. Once a day, they will go into town with a bowl to accept offerings of rice, food and other necessities.
Ideally, the householder gets great spiritual satisfaction out of giving to the monastery, just like tithing to a
church. By giving, the lay Buddhist can earn good merit and hopefully get that much closer to reaching
nirvana for themselves.
In this tradition, it is common for young boys to engage in a temporary celibacy/monkhood before they go
to college or the workforce. It often spans over a summer. Most of these boys go on to a householder’s life.
A few, however, will decide to dedicate themselves to monastic life instead.
Mahayana – Gre at Ve hi cl e
Mahayana Buddhism comes a few hundred years after
Theravada. If we compared Theravada to Catholics , then
Mahayana would be the Protestants. The Mahayana are
predominant in east Asia (China, Korea, Japan, Tibet, etc.). It is
around this time that Hindu persecution of Buddhists and
Muslim invasions make Buddhism virtually extinct in India.
The Mahayana Buddhists feel that Theravada is a Little
Vehicle (called Hinayana, meaning it’s too exclusive). They feel
Theravada teachings are missing the point of what Buddha
taught, which is that EV ERYO N E can become a Buddha, not

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