Mahayana vs. Theravada: a Multiform Comparison

Topics: Buddhism, Mahayana, Gautama Buddha Pages: 4 (1163 words) Published: October 16, 2008
Significant differences abound between the two principal schools of modern Buddhism, Mahayana and Theravada. Among the many distinctions that exist, a few could be considered especially integral to an understanding of how these mutually exclusive divisions contrast with each other. Before treating these specific dissimilarities, however, it must be established that the one, fundamental divergence between the sects, which could possibly be understood as resulting in the following earmarks that make both brands unique unto the other, is that Mahayana practice stresses an inclusiveness that stands antithetically to Theravada’s doctrinal preservation. Where the former sort’s adaptability has both attracted new practitioners and altered itself to complement modernity, the latter’s staunch resistance to change has allowed it to remain an uncompromised vessel of original Buddhist thought, battered by, yet having weathered well, two millennia’s worth of transformation.

Building upon this thesis, one of the most overt examples of Mahayanistic lability, or revisionism from a more critical perspective, has been its adoption of the Bodhisattva ideal in outlining the preferable path for an enlightened individual to take. The sacrificial model of the Bodhisattva coexists well with western perceptions of what qualities a superior being should possess—Christ-like compassion and selflessness. Even though little emphasis was placed on any dutiful forbearance of Nirvana in the first teachings of Buddhism, this heroic concept, resounding well with newer followers, has become mainstay in Mahayana tradition. Thus, where Mahayana Buddhists preach a magnanimous rejection of personal salvation as being their terminal goal, this lofty effort is reserved for only the most capable in the Theravada discipline. It could therefore be concluded that Mahayana customs have been carved largely from what the religion has needed to attract adherents at any given time in the past....
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