Easten Religions

Easten Religions

6/29/2018 Theravada and Mahayana – 18.SU.REL.1111.C50 EASTERN RELIGIONS

https://elearn.sinclair.edu/d2l/le/content/112110/viewContent/3876272/View 1/2

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Although there are several hundred denominations of Buddhism, the two major early splits 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.

Theravada – Way of the Elders

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 arhat (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 – Great Vehicle

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 EVERYONE can become a Buddha, not

6/29/2018 Theravada and Mahayana – 18.SU.REL.1111.C50 EASTERN RELIGIONS

https://elearn.sinclair.edu/d2l/le/content/112110/viewContent/3876272/View 2/2

just monks. (Compare this to Martin Luther’s criticisms of the Catholic Church and how he emphasized a

Universal Priesthood and Faith Alone philosophy during the Protestant Reformation).

The Mahayana movement reinterprets old Buddhist doctrines, writes new scriptures, and teaches that

monastic life is not necessary to achieve enlightenment. They feel we don’t have to renounce the world to

�nd peace. In fact, they tell us that you aren’t going to be able to �nd true peace by escaping the world. Only

with in the world of samsara are you going to �nd true real peace because ultimately, our Buddha nature is

within us, not outside of us.

The Mahayana movement is often called the Second Turning of the Dharma because the teachings are

so progressive and different. They emphasized service for others in the world instead of focusing on

individual salvation. They emphasized wisdom and compassion over strenuous self discipline. And most

importantly, they taught that we can �nd our nirvana within our daily lives and activities. Many modern

Buddhist sects are of a Mahayana lineage, including Zen and Nichiren.

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