Mahayana Buddhism – Thoughts on the “Great Vehicle”

Image – Pinterest

Going through my list of entries I see it’s time to update Mahayana Buddhism.

My interest in Buddhism has been casual at best. I had a great aunt who worked in a Cleveland library and when she passed my parents inherited her books.

One of the books that stood out for me was a small but learned paperback on Buddhism edited by Richard A. Gard. This was my first scholarly introduction to Buddhism and in my teens and twenties, I dabbled in its esoteric ideas. The notion that we live many lives and return for more seemed sort of cool to a younger me.

Today, my cosmology is more complicated than a simple linear map of time and personal development. But I’ve talked about that elsewhere. Looking over these entries (links below) I realize my views have evolved since originally posting them.¹

So to return to Mahayana, this school of Buddhist thought and practice could be loosely compared to the missionary activity of the Christian apostle Saint Paul.


Well, both Paul and the Mahayanists helped to universalize the message of their respective masters, Christ and Buddha.

Here’s a quick map of how Mahayana Buddhism spread from India.

Expansion of Mahayana – Wikipedia

Scholars of Buddhism often distinguish Mahayana (the “great vehicle”) from Hinayana (the “lesser vehicle”), saying that Mahayana is more about universal liberation (everyone is liberated) whereas adherents of Hinayana are more concerned about personal liberation.

Mahayana embraces the bodhisattva ideal. A bodhisattva is a person who has achieved enough awareness to enter into nirvana. But he or she delays entry into nirvana and returns to society to lead others to a higher level of awareness. By way of contrast, the arhat ideal belongs to Hinayana Buddhism.  The arhat simply enjoys enlightenment and abandons all worldly methods used to attain it.

This is how Buddhism is often taught. However, some find this distinction flawed and offensive.²

Buddha – Founder of Buddhism via Pinterest

¹ After all, if anyone says they completely understand time they are probably an indoctrinated religious person, a cult follower, or simply misguided.

² See, for instance,…/terms_hinayana_mahayana.html

Related » Avalokiteshvara, Demons, Diamond Sutra, Heart Sutra, Nirvana, Pali, Sanskrit, Theravada Buddhism


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