"The real followers of the
Buddha can practise this religion without adhering to any school or
A few hundred years after the Buddha's passing away, there arose
eighteen different schools or sects all of which claimed to represent
the original Teachings of the Buddha. The differences between these
schools were basically due to various interpretations of the Teachings
of the Buddha. Over a period of time, these schools gradually merged
into two main schools: Theravada and Mahayana. Today, a majority of
followers of Buddhism are divided into these two schools.
Basically Mahayana Buddhism grew out of the Buddha's teaching that
each individual carries within himself the potential for Buddhahood.
Theravadins say that this potential can be realised through individual
effort. Mahayanists, on the other hand, believe that they can seek
salvation through the intervention of other superior beings called
Bodhisattas. According to them, Bodhisattas are future Buddhas who,
out of compassion for their fellow human beings, have delayed their
own attainment of Buddhahood until they have helped others towards
liberation. In spite of this basic difference, however, it must be
stressed that doctrinally there is absolutely no disagreement
concerning the Dhamma as contained in the sacred Tripitaka texts.
Because Buddhists have been free to interpret the scriptures according
to their understanding. But above all, both Mahayana and Theravada are
one in their reverence for the Buddha.
The areas of agreement between the two schools are as follows:
- Both accept Sakyamuni Buddha as the Teacher.
- The Four Noble Truths are exactly the same in both schools.
- The Eightfold Path is exactly the same in both schools.
- The Pattica-Samuppada or teaching on Dependent
Origination is the same in both schools.
- Both reject the idea of a supreme being who created and
governed this world.
- Both accept Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta and Sila,
Samadhi, Panna without any difference.
Some people are of the view that Theravada is selfish because it
teaches that people should seek their own salvation. But how can a
selfish person gain Enlightenment? Both schools accept the three
Yana or Bodhi and consider the Bodhisatta Ideal as the
highest. The Mahayana has created many mystical Bodhisattas, while the
Theravada believes that a Bodhisatta is a man amongst us who devotes
his entire life for the attainment of perfection, and ultimately
becomes a fully Enlightened Buddha for the well-being and happiness of
The terms Hinayana (Small Vehicle) and Mahayana
(Great Vehicle) are not known in the Theravada Pali literature. They
are not found in the Pali Canon (Tripitaka) or in the
Commentaries on the Tripitaka.
Theravada Buddhists follow orthodox religious traditions that had
prevailed in India two thousand five hundred years ago. They perform
their religious services in the Pali language. They also expect to
attain the final goal (Nibbana) by becoming a Supreme
Enlightened Buddha, Pacceka Buddha, or and Arahant (the highest stage
of sainthood). The majority of them prefer the Arahantahood. Buddhists
in Sri Lanka, Burma, and Thailand belong to this school. Mahayanists
have changed the old religious customs. Their practices are in
accordance with the customs and traditions of the countries where they
live. Mahayanists perform their religious services in their mother
tongue. They expect to attain the final goal (Nibbana) by
becoming Buddhas. Hence, they honour both the Buddha and Bodhisatta
(one who is destined to be a Buddha) with the same respect. Buddhists
in China, Japan and Korea belong to this school. Most of those in
Tibet and Mongolia follow another school of Buddhism which is known as
Vajrayana. Buddhist scholars believe that this school inclines more
towards the Mahayana sect.
It is universally accepted by scholars that the terms Hinayana
and Mahayana are later invention. Historically speaking, the
Theravada already existed long before these terms came into being.
That Theravada, considered to be the original teaching of the Buddha,
was introduced to Sri Lanka and established there in the 3rd century
B.C., during the time of Emperor Asoka of India. At that time there
was nothing called Mahayana. Mahayana as such appeared
later, about the beginning of the Christian Era. Buddhism that went to
Sri Lanka, with its Tripitaka and Commentaries, in the 3rd Century
B.C., remained there intact as Theravada, and did not come into
the scene of the Hinayana-Mahayana dispute that developed later
in India. It seems therefore not legitimate to include Theravada
in either of these two categories. However, after the inauguration of
the World Fellowship of Buddhists in 1950, well-informed people, both
in the East and in the West, use the term Theravada, and not
the term Hinayana. In fact, the Samdhi Nirmorcana Sutra
(a Mahayana Sutra) clearly says that the Sravakayana-Theravada
and the Mahayana constitute one Yana (ekayana) and that
they are not two different and distinct "vehicles". Although different
schools of Buddhism held different opinions on the teaching of the
Buddha, they never had any violence of blod shed for more than two
thousands years. This is the uniqueness of Buddhist tolerance.