Две основные школы буддизма

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Two Main Schools of Buddhism1

The real followers of the Buddha can practise this religion without adhering to any school or sect.

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, the majority of the 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 Bodhisatvas. According to them, Bodhisatvas 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 Dharma as contained in the sacred Tripitaka texts. Because Buddhists have been encouraged by the Master to carefully inquire after the truth, they have been free to interpret the scriptures according to their understanding. But above all, both Mahayana and Theravada are one in their acceptance of the Buddha and His teachings as the only method to attain the supreme bliss of Nirvana.

The areas of agreement between the two schools are as follows:

  1. Both accept Sakyamuni Buddha as the Teacher.
  2. The Four Noble Truths are exactly the same in both schools.
  3. The Eightfold Path is exactly the same in both schools.
  4. The Pattica-Samuppada or teaching on Dependent Origination is the same in both schools.
  5. Both reject the idea of a supreme being who created and governed this world.
  6. Both accept karma as taught by the Buddha.
  7. Both accept Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta and Sila, Samadhi, Panna without any difference.
  8. Both reject the belief in an eternal soul.
  9. Both accept rebirth after death.
  10. Both accept Devaloka and Brahmaloka.
  11. Both accept Nirvana is the final goal or salvation

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 Bodhisatva Ideal as the highest. The Mahayana has created many mystical Bodhisatvas, while the Theravada believes that a Bodhisatva is not a supernatural living being but a person amongst us who devotes his or her entire life for the attainment of perfection, and ultimately becomes a fully Enlightened Buddha for the well-being and happiness of the world.

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 generally follow orthodox religious traditions that 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 (Nirvana) by becoming a Supreme Enlightened Buddha, a Pacceka Buddha, or an Arahant. The majority of them prefer the Arahantahood. Buddhists in Sri Lanka, Myammar, and Thailand belong to this school2. 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 (Nirvana) by becoming Buddhas. Hence, they honour both the Buddha and Bodhisatva (one who is destined to be a Buddha) with the same respect. Buddhists in China, Japan and Korea belong to this school3. Most of those in Tibet and Mongolia follow another school of Buddhism which is known as Vajrayana4. According to Buddhist scholars this school inclines more towards the Mahayana sect.

It is universally accepted by scholars that the terms Hinayana and Mahayana are later innovations. Historically speaking, the Theravada already existed long before these terms came into being. That Theravada, considered to include 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 much later, about the beginning of the Christian Era. Buddhism that was introduced to Sri Lanka, with its Tripitaka and Commentaries, in the 3rd Century B.C., remained there intact as Theravada, and did not become involved in 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, with reference to Buddhism prevalent in South-east Asian countries. There are still outmoded people who use the term Hinayana. In fact, the Samadhi Nirmorcana Sutra (a Mahayana Sutra) clearly says that it is Sravakayana—Theravada and the Mahayana constitute one Yana (ekayana) and that they are not two different and distinct ‘vehicles’. It must be emphasised here that although different schools of Buddhism held different opinions on the teaching of the Buddha, they never had any violence or bloodshed and have co-existed peacefully for more than two thousand years. Certainly neither party conducted a religious war or any other kind of aggression against the other throughout history. This is the uniqueness of Buddhist tolerance.

For a short, excellent exposition on this topic, read Dr. W. Rahula, ‘ Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism’ published by The Buddhist Missionary Society.

Editor's notes

Editor's note 04-05-1

Editor's note 04-05-2

Editor's note 04-05-3

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