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Basic Buddhism

Mahamayana in Buddhist

The Mahayana or the Great Vehicle is one of the major divisions of Buddhism and is based on sophisticated metaphysical speculations regarding the nature of Reality, or enlightenment and of the Buddha. Mahayana Buddhism emphasises upon the duty of enlightenment to work compassionately to relieve the sufferings of others and argues that all the sentient beings will ultimately achieve Buddhahood. 

Origin And Spread of the Mahayana Buddhism 
The Mahayana ideas traces back to the division of the Buddhist Sangha into two schools of thought at the second Buddhist council of Vaishali after 110 years of Buddha's death. This Council was called to denunciate certain practices of some monks which were contrary to the Vinaya or Monk's code of conduct, where although the majority of monks excommunicated the erring monks, the remaining monks disputed the rules and certain aspects of the Dharma. The group, which opposed to the changes came to be known as the Sthaviravadins or the Theravadins, who followed whatever was believed to be the original teachings as agreed at the first Council following the death of the Buddha.
A realistic line was followed by the Sthaviravadins, who also stated that all phenomena exist and are unstable compounds of elements. The Sthaviravadins believed it to be necessary for all human beings to strive for Arahantship or freedom from the cycle of rebirth. 
But, another group, Mahasanghikas, who were in majority, differed from the Sthaviravadins in believing that Buddhas are transcendental and have no defiling elements with an unlimited life and powers. Although like Sthaviravadins, the Mahasanghikas also accepted the fundamental doctrines preached by the Buddha, like the Four Noble Truths, Eightfold Path, the Doctrine of Anatta(no soul), the Law of Karma and the advancement stages of sainthood. They also had a belief in the purity of the original nature of the mind and its contamination due to passions and defilements. It was from the Mahasanghikas that the Mahayana was Evolved. Mahayana flourished and spread in the east from India to south-east Asia, and Central Asia, China and Korea in the north and finally, to Japan in 538 CE.

The Spread of Mahayana - India 
Buddhism prospered in India during the reign of the Gupta dynasty in between 4th to 6th century CE. A number of Mahayana learning centres were set up including the most influential one at Nalanda. The father of Mahayana, Nagarjuna(a teacher) belonged to the Nalanda centre of learning.
In the 7th century CE, the Indian Buddhism witnessed a decline due to White Hun and Islamic invasions. But still, it underwent a strong revival under the Pala empire, which helped the Mahayana Buddhism to flourish between the 8th and 12th century CE.

South-East Asia 
By the time the Mahayana tradition was strengthening its base in India, the trade connections between the west and east was reaching its zenith via silk route, which had India on its way. It was the geographical location of India, which strongly influenced the south-east Asian countries. The sea trade route linked India with southern Burma (Myanmar), central and southern Siam (Thailand), lower Cambodia and Southern Vietnam. This trade connection further led to the transmission of Mahayana Buddhism along with sacred texts and literature and other religions from India to the south west Asian countries. The empires of these countries which were under the Buddhist influence, had started following the Mahayana faith and even expressed their art thereby favouring the rich Mahayana pantheon of the Bodhisattvas.

Central Asia 
The Buddhism had already started influencing the Central Asian region since the time of the Buddha. Although the Nikaya schools were dominant in the central Asia around the 7th century AD, the Mahayana Buddhism had also succeeded in establishing their base over there. However, they could not become as successful as the Nikaya approach and therefore, the Sarvastivadin and Dharmaguptakas remained the Vinayas choice in the Central Asian monasteries. 

Buddhism had already reached China in the 1st century CE, and became quite popular with the Chinese by the 8th century CE. The Tang capital of Chang'an had become an important centre for the Buddhist thoughts. It was during this time that the Mahayana Buddhism had also established its root in China. However, the first translations of the Mahayana texts into Chinese language dates back to 178-189 CE by a Kushana monk, Lokaksema. 

The Principles of Mahayana - Trikaya or Three Body Doctrine 
Trikaya or three body doctrine is a typical Mahayana concept of the Buddha having three bodies : 
  • Nirmanakaya :Also known as the appearance body. It is the way the Transcendental Principle appears in the world, such as the material body of Sakyamuni Buddha. 

  • Dharmakaya Body : The Dharma body. The eternal Dharma which lies beyond all dualities and conceptions. 

  • Sambhogakaya Body : The Enjoyment or Bliss Body, which appears to Bodhisattvas in the celestial realm.
The Bodhisattva Ideal 
According to Buddhism, three alternatives are there to attain the final goal of Nirvana. Firstly, the Arahant Ideal, which is emphasised by the Sthaviravada or Theravada. This is about the release from the Samsara by following the teachings of an enlightened Buddha by the cultivation of Sila (Good Conduct), Samadhi (Mental cultivation or meditation) and Prajna (Trancendental Wisdom of seeing things as they really are). 

However, the school of Mahayana, on the other hand, emphasises upon the ideal of Bodhisattva to postpone one's liberation so that one may bring nirvana for all sentient beings by becoming a fully enlightened Buddha. According to the Theravadins also, to attain Buddhahood is the highest ideal, although a bit difficult and beyond most people's capabilities. 
One can also attain liberation by following the method of the Pratyeka Buddha by rising during a world period when the Buddha Dharma is extinct. In this method, a person can attain Buddhahood through self-realisation, though incapable of teaching others. 

Six Perfections(Paramita) 
One who follows the Bodhisattva path, must cultivate the six perfections of giving or generousity, morality or good conduct, patience, vigour, meditation and wisdom. 
  • Compassion and Skill in Means : The Mahayana school considers 'karuna' or Compassion as important as Wisdom. Compassion is about feeling the sorrows of others as one's own and sharing them with the sufferer. Skill in Means is the ability to use the appropriate means to help others. 

  • Buddha - The Transcendental Principle : The transcendental principle of Buddha deals with the Buddha as a principle and theory.

  • The Devotional Aspect : The devotional aspect of the Mahayana school deals with the worship of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, especially Amitabha Buddha, the Buddha of infinite light. The Pure Land sect of the Mahayana believes that the constant repetition of the name 'Amitaba' gives fruitful result in the next birth in the Western Paradise of Buddha Amitabha. 
    Avalokiteshvara, the embodiment of compassion, is another popular Bodhisattva. The devotees worship her and calls her for help whenever they are in crisis. 

  • Role For Laity : The Mahayana Buddhism encourages the laity as well, along with clergy to become Bodhisattvas. Unlike the Theravada Buddhism, which feels that the clergy or the sangha can be only ones to attain nirvana, and the work of laity is to support the clergy in the hope of a more favourable birth; the Mahayanas believe that the laity are capable of attaining nirvana as householders. 

  • Shunyata : Lastly, the Shunyata or the emptiness of inherent existence is an important concept that deals with the absence of any kind of enduring or self sustaining essence. This principle is very much similar to that of the Theravadin concept of non-self or anatta. 

  • The Countries Where Mahayana is Practised Most
    The Mahayana Buddhism is followed in the countries such as India, Tibet, Nepal and China. 

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