These movements were derived from the Brahmanic tradition of Hinduism but were also reactions against it. Of the new sects, Buddhism was the most successful and eventually spread throughout India and most of Asia. Today it is common to divide Buddhism into two main branches. The Theravada, or "Way of the Elders," is the more conservative of the two; it is dominant in Sri Lanka, Burma (Myanmar), and Thailand. The Mahayana, or "Great Vehicle," is more diverse and liberal; it is found mainly in Taiwan, Korea, and Japan, and among Tibetan peoples, where it is distinguished by its emphasis on the Buddhist tantras (Metzner, 1996). The purpose of this paper is to examine the major teachings of Mahayana Buddhism.
In order to fully understand Mahayana Buddhism, it is important to first understand what is believed to be the original teachings of the Buddha---teachings which are termed "the Four Noble Truths." These truths have been summarized by Garfiel
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Amplification and Deviation From Original Teachings of Buddha In, c.250 BC, the great Buddhist emperor Asoka is said to have held a third council at Pataliputra to settle certain doctrinal controversies. It is clear from the accounts of these and other Buddhist councils that whatever the unity of early Buddhism may have been, it was rapidly split into various sectarian divisions. One of the earliest and most important of these divisions was that between the Sthavira (Elder) and the Mahasamghika (Great Council) schools. The Mahasamghika, a Hinayanist sect, died out completely, but it is important because it represents one of the forerunners of the Mahayana doctrines. The Mahayana doctrines were to include a different understanding of the nature of the Buddha, an emphasis on the figure of the BODHISATTVA, and on the practice of the perfections. This tradition emphasized the eternal, formless principle of the Buddha as the essence of all things. It exhorts the individual not merely to attain personal nirvana, but to become a trainee Buddha, or bodhisattva, and so save others; this meant the faithful could be brought to enlightenment by a bodhisattva without following the austerities of Theravada. Veneration of bodhisattvas (
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