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The School of the Elders & The Great Vehicle

Buddhism is considered to be the religion with limited number of encompassed regions in the world. It is religion of various traditions, beliefs and spiritual practices largely based on teachings given by the leader of the religion Gautama Buddha, According to Buddhist tradition, Buddha has spend most of his life span in the Eastern region of the Subcontinent and that is the reason most of the followers exists in that area.

Buddhism has been divided in two major categories and this is based on the scholars approach namely as Theravada (The School of the Elders) and Mahayana (The Great Vehicle). Theravada has a widespread following in Sri Lanka Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand and Southeast Asia while East Asia including Tibet and Nepal follows the traditions of the Mahayana.

Difference between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism: Although there are two major schools of Buddhism, Theravada and the Mahayana and these is the school of thought for the Buddha teaching yet they have shown some differences over the period of time. Apart from their geographical existence and their goal; the underlying teaching are for Buddha only. Some of the difference is mentioned below:

  • Goal: In Theravada the ultimate goal is to reach the level of Nirvana by adopting the Middle way and in that a person escapes cycle of suffering and rebirth. On the other side the Mahayana aspires to Buddhahood via the bodhisattva way and the state is the one, where one reaches the level of awakening.
  • The Buddha: In Theravada Buddhism is accepted in all its previous and existing natures of God while Mahayana accepts other contemporary Buddha like Amitabha and Medicine Buddha as well.
  • Teachings: Theravada believes on the teaching of the Buddha as very plain and as per the teachings one has to refrain from all kinds of evil, and that can be achieved with the help of the three trainings like the development of ethical conduct, meditation and insight-wisdom. Whereas the teachings of Buddha along with the texts and rules have been modified as the new worldly needs.
  • Food Practices: Theravada believes only one food a day and as per them it purifies the body while the Mahayana has left this choice as per the individual needs and demands.
  • Worship Ethics: Theravada worship in a simple layout with the sculpture of Buddha while the other school doesn’t limit the aspect and as per them one chamber/hall is sufficient but with the certain rules of worship.
  • Rituals: Theravada is not strict in following the rituals like the Mahayana school of thoughts; whereas as they follow all rituals like feeding of Petas, tantric formalities and many more.
  • Mantras and Mudras: Theravada practices the mantras as per their needs while Mahayana heavily practices the mantras and Mudras and sometimes they follow that on daily basis.
  • System of Though: Mahayana Buddhism is divided into two systems of thought: the Madhyamika and the Yogacara whereas the Theravada has no sub system.
  • Concept of Bodhicitta: In Theravada main emphasis is established on the self liberation; where individual has the liberty to achieve the peak of self actualizations and there is a total reliance on inner- self to eradicate all evil thoughts and practices. While Mahayana believes that other than self liberation it is important to help other people as well.

Apart from some of the silent differences in both school of thoughts; there are number of similarities as well. The religion is well practiced and the people who achieve the self- liberation become monks and stay apart from the worldly matter to achieve the desired level of self- actualization.

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