Buddhism: Mahāyāna

Introduction

Primary Author
Chara Scroope,

Buddhism is a religion founded upon and inspired by the teachings of the individual referred to as ‘Buddha’. The tradition originated in northern India as a countermovement to the dominant religion at the time (approx. 6th to 4th century BCE). Buddhism eventually spread throughout Asia and has since played a formative role in the political, cultural and social aspects of many Asian countries. As Buddhism spread through many regions, it developed into multiple separate traditions. The transmission of the religion north was particularly far-reaching. This saw the tradition known as ‘Mahāyāna’ (‘Great Vehicle’) spread from India into Asia, introducing it to Central Asia, Tibet, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Korea and Japan. Thus, Mahāyāna Buddhism is also sometimes referred to as ‘Northern Buddhism’.


Mahāyāna Buddhism is not necessarily a of Buddhism. Rather, it is a major movement in the history of Buddhism that was embraced by different and diverse schools. The movement provided a reinterpretation of fundamental ideas, beliefs and values, as well as adopted local influences (such as Taoism in China and Shinto in Japan). Today, most Mahāyāna schools share common characteristics such as a grand cosmology, emphasis on the bodhisattva ideal, and a universal ethic primarily based on cultivating compassion and wisdom.

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