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Theravada vs. Mahayana Buddhism

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8 major schools: four practice-based (Zen, Pure Land, Vajrayana, Vinaya); four philosophy-based (Tendai, Avamtasaka, Yogacara and Madhyamika)

Theravada Mahayana
Location Southern (Sri Lanka, Thailand,
Burma, Laos, Cambodia, parts of
Southeast Asia)
Northern (Tibet, China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea,
Mongolia, parts of Southeast Asia )
Schools and Sects One surviving school
(as many as 18 existed at one time)
Buddhist Scriptures Pali Canon/Tripitaka only Books of the Theravada Tripitaka plus many
other sutras (e.g. Lotus Sutra)
Buddhas Historical Buddha (Gautama)
and past Buddhas only
Gautama Buddha plus Amitabha,
Medicine Buddhas, and others
Bodhisattvas Maitreya only Maitreya plus Avalokitesvara, Manjusri,
Ksitigarbha and Samantabhadra
and many more
Goal of Training Arhat Buddhahood via bodhisattva-path
3 Buddha Bodies (Trikaya) Very limited emphasis; mainly on
nirmana-kaya and dharma-kaya
Emphasized, including the samboga-kaya or
reward/enjoyment body
Original Language Pali Sanskrit
Language of Transmission Tripitaka is only in Pali. Teaching in
Pali supplemented by local language.
Scriptures translated into local language.
Buddha's Disciples Historical disciples described in Scriptures Many bodhisattvas that are not historical figures
Mantras and Mudras Some equivalent in the use of
Parittas
Emphasized in Vajrayana; sometimes
incorporated in other schools
Bardo (Limbo) Rejected Taught by all schools
Non-Buddhist Influences Mainly pre-Buddhist Indian
influences like concepts of karma,
sangha, etc.
Heavily influenced by local religious ideas as
transmitted to new cultures (China, Japan, Tibet).
Buddha Nature Not taught Emphasized, especially in practice-based schools
Rituals Very few; not emphasized Many, owing to local cultural influences

Source

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