September 27, 2012
Noss and Grangaard refer to Buddhism as “a diverse array of beliefs and practices and implies a degree of uniformity that does not exist.”1 Throughout our studies of Buddhism we have learned the many different sects of this religion. There are two large sects within the religion, Theravada Buddhism, and Mahayana Buddhism. In this paper, I will discuss the primary beliefs and practices of Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism while also constructing argumentation on the differences between these two sects, I will also discuss some of the schools that have evolved from Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism constructing how they are different. Theravada Buddhism
Theravada Buddhism spread throughout India and Southeast Asia, specifically in the areas of “Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia.”2 Theravada is one of the original sects of Buddhism. Its meaning is the ‘school of the elders,’ or the ‘teaching of the elders.’ Theravadian Buddhism flourished immensely by the end of the first century, “and is today the sole surviving Hinayana sect of Indian Buddhism anywhere.”3 “Theravada uses scriptures recorded in Pali, and it was in this language that Buddhism spread from Sri Lanka to surrounding countries.”4 These scriptures were much needed, due to the fact that nothing had been written or transmitted on paper. During even life of the Buddha, the sect or religion as a whole needed some sort of writing to act as a force to unify the Theravada. The primary ideal or concept for Theravada Buddhist is the acknowledgement of enlightenment, and the effort to obtain it, through mediation. The ultimate goal would be to get to The Arhat, which “is one who has achieved enlightenment in this life.”5
At the core of the Theravada’s sacred writing is what is known as the threefold baskets, or “Tripitaka.”6 Although many different branches of Buddhism identify the validity of the Tripitaka, “it is only the Theravada school that honors it as the sole set of scripture.”7 The three writings are the key to life for the Theravada Buddhist. Meditation is the most valuable asset in the Theravada Buddhism tradition, because this is the only way to enlightenment. When enlightenment is accomplished, the being then moves into what is known as, nirvana. The Buddha himself was the enlightened one, and therefore had entered into nirvana. The monk was also held as a central figure in Theravada Buddhism. The monk “professes that there is no atman (self), the world is transient and the scene of sorrow, and so Nirvana is the goal.”8 “The religious role of laypeople (laity’s) was largely confided to honoring monks and supporting the Sangha, Pali Canon also thoughtfully considers how they should behave towards one another.”9 The Sangha mentioned in this excerpt is referring to is the monastery or the community of monks.
The Theravada tradition has an important emphasis on the meaning of community, as well as all relationships. As stated above, the monks were held at a high standard in this community, they were ultimately respected. If one, in the Theravada belief was to reach The Arhat the person would be “free from delusion, from hatred, and from attachment.”10 They become at peace with the world and have met liberation. Theravada Buddhists strive for liberation, in which can be achieved with no help from gods. Once one accomplishes Arhat, one has “everything needed to avoid rebirth, and so is free from the endless cycle of existence, even though (they) are still alive.”11 Mahayana Buddhism
A new sect of Buddhism then came to be. The Mahayana, which means “the Great Vehicle,”12 repealed the Theravada tradition to make it seem as a “Lesser Vehicle.”13 The Mahayana Buddhist began to rise throughout India, which differs from the Theravada Buddhist tradition in various ways. A large difference in the traditions is that the Mahayana incorporated more emphasis on the lay people...
Bibliography: Morgan, Diane. Essential Buddhism: A Comprehensive Guide to Belief and Practice. Santa Barbara: Praeger ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2010
Noss, David and Blake A. Grangarrd. History of the World’s Religions. New Jersey: Pearson Education, INC., 2012.
Robinson, Richard and Willard Johnson. The Buddhist Religion: A Historical Introduction. Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing Company
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