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Comparative essay on three traditions: Mahayana, Theravada and Vajrayana

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Comparative essay on three traditions: Mahayana, Theravada and Vajrayana essay
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The three main approaches in Buddhism include several systems of theory and practices. It includes three yanas which literally yanas refers to vehicles. It includes three Buddhist vehicles such as Hinayana the vehicle of personal liberation, Mahayana the vehicle of universal salivation, and Vajrayana the vehicle of Tantra. The entire vehicle has a capacity to bring enormous benefit to all the sentient beings.

Thereby, in the following paragraph it will discuss about its similarities and differences among the three traditions based on its origin and development, teachings, methods of practices and classification. Origin and development of Mahayana traced back to the second Buddhist council which was held at Vaisali under the patronage of king Ashoka, the Buddhist community split into two branches the Mahasamgaka and the Sthaviravada. Hence, Mahayana Buddhism was originated from the Mahasamgaka and it started to spread throughout India and split in to numerous sub-sects. The Mahayana Buddhism started to spread from India to the other parts Of South, East and South Asia countries such as Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal, China, Taiwan, Mongolian, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Additionally, later Mahyana Buddhism also started to spread in the South and South Asian countries including Afghanistan, Thiland, Cambodia, Burma and other part of Central Asia before being replaced by the Theravada Buddhism.

Mahayana scriptures are in Sanskrit (Sutra). However, when it comes to the Theravada, it is based on the Pali (Pali Canon), in context to the Sanskrit it is known to be Sthaviravada, Sthavira means ‘elder’ and Veda the ‘doctrine’ literally “doctrine of the elders.” According to Violatti (2013) its origin can be trace back to the third century BCE and Theravada stated that the group of Buddhist missionaries lead by Emperor Ashoka himself introduced the Sthaviravada scholl in Sri Lanka about 240 BCE. Second council held inorder to rid the Sangha of corruption and fake monks who had heretical views. Theravada mainly emphasizes on the self-liberation through one’s own effort. They focus on the meditative practices and concentrates on the vital elements in which person achieves liberation known as Arhat. Furthermore, the concept of Theravada Buddhism was developed in t South-East Asia.

Theravada Buddhism is considered to be the form of Buddhist culture which has dominated religious, political and social life in the region such as Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand, and very recently it was developed in Loas and Cambodia as well. When it comes to the Vajrayana Buddhism was based on the set of text that is referred to it as Buddhist tantric which appeared during third century and it continued to appear until twelfth century. During the eight century Vajrayana Buddhism started develop in India mainly in the Buddhist Universities. In which the practices and thoughts were dominated by the Vajrayana Buddhist and Nalanda University was the center for development of Vajrayana Buddhism. Later the tantric masters known as Padmasambhava began to carry tantra from India to Tibet. However, during the 13th century Vajrayana Buddhism started to decline in India due to invading Islamic armies but it was well established in Tibet.

Additionally, it started to influence Buddhist practitioners in Northern India, gradually started to spread to China, Mongolia, and Tibet. Later, Vajrayana texts and practices were transmitted to Korea and Japan.According to Mickenzie (2017), Mahayana Buddhist aims to become a Bodhisattva. To illustrate, it is more flexible compare to the Theravada Buddhism. Mahayana believes that every individual possess the seed of Buddha nature and every individual has an ability to attain enlightenment. Additionally, they emphasizes on the concept of sunyata in which it is considered to be a skillful means that disentangle others to attain nirvana. Suntaya is considered to be the foundation of the entire phenomenon. It is the true nature of the entire phenomenon and it is the basic principle of all the existence. Hence, the realization of suntaya leads one to no attachment and clinging in which it is considered to be the skillful means towards enlightens. Its significances includes the taking a vows to be born to help other sentient being with compassion, and the desire to free all sentient brings from the suffering.

Hence, Mahayana Buddhism focuses on achieving enlightenment during the course of an ordinary life as every individual possess the seed of Buddha nature. Mahayana Buddhism criticize the arhat ideal of Theravada, Mahayana believes that Bodhisattva is a higher goal of perfection, in which it take vows to become a Buddha in order to work for the good of others On the other hand, Theravada Buddhism the lesser vehicle resists the idea of Bodhisattvas and belief that the Theravada Buddhism is one of the purer and close to the teaching of Buddha. The Theravada Buddhism emphasis on attending self-liberation in which it is belief that every individual is responsible for achieving his or her own self-awakening and liberation. The main purpose of the Theravada Buddhism is to attain the arthat, which means one which has attained perfect enlightenment and will never be reborn. To elaborate, Theravada aspires to a perfect state of enlightenment. For Theravada, attainment of arhat ends a life cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Theravada believes that path to nirvana lies in becoming a perfected being.

In order to attain arhat, it requires practice and it is undertaken by becoming a monk and passing through following four stages which includes Sotapanna, Sakadagamin, Andgami and Arhat.On the contrary Vajrayana the way of diamond believes that Vajrayana provides faster path towards liberation compare to Mahayana and Theravada because of its superiority of Tantaric methods. Vajrayana relies on various tantric which include tantric commentaries and treaties. In this case tantric are classified in to four types which include Kriya Tantra the ritual deity practices, Chaeya tantra behavioral practices, Yoga Tantra integrated deity practices and Anuttaryoga Tantra peerlessly integrated deity practices. It is belief that Vajrayana Buddhism provides the faster path towards enlightenment, in which the concept of Karma is important and implies that every being and action is interconnected and related to the universe. Mahayana practitioners practice daily worship with devotion; they worship Bodhisattvas and semi-divine beings. This includes the Bodhisattvas Avalokiteshvara, Mangusheri, Amitaba, and even including the goddess Tara who provides protection and guardians to the true devotees .

Additionally, they are involve in performing ceremonies which includes meditative practices, performing ritual in reverence to show their devotion to Buddha and Bodhisattvas. To illustrate, during the Mahayana practices it includes the six perfections such as generosity, morality, patience, energy, concentration, and wisdom. Firstly, generosity involves sincere desire to benefit other without expectation of reward and recognition. Secondly, the perfections of morality in which one develop selfless compassion and practice renunciation and gain appreciation for Karma. Thirdly, patience includes the ability to endure hardship, patience with others and accepts the truth. Fourthly, the perfections of energy refer to courageous effort to realize enlightenment and fearless effort to the benefit of other sentient being. Fifth, includes the concentration in which great concentration is applied to achieve clarity and insight. Finally, wisdom is the intimate realization of sunyata. These six perfections are considered to be the guide for Mahayana Buddhist practitioners because it helps one to attain the enlightenment. The generosity, morality and patience are virtuous for everyone and vigor, concentration, and wisdom are more specifically about spiritual practices.

Furthermore, Mahayana focuses on thirty-seven practices of the Bodhisattvas. It includes extract the essence of the precious human rebirth, give up the objects which cause ignorance and attachment, find beneficial place to cultivate, give up this life, give up negative friends, count on the spiritual master, taking refuge in the triple gem, reflect of the suffering of samsara and aim towards liberation, cultivate Bodichitta in which seeing all sentient beings as having been one’s mother, practice the exchange of self for others, transform one’s mind to see all harms as opportunities to cultivate virtue, transforming suffering into one’s spiritual practices , return sincere praise in the face of criticism and defamation, view your detractor as a spiritual teacher, practices the great heart of endurance in the face of betrayal and disappointment, regard those who harm you through ill-will and jealousy as one’s spiritual master, transform failures into the path and transform success into the path, conquer pride, transforming the objects as anger and attachment into path, abandon pleasures of the senses with give rise to attachment, training in ultimate Bodhicitta, view object as attachment as like- illusions, view unpleasant situations as like a dream, practice generosity, uphold morality, practices of patience, cultivate joyful effort in helping sentient beings, develop the power of concentration, cultivate the wisdom by comprehending emptiness, examine one’s own conduct for faults, avoid criticizing higher practitioners, practice non-attachment, never express harsh words, apply solutions to disturbing emotions, apply mindfulness and contemplation for the welfare of all living beings and finally, dedicating all merit towards the enlightenment of all living beings (Zopa, n.d).

However, Theravada emphasizes on the mediation practices, which can be divided in to two subdivisions mainly the Samatha and Vipassana. Samatha is an effective way to train the mind through gentle way which develops inner strength and freedom from turmoil, leads to clarity and understanding. During the Samatha meditative practices they focus on the breath with mindfulness. Secondly, the Vipassana, it is the insight meditation which is practiced based on the mindfulness, awareness, and observant. Their main objective is to free oneself from all kinds of suffering both physically and mentally.Vajrayans includes the meditative practices mainly focused on the visualization of the deity. To illustrate, meditative practices includes two stages the generation stage and complete stage. In the generation stage it includes the visualization of self as the chosen deity. In this case, sees one’s body as the body of deity, ones environment as the mandala of the deity, perceiving ones enjoyments as bliss of the deity, free from attachment and performs action for the benefit of others. In the complete stage one is engages in practices associated with the subtle body energies and dissolves the deity into sunyata. Thus, it is a transformation of ordinary perception to the purified perception. As a result one becomes Viddhayana and one attains Vagradhara, supreme Kaya, and the rainbow of great transference and attains the level of glorious Samantabhadra.

Moreover, the guru-disciple relationship is important in which guru shows the students the path to enlightenment and gets permission from the guru to practice a particular tantra. Furthermore, oral transmission of tantra is given by the tantric master. Teachings preach by the teachers are secret and kept personal. Furthermore, in Vagrayana it includes the use of mudras the hand gesture and object such as vajra, bell, and drum while performing ritual.The three vehicle of Buddhism which includes Mahayana, Theravada and Vajrayana they take refuges in three things the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sanga. They take refuge in three jewels as it is an essential element towards the Buddhist path. The three vehicles are based on the teachings of the historical Buddha and both emphasizes on the concept of liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Similarly, they accept the Buddha Sakyamuni as the teacher and focus on the four noble truths. In the Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism the concept of dependent origination is same and accepts the Annica, Dukkha,Anatta ans Sila, Samadhi, Panna without any difference (Rahula, 2008).

All the three vehicle focuses on the meditative practices to understand oneself and the world phenomena. Therefore, the three vehicles include the Mahayana, Theravada and Vajrayana which is still exiting the different region. Firstly, the Mahayana Buddhism not just seeks the personal enlightenment but the enlightenment of other sentient beings. It focuses on the meditative practices and it also involves the selfless service for the benefit of others and Mahayana emphasis on recitations of mantras. However, in the Theravada emphasizes on the attending self-liberation through ones effort. The main focus is on attending the arhat in which one attains the perfect enlightenment and belief that one will not reborn. On the other hand, the vajrayana is considered to be more essential part because it is belief that the Vajrayana enables the practitioner to attain enlightenment more quickly than other two.


  1. l 1033 Akira, H. (2007). A history of Indian Buddhism. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.Kelsang, G. G. (2000).
  2. Esssence of Vajrayana. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.Mckenzie, E. (2017, September 29). Mahayana Buddhist Beliefs. Retrieved October 10, 2019, from https://classroom.synonym.comRahula. (2015, May 11).
  3. The three vehicles: Hinayana, Mahayana and Tantrayana. Retrieved October 22, 2019, from www.rudyh.orgViolatti, C. (2013, May 1). A short history of the Buddhist schools .
  4. Retrieved Ocober 23, 2019, from https://www.ancient.eu

Comparative essay on three traditions: Mahayana, Theravada and Vajrayana essay

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