21.05.2018 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin


Mahayana (from Sanskrit “The Great Chariot “) is one of the two main movements in Buddhism. The other Theravada.

Mahayana was formed at the end of 1st century BC in India. It consists of several regional schools, which appeared with the sutras.

As well as India, Mahayana Buddhism is widespread in many Asian countries (China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, Mongolia). As of the year 2013, the number of followers was approximately 360 million people (research by Piter Harvey).

The origin of the term

The term “The Great Chariot” was originally a sacred synonym of Bodhisattava or “Bodhisattava Ways”, i.e a creature, which has reached the highest step of enlightenment (bodhicitta) for the benefit of all living beings. The first important references to the term Mahayana were found in the Lotus Sutra, which arose in the period I B.C. – I A.D. According to Seishi Karashima’s version, the first form of the Sanskrit word was Prakrit, it literally meant “The Great Knowledge”.

The concept and doctrine of Mahayana are connected to several theories of origin:

  • from the laity (“worldly” origin);
  • from Mahasanghika;
  • the theory of “book sanctuaries”;
  • forest hypothesis;
  • the theory of “text movement”.

Mahayana philosophy is divided into early and late. The tradition of the first is reflected in the doctrines and teachings of Yogachara, Prajnaparamita, Buddha Nature and Pure Land Buddhism. The legacy of the second lies at the heart of the schools of Esoteric Buddhism, which although they lost their importance in Central Asia and India after the spread of Islamic Sufism and Hinduism, still have followers in certain areas of the Himalayas.

The essence of the mahayana doctrine

The sutras, to which the first Mahayana schools trace their origins, differ in their philosophy and methods of practice. It can be said that Mahayana is a collection of many teachings with impressive and emotional doctrines. Although these are almost unrelated to each other, they harmoniously coexist at the same time.

The main “pillars” of the Mahayana tradition are:

prajna – the highest intuitive wisdom,


karuna – compassion.

According to the sutras, one who follows the path of the Bodhisattva has to possess such qualities if one wants to become enlightened (i.e., a Buddha).

Different Mahayana schools have their own traditions. Some simplify the meaning of faith, believing that they can receive mercy from the Buddha (for example, The Pure Land School of Buddhism). Most Mahayana schools believe in supernatural bodhisattvas, who have dedicated themselves to the attainment of ultimate knowledge and the Paramita – those actions that lead to the liberation and enlightenment of all living beings. In Chinese Buddhism, the Pure Land philosophy is combined with Zen.

Mahayana includes the Sutra – an array of ancient Indian wise sayings written in Sanskrit and Tantra – which elaborate on the practice of achieving borderline states of death, enlightenment and the moment of transition from death to the next birth.

The main categories of mahayana

In Mahayana, the Buddha is the ultimate, highest creation, existing outside of time and in all living things and in any space visited by bodhisattvas. His image is universal and ideal and consists exclusively of altruistic qualities.

This enlightened state can be achieved with the help of several methods.


Achievement a state which is purified from the emotional perception of the world and free from the “wheel of rebirths” (Arhat level), in Mahayana is not final. It must be replaced by the “approach” of the Bodhisattva. After nirvana, it is possible to come to Pari nirvana – the final nirvana. The being reaches this only after the physical death of the body and complete enlightenment.

Some schools believe that the next Buddha will be the Bodhisattva Maitreya, who will revive the dharma and teach it even after his death. The Mahayana religion states that the achievement of nirvana is possible through effort and is not preordained. One day, everyone will become absolutely enlightened. This is the versatility.



Bodhisattvas are certain enlightened beings who follow the path of complete liberation of all living beings from samsara – the cycle of birth and death in worlds limited by karma (i.e., the natural order of things). The goal of a Bodhisattva is to achieve Bodhichitta, the highest stage of enlightenment, as well as the awakened mind of the Buddha for the benefit of all living beings.

A bodhisattva possesses six obligatory perfections:

generosity or perfection of offerings (Danaparamita);

ethics or excellence in discipline and behavior (Silaparamita);

endurance or perfection of patience (Kshantiparamita);

industriousness or perfection of the power of diligence (Viryaparamita);

meditation or the perfection of meditating (Dhyanaparamita);

wisdom or perfection of spiritual wisdom (Prajnaparamita).

For Mahayana, a Bodhisattva is an ideal individual who has a great mind, transcendental wisdom and compassion. The reality of emptiness and interconnected rebirth are accessible to his understanding.

Appropriate means

Expedient means are termed “Upaya”. This is a method of helping beings to awake from the spiritual sleep of ignorance. Expedient means can refer to everything that is effective in achieving the path of Mahayana which leads to liberation and all that is spiritually beneficial.


Depending on the school, liberation can be achieved through faith, working with images, or simply chanting the Buddha’s name. This approach to salvation (or getting into “paradise”) is especially revered by the Pure Land School of Buddhism. The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in the rich Mahayana cosmography reside in the realms of paradise. The Trikaya philosophy also shares this idea.

Buddha’s nature

The teaching of “Buddha Nature” is based on the “idea of ​​the mind” and the many, sometimes ambiguous, concepts that characterize the highest enlightened being:

bodhi – awakening or awareness;

dhatu – the seven main tissues that make up the human body, which must be in balance with one another;

Atman – the subtle nature of the Buddha, the absolute, meaning its existence;

Shunyata – emptiness, the absence of a permanent “I”.

The actual “vision and knowledge” of Buddha Nature is conducive to entering the state of nirvana and liberation. This is available to everyone: people, ghosts, God and any living beings. Buddha is created but immortal. Buddhahood can be achieved through Buddhist practices.

In order to be freed from worldly suffering and achieve bliss, it is necessary to achieve bodhi. After cleansing the mind from negative thoughts and feelings, and the personality from toxic behavior (Klesha), the being resides in the Buddha principle and the seer is thus transformed into a Buddha.

In the doctrines of modern Theravada schools, it is likely that the philosophy of the Buddha will become a doctrine with fewer adherents than in antiquity. As part of the activities of the Buddhist communities, programs have been created “in the interests of future generations”, the purpose of which is to preserve the teachings of the Buddha.