Mahayana vs Hinayana Buddhism: Difference and Comparison

Buddhism includes a plethora of customs and beliefs that revolve around the idea of spirituality. It is largely grounded in the teachings of the śramaṇa, Gautama Buddha. However, upon his death, Buddhism split into various factions, each characterized by a specific interpretation of the philosophy. Mahayana and Hinayana are two such factions that have several differences between them.

Key Takeaways

  1. Mahayana Buddhism encompasses a variety of traditions and practices, whereas Hinayana Buddhism follows the Theravada tradition.
  2. Bodhisattvas play a central role in Mahayana, guiding followers toward enlightenment, while Hinayana emphasizes individual enlightenment through self-discipline.
  3. Mahayana scriptures include the Mahayana Sutras, whereas Hinayana relies on the Pali Canon.

Mahayana vs Hinayana

The difference between Mahayana and Hinayanais that Mahayana Buddhism largely supports idol-worshipping along with the idea that Buddha is a divine being who will help his devotees in achieving nirvana, whereas Hinayana Buddhism supports the idea that nirvana can only be achieved through self-discipline and meditation. It considers Buddha to be an ordinary man who had attained enlightenment.

Mahayana vs Hinayana

The term ‘Mahayana’ is a Sanskrit word that translates to ‘Greater Vehicle’. In the context of Buddhism, it encompasses a group of Buddhist texts and philosophies included in the Mahayana Sutras. Followers of this sect dwell in China, Korea, Mongolia, Vietnam, Japan, Nepal, Bhutan, Taiwan, and Malaysia. They believe in Mantra traditions and the bodhisattva path to attain nirvana.

Meanwhile, the term ‘Hinayana’ is a Sanskrit word that translates to ‘Smaller Vehicle’. It is synonymous with Theravada, which is a contrast to the Mahayana sect. Followers of Hinayana Buddhism dwell in Myanmar, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Laos. Unlike Mahayana scriptures, which are written in Sanskrit, Hinayana Sutras are written in the Pali language. They emphasise that individuals must find their own path to Nirvana.

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonMahayanaHinayana
OriginMahayana Buddhism gained popularity in 500 BC.Hinayana Buddhism gained popularity in 250 BC.
PhilosophyIt emphasizes that Buddha is a divine being who will help his devotees in achieving nirvana.It emphasizes that Buddha was an ordinary man who achieved enlightenment and that one must find their own path to Nirvana.
PracticesIt involves the practice of Mantra chanting and idol worshipping.It involves the practice of self-discipline and meditation.
ScripturesIt follows the Mahayana Sutras that were written in Sanskrit.It follows the Hinayana Sutras that were written in the Pali language.
AttitudeIt encourages mental stability, deep awareness, aspirational prayers, courage, and skills, among other attitudes.It encourages truth, renunciation, love, resolution, calmness, and composure, among other attitudes.
FollowersIt has followers in China, Korea, Mongolia, Vietnam, Japan, Nepal, Bhutan, Taiwan, and Malaysia.It has followers in Myanmar, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Laos.

What is Mahayana?

Mahayana Buddhism is essentially a movement that largely influences the Buddhist cultures of Central and East Asia. At one point, Buddhists in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia also considered its philosophy. However, it did not survive there. The movement revolves around spiritual ideas regarding cosmology and metaphysics. It includes practices such as Mantra chanting and idol worshipping.

Also Read:  Jews vs Zoroastrians: Difference and Comparison

The movement is grounded in the Mahayana Sutras that were written in the Sanskrit language. They were compiled several years after Buddha’s demise. Over time, there have been several interpretations. However, the basic idea is that Buddha is a divine being who was sent on earth to help others attain nirvana. Therefore, his devotees might achieve enlightenment by following the bodhisattva path.

The bodhisattva path is that in which devotees seek to become a Buddha. Attitudes such as mental stability, deep awareness, aspirational prayers, courage, and skills of means are emphasized. The idea revolves around dropping the illusion of ‘self’ and realizing one’s true nature. In doing so, a person will be liberated from the tyranny of their life.

The origin of Mahayana Buddhism is still obscure. However, many believe that it began to flourish in 500 BC. Since then, multiple people have shaped its philosophy in various places.

mahayana

What is Hinayana?

Even though Mahayana Buddhism came into being way before, Hinayana Buddhism is considered to be more orthodox and conservative. The movement has followers in Myanmar, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Laos. These people follow the Hinayana Sutras that were written in Pali.

The scriptures lay emphasis on one’s own path to enlightenment. They reject the idea of Buddha being a divine being. Rather, they believe that Buddha was only an ordinary man who attained Nirvana and was gracious enough to spread his knowledge. Practices such as self-discipline and meditation are believed to assist an individual during the journey.

Hinayana Buddhism has similar ideas regarding cosmology and metaphysics as the former. However, the way to achieve it is considered to be different. The movement lays emphasis on attitudes such as truth, renunciation, love, resolution, calmness, and composure. By consistently practising them, an individual might be liberated from the cycle of life and death.

Also Read:  Umrah vs Hajj: Difference and Comparison

The origins of this movement are obscure, like Mahayana Buddhism. However, it was known to be flourishing in 250 BC. Like the former, Hinayana Buddhism has been interpreted and shaped throughout time by many people in different places. However, the core and aim of the philosophy have remained the same.

hinayana buddhism

Main Differences Between Mahayana and Hinayana

  1. Mahayana Buddhism gained popularity in 500 BC, whereas Hinayana Buddhism gained popularity in 250 BC.
  2. Mahayana emphasizes that Buddha is a divine being who will help his devotees in achieving nirvana, whereas Hinayana emphasizes that Buddha was an ordinary man who achieved enlightenment and that one must find their own path to Nirvana.
  3. Mahayana involves the practice of Mantra chanting and idol worshipping, whereas Hinayana involves the practice of self-discipline and meditation.
  4. Mahayana follows the Mahayana Sutras that were written in Sanskrit, whereas Hinayana follows the Hinayana Sutras that were written in the Pali language.
  5. Mahayana encourages mental stability, deep awareness, aspirational prayers, courage, and skills, among other attitudes, whereas Hinayana encourages truth, renunciation, love, resolution, calmness, and composure, among other attitudes.
  6. Mahayana has followers in China, Korea, Mongolia, Vietnam, Japan, Nepal, Bhutan, Taiwan, and Malaysia, whereas Hinayana has followers in Myanmar, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Laos.
Difference Between Mahayana and Hinayana Buddhism
References
  1. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1465151
  2. https://elibrary.ru/item.asp?id=5320149

Last Updated : 13 July, 2023

dot 1
One request?

I’ve put so much effort writing this blog post to provide value to you. It’ll be very helpful for me, if you consider sharing it on social media or with your friends/family. SHARING IS ♥️

8 thoughts on “Mahayana vs Hinayana Buddhism: Difference and Comparison”

  1. The difference between Mahayana and Hinayana Buddhism is very intriguing, especially when it comes to their beliefs regarding the nature of Buddha.

    Reply
  2. The emphasis on the core philosophies and attitude differences between Mahayana and Hinayana Buddhism offers valuable insights into the spiritual aspects of these two factions.

    Reply
  3. It’s fascinating to see how Mahayana and Hinayana Buddhism have evolved into separate factions with differing practices and philosophies over time.

    Reply
  4. The detailed descriptions of Mahayana and Hinayana Buddhism provide a profound understanding of their scriptures, practices, and geographic influences.

    Reply
  5. The clarification about the origin and followers of Mahayana and Hinayana Buddhism provides a comprehensive understanding of their historical context and spread.

    Reply
  6. The comparison table outlining the differences between Mahayana and Hinayana Buddhism makes it easier to comprehend their contrasting philosophies and practices.

    Reply
  7. Exploring the history and philosophical foundations of Mahayana and Hinayana Buddhism sheds light on the rich tradition and beliefs associated with both movements.

    Reply
  8. Understanding the main differences between Mahayana and Hinayana Buddhism helps in appreciating the diversity and complexity of Buddhist traditions.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Want to save this article for later? Click the heart in the bottom right corner to save to your own articles box!