Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana Buddhism


1.     Theravada: “The Way of the Elders”

a.     No deification of the Buddha.  One Buddha at a time, in human realm. Disappeared into nirvana; only reached through teaching and sangha.

b.     Salvation for religious elite via effort and self-discipline, rationality.  Individualistic (with support from monastic community)

c.      Bond between monarchy and Sangha: legitimation, prosperity, spiritual benefit.   

d.     Sri Lanka, India (in small numbers) China, Thailand, Burma (Mayanmar), other parts of South East Asia.

e.      Triratna: The Triple Treasure:

                                                                   i.      I take refuge in:

1.     The Buddha: the teacher

2.     The Sangha: the community of those who follow

3.     The Dharma: the teaching

2.     Mahayana Buddhism: "The Greater Vehicle"

a.     Everyone has a chance of liberation.

b.     Criticizes elitism and selfishness of Theravadan religious.

c.      Mahayana emphasis on compassion:

                                                 i.      Buddha didn't disappear into nirvana, stayed beind to help others to liberation.  Can be contacted via prayer, meditation, and visions. 

d.     Boddhisattva (an enlightened one who, out of compassion, puts off his own final salvation till all others are saved)

                                                 i.      Buddhas continue to exist, always have.  Countless numbers, worlds of buddhas -- boddhisattvas.

1.     Example: Avalokatashvara: The Lord who looks down with compassion. “The lord who sees” - capacity to see the sufferings of others. Smts represented with 1000 eyes.  1000 hands to help in delivering innumerable beings from suffering

3.     Vajrayana Buddhism

a.     Tibetan Buddhism best nown for the Vajrayana traditions

b.     Vajra = Diamond.  The eternal Buddha Nature residing in all of us; never destroyed

c.      Practice

                                                 i.      Use of Mantras = ritual utterances, sacred sounds, esoteric (hidden) practices

                                               ii.      Influence of Tantric Buddhism/Hinduism

1.     Secret knowledge and practices, yoga, use of the body to obtain enlightenment through union of opposites.

                                            iii.      Emphasis on teaching by Master: teachings, recitation of mantras, use of artifacts (bells, prayer wheels, hand movements and positions (mudra).

                                            iv.      Visualization: Buddhas whose names mean Illuminator, Imperturbable, Jewel-Born, Boundless Light, Infallible Success.  Five directions of cosmos. 

d.     Spiritual leader = Lama (guru)

                                                 i.      Dalai Lama: incarnation of Avalokateshvara.  Spiritual and political leader.