The discipline of Buddhism known as Mahayana Buddhism is one of two of the great subdivisions of the Buddhist religion, the other being known as the Theravada School. The main point of the two divisions come from the point of origination of the school. The Mahayana discipline originated in India.
The word Mahayana refers to the idea of seeking enlightenment in order to help all sentient beings. It is also called the Bodhisattva Vehicle, or simply Bodhisattvayāna. From its inception in India, Mahayana teachings have spread to a number of other Asian countries, including Nepal, Korea, Japan, Mongolia, China, Singapore, and Vietnam. Based upon the new influences of these cultures, today the Mahayana teachings have been divided into many different sub schools, including Tibetan Buddhism, Shingon, Zen / Chan, and Pure Land.
Mahayana Buddhism History
There is much debate about the origins of Mahayana Buddhism, with some scholars believing it rose in competition to the established schools of Hinayana. Others believe that it was created as a layperson response to the established schools of the time, which tended to be exclusive to the religious elite. Early interpretations of the Mahayana doctrine by its students was taken very literally, with many living out the ideals of living life as a monk in the wilderness.
The first Mahayana Buddhism sutras were composed in the first century BCE. These sutras were translated into Chinese by the traveling monk Lokakṣema, which marked the beginning of the Mahayana discipline stretching its teachings beyond India. Eventually, four distinct schools of thought emerged: Buddha Nature, Mādhyamaka, Buddhist Logic, and Yogācāra. East Asia tends to follow more of the early Mahayana doctrines, while Central Asia tends towards the later interpretations.
Mahayana Buddhism Doctrine
As the teachings of the Mahayana quickly spread around Asia, modern Mahayana Buddhism is quite debatable as to its doctrine. It can best be described as a loose confederation of philosophies which seem to share similar roots. The fundamental principle of Mahayana Buddhism is the idea that all live beings can separate themselves from the suffering of life. Mahayana doctrine does believe in Bodhisattvas with powers usually reserved for immortal beings, who dedicate themselves to the perfections, or ideals of Mahayana Buddhism.