Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Wikipedia.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the self-designation of one of the two largest schools of Buddhism (the other major school is Hinayana Buddhism).

Mahayana Buddhism can be traced through literary sources to the first century B.C. However, the ultimate origin of Mahayana Buddhism may be found in the first Buddhist councils of the fifth through third centuries B.C.; at these councils there was considerable support for broad missionary activity, admission of secular persons to the Buddhist sangha (community), and the relaxation of the rules of religious obedience.

The formation of Mahayana Buddhism is associated with the names of Nagarjuna, Asanga, Ashvaghosha, and Aryadeva—the major exponents of Buddhist religiophilosophical thought in the first through fifth centuries. In Mahayana, the highest religious ideal is the Bodhisattva, the universal but incarnate cosmic principle of the interrelationship—through compassion and mutual aid—of all beings who strive to liberate themselves from the coils of earthly existence. In contrast to the arhat, the ideal saint of Hinayana, who strives for personal liberation through strict observance of canonical and ritual prescriptions, the Bodhisattva is seen as a model for others: he himself will not be liberated until every last being who seeks liberation succeeds in emulating his example and achieving Nirvana. More concretely, the concept of Bodhisattva involves the individual’s acquisition of a certain set of ultimate qualities (paramitas): supergenerosity, supermorality, superpatience, supervigor, superconcentration, and super-wisdom. The symbolism of the Three Bodies of Buddha (Trikaya) occupies a central place in the Mahayana cult: the “body of the Law” (Dharmakaya), the image of the universal spiritual being of Buddha; the “body of Enjoyment” (Sambhogakaya), the ideal image of Buddha sent down to disciples who are in a yogic trance; and the “body of the Illusory” (Nirmanakaya), the material human image of Buddha as a model of religious behavior.

The religious symbolism of Mayahana Buddhism consists of a complex pantheon of divinities embodying personalized values in the achievement of ultimate liberation. The most important of these include the Amitabha Buddha, or the spirit of Buddhism incarnate in the world; the Avalokiteshvara Buddha, or compassion for the world; and the Maitreya Buddha, or the hope of the world. Mahayana canonical literature is based on nine chief sutras, the Vaipulya Sutras. The principal Mahayana philosophical schools are the Yogachara, or Vijnanavada (founded by Asanga), and the Madhyamika, or Shunyavada (founded by Nagarjuna). The development of the Tantrist teachings of Buddhist yoga is associated with Mahayana Buddhism.

In the first centuries A.D., Mahayana spread to China, Tibet, Korea, Japan, and later to Mongolia and other countries. Most of the Mahayana canonical texts in India were written in Sanskrit, and in countries to which Mahayana spread were written in the local languages as well. Magnificent religious rituals are characteristic of Mahayana.


Ashvagosha. ZhiznBuddy. Moscow, 1913.
Arnold, E. Svet Azii, 2nd ed. St. Petersburg, 1906.
Schure, E. Sakiia-Muni drevnii mudrets. Odessa, 1897.
Suzuki, D. T. Outlines of Mahayana Buddhism. London [1907].
Sogen, J. Systems of Buddhistic Thought. Calcutta, 1912.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
(6) See Paul Harrison, "Searching for the Origins of the Mahayana: What are We Looking For?" The Eastern Buddhist, New Series 28, 1 (Spring 1995).
The Buddha's silence could then be filled in by various "absolutist doctrines"--some of which led to the Mahayana itself--that made it vulnerable to the blurring of lines between Buddhism and the encircling world of Hindu devotionalism.
From a comparative history of religions perspective, Leighton's overview of the Mahayana tradition in the first three chapters and, especially, the seven bodhisattva ideals, constitutes an imaginative and effective introduction to the world of East Asian Buddhism.
Perhaps the greatest contribution of this excellent piece of scholarship is the way in which it brings into question the view that tends to reify Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana as wholly distinct constructs, consistently and rigidly opposed to one another, rather than as continually interacting and influencing one another.
In its concept of the transcendent perfection of the Buddha, the Upayakausalya "links the Mahavastu with developments in Buddhology found in the Lotus, the Vimalakirti, and other great Mahayana sutras" (p.
This concession also makes it more difficult for the author to distinguish Advaita from the Mahayana, since the Mahayana also held that everything is ineffable and indeterminable.
In another contribution, "How the Mahayana Began," Gombrich offers a novel perspective on the long-discussed and still murky origins of Mahayana.
The overview begins with the life of Buddha, the establishment of Buddhism and its philosophical and social context, its expansion, the emergence of the Mahayana, and the decline of Buddhism in India and rise elsewhere.
His main theme is that in their initial developments Madhyamaka and Yogacara were not rival schools of Mahayana. This argument is aimed at the last generation of European scholars who often did see Madhyamaka and Yogacara as mutually exclusive schools of thought.
In this collection of 12 essays from the seminar held in 2003, contributors describe sectarian identity and similar social-religious associations, the role of ritual within biographical literature, the writings of a Jesuit missionary on the prophecies of a Tibetan Buddhist visionary, the relationship of the Qing emperors and the religious leaders of Tibet, the recreation of the Rnying ma school, the Pure Land tradition in Tibet, successive incarnation lineages, the use of Mahayana literature and tantric prophecies, changing political landscapes in the late seventeenth century, the ritual innovations of the 1690s, and the songs of the Sixth Dalai Lama to his mentor and regent.
She gave a detailed presentation on the similarities between the ancient art, architecture, and symbolism of all religions such as domes, minarets and floral motifs in art, the history and philosophy of Mahayana movement.
Theravada and Mahayana are branches of which major world religion?