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Buddhism Traditions: Eastern Buddhism |Southern Buddhism |Northern Buddhism
 

MAHAYANA BUDDHISM (EASTERN ASIA)

 
Mahayana ("Great Vehicle") is an inclusive, cosmically-dimensioned faith characterized by the adoption of additional texts, seen as ultimately transcending the Pali suttas, and a shift in the understanding of Buddhism. It goes beyond the traditional Theravada ideal of the release from suffering (dukkha) and personal enlightenment of the arhats, to elevate the Buddha to the God-like status of an eternal, omnipresent, all-knowing being, and to create a pantheon of quasi-divine Bodhisattvas devoting themselves to personal excellence, ultimate knowledge and the salvation of humanity (and indeed of all living beings, including animals, ghosts and gods). In Mahayana, the Buddha became an idealized man-god and the Bodhisattva was the universal ideal of excellence.
 
The Mahayana branch emphasizes infinite, universal compassion (maha-karuna) or the selfless, ultra-altruistic quest of the Bodhisattva to attain the "Awakened Mind" (bodhicitta) of Buddhahood so as to have the fullest possible knowledge of how most effectively to lead all sentient beings into Nirvana. Emphasis is also often placed on the notions of Emptiness (shunyata), perfected spiritual insight (prajnaparamita) and Buddha-nature (the deathless tathagatagarbha, or Buddhic Essence, inherent in all beings and creatures). The teaching of the tathagatagarbha is said by the Buddha in the tathagatagarbha sutras to constitute the "absolutely final culmination" of his Dharma — the highest presentation of Truth. The Mahayana can also on occasion communicate a vision of the Buddha or Dharma which amounts to mysticism and gives expression to a form of mentalist panentheism (God in Buddhism).
 
 
In addition to the Tripitaka scriptures, which (within Mahayana) are viewed as valid but only provisional or basic, Mahayana schools recognize all or part of a genre of Mahayana scriptures. Some of these sutras became for Mahayanists a manifestation of the Buddha himself. Mahayana Buddhism shows a great deal of doctrinal variation and development over time, and even more variation in terms of practice. While there is much agreement on general principles, there is disagreement over which texts are more authoritative. Native Eastern Buddhism is practiced today in China, Japan, Korea, Singapore, parts of Russia and most of Vietnam. The Buddhism practiced in Tibet, the Himalayan regions, and Mongolia is also Mahayana in origin, but will be discussed below under the heading of Northern Buddhism. There are a variety of strands in Eastern Buddhism, which in most of this area are fused into a single unified form of Buddhism. However, in Japan they form separate denominations.
 
 
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