Mahayana Buddhism (大乗仏教)

Mahayana Buddhism is a sect of Buddhism that has been traditionally practiced in central and eastern Eurasian Continent. According to this sect, to seek to become a Buddha, one must aspire to Buddhahood only in the sprit of wanting to save all suffering living things (Issai Shujo), in other words, from the Mahayana point of view; this spirit of 'ritagyo' (altruistic practices) is the mark which differentiates Mahayana Buddhism from Nikaya Buddhism.

The word Maha (great) yana (vehicle) first appeared in the "Hannya-kyo Sutra" (Prajna Sutra), and it is thought that the religious community that compiled and defended the "Hannya-kyo Sutra" was central to the beginning of the Mahayana Buddhism movement in general. Based on the content of the Hannya-kyo sutras, it is thought that the teachings by Shomon (Sharavakia), or Setsuissaiubu (Sarvaastivaadin), which were very influential at that time even among other sects of Nikaya Buddhism, were called Hinayana by the Mahayana Buddhism side; however, this remains unclear. It is said that teachings of Mahayana were theorized by Nagarjuna and others about 700 years after Shakyamuni's death.

On the other hand, it can be seen as a major thought shift in Buddhism occurring from a standpoint of criticism against Theravada Buddhism, which includes the principle of devoted practice of the teachings of Shakyamuni in order to attain nirvana (deliverance from the wheel of life); as the practitioner ultimately remains no more than a believer of the Buddha's teachings, one cannot reach the state of recognizing the truth as a 'Buddha' (Nyorai (Tathagata)). Based on the Jataka Legend that Shakyamuni continued his mortification to save all living things (Issai Shujo) from suffering, this school had a theory, if they kept doing charity after the example of Shakyamuni's spirit (aspiration for Buddhahood), in the distant future, they too could have a life as a Buddha (Sango Jobutsu). This trend is subtle in the "Hannya-kyo Sutra," but some sutras, including the "Hokke-kyo Sutra" (the Lotus Sutra) and the "Nehan-gyo Sutra" (The Sutra of The Great Nirvana) stipulated it clearly.

Ritagyo, which gives preference to salvation of others over one's own Gedatsu (being liberated from earthly desires and the woes of man), had not been practiced in Buddhist regions before Mahayana. It is said that, around the time of birth of Christ, Buddhist regions were so devoted to the study of Shakyamuni's teachings that they were unable to respond to wishes of ordinary people. On the other hand, the defining feature of Mahayana Buddhism is that it declared that ordinary people, those who had not renounced the everyday world and become monks, could become a Buddha in the future world as long as they continued ritagyo. Although shomon and engaku (paccekabuddha, who have come to Bodhi independent of any other person) attain nirvana by rejecting life as humans, they themselves cannot convey new teachings or save people from suffering. However, Mahayanic seekers claimed that they could ultimately become Buddha even as they lived in the real world, called themselves Bosatsu (Bodhisattva), and created Mahayana Sutras that conveyed their new thoughts, often using artistic expressions.

Argument that the Mahayana teachings do not stem from the historical Buddha
Schools of Buddhism in areas where Mahayana Buddhism has traditionally been believed regarded that Shakyamuni preached Mahayana teachings at some point during the 40-something years after his Jodo (completion of the path to becoming a Buddha by attaining enlightenment); however, when the Mahayana Sutras began to become established, there was already criticism from inside Buddhism that they had been created without the permission of Buddha and could therefore not be regarded as orthodox Buddhism.
('Theory that the Mahayana Sutras do not stem from the historical Buddha' from the viewpoint of Theravada Buddhism)
Even now, mainly on this basis, Mahayana Buddhism is often evaluated negatively. It is said that the current name "Theravada" stems from the fact that, as other sects of Nikaya Buddhism disappeared, a sect of Setsuissaiubu in Nikaya Buddhism renamed themselves 'Theravada' to signify that they were against Mahayana Buddhism, and that the current Theravada is different from the one at the time of the fundamental schism. Therefore, modern Theravada merely descended from a sect in the era of Nikaya Buddhism.

However, as philological study has developed in modern times, many people have pointed out that, since Buddhist thought developed in stages, entire sutras of Buddhism, including Theravada, were established gradually over periods as long as several centuries to begin with, and that the oldest sutras of Hokuden (Mahayana) Buddhism and Nanden Buddhism (Buddhism that spread from India to Sri Lanka and Southeast Asian countries such as Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia) do not contain description of 'Nyozegamon' (I heard this); Nakamoto TOMINAGA, who dealt with the 'Hokke-kyo Sutra (the Lotus Sutra) has no meaning theory', is one such person. Actually, Nakamoto TOMINAGA and others claimed that "nyozegamon" originally meant "secondhand information", and that it did not mean the information had been heard directly from Shakyamuni. In current academic society, the issue of whether existing Nanden and Hokuden scriptures actually reflect Shakyamuni's words, or whether thoughts of the sangha themselves in each era were transmitted as the words of Shakyamuni to sangha in later era, is hotly debated. The bottom line is that, in current studies, there are assertions both that few Nanden and Hokuden scriptures contain direct teachings of Shakyamuni, and that philology has proved that Mahayana Sutras are phony, and there is no established theory.

The Theravada Buddhism sect claims even now that Theravada transmits the real teachings of Shakyamuni, while the Mahayana side uses the following argument to claim its orthodoxy; however, there are few concrete counterarguments.

Hinayana Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism were transmitted concurrently and simultaneously. In Mahayana Buddhism, scriptures of a different sect of Nikaya Buddhism (albeit of the same Theravada line) are inherited along with the Mahayana Sutras. Shakyamuni did not predict that an unrighteous theory called Mahayana would occur (however, according to Theravada scriptures, it was foretold that such a thing would happen 500 hundred years after Shakyamuni's death). Mahayana's creed is superior as compared to so-called geten (non-Buddhist writings). Actually, adhering to Mahayana has benefits.

Various aspects of development
The idea that Shakyamuni was not the only Buddha to appear in history, but that Buddhas had appeared in the past and will appear in the future, existed before Mahayana; however, according to Mahayana Buddhism, countless Bosatsu had completed the path to becoming a Buddha by attaining enlightenment, and each of them exists in their own world, separate from this corrupt world both temporally and spatially. These many Buddha include Amida Nyorai (Amitabha Tathagata) in the Western Pure Land and Yakushi Nyorai (the Healing Buddha) in the Eastern Pure Land. In addition, the teachings of Shakyamuni as a historical and physical personage are not simply transmitted verbatim, but, as Mahayana Buddhism, have developed in various ways and have produced various schools.

This ideological movement was linked with ancient Tantrism, creating a point of view that Buddha is a self-expression of a non-historical existence (hosshin (Dharma Body)) that may be called 'Butsujiji', and this existence was assumed to be Dainichi Nyorai (Mahavairocana). This Buddhism is called 'Esoteric Buddhism', and it is differentiated from exoteric Buddhism because it places its viewpoint behind the part that appears on the surface of history (exoteric Buddhism). It is said that sutras of Esoteric Buddhism were preached by Dainichi Nyorai, not by Shakyamuni. They preached 'Sokushin Jobutsu' (Attaining Buddhahood with the Present Body), saying that one can complete the path to Buddhahood by performing Sanmitsukaji (three mystic practices) to symbolize this non-historical existence: thinking of Buddha in your heart, chanting mantra, and making symbolic signs (gestures) with the fingers.

The Jodo (Pure Land) sect also appeared, preaching, based on the Mappo-shiso (the "end of the world" belief), that Buddhism loses its effectiveness 1500 years after Shakyamuni's death, the difficulty of Jodo in this corrupt world in the era of Mappo (Age of the Final Dharma) (Jirikishodomon), and that, by giving it up, one can perform Jodo in the Pure Land of Amida Buddha after dying (Tarikijodomon).

It may seem mysterious that creeds which look as incompatible as Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism, exoteric Buddhism and esoteric Buddhism, and jirikimon and tarikimon exist within one religion, but of course, the three seals of the dharma, which are said to be the proof of Buddhism, are common to all schools.

Around the time of the birth of Christ, Buddhism came down from Afghanistan via Central Asia to the People's Republic of China, the Republic of Korea, and Japan (Hokuden Buddhism). In addition, beginning in the 8th Century, Tibet extensively promoted the establishment of sangha and the translation of Buddhist scriptures as national projects, and introduced various Buddhist sects that existed in India at that time in a burst as short as several decades; subsequently, Mahayana Buddhism was extended to Mongolia and South Siberia through propagation by Tibetan monks (Tibetan Buddhism).

Around the 7th Century, esoteric Buddhism with close ties to Tantra (or Tantrism), a sect of Hinduism mysticism, became popular in the Bengal area. This esoteric Buddhism embraced the folkways and religions of various areas, integrated them into a Buddha-centric worldview, and highly symbolized everything to establish a unique system of ascetic practices. They say one can reach the ultimate state and become a Buddha by mystic rituals. Esoteric Buddhism was transmitted from India to Tibet and Bhutan, to China, Korea, and Japan, taking in local folkways and being repeatedly modified in each region.

Archaeologically, propagation to current Theravada Buddhism areas, including Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, has been confirmed. In Sri Lanka, ruins were identified in southeast areas, and it seems to have disappeared by the 12th Century after a period of coexistance with Theravada Buddhism. In Southeast Asia, Sriwijaya and others accepted Mahayana Buddhism, and ruins extend from the southern areas of the Kingdom of Thailand to Sumatra and Java islands, former territories of the kingdom. The ruins of Borobudur of Sailendra in Indonesia are famous. The course it took in Southeast Asia was nondivisible with that of India, which is to say that it was absorbed into Hinduism, just as it was on the Indian mainland.

Around the 5th century B.C.: Buddhism was founded in India (Indian Buddhism)
The 1st century A.D.: It was transmitted to China (Chinese Buddhism)
The 3rd century : It was transmitted to Ceylon (Sri Lankan Buddhism)
The 4th century : It was transmitted to the Korean Peninsula (Korean Buddhism)
538: It was transmitted to Japan (Japanese Buddhism)
The early 7th century: It was transmitted to Tibet (Tibetan Buddhism)
The 11th century : It was transmitted to Myanmar (Southeast Asian Buddhism)
The 13th century : It was transmitted to Thailand (Southeast Asian Buddhism)
13th to 16th centuries: It was transmitted to Mongolia (Mongolian Buddhism)
17th century: It was transmitted to the northern shore of Caspian Sea (Tibetan Buddhism)
18th century: It was transmitted to southern Siberia (Tibetan Buddhism)

[Original Japanese]