Major Characteristics of Mahayana Buddhism
- New sūtras, written in Sanskrit and/or Chinese
- Lotus Sūtra: one of the most popular Buddhist
sutras throughout East Asia
- upāya ("skillfull means"): the Buddha revealed his
teachings in different ways to different people at different times,
depending on their capabilities and the conditions of the times
- hence the great variation in doctrines among the various sutras
- universal Buddha-nature: the Buddha is eternal and omnipresent;
hence all sentient beings are, or will become, Buddhas (also developed
by philosophical theories, below)
- soteriological value of stūpa-worship (reliquaries)
- Prajña-paramitā (Perfection of Wisdom) sūtras:
emphasizing the concept of emptiness
- Heart Sūtra: chanted every day in Chan / Zen
monasteries. Includes the line "Form is emptiness, emptiness is
- Diamond Sūtra
- Pure Land Sūtras (3): Amitabha Buddha's vows,
basis of Pure Land Buddhism
- Avatāmsaka / Huayan / Kegon ("Flower
Garland") sūtra: focuses on Vairocana Buddha (see
below) - basis of Huayan / Kegon Buddhism
- Platform Sūtra: story and teachings of Huineng,
the 6th Patriarch of Chan / Zen. The only sūtra
that does not claim to be the words of the Buddha. Written in Chinese.
- Vimalakirti Sūtra: story of the enlightened layman,
- Lankāvatāra Sūtra: reflects Yogacāra
- New model of enlightenment: the Bodhisattva
- an enlightened being who vows to remain in samsāra (any
level) to help all sentient beings achieve enlightenment; characterized
by wisdom and compassion
- Bodhisattva vow:
However innumerable the sentient beings, I vow to save
However inexhaustible the passions (klesas), I vow to extinguish
However immeasurable the dharmas, I vow to master them all.
However incomparable the truth of the Buddha, I vow to attain it.
- Six Bodhisattva Virtues or Perfections (paramitā)
- giving (dāna)
- morality (sīla)
- patience (ksānti)
- energy (virya)
- meditation (dhyāna)
- wisdom (prajñā)
- New devotional / "theistic" dimension (faith, worship, bhakti)
- Maitreya / Mi-le / Miroku (Buddha of next age)
- Manjūsri / Wenshu / Monju (Wisdom)
- Avalokitesvara / Guanyin / Kannon (Compassion)
- Ksitigarbha / Dizang / Jizō (Children in underworld)
- Samantabhadra / Puxian / Fugen (Universal Virtue)
- Sākyamuni / Shijie / Shaka (Historical Buddha)
- Amitābha / Amituo / Amida (Infinite Light)
- Amitāyus / Wuliangshou / Muryōju (Infinite Life)
- (Maha-)Vairocana / Luoshana / Roshana or Dainichi (Sun, Cosmos)
- Baisyaja-guru / Yaoshi / Yakushi (Medicine, Healing)
- New philosophical developments
- Emptiness (sunyatā / kong / kū:
all dharmas (things or elements) are "empty of own-being;"
they have no independent, autonomous, existence; their very existence
or being depends on other things; they are inherently conditional,
not absolute. Hence emptiness = interdependence. Nagarjuna (2nd
c. CE): "Emptiness is equivalent to 'dependent origination' (pratītya-samutpāda)."
- Universal Buddha-nature
- Three Body (trikāya) doctrine: aspects of
- Nirmāna-kāya: "Transformation body":
- Sambhōga-kāya: "Reward body": spiritual
being, perceptible only to other spiritual beings (including
humans reborn in Pure Land) - hence their "reward"
- Dharma-kāya: "Truth body": abstract principle,
- Inherent enlightenment (benjue / hongaku): enlightenment
possible in this life; all beings are manifestations of Buddha;
"ordinary mind is the Way"
- Nirvāna = Samsāra: nirvāna and
samsāra both characterized by emptiness; nirvāna
is samsāra correctly understood (Nagarjuna)
- "Interpenetration" of all things: the ultimate truth of all
things is emptiness; every individual thing fully manifests the ultimate
truth of everything else. Developed in Huayan school. Indra's Net.
- New possibilities of enlightenment for laypeople
- Through the virtue of "generosity / giving" (dāna) --
the first of the 6 Bodhisattva Perfections or Virtues -- lay people
can gain karmic merit by donating to temples, having scriptures copied,
building and maintaining stūpas (reliquaries), etc.
- “Transfer of merit”: karmic merit can be dedicated to others
- Enlightenment is possible in this life, without becoming a monk
- Symbolized by Huineng (6th Patriarch) and Vimalakirti
- New Chinese schools and their Japanese counterparts:
- Pure Land (Jingtu / Jōdō ). Based on vow of Amitābha
Buddha (in the Pure Land Sūtras) to cause anyone who called on
his name (faithfully) to be reborn into a Western Paradise or Pure
Land, where they would live in the company of Amitābha for a
very long time, and then be reborn one final time as a human and achieve
- Founded in Japan by Hōnen (1133-1212)
- Jōdō Shinshū (True Sect of Pure Land) founded
by Hōnen's former follower, Shinran (1173-1263)
- Tiantai / Tendai (Heavenly Terrace, the name of the mountain
in southeast China where the temple of the school's founder, Zhiyi
[6th century], was located). Based on the Lotus Sūtra
and the concept of the "true suchness" (zhenru) of
things: the "mean" between the fundamental emptiness of
things and their "provisional existence."
- Brought to Japan by Saichō (Dengyō Daishi, 762-822)
in 805, who founded Enryakuji on Mt. Hiei (just outside Kyoto)
- Huayan / Kegon (Flower Garland, the Chinese name of the
Avatāmsaka Sūtra). Central concept: the mutual "interpenetration"
of all things, based on their true nature, the principle of emptiness.
Chief Buddha: Vairocana / Dainichi.
- Dominant school during Nara period; Tōdaiji.
- Chan / Zen (from chan-na, the Chinese transliteration
of dhyāna, or meditation). Focus on meditation, "sudden
enlightenment," and the recorded sayings of Tang dynasty (7th-10th
c.) masters more than sutras featuring Buddhas.
- Linji / Rinzai sect: brought to Japan by Eisai (1141-1215)
- Caodong / Sōtō sect: brought to Japan by Dōgen
Edit date: 2/25/05