Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism
Christopher Neil Hatcher
Ever since its founding in 500 BCE, Buddhism has led people to open their minds and work toward their liberation from suffering. However, not all people agree with one another on how to achieve this liberation. These varying opinions led to the formation of the two major schools of Buddhism, Mahayana and Theravada. These two schools of thought disagree on the role of laymen; rules for the monks and nuns; and as to what classifies as actual Buddhist teachings, regardless of what the Buddha really taught.
In southeastern Asia, Theravada Buddhism reigns supreme. Adherents follow what the Buddha laid as the foundation for laymen; non-monastics are to provide sustenance, in the form of alms, for monks. In northern and eastern Asia, the Mahayana allows lay people to participate in spiritual matters usually left to those who have embraced the holy life. This idea comes from later students of Buddhist thought, rather than from the Buddha himself.
Rules given by the Buddha to monks and nuns are very strict. The Buddha gave permission for future generations to alter minor rules to accommodate changes in society. Unfortunately, he did not specify which rules were minor. This being the case, the Theravada school has changed very few rules. The Mahayana has altered many, some of which the Theravada consider major rules, leading to debates between the two.
The earliest Buddhist scriptures were recorded around 400-300 BCE. They were written in a language known as Pali, hence the common name of the scriptures, the Pali Canon. Since then, many people have added new scriptures. The Theravada community accepts only the older Pali Canon as legitimate Buddhist scripture. They also use commentaries written by distinguished scholars, but only as guides to help understand the vast Pali Canon. The Mahayana use the Pali Canon and other scriptures as a source for real Buddhist knowledge. They believe them to be authentic teachings of the Buddha, although secular history insists that these newer writings are the work of Buddhist students.
Since the schism between Theravada and Mahayana schools, debate over who has the authentic teachings of the Lord Buddha have developed. With differences in the roles of laymen, the changes of rules for monastics, and concern over the authenticity of scripture, it seems that the two groups will never reach consensus. However, using history as a guide, one can see that Theravada has changed the least in the past 2,000 years, which is when the split between the two great schools occurred. This leads to the conclusion that Theravada Buddhism in the most authentic form of Buddhism practiced today.
Christopher Neil Hatcher, at the time of this writing a freshman in
Philosophy, wrote "Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism" for Dr. Marsha
Mathews' ENGL 1101 class during fall 2002 semester.
Christopher Neil Hatcher, at the time of this writing a freshman in Philosophy, wrote "Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism" for Dr. Marsha Mathews' ENGL 1101 class during fall 2002 semester.