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The Three Rafts of Buddhism---the Major Differences

Weidner
Theravada
Note

Mahayana

Referred to as the
Mahayana emerged as a
lesser vehicle; the reform movement during
Theravada branch of
the beginning of the
Buddhism is
common era.
considered the oldest
and most traditional
Developed around 200
branch.
BCE.
Theravadan Buddhism Sanskrit for The Great
focuses on the
Vehicle- parable of the
individuals
Burning house.
cultivation of the
Buddhas prajna
Most popular sect of
(wisdom) through
Buddhism.
meditation; they
focus mostly on the
Mahayana Buddhism
Buddhas life as an
focuses on the
ascetic.
individuals cultivation
of koruna (compassion)
through meditation;
focus is on the Buddhas
compassionate aspect as
source of prajna
(wisdom) in the dharma.

Vajrayana

Focus

Adherence to and
meditation on the
teachings of Buddha
that the teachings of
Buddha are primary
importancefound in
the Tripitaka.

Recovery of Buddhas
experience of
Enlightenment.

The key teachings in


Mahayana revolve
around the idea of the
bodhisattva. The
The Tripitaka is
bodhisattva is a saintlike
closed in Theravadan
individual who has
Buddhism; sacred
advanced along the way
texts are closed in
of cultivation. Instead of
order to preserve the deciding to move on to
exact words and
the final extinction of
teachings of the
nirvana, the bodhisattva
Buddha.
decides to remain in the
world of samsara, of
Deer Park Sermon
constant rebirth, in
arhat, lotus position
order to help others
most important (no
achieve enlightenment.
more thats needed
that what he did his
discourse aboutFour
Noble Truths, and
Eightfold Path.

NirvanaThe
individual must attain
this state free of
desires as soon as
possible.

Goal

To achieve Nirvana
(Blown-out
candle),
or a state of
eternal bliss in which
one loses all
desire, including
desire to live, as soon
as possible.

Compassion (karuna)
(This is one of the
biggest virtues
concerning the
Bodhisattva ideal).
Achieving Nirvana;
believe that we are
already in Nirvana, but
we have yet to realize
it.

Work on spiritual
defilement by
cultivating the
We must "open our eyes/
greatest virtue
wake up to the
Prajna (Manjushhri)
omnipresent state of
which is wisdom.
enlightenment.
Do this by following
the three practices/
trainings for Eightfold
Pathwisdom
(prajna) Ethics (Sila)
Mindfulness
(Samadhi).
Achieving Nirvana is
considered to be the
responsibility of the
individual.
Only bhikkus are able
to achieve the
ultimate goal of
nirvana.

This is achieved by
following the Eightfold
Path, as the Buddha
taught.

Enlightenment

Can only be achieved


by bhikkus, the only
eligible beings for
enlightenment.
Done by developing
the prajna insight of
the Buddha mostly
through dhyana
practices
(meditation).

Believe in Nirvana with


residues/ achievement
of Buddhahood for the
sake of all humanity
(DO NOT REJECT
NIRVANA FOR OTHERS)
Believe that everyone is
already in Nirvana and
being Enlightened is just
being awakened to that
fact.
Greater number of ways
to reach Nirvana
Enlightenment is not
only attainable by
monks.
Can be achieved by
following many different
paths; not one particular
way.

Audience

The bhikkus;
The laity and the
Theravadin Buddhists
monastic community
only believe that
that both comprise the
male monks can
Sangha
achieve
enlightenment and
Includes everyone as
Nirvana, and that
they believe that anyone
everyone else must
can achieve Nirvana
be reborn again until
they accumulate
enough good karma
to be born as a
bhikku. Therefore,
the sole audience of
Theravada Buddhism
is comprised of the
bhikkus (members of
the Sangha).

Model

Arhats Enlightened
beings that have
entered into the
state of eternal blisss
free from dukkha and
tanha called nirvana.
Model for proper
dhyana (meditation),
a worship ritual used
to develop the
Theravadin Buddhist's
prajna.

Bodhisattva: someone
who reaches Nirvana
with residues and
aspires to achieve
Buddhahood for sake of
all humanity.
They do not reject
Nirvana for others
Often depicted as
human beings.
The Bodhisattva ideal
includes virtues of
wisdom (prajna) and
compassion (karuna)
Understand the Dharma
doctrine of non-duality
(doctrine of no-self)
Bodhisattvas mind are
in a state of Bodhicitta,
the union of wisdom and
compassion.
This state of mind comes
in the form of an
aspiration: May I achieve
Buddhahood for the sake
of all other beings.

Schools of
Thought

Traditional
interpretation;
thought principles
are centered around
the concept of
maintaining the
purity and
authenticity of the
Buddhas original
dharma.

Untraditional
interpretation; thought
principles are malleable
and might even vary
based upon the
particular Mahayana
community. For
example, Mahayanans
believe that people can
add thoughts of
enlightenment to sacred
texts.

Rituals

Worship

Asalha Puja: (Dharma The Mayahana branch of


Day) occurs on the
Buddhism celebrates the
full moon of the
four key dates in the
eighth lunar month.
Buddha's life (birth, the
Celebrates the
great renunciation,
Buddhas first
enlightenment, and his
teachings during the parinirvana) as separate
Deer Park Sermon.
days.
Also celebrates
Vassa. Theravadins
Ritual are often
focus on Buddhas
celebrated by the entire
teachings which gives
Sangha; the Sangha
this ritual a lot of
comes together at
significance within
temples usually for
the Theravada branch
worship.
of Buddhism.
Worship for
Important for layperson
Therevadin Buddhists to go to temple as well
consist of going to
give offerings to monks
the temple, dhyana GO to temple to interact
(meditation),
with Buddha and gain
chanting (mantras),
merit.
and and adherence/
meditation on
Six perfections
Buddhas teachings
(generosity, moral
(dharma).
conduct, patience,
courage, mental
concentration, and
wisdom) are guides for
practice
Meditation from time to
time.
Flexible; belief that
there are many paths to
enlightenment.

Festivals

Vesak: (Wesak or
The Mayahana branch of
Visakha Puja)
Buddhism celebrates the
occurring the night of
four key dates in the
the full moon of
Buddha's life (birth, the
Vaisakha. The
great renunciation,
celebration of
enlightenment, and his
Shakyamuni Buddhas parinirvana) as separate
birthday, his
days
enlightenment, and
his Parinirvana.
Vesak, or Wesak or
Theravadins believe
Visakha Puja, is the
that they all occurred Buddha's birthday. It is
on the same date
typically celebrated in
(significant). One of the fourth lunar month,
the most important
and one of the most
festivals of the Year.
important festivals in
Formal and informal
Mahayana Buddhism.
aspects including
The entire Sangha
procession of monks gathers (typically at the
and Buddhist
temple) for a
discussion.
celebration that usually
includes puja offerings,
Kathina the
food, music, and group
presentation of gifts
meditations.
and donations of
robes to the Sangha
after the Vassa rains
retreat. Bhikkus
often process around
their temples
collecting donations
from the laypeople in
bowls.

Gender and
ritual

The Theravadan
Buddhists Sangha is
the community of
Bhikkus and
Bhikkunis. Although
women are a part of
some rituals, the
majority of rituals
within this sect of
Buddhism are
centered around
bhikkus.
For example, rituals,
such as Vassa,
important to
Theravadan Buddhism
are mostly organized
and facilitated by
bhikkus. Sometimes
women cannot
participate at all.
Bhikkunis (nuns) are
subservient to
bhikkus and often do
the cooking and
cleaning in
preparation for
rituals.

Gender is not often an


essential part of ritual,
as Mahayanas believe
that all people are able
to achieve
enlightenment and
Nirvana equally and by
different paths.

Composition of
sacred texts

Tripitakacollection
of texts that
transcribe the
Buddhas wordsthe
three baskets
Vinayaobligatory
227 rules for monks
Sutta-discourses
Abhidamma
supplement of
doctrines

Belief in the Tripitaka


and the Lotus Sutra,
which explains existence
of a single "vehicle," the
which is the message of
the Buddha that will
transport cultivators to
the final goal of
liberation. Although
there are three separate
groups of followers of
the Buddha, those who
are disciples and
bodhisattvas, the Lotus
Sutra emphasizes that
the true vehicle of the
Buddha is open to all
people.
Chapter 25 is
particularly important in
the Lotus Sutra; it
celebrates the
bodhisattva
Avalokitesvara.

Collation of
sacred texts

Development of
sacred texts

The First Buddhist


Council occurred
around 400 BCE.

Tripitaka organized at
First Buddhist Council in
400 BCE.

Bhikkus convened to
corroborated and
record the oral
tradition of the
Buddhas dharma.

Lotus Sutra written in


Sanskrit around the first
century C.E. and
translated into Chinese
in the third century.

Originally oral
tradition; Teachings
of the Buddha
written on palm
leaves and organized
in three baskets
during around 400
BCE.

Tripitaka written on
palm leaves and
organized in three
baskets during around
400 BCE.
The oldest parts of the
Lotus Sutra text
originated between 40
and 220 CE.

Source of
Doctrines

Originally started as
an oral form of the
dharma of the
Buddha; finally
corroborated and
recorded at the First
Buddhist Council
which occurred
during 3 BCE

Originated from the


Buddhas original
dharma (which is
referenced in the
Tripitaka). Corroborated
and recorded at the
First Buddhist Council
which occurred during 3
BCE

Eschatology

Doctrine and beliefs


(ex. Eightfold Path,
importance of
prajna)

Doctrine and beliefs (ex.


Eightfold Path,
importance of karuna)

Religious experience
(ex. Sangha, time
spent as a bhikku for
all males)
Rituals (ex. Vesak &
emphasis on Buddhas
enlightenment)

Cosmogony and Samsara- the endless


cosmology
wheel of rebirth.
Nirvana- a state of
eternal bliss in which
there are no desires not even the desire
to live - and brings an
end to suffering.
One should seek to
become enlightened
as soon as possible.
Becoming
enlightened is seen
as a personal
responsibility.

Religious experience
(ex. Convergence of the
Sangha during rituals
involving the entire
community of laity as
well as the monks and
nuns)
Rituals (emphasis on
Sangha coming together
to make puja
offerings)
Belief in Samsara, the
cycle of rebirth which is
broken by entering into
Nirvana.
Nirvana is believed to
already by present,
however, humans must
become enlightened to
realize that they are
already in it.

Authority

Bhikkus Considered
to be only beings
eligible for
enlightenment and
able to achieve
nirvana; lead Sangha
related worship and
rituals
Arhats Beings that
have achieved
enlightement and
nirvana; Considered
the model for proper
dhyana practice

Bodhisattva one who


fully realizes the truth
of samsara and nirvana,
and works actively in
the world out of wisdom
(prajna) and compassion
(karuna) to help all
beings along the path to
enlightenment.
Many Mahayanans
actually worship
Bodhisattvas directly,
looking to them for
guidance and insight

Experience

Vipassana: Literally
The experience of
means insight.
meditation, or dhyana,
Major form of
is extremely important
Buddhist meditation. to Mahayana Buddhists,
Integral part of
as it allows for the
experience. Focusing cultivation of the virtue
attention on
of koruna (compassion)
sensations,
the essential virtue to
impressions, and the
Mahayanans.
internal. Through this
Theravadins learn the
practice of samadhi
(mindfulness) and,
therefore, cultivate
prajna (wisdom).

Gender and
Religious
Experience

Male Theravadin
Buddhists are
required to spend a
temporary time in a
monastery as bhikkus
during which they
abide by eight of the
Ten Precepts that are
followed by the
bhikkus.
Bhikkus are usually
the only ones able to
organize, participate
in, and facilitate
rituals, such as Vassa.

Mahayanas believe that


everyone can achieve
enlightenment and
Nirvana, therefore,
religious experiences,
such as dhyana
(meditation), are
thought of as able to be
performed by everyone,
both male and female.

Ethics

No particular ethical
belief or doctrine in
Buddhism.

No particular ethical
belief or doctrine in
Buddhism.

Moral conduct guided


by the Ten Precepts
which are followed
by members of the
Sangha (bhikkus and
bhikkunis).

Moral conduct guided by


the Ten Precepts. All ten
are followed by bhikkus
and bhikkunis, first five
followed by everyone
(laity).

CASE STUDY: Ethical


conflict between
Tamil Hindu and Sri
Lankan Theravadin
Buddhists.