Mahayana, aka: Maha-yana, Mahāyāna; 7 Definition(s)

Introduction

Mahayana means something in Buddhism, Pali, Hinduism, Sanskrit. If you want to know the exact meaning, history, etymology or English translation of this term then check out the descriptions on this page. Add your comment or reference to a book if you want to contribute to this summary article.

In Hinduism

Katha (narrative stories)

[Mahayana in Katha glossaries]

Mahāyāna (महायान) is the name of a Vidyādhara chief who, deserted the army of Śrutaśarman and took the side of Sūryaprabha, according to the Kathāsaritsāgara, chapter 48. Accordingly: “... we are named Mahāyāna and Sumāya, and this Siṃhabala was the third of us; we had obtained magic power by having the rule of a great cemetery, and were unassailable by the other Vidyādharas”.

The story of Mahāyāna was narrated by the Vidyādhara king Vajraprabha to prince Naravāhanadatta in order to relate how “Sūryaprabha, being a man, obtain of old time the sovereignty over the Vidyādharas”.

The Kathāsaritsāgara (‘ocean of streams of story’), mentioning Mahāyāna, is a famous Sanskrit epic story revolving around prince Naravāhanadatta and his quest to become the emperor of the vidyādharas (celestial beings). The work is said to have been an adaptation of Guṇāḍhya’s Bṛhatkathā consisting of 100,000 verses, which in turn is part of a larger work containing 700,000 verses.

(Source): Wisdom Library: Kathāsaritsāgara
Katha book cover
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Katha (कथा, kathā) refers to narrative Sanskrit literature often inspired from epic legendry (itihasa) and poetry (mahākāvya). Some Kathas reflect socio-political instructions for the King while others remind the reader of important historical event and exploits of the Gods, Heroes and Sages.

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In Buddhism

Mahayana (major branch of Buddhism)

[Mahayana in Mahayana glossaries]

Mahāyāna (Sanskrit: महायान, mahāyāna, literally the “Great Vehicle”) is one of the two main existing branches of Buddhism and a term for classification of Buddhist philosophies and practice. Mahāyāna Buddhism originated in India.

The Mahāyāna tradition is the larger of the two major traditions of Buddhism existing today, the other being that of the Theravāda school. According to the teachings of Mahāyāna traditions, “Mahāyāna” also refers to the path of seeking complete enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, also called “Bodhisattvayāna”, or the “Bodhisattva Vehicle.”

etymology: According to Jan Nattier, the term Mahāyāna (“Great Vehicle”) was originally an honorary synonym for Bodhisattvayāna (“Bodhisattva Vehicle”) — the vehicle of a bodhisattva seeking buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings. The term Mahāyāna was therefore formed independently at an early date as a synonym for the path and the teachings of the bodhisattvas. Since it was simply an honorary term for Bodhisattvayāna, the creation of the term Mahāyāna and its application to Bodhisattvayāna did not represent a significant turning point in the development of a Mahāyāna tradition.

(Source): Buddha World: Mahāyāna
Mahayana book cover
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Mahayana (महायान, mahāyāna) is a major branch of Buddhism focusing on the path of a Bodhisattva (spiritual aspirants/ enlightened beings). Extant literature is vast and primarely composed in the Sanskrit language. There are many sūtras of which some of the earliest are the various Prajñāpāramitā sūtras.

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General definition (in Buddhism)

[Mahayana in Buddhism glossaries]

Mahāyāna (महायान) refers to the “great vehicle” and represents the third of the “three vehicles” (triyāna) defined in the Dharma-saṃgraha (section 2). The Dharma-samgraha (Dharmasangraha) is an extensive glossary of Buddhist technical terms in Sanskrit (eg., triyāna and mahā-yāna). The work is attributed to Nagarguna who lived around the 2nd century A.D.

(Source): Wisdom Library: Dharma-samgrahaAlso called Great Vehicle or Bodhisattva Vehicle. It is a school of Buddhism prevalent in China, Korea, Japan, Mongolia, Tibet and other places in the Far East. It is also called Northern Buddhism. Mahayana is described as seeking Buddhahood and transforming beings, thus self benefiting for the benefits of the others. See also Hinayana. For further details, please refer to Section 3 A Glimpse in the Scope of Buddhism in Vol. 1 No. 4 of Budddhist Door. (Source): Buddhist Door: Glossary

Mahayana is one of the two main existing schools of Buddhism and a term for classification of Buddhist philosophies and practice. It was founded in India.

(mahayana literally Great Vehicle)

The name Mahayana is used in three main senses:

  1. As a living tradition, Mahayana is the larger of the two major traditions of Buddhism existing today, the other being Theravada. This classification is largely undisputed by all Buddhist schools.
  2. According to the Mahayana scheme of classification of Buddhist philosophies, Mahayana refers to a level of spiritual motivation[1] (also known as Bodhisattvayana[2]). According to this classification, the alternative approach is called Hinayana, or Shravakayana. It is also recognized by Theravada Buddhism, but is not considered very relevant for practice.[3]
  3. According to the Vajrayana scheme of classification of practice paths, Mahayana refers to one of the three routes to enlightenment, the other two being Hinayana and Vajrayana. This classification is part of the teachings of Vajrayana Buddhism, and is not recognized by Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism.
(Source): WikiPedia: Buddhism

Mahāyāna Skt., lit., “Great Vehicle”; one of the two great schools of Buddhism, the other being the Hīnayāna, “Small Vehicle.” The Mahāyāna, which arose in the first century CE, is called Great Vehicle because, thanks to its many-sided approach, it opens the way of lib­eration to a great number of people and expresses the intention to liberate all beings.

Hīnayāna and Mahāyāna are both rooted in the basic teachings of the historical Buddha Shākyamuni, but stress different aspects of those teachings. While Hīnayāna seeks the liber­ation of the individual, the follower of the Mahāyāna seeks to attain enlightenment for the sake of the welfare of all beings. This attitude is embodied in the Mahāyāna ideal of the bo­dhisattva, whose outstanding quality is compas­sion (karunā).

The Mahāyāna developed from the Hīnayāna schools of the Mahāsānghikas and Sarvāstivādins (Sarvāstivāda), which formu­lated important aspects of its teaching. From the Mahāsānghikas came the teaching, characteris­tic of the Mahāyāna, of the transcendent nature of a buddha, as well as the bodhisattva ideal and the notion of emptiness (shūnyatā ). Seeds of the trikāya teaching can be recognized in the doctrine of the Sarvāstivādins.

The Mahāyāna divided into a series of further schools, which spread from India to Tibet, Chi­na, Korea, and Japan. In India arose the Mādhyamika school, founded by Nāgārju­na, and the Yogāchāra school, founded by Asanga. Parallel to the development of Tan­tra in Hinduism, in Buddhism also a magic-oriented school appeared, the Vajrayāna, which today flourishes primarily in Tibetan Buddhism.

The most important Mahāyāna schools in China were Ch’an, Hua-yen, T’ien-t’ai, and the Pure Land school. These schools were fur­ther developed in Japan as Zen, Kegon, Tendai, and Amidism, respectively.

The teachings of the Mahāyāna are contained in the Mahāyāna sūtras and shāstras, among which are some of the most pro­found writings of Buddhism.

(Source): Shambala Publications: General

Languages of India and abroad

Sanskrit-English dictionary

[Mahayana in Sanskrit glossaries]

Mahāyāna (महायान).—Name of the later system of Buddhist teaching, firstly promulgated by Nāgārjuna (opp. hīnayāna).

Derivable forms: mahāyānam (महायानम्).

Mahāyāna is a Sanskrit compound consisting of the terms mahā and yāna (यान).

(Source): DDSA: The practical Sanskrit-English dictionary
context information

Sanskrit, also spelled संस्कृतम् (saṃskṛtam), is an ancient language of India commonly seen as the grandmother of the Indo-European language family. Closely allied with Prakrit and Pali, Sanskrit is more exhaustive in both grammar and terms and has the most extensive collection of literature in the world, greatly surpassing its sister-languages Greek and Latin.

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