The New International Encyclopædia/Mahāyāna

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Edition of 1905.  See also Mahayana on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

MAHĀYĀNA, hȧ-yä′nȧ (Skt., Great Vehicle). The development of Buddhism (q.v.) which in the course of a few centuries after the death of Buddha became the dominant system in Northern India as well as in Kashmir and Nepal, and later still spread into China, Korea, Japan, Tibet, Mongolia, etc. Hence it is sometimes spoken of as Northern Buddhism or the ‘Northern School,’ as distinct from the ‘Southern School’ of Ceylon, Siam, and Burma, where the primitive system formulated by Gautama is still the prevailing form. The system of the Northern School is called Mahāyāna, ‘the Great Vehicle or Conveyance,’ because it is supposed to afford the means of salvation to a much larger number than can find places in the Hinayāna, or ‘Little Vehicle,’ as the southern system is disparagingly designated by the followers of the Mahāyāna School. Under the influence of contemporary Hinduism and the Shamanistic notions and practices of the northern barbarians among whom Buddhism had begun to spread, animistic beliefs and views concerning the supernatural were introduced; Shivaitic gods and practices were adopted, the attainment of magic powers by means of occult formulas and phrases was eagerly sought, and objects of worship were multiplied. A thousand new Buddhas were invented, among them the Adi-Buddha (q.v.), who came to be worshiped in Nepal as the self-existent Supreme Being. By spontaneous acts of contemplation and wisdom each of these Buddhas projected from his own essence other intelligences, called Bodhisattva, or spiritual sons, who are represented as having reached such a stage of saintship that but one more birth was necessary for them to become Buddhas, but who had decided to forego Buddhahood, and become the guardians of the Buddhist community on earth, and to help mankind, between the death of one earthly Buddha and the appearance of the next. Each of the five earthly Buddhas of the present Kalpa or age has his spiritual counterpart, who exists in formless worlds of meditation, as a Dhyani-Buddha (q.v.), and has his reflex Bodhisattva. Three correspond to the three Buddhas who preceded Gautama, one to Maitreya, the coming Buddha (expected 2500 years hence), and one, Amitabha, represents the historical Buddha. His spiritual son is Avalokiteshvara of Padmapani, better known in China as Kwan-yin (q.v.) and in Japan as Kwan-non. It is thus evident that northern Buddhism has diverged most remarkably from the primitive system evolved by Sakyamuni. In Tibet and Mongolia, where it is known as Lamaism (q.v.), it has become the contrary of Gautama's system, and so far has celibacy been discarded that in certain Japanese sects the priests may marry.