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Mahayana Buddhism

("Great Vehicle"). One of the two great schools of Buddhism, the other being the Hinayana, "Small Vehicle." The Mahayana, which arose in the first century AD, is called Great Vehicle because, thanks to its many-sided approach, it opens the way of liberation to a great number of people and, indeed, expresses the intention to liberate all beings. Hinayana and Mahayana are both rooted in the basic teachings of the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, but stress different aspects of those teachings. While Hinayana seeks the liberation of the individual, the follower of the Mahayana seeks to attain enlightenment for the sake of the welfare of all beings. This attitude is embodied in the Mahayana ideal of the Bodhisattva, whose outstanding quality is compassion. The Mahayana places less value on monasticism than the Hinayana; and it encourages the layperson to attain nirvana. The most important Mahayana schools in Japan are Zen, Kegon, Tendai, and Amidism. (from The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen, Michael H. Kohn, trans., Boston: Shambhala, 1991)

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