: महायान, mahāyāna
literally 'Great Vehicle') is one of two major divisions of Buddhism
, along with Theravada
. In this sense, Mahayana Buddhism is distinguished primarily by its recognition of the Mahayana sutras
, which Theravadins reject as spurious.
Among its adherents, "Mahayana" also refers to a level of spiritual motivation or realization based on bodhicitta--the altruistic aspiration to achieve enlightenment not only for one's own sake, but for the sake of all sentient beings. The term contrasts with "Hinayana" (the "Small Vehicle"); and in some forms of Tibetan Buddhism, with Vajrayana (the "Diamond Vehicle," i.e., tantric Buddhism), though this is Mahayanist in terms of motivation.
- Note on usage: The term "Hinayana" tends to be received as a pejorative among adherents of the Theravada tradition, and is therefore often avoided. A useful alternative, for historical contexts when "Theravada" is too narrow, is Nikaya Buddhism. In theological discussions, one may refer to followers of the Shravaka ("Hearer") or Pratyekabuddha ("Solitary Realizer") path.