Mahāyāna (ə/; Sanskrit for "Great Vehicle") is one of two main existing branches of Buddhism (the other being Theravada) and a term for classification of Buddhist philosophies and practice. This movement added a further set of discourses, and although it was initially small in India, it had long-term historical significance.[1] The Buddhist tradition of Vajrayana is sometimes classified as a part of Mahāyāna Buddhism, but some scholars consider it to be a different branch altogether.[2]

According to the teachings of Mahāyāna traditions, "Mahāyāna" also refers to the path of the Bodhisattva seeking complete enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, also called "Bodhisattvayāna", or the "Bodhisattva Vehicle".[3][note 1] A bodhisattva who has accomplished this goal is called a samyaksaṃbuddha, or "fully enlightened Buddha". A samyaksaṃbuddha can establish the Dharma and lead disciples to enlightenment. Mahāyāna Buddhists teach that enlightenment can be attained in a single lifetime, and this can be accomplished even by a layperson.[4]

The Mahāyāna tradition is the largest major tradition of Buddhism existing today, with 53% of practitioners, compared to 36% for Theravada and 6% for Vajrayana in 2010.[5]

In the course of its history, Mahāyāna Buddhism spread from India to various other South, East and Southeast Asian countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, China, Taiwan, Mongolia, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Mahayana Buddhism also spread to other South and Southeast Asian countries, such as Afghanistan, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, the Maldives, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Burma, Iran and other Central Asian countries before being replaced by Theravada Buddhism or other religions.[6]

Large Mahāyāna scholastic centers such as Nalanda thrived during the latter period of Buddhism in India, between the seventh and twelfth centuries.[1] Major traditions of Mahāyāna Buddhism today include Chan Buddhism, Korean Seon, Japanese Zen, Pure Land Buddhism, Nichiren Buddhism and Vietnamese Buddhism. It may also include the Vajrayana traditions of Tiantai, Tendai, Shingon Buddhism, and Tibetan Buddhism, which add esoteric teachings to the Mahāyāna tradition.


According to Jan Nattier, the term Mahāyāna ("Great Vehicle") was originally an honorary synonym for Bodhisattvayāna ("Bodhisattva Vehicle")[7] – the vehicle of a bodhisattva seeking buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings.[3] The term Mahāyāna (which had earlier been used simply as an epithet for Buddhism itself) was therefore adopted 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 adoption of the term Mahāyāna and its application to Bodhisattvayāna did not represent a significant turning point in the development of a Mahāyāna tradition.[7]

The earliest Mahāyāna texts often use the term Mahāyāna as a synonym for Bodhisattvayāna, but the term Hīnayāna is comparatively rare in the earliest sources. The presumed dichotomy between Mahāyāna and Hīnayāna can be deceptive, as the two terms were not actually formed in relation to one another in the same era.[8]

Among the earliest and most important references to Mahāyāna are those that occur in the Lotus Sūtra (Skt. Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra) dating between the 1st century BCE and the 1st century CE.[9] Seishi Karashima has suggested that the term first used in an earlier Gandhāri Prakrit version of the Lotus Sūtra was not the term mahāyāna but the Prakrit word mahājāna in the sense of mahājñāna (great knowing).[10][11] At a later stage when the early Prakrit word was converted into Sanskrit, this mahājāna, being phonetically ambivalent, was mistakenly converted into mahāyāna, possibly because of what may have been a double meaning in the famous Parable of the Burning House, which talks of three vehicles or carts (Skt: yāna).[note 2][10][12]

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Mahayana
العربية: ماهايانا
বাংলা: মহাযান
भोजपुरी: महायान
български: Махаяна
Boarisch: Mahayana
brezhoneg: Mahayana
català: Mahayana
čeština: Mahájána
Cymraeg: Mahayana
dansk: Mahayana
Deutsch: Mahayana
eesti: Mahajaana
Ελληνικά: Μαχαγιάνα
español: Mahāyāna
Esperanto: Mahajano
euskara: Mahāyāna
فارسی: مهایانه
Frysk: Mahayana
galego: Mahayana
한국어: 대승불교
हिन्दी: महायान
hrvatski: Mahajana
Ilokano: Mahayana
Bahasa Indonesia: Mahāyāna
interlingua: Mahayana
íslenska: Mahāyāna
עברית: מהאיאנה
Basa Jawa: Mahayana
ქართული: მაჰაიანა
қазақша: Махаяна
Кыргызча: Махаяна
Latina: Mahayana
lietuvių: Mahajana
magyar: Mahájána
македонски: Махајана
മലയാളം: മഹായാനം
मराठी: महायान
مازِرونی: مهایانه
Bahasa Melayu: Mahayana
Mirandés: Mahayana
монгол: Махаяна
မြန်မာဘာသာ: မဟာယာန
Nederlands: Mahayana
नेपाली: महायान
नेपाल भाषा: महायान
日本語: 大乗仏教
norsk: Mahāyāna
norsk nynorsk: Mahayana
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Mahayana
ਪੰਜਾਬੀ: ਮਹਾਯਾਨ
پنجابی: مہایان
پښتو: مهايانا
Patois: Mahayaana
ភាសាខ្មែរ: មហាយាន
polski: Mahajana
português: Maaiana
română: Mahayana
русский: Махаяна
संस्कृतम्: महायानम्
Scots: Mahayana
Simple English: Mahayana
slovenčina: Mahájána
کوردی: ماھایانا
српски / srpski: Махајана
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Mahajana
suomi: Mahajana
svenska: Mahayana
Türkçe: Mahayana
українська: Махаяна
اردو: مہایان
Tiếng Việt: Đại thừa
Winaray: Mahayana
吴语: 大乘佛教
粵語: 大乘佛教
中文: 大乘佛教