Mahāyāna Buddhism
 Emerged primarily as a reaction against old schools of
Buddhism, which were
 Highly ecclesiastic,
 relatively pedantic,
 Perceived as self-centered, focused on individual salvation
 Known as the “Greater Vehicle”, which offered
 A new set of literature called the Prajňāparamitā, or
“Perfection of Wisdom” literature
 A new theory concerning the nature of Buddhahood
 A different path to a new goal—the Bodhisattva path
Multi-Buddhas theory
 All sentient beings can attain Buddhahood
 Many celestial Buddhas (and Bodhisattvas)
permeated the pantheon of Mahāyāna Buddhism
 Foremost among these celestial Buddhas and
Bodhisattvas are:
 Amitābha,
or the Buddha of “Unlimited Light”, Sometimes
called Amitāyus, or the Buddha of “Unlimited Life”, said to
rule over the Western Paradise of Sukhāvatī, and known in
China as Amituofo, and in Japan as Amida Butsu
 Akşobhya, “Immovable Buddha” said to reign over Eastern
Paradise known as Abhirati
 Vairocana, “Shining Out Buddha”, “Great Sun Buddha”
 Bhaiśajayaguru Buddha, “Healing Buddha”
Bodhisattva Maňjuśrī, “Gentle/Sweet Glory”,
symbolizing wisdom
 Maitreya, future Buddha, “Benevolent One”, a
cult image said to rule over Tuşita Heaven
 Avalokiteśvara, “The Lord Who Looks Down,”
 Represented
in art in a variety of ways, including a
layman with eleven heads, a thousand arms…
Multi-World systems
“universes are as numerous as the sands of
Some of the world systems are Buddha fields
(lands) in which a Tathāgata lives and teaches the
is often translated as either “one who has
thus gone” or “one who has thus come”
Or simply “thus come one”
Buddha land is a “pure land”—a pure world
formed by jewels, gems, diamond bodies,…as
opposed to “impure” worlds formed by organic
Better Known Buddha Lands
Land of Light in the East, presided by the
Buddha Aksobhya, which means “immovable” or
This pure land and the Buddha Aksobhya are not
popular in East Asia, but are relatively popular in
In art, he is represented in blue, holding a diamond
scepter in his right hand; his left hand is in the earthwitness gesture, with a blue elephant for his mount.
The Buddha Aksobhya
Sukhāvatī, Land of Utmost
Bliss in the West, presided by
the Buddha Amitābha
/Amitāyus, which means
“immeasurable light/life span”
Story about this Buddha:
Found in the Longer/Larger
Sutra (one of the three major
Pure Land Sutras)
 Amitāyus (The Buddha of Infinite life)
or Amitābha (The Buddha of
Immeasurable Light) and his Pure
Land are discussed in detail in these
three Pure Land sutras:
1. The Shorter/Smaller Sutra on
2. The Longer/Larger Sutra on
3. The Sutra on Contemplation of
 Amitāyus is known as O-mi-to fo, Wuliang-shou fo in Chinese, and Amida Butsu
in Japanese
Mahāyāna emphasis is on compassion for all
sentient beings and the emptiness (śūnyata)of
all phenomena
 Split into different schools in India:
 The
Mādhyamika school
 The Yogācāra school
 Pure Land tradition
 Vajrayāna tradition
More schools emerged in China and other EA
Mahāyāna literature
 First category: Prajňāparamitā literature
 Consists of a series of Mahāyāna texts:
 Perfection of Wisdom Discourse in 8,000 lines”
Later expanded into 18,000, 25,000, and 100,000
Two shortened versions also appeared:
The Diamond Sutra
 The Heart Sutra
Tantric texts also emerged:
 The Perfection of Wisdom in One Letter
 Bodhisattvas figured prominently in these texts
 Second category: Vimalakīrti-nirdeśa sutra
 Tells a story about the Buddha’s sermon in
the town of Vaiśālī
 audience: 800 monks, 32,000 bodhisattvas,
and many lay disciples
 Among lay disciples Vimalakīrti is absent due
to an illness
 Bodhisattva Maňjuśrī offers to inquire after
 Vimalakīrti attributes his illness to his compassion for
the sickness of all sentient beings, noting that he
won’t become cured unless all other sentient beings
are cured.
 Then Vimalakīrti poses a question: “how a
bodhisattva can enter the Dharma-door of nonduality?”
 After hearing thirty-one replies, Maňjuśrī says that
those replies are themselves dualistic and that “to
know no one teaching, to express nothing, to explain
nothing, to announce nothing, to indicate nothing,
and to designate nothing” is the entrance into
 Maňjuśrī requests
Vimalakīrti’s answer
to his own question.
 Vimalakīrti’s
response: complete
and total silence.
 This is considered
the only perfect
Vimalakīrti facing Maňjuśrī,
Dunhuang, Tang painting
 Third category: Lańkāvatāra sutra
 Discusses emptiness, the theory of eightconsciousnesses, five dharmas, the
Thathāgata is present in all sentient beings,
or Buddhahood is readily available to all.
 Used as an early Chan/Zen text in China
 Fourth category: Lotus Sutra
 Full title: “Sutra on the Lotus of the
Good/Wonderful Teaching”
 The basis of Tiantai school of Chinese
Buddhism; extremely important
 Stresses “One Vehicle” Buddhism, the
nature of the Tathāgata the use of “skillful
means” or “skill-in-means” (upāya)
Fifth category: Pure Land Sutra
Three texts:
 Larger Sukhāvatīvyuha Sutra (Larger Sutra)
 Smaller Sukhāvatīvyuha Sutra (Smaller Sutra)
 Sutra on the Viisualization of the Buddha of
Immeasurable Life, or Guan wuliangshoufo jing
 Pure Land Faith
 The Larger Sutra tells a story about the monk
Dharmakara and his forty-eight vows under a prior
Buddha known as Lokeśvararāja.
 Rebirth in the Pure Land is available to those:
Make a vow to be reborn there
Employ their good merit to do so
Meditate on Amitābha
The Smaller Sutra
 Focuses on repeated recitation of Amitābha’s
name to attain salvation
Expressed by the formula:
 Namo Amitābhāya Buddhāya (in Sanskrit), Nanwu
Amituofo (in Chinese), and Namu Amida Butsu (in
Japanese)--- “Homage to Amitābha Buddha”
 Regarded as the “easy way” to attain salvation
Faith is much stressed
Meditation secondary
Mahāyāna Schools
 In India
 The Mādhyamika school
 The Yogācāra school
 Pure Land tradition
 Vajrayāna tradition
 In China
 The Mādhyamika school
 The Yogācāra school (Mind-only School)
 Pure Land tradition
 Tiantai School
 Huayan School
 Chan School