We have understood incorrectly and sometimes even misled by information about Buddhism for thousands of years. Among those incorrect understandings is about Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism.
So what are Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism?
In fact, Hinayana Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism are just two stages of development of Buddhism before and after Shakyamuni Buddha.
This is the first stage of Buddhism, from the time before Shakyamuni Buddha, that was the era of BIROL Buddha (Đức Phật Dược Sư Lưu Ly) (more than7 thousand years ago), OLMO Buddha (Đức Phật Chuẩn Đề, about more than 5 thousand years ago), Amitabha Buddha** (more than 4 thousand years ago). These are the Buddhas that led the Standing Three Jewels (now the Highest Universal Council) prior to Shakyamuni Buddha. In particularly, the Hinayana Buddhism era was prevalent prior to Shakyamuni Buddha’s death in 485 BC and became most popular a few years after his death.
Hinayana Buddhism placed great importance to ascetic practices in mountain caves or pagodas, which means that lay people must live the life of monk, detached from the daily life. The concept of ancient people is cultivating must be like that.
Few people can do this, so it was called “Small Vehicle” – Hinayana.
Mahayana Buddhism is a large school of Buddhism, prevalent in the first century. It flourished firstly in India and then migrated to China and some other Southeast Asian countries. Mahayana Buddhism does not emphasize the importance of being ordained, but that Buddhist practitioners can attain enlightenment through the support and assistance of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. This was the view of Shakyamuni Buddha when he was alive in the physical space. Mahayana Buddhism says that cultivation in Buddhism is not only for being free from reincarnation, but the higher purpose is to be able to dwell in higher levels in the invisible space. At the same time, Mahayana also said that every sentient being has Buddha nature and must find ways to develop it. Recognizing this is very important on the Buddhist cultivating path. Thanks to the very feasible concept of Mahayana, this school can be maintained and developed until today.
Many people can participate in the practice, so it is called “Great Vehicle”. Every one of us meditating daily at home is participating in this “Great Vehicle”.
During the period of Buddhism booming, Buddhism divided into many different sects, although from the same Buddhism, they competed with each other. There are currently 4 main sects, Pure Land, Zen Buddhism, Tantric Buddhism, and Mahayana Buddhism.
Shakyamuni Buddha spent 6 years practicing asceticism following the Hinayana school, mortified himself in the mountain caves of South India (Figure 1). Every day he only ate droplets of green bean soup, black bean soup, bean soup or pea soup. Finally, when the body was barely skin and bones left, He realized that asceticism was not effective. He decided to eat normally again and had 49 days meditated under the Bodhi Tree at Boudha Gaya (India) (Figure 2) – until attainment of Dao, i.e. attainment of High Buddha – Thuong Phat level 3. After he became a Buddha, he taught to the disciples that both practicing asceticism and cultivating in daily life indulging in lusts and ambitions were not able to attain Dao. He found it necessary to balance these two tendencies and went in the direction of neutralizing these two extreme tendencies, called the moderate tendencies, that is, meditation in the conditions of ordinary life (eating, living, doing normal work). While meditating, directing the mind toward gradually eliminating Greed, Hatred and Delusion; being content with the existing, and toward leading a life of kind-heartedness. Thus, we find that the tendency of some religions to treat practising or cultivating must be in the form monasticism or escaping from the normal life, not to have a family or to get married is not in line with the spirit of Shakyamuni Buddha.
The tendency to live moderately in cultivation can be considered as a great invention of the Shakyamuni Buddha at that time. It took a great deal of courage to do so, because it must overcome the notion that has penetrated the mind of every practitioner at that time: to cultivate is to accept asceticism! This is the basis for the later development of the Mahayana Buddhism, which means expanding the practice widely among the people. People living a normal life can also cultivate, not just monks. It was Shakyamuni Buddha that set a milestone for the Mahayana Buddhism path.
The mountain far away in the background is where Shakyamuni Buddha cultivated following asceticism
The Bodhi tree where the Buddha sat meditating
* This post is adapted from an article about the same subject of Prof Dich-Van Van Quang Buddha. You can find more from here: www.gsdich.vn
** There is no longer Amitabha Buddha in the Universe. You can find more details here: http://gsdich.vn/index.php/component/content/article/19-baiviet/339-tad
"There are physical and invisible (subtle) spaces co-existing in this universe"
"There are Rough Men living in the physical space and Astral Men living in the invisible space. The Astral Men are a lot more advanced than the Rough Men"
"The big mistake of mankind so far is we are not willing to cooperate with the invisible space"
Professor Dich - Van Van Quang Buddha