Outlines of Mahayana Buddhism

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About the Author

Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki was Professor of Buddhist Philosophy at the Otani University, Kyoto. He was probably the greatest authority on Buddhist Philosophy and Zen Buddhism.

About the Book

Outlines of Mahayana Buddhism of Dr. Suzuki is one of the finest introductory manuals to date on Mahayana school of Buddhism. As an introductory essays, Dr. Suzuki has endeavored, within the limitations space, to be as comprehensive as is possible: Written in a style that is lucid, transparent and easy to read, the book sets out to present the most intricate and complex Mahayana philosophical doctrines in such a manner that an average reader can grasp them. In this noble mission the author has greatly succeeded.


The Mahayana and The Hinayana Buddhism
The terms "Mahayana" and "Hinayana" may sound unfamiliar to most of our readers, perhaps even to those who have devoted some time to the study of Buddhism. They have hitherto been induced to believe that there is but one form of Buddhism, and that there exists no such distinction as Mahayanism and Hinayanism. But, as a matter of fact, there are diverse schools in Buddhism just as in other religious systems. It is said that, within a few hundred years after the demise of Buddha, there were more than twenty different schools, all claiming to be the orthodox teaching of their master. These, however, seem to have vanished into insignificance one after another, when there arose a new school quite different in its general constitution from its predecessors, but far more important in its significance as a religious movement. This new school or rather system made itself so prominent in the mean time as to stand distinctly alone from all the other schools, which later became a class by itself. Essentially, it taught everything that was considered to be Buddhistic, but it was very comprehensive in its principle and method and scope. And, by reason of this, Buddhism was now split into two great systems, Mahayanism and Hinayanism, the latter indiscriminately including all the minor schools which preceded Mahayanism in their formal establishment.

Broadly speaking, the difference between Mahayanism and Hinayanism is this: Mahayanism is more liberal and progressive, but in many respects too metaphysical and full of speculative thoughts that frequently reach a dazzling eminence: Hinayanism, on the other hand, is somewhat conservative and may be considered in many points to be a rationalistic ethical system simply.

Mahayana literally means "great vehicle" and Hinayana "small or inferior vehicle," that is, of salvation. This distinction is recognized only by the followers of Mahayanism, because it was by them that the unwelcome title of Hinayanism was given to their rival brethren, - thinking that they were more progressive and had a more assimilating energy than the latter. The adherents of Hinayanism, as a matter of course, refused to sanction the Mahayanist doctrine as the genuine teaching of Buddha, and insisted that there could not be any other Buddhism than their own, to them naturally the Mahayana system was a sort of heresy.

Geographically, the progressive school of Buddhism found its supporters in Nepal, Tibet, China, Corea, and Japan, while the conservative school established itself in Ceylong, Siam and Burma. Hence the Mahayana and the Hinayana are also known respectively Northern and Southern Buddhism.

En passant, let me remark that this distinction, however, is not quite correct, for we have some schools in China and Japan, whose equivalent or counterpart cannot be found in the so called Northern Buddhism, that is, Buddhism flourishing in Northern India. For instance, we do not have in Nepal or in Tibet anything like the Sukhavati sects of Japan or China. Of course, the general essential ideas of the Sukhavati philosophy are found in the sutra literature as well as in the writings of such authors as Acvaghosa, Asanga, and Nagarjuna. But those ideas were not developed and made into a new sect as they were in the East. Therefore, it may be more proper to divide Buddhism into three, instead of two, geographical sections: Southern, Northern, and Eastern.

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