Buddha Statue - Antique Khmer Style Bronze Mounted Buddha Head - 29cm/12"

Navigating the Path: A Journey through Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism


Buddhism, with its rich tapestry of teachings, has evolved into various schools that offer diverse perspectives on the path to enlightenment. Among the many branches, Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism stand as two major schools, each with its unique approach to the Buddha's teachings.

In this blog post, we embark on a journey through the landscapes of Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism, exploring their origins, key tenets, and distinctive practices.

1. Theravada Buddhism: The School of the Elders:

a. Historical Roots: Theravada, often referred to as the "Teaching of the Elders," traces its lineage back to the earliest communities of monks and nuns who preserved the Pali Canon—the oldest collection of Buddhist scriptures. This school is prevalent in countries like Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia.

b. Doctrine and Practice: Theravada adheres closely to the original teachings of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. The focus is on personal liberation (Nirvana) through individual effort and the practice of the Eightfold Path. Monastic life is highly valued, and the Vinaya Pitaka outlines rules for monastic discipline.

c. Goal of Practitioners: The primary goal for Theravada practitioners is to attain Arhatship—an enlightened being who has extinguished all defilements and achieved Nirvana. Emphasis is placed on personal discipline, meditation, and the direct realization of the Four Noble Truths.

Khmer Buddha

2. Mahayana Buddhism: The Great Vehicle:

a. Historical Roots: Mahayana, meaning the "Great Vehicle," emerged several centuries after Theravada and represents a more expansive and inclusive interpretation of the Buddha's teachings. It spread to regions like China, Japan, Korea, Tibet, and Vietnam.

b. Doctrine and Practice: Mahayana incorporates a vast body of scriptures, including the teachings found in the Theravada Canon, as well as additional texts known as Mahayana Sutras. One of its central tenets is the Bodhisattva ideal—a commitment to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all beings.

c. Goal of Practitioners: In Mahayana, practitioners aspire not only to achieve personal enlightenment but also to become Bodhisattvas—compassionate beings who delay their own entry into Nirvana to assist others in their spiritual journey. The ultimate goal is Buddhahood, embodying wisdom and compassion on an immeasurable scale.

3. Differences in Emphasis:

a. Individual vs. Universal Liberation: Theravada places a strong emphasis on individual liberation and the pursuit of personal enlightenment. In contrast, Mahayana extends its focus beyond personal liberation to include the welfare of all sentient beings, embodying the spirit of universal compassion.

b. Nature of the Buddha: Theravada sees the Buddha as an exemplary teacher who attained enlightenment, while Mahayana often views the Buddha as an eternal, transcendent figure who manifests in various forms to guide and inspire sentient beings.

c. Approach to Monasticism: While monasticism is central to both schools, Theravada tends to place a greater emphasis on the monastic path as the primary means of practice. Mahayana, while valuing monastic life, also emphasizes lay practitioners and recognizes a broader range of skillful means for attaining enlightenment.

Japanese Buddha

4. Shared Practices:

a. Meditation: Both Mahayana and Theravada place significant importance on meditation as a means to develop mindfulness, concentration, and insight. Various meditation techniques are employed to cultivate mental clarity and understanding.

b. Ethical Conduct: Both schools adhere to ethical guidelines outlined in the Five Precepts, promoting principles such as non-harming, truthfulness, and mindful consumption. Ethical conduct is considered fundamental to the path of awakening.


Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism, despite their differences in emphasis and interpretation, share a common root—the teachings of the historical Buddha.

Each school offers a distinct path to enlightenment, catering to the diverse needs and aspirations of practitioners.

Whether one traverses the "Great Vehicle" of Mahayana or follows the path of the "Teaching of the Elders" in Theravada, the ultimate destination remains the same: the liberation from suffering and the realization of profound wisdom and compassion.

As we navigate these two schools, we discover the richness of the Buddhist tradition, a vast landscape where diverse paths converge on the journey toward awakening.

Meditation Buddha