The word Mahayana means ‘big vehicle or wider road’ (Brihad Path). The Mahayana sect emphasises the welfare of the group (Smashti). Below we refer to the main differences between these two sects:—
1. The followers of the Hinayana sect believe that one should try for his own salvation. To the Mahayana sect, this is a very narrow outlook. If Lord Buddha did not want the welfare of the entire humanity, he could have satisfied himself by seeking only his salvation.
But the continued his struggle and propounded a principle for the welfare of the entire human race.
2. The ideal of Hinayana is individual salvation, but the ideal of Mahayana is Bodhisatva. A Bodhisatva is that “being” who does not accept his own salvation till all beings attain the same’ (salvation). Thus a Bodhisatva neglects his salvation for the sake of salvation of others.
3. Mahayana is filled with the feeling of welfare of all. To serve the poor and miserable is its highest ideal.
4. Trikayavad is a main principle of Mahayana. Trikaya means three bodies Lord Buddha had three bodies Nirvan-Kaya, Dharma Kaya and Sambhoga Kaya. Lord Buddha or Shakya Muni carried the Nirvan Kaya for following the ethos of the people.
This was not his real body. His real body is the Dharma Kaya, which is his spiritual body. This is not his physical body. The Sambhog Kaya is Lord Buddha’s blissful body with which he resides in the heaven.
According to Hinayana , Lord Buddha was an ordinary person as is clear from his birth, infancy, marriage and fatherhood. He attained salvation through continual struggle.
5. The Mahayana is worship-oriented. The Hinayana is feeling- oriented. The Mahayana regards Lord Buddha as the God of the entire universe, so his statue is worshipped.
6. The Mahayana emphasises five concepts which are charity (Dan), modesty (Sheela), tolerance, valor, attention (Dhyan) and knowledge (Buddha or Pragya). The Hinayana stands for ten concepts which are charity, modesty, selflessness, knowledge (Pragya), valor, tolerance, effort, abode, friendship and indifference.
7. The philosophical concepts of Anityavad (transitoriness), Anatmavad (not believing in soul and Anishwarvad are the main contributions of the Hinayana sect. Vigyanvad and Shunyavad are the philosophical contributions of die Mahayana sect.
According to the Mahayana, the entire world is an extension of Vigyan, i.e. knowledge). According to Shunyavad all religions are purport less. Through Pragya the concept of Shunyata may be realised. Shunya is beyond all alternatives, in other words, it is the realization of salvation beyond the eternal and transitory.
According to Mahayana there are two truths Samvritti and Parmartha. These are contributions of the Mahayana. Under the Samvritti come the worldly or practical knowledge. The Parmartha is the consciousness of the welfare of all.
Above we have very shortly hinted at the basic differences between the schools of Hinayana and Mahayana for obvious reasons. A student of education need not enter into the various intricacies of these two principal schools.
However, we have to remember that these two schools are only two classes. The Hinayana School may be regarded as the primary stage of Buddhism and Mahayana as a developed stage. In fact, the basis of the two is the preaching’s of Lord Buddha.
There is not a single principle of the Mahayana School which is not found in the Hinayana School in a seed-form. So if the Hinayana School is a seed, then the Mahayana School is a well developed tree. Really speaking, basically the two are the same. They appear to be two as branches only.