After the death of Buddha, Buddhism was divided into two sects namely Mahayana and Hinayana. The terms Hinayana (Lesser Vehicle or Modest Vehicle) and Mahayana (Greater Vehicle or Vast Vehicle) originated in The Prajnaparamita Sutras (The Sutras on Far-Reaching Discriminating Awareness, The Perfection of Wisdom Sutras).
Hinayana follows the original teaching of Buddha. It emphasizes individual salvation through self discipline and meditation.
This sect of Buddhism believes in the heavenliness of Buddha and believes in Idol Worship. Mahayan sect spread from India to several other nations such as China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan and Mangolia. Mahayana believes in Mantras. Its main principles were based on the possibility of universal liberation from suffering for all beings. That’ why, this sect is called Mahayana (The Great Vehicle). Its principles are also based on the existence of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas embodying Buddha nature. It allows salvation through having faith and committing oneself to Buddha.
Major difference between Hinayana and Mahayana
Mahayana worships the bodhisattvas and read the Mahayana sutras while Hinayanists do not perform these.
Mahayana Buddhism followers think that The Buddha is a God because they think that the Buddha came down to earth to help people cross the sea of life. So the Buddha can be worshipped as a God because he is eternal and comes down to earth.
On the other hand Hinayana Buddhists think that The Buddha was a Human instead of a God because they think The Buddha was simply a man who found a way to Nirvana.
Hinayana think that The Buddha is an ordinary person because he has many human-like characteristics such as looking like a person, being born like a person, living like a person besides if he was a God he would have already known about old-aged people, diseased people and dead people. So Siddhartha Gautama is an ordinary person who devoted most of his life to finding the truth of life, to reach enlightenment. Also the fact that Siddhartha Gautama didn’t know how to meditate before reaching the Meditation Masters suggests that Siddhartha Gautama didn’t know how to meditate and so couldn’t have been a God.
These were all the Major Differences now going onto the Minor Differences:
|Hinayana Buddhism||Mahayana Buddhism|
|1-Followed as a teaching or Philosophy.||1-Followed with reference to higher beings, more like a religion.|
|2-Found mostly in the South and West covering Indochina and Ceylon (Sri-Lanka).||2-Found mostly in the North and West, covering China, Korea, Japan, and Tibet.|
|3-Early work written in Pali (e.g. Kamma, Dhamma).||3-Early texts are in Sanskrit (e.g. Karma, Dharma)|
Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism both started of with one goal, Nirvana. But both took different ways to get there.