The religion of Buddhism with its origins from India has taken off to become one of the most prominent religions in the world.
However, unlike some religions which may take the historical existence, evidences and accounts of their religion as something that’s just as important as their teachings— to the Buddhist, this is not the case. This is due to the inherent “timelessness” of the Buddha throughout history and whose teachings were thought by not just one Buddha but many reincarnated ones in many lifetimes which is true for both of those who may practice Theravada Buddhism or the Mahayana Buddhism despite all of their differences. “Buddha’s life is less important than their mythological and symbolic significance” (Nadeau, 2014, p.143)This timelessness, though true for both Theravada and Mahayana may mean different things. Particularly, for the Mahayana this timelessness of existence is embodied through their cosmic and powerful mahasattvas— great beings. For the Mahayana, this makes it possible for there to be multiple Buddhas to exists simultaneously while the same cannot be said about the Theravada. For the Theravada there is but one buddha for every lifetime whose most recent incarnation took the form of Siddhartha Gautama.
However, one of the most notable distinction between these two are the basis of their teachings. Although both types of buddhism promote wisdom, compassion and ease of suffering in its teachings, for the Theravada, this can be done through the following in everyday life of the holy Eightfold Path. The Eightfold Path may be summarized through the acquisition of wisdom by accepting the Four Noble Truths (prajna), practicing of the right conduct (sila) and having the mental discipline to develop the mind and body (samadhi). Compared to the Eightfold Path and the Four Noble Truths of the Theravada, the Mahayana in comparison whose live a good and moral life that is guided by the Five Precepts which is through and guided by their “great beings” whose traditions appear to have more concerns with the world in a bigger picture.
“The Mahayana tradition developed a great cosmic system of multiple realms featuring mythical mountains, parallel worlds, layered destinies of richly described heavens and hells.” (Nadaeu, 2014, p.181)For the Mahayana, ease of suffering is a collective goal that is shared between all people and so their goal is to delay their “complete disappearance” (pari-nirvana) until this goal is achieved by everyone.