Mahayana (Sanskrit for “the Great Vehicle”) is the larger of the two main denominations within Buddhism, the other being Theravada. Mahayana Buddhism is practiced by around 185 million people, accounting for approximately 40 percent of all Buddhists. Mahayana had coalesced into a distinct form of Buddhism by the first century CE. Its core doctrine holds that the goal of a Buddhist practitioner should not only be to attain enlightenment for oneself, but also to aid all other sentient beings to that end. Mahayana is also distinct in asserting that all beings are destined to achieve enlightenment over the course of various reincarnations. In addition to the Agamas, which largely overlap with Theravada scriptures, the tradition also reveres later texts known as Mahayana sutras. Mahayana is characterized by greater openness to devotional worship of Buddhas than in Theravada, as well as by greater religious practice among the laity.
Mahayana Buddhism is the dominant form of Buddhism in China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and Vietnam. Over the centuries, Mahayana has blended with Taoism and Confucianism and persisted as the dominant religious tradition in East Asia, where it has played a significant role in shaping the cultures and civilizations. Another significant strand of Buddhism related to the Mahayana is Tibetan Buddhism, which is practiced by 20 million people largely in Tibet, Bhutan, Mongolia, and surrounding areas in India, China, and Russia. Mahayana and Tibetan Buddhism have also become the most influential forms of Buddhism in the West among both immigrants and native converts.
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