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One of the three major Buddhist traditions. It arose in the 1st century AD and is widely followed today in China (including Tibet), Korea, and Japan. Mahayanists distinguish themselves from the more conservative Theravada Buddhists of Sri Lanka, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. Whereas the Theravadins view the historical Buddha as a (merely) human teacher of the truth, Mahayanists see him as an earthly manifestation of a celestial Buddha. Mahayanists revere bodhisattvas, key figures in universal salvation. Compassion, the chief virtue of the bodhisattva, is valued as highly as wisdom, the virtue emphasized by the ancient Buddhists. Within Mahayana Buddhism, some branches emphasize esoteric practices (e.g., Shingon, Tibetan Buddhism). See alsoKegon, Nichiren Buddhism, Pure Land Buddhism, Tiantai, Zen.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on Mahayana, visit Britannica.com.