Few things can be said with certainty about Mahāyāna Buddhism, especially its early Indian form, other than that the Buddhism practiced in China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Korea, Tibet, and Japan is Mahāyāna Buddhism. Mahāyāna can be described as a loosely bound collection of many teachings with large and expansive doctrines that are able to coexist simultaneously.
Mahāyāna constitutes an inclusive tradition characterized by plurality and the adoption of new Mahāyāna sūtras in addition to the earlier Āgama texts. Mahāyāna sees itself as penetrating further and more profoundly into the Buddha's Dharma. There is a tendency in Mahāyāna sūtras to regard adherence to these sūtras as generating spiritual benefits greater than those that arise from being a follower of the non-Mahāyāna approaches to Dharma. Thus the Śrīmālādevī Sūtra claims that the Buddha said that devotion to Mahāyāna is inherently superior in its virtues to the following the śravaka or pratyekabuddha paths.
The fundamental principles of Mahāyāna doctrine were based on the possibility of universal liberation from suffering for all beings (hence the "Great Vehicle") and the existence of buddhas and bodhisattvas embodying Buddha Nature. The Pure Land school of Mahāyāna simplify the expression of faith by allowing salvation to be alternatively obtained through the grace of the Amitābha Buddha by having faith and devoting oneself to mindfulness of the Buddha. This devotional lifestyle of Buddhism has greatly contributed to the success of Mahāyāna in East Asia, where spiritual elements traditionally relied upon mindfulness of the Buddha, mantras and dhāraṇīs, and reading of Mahāyāna sūtras. In Chinese Buddhism, most monks, let alone lay people, practice Pure Land, some combining it with Chán (Zen).
Most Mahāyāna schools believe in supernatural bodhisattvas who devote themselves to the perfections (Skt. pāramitā), ultimate knowledge (Skt. sarvajñāna), and the liberation of all sentient beings. In Mahāyāna, the Buddha is seen as the ultimate, highest being, present in all times, in all beings, and in all places, and the bodhisattvas come to represent the universal ideal of altruistic excellence.
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