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Mahayana (Skt. mahāyāna; Tib. ཐེག་པ་ཆེན་པོ་, tekpa chenpo, Wyl. theg pa chen po) — the great or universal vehicle. The essence of the Mahayana is the aspiration to attain buddhahood as the only means to help all beings find liberation from suffering. This aspiration is called bodhichitta, the ‘heart of enlightened mind’, and is realized on both an absolute and relative level.


Central to the Mahayana is the teaching on emptiness or shunyata as set forth in the Prajnaparamita sutras and elaborated upon in the writings of Nagarjuna and his followers.


Mahayana sutras include large texts such as the Avatamsaka Sutra or the Lotus Sutra, and the important collection of Prajnaparamita sutras. The most important Mahayana treatises are those composed by Nagarjuna and Asanga.


The two major branches of philosophy within the Mahayana are the Middle Way (Skt. Madhyamika) and the Mind Only (Skt. Cittamatra).

Alternative Translations

  • Great vehicle
  • Universal vehicle (Robert Thurman)

Further Reading

  • Philippe Cornu, Manuel de bouddhisme — Philosophie, pratique et histoire. Tome II, Bouddhisme Mahāyāna (Editions Rangdröl, 2019)
  • Paul Williams, Mahayana Buddhism—The Doctrinal Foundations 2nd Edition (Routledge, 2008)

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