Test Your Knowledge of Mahayana Buddhism!



9 Questions

What are the three main branches of Buddhism?

What is the goal of Mahāyāna Buddhism?

What is the Madhyamaka theory of emptiness?

What is the Mahayana bodhisattva path?

What is bodhicitta?

What are the Prajnaparamita texts?

What is the Buddha-nature doctrine?

What is the Madhyamaka school?

What are the six perfections or transcendent virtues in Mahayana Buddhism?


Mahāyāna Buddhism: A Summary

  • Mahāyāna is a broad group of Buddhist traditions, texts, philosophies, and practices.

  • Mahāyāna developed in ancient India and is considered one of the three main existing branches of Buddhism, the others being Theravāda and Vajrayāna.

  • Mahāyāna accepts the main scriptures and teachings of early Buddhism but also recognizes various doctrines and texts that are not accepted by Theravada Buddhism as original.

  • The Mahāyāna path emphasizes the bodhisattva path and Prajñāpāramitā, as well as the goal of becoming a Buddha through the bodhisattva path for the benefit of all sentient beings.

  • Mahāyāna includes numerous Buddhas and bodhisattvas that are not found in Theravada.

  • Mahāyāna Buddhist philosophy promotes unique theories, such as the Madhyamaka theory of emptiness (śūnyatā), the Vijñānavāda doctrine, and the Buddha-nature teaching.

  • Mahāyāna grew to become an influential force in Indian Buddhism, with large scholastic centers associated with Mahāyāna such as Nalanda and Vikramashila.

  • In the course of its history, Mahāyāna Buddhism spread throughout South Asia, Central Asia, East Asia, and Southeast Asia.

  • Mahāyāna remains influential today in China, Tibet, Mongolia, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines, Nepal, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Bhutan.

  • As of 2010, the Mahāyāna tradition was the largest major tradition of Buddhism, with 53% of Buddhists belonging to East Asian Mahāyāna and 6% to Vajrayāna, compared to 36% for Theravada.

  • The term Mahāyāna ("Great Vehicle") was originally an honorary synonym for Bodhisattvayāna ("Bodhisattva Vehicle"), the vehicle of a bodhisattva seeking Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings.

  • The origins of Mahāyāna are still not completely understood, and there are numerous competing theories, including the lay origins theory, the Mahāsāṃghika origin theory, and the forest hypothesis.

  • The earliest textual evidence of "Mahāyāna" comes from sūtras originating around the beginning of the common era, which strongly promote monasticism, acknowledge the legitimacy of arhatship, and do not show any attempt to establish a new sect or order.The History and Worldview of Mahāyāna Buddhism

  • Mahāyāna Buddhism emerged in India around the 1st century CE.

  • The name "Mahāyāna" appears in Buddhist texts from the 4th century CE.

  • Indian Mahāyāna was a minority movement until it experienced growth in the 5th century CE.

  • Mahāyāna Buddhism spread to Central Asia and China through trade routes like the Silk Road.

  • Mahāyāna scholars were important in the Silk Road Transmission of Buddhism.

  • Mahāyāna Buddhism became dominant in India during the Gupta period and continued into the Pala era.

  • Vajrayāna, a new movement that developed in the Gupta period, became extremely influential in India and spread to surrounding regions and East Asia.

  • Mahāyāna Buddhists accept classic Buddhist doctrines found in early Buddhism but add numerous Mahāyāna texts and doctrines.

  • Buddhas and bodhisattvas are central elements of Mahāyāna.

  • Mahāyāna has a vastly expanded cosmology and theology, with various Buddhas and bodhisattvas residing in different worlds and buddha-fields.

  • Buddhas unique to Mahāyāna include Amitābha, Akṣobhya, Bhaiṣajyaguru, and Vairocana.

  • In Mahāyāna, a Buddha is seen as a being that has achieved the highest kind of awakening due to his superior compassion and wish to help all beings.Mahayana Buddhism: Key Concepts and Teachings

  • Mahayana Buddhism emphasizes the importance of a reciprocal relationship with a Buddha through prayer, visions, devotion, and revelations.

  • Mahayana devotees aspire to be reborn in a Buddha's pure land or buddha field, where they can strive towards Buddhahood in the best possible conditions.

  • The three bodies (trikaya) of a Buddha developed to make sense of the transcendental nature of the Buddha.

  • The Mahayana bodhisattva path is seen as being the superior spiritual path by Mahayana Buddhists, over and above the paths of those who seek arhatship or "solitary buddhahood" for their own sake.

  • Bodhicitta, the wish to help others, is the central characteristic of the Mahayana bodhisattva.

  • The bodhisattva's spiritual path is traditionally held to begin with the arising of the Awakening Mind, which is the wish to become a Buddha in order to help all beings.

  • The generation of bodhicitta may then be followed by the taking of the bodhisattva vows to "lead to Nirvana the whole immeasurable world of beings."

  • The central defining feature of a bodhisattva's path is the universal aspiration to end suffering for themselves and all other beings, i.e. bodhicitta.

  • The Prajnaparamita ("Transcendent Knowledge" or "Perfection of Wisdom") texts are some of the earliest Mahayana works and contain key Mahayana teachings.

  • Prajnaparamita is a transcendent, non-conceptual and non-dual kind of knowledge into the true nature of things.

  • Madhyamaka is the Mahayana philosophical school that focuses on the emptiness or lack of real existence of all phenomena.

  • Skillful means or Expedient techniques is another important virtue and doctrine in Mahayana Buddhism that refers to any effective method or technique that is conducive to spiritual growth and leads beings to awakening and nirvana.Overview of Mahayana Buddhism

  • Mahayana Buddhism is a major branch of Buddhism that originated in India around the 1st century BCE.

  • Mahayana Buddhism emphasizes the attainment of Buddhahood for the benefit of all beings, rather than individual liberation.

  • Nagarjuna, a key figure in Mahayana Buddhism, refuted theories positing any kind of substance, inherent existence, or intrinsic nature.

  • The Madhyamaka school, which Nagarjuna founded, argues that while things exist conventionally, they do not exist inherently in an ultimate sense.

  • The Yogacara school, another important school in Mahayana Buddhism, claims that all things are only mind, consciousness, or perceptions, and that seemingly external objects do not really exist apart from the dependently originated flow of mental experiences.

  • The Buddha-nature doctrine, also known as Tathagata embryo or Tathagata womb, is important in all modern Mahayana traditions, although it is interpreted in many different ways. It explains what allows sentient beings to become Buddhas.

  • Mahayana Buddhists faced various criticisms from non-Mahayana traditions regarding the authenticity of their teachings. Mahayana texts attempted to defend the truth and authenticity of Mahayana in various ways.

  • Mahayana Buddhism sees itself as penetrating further and more profoundly into the Buddha's Dharma, and claims spiritual benefits greater than those that arise from being a follower of non-Mahayana approaches.

  • Common practices shared by all Mahayana traditions include the six perfections or transcendent virtues (paramita), focused around the acquisition of merit, and textual practices that deal with listening to, memorizing, reciting, preaching, worshiping, and copying Mahayana sutras.

  • Mahayana Buddhism teaches a vast array of meditation practices, including mindfulness of breathing, contemplation of dependent origination, and mindfulness of the Buddha. The Yogacara school discusses classic Buddhist meditation methods and topics, such as the four dhyanas and the development of insight and tranquility.


How much do you know about Mahayana Buddhism? Take this quiz to test your knowledge on the history, key concepts, and teachings of this major branch of Buddhism. From the origins and development of Mahayana to the unique doctrines and practices it promotes, challenge yourself with questions on the bodhisattva path, Prajnaparamita, Madhyamaka, Yogacara, Buddha-nature, and more. Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned practitioner, this quiz is a

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