Growth of the Mahayana

The most visible manifestation of the Mahayana was a new wave of sutras, scriptures claiming to be the word of the Buddha that had remained hidden until then in other realms of existence. The Mahayana replaced the ideal of the arhat with that of the bodhisattva. Whereas arhats sought to end confusion in themselves in order to escape samsara, bodhisattvas vowed to end confusion in themselves yet remain in samsara to liberate all other sentient beings. The vision of spiritual life broadened beyond the controlled circumstances of cloister and study to include the wide-open situations of the world. Correspondingly, the notion of “buddha” was no longer limited to a series of historical personages, the last of whom was Shakyamuni [Siddhartha Gautama], but referred also to a fundamental self-existing principle of spiritual wakefulness or enlightenment. While continuing to accept the old Tripitaka, Mahayanists regarded it as a restricted expression of the Buddha’s teaching, and they characterized those who held to it exclusively as Hinayanists (adherents of the Hinayana, the Small Vehicle). [read rest here]