The difference between Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhist was witnessed during the 4th Buddhist Council, in 98 A.D. This Council took place at Kundala Vana in Kashmir, Vasumitra was the Chairman and Ashvaghosa was the Vice-Chairman respectively.

During the reign of Kanishka when the fourth Buddhist council takes place, Buddhism was divided into two sects. Dr. Smith is of the opinion that the changes in Buddhism took place due to its expansion in the countries abroad. Rawlinson opines, these changes occurred owing to the foreign invaders. They stayed back in India and adopted Buddhism. The religion of the Buddha underwent some changes and they had tried to mold it according to their choice.

On the other hand, some other scholars credit the Bhakti cult with these changes. The most appropriate reason for all these changes was that these were brought about to counter-balance Hinduism.

Kanishka, the powerful Kushan ruler was a staunch devotee of Buddhism. The fourth general council takes place in his reign, which gave birth to Hinayana and Mahayana, two great schools of Buddhism. It was the first split in the Buddhist church and its basic doctrine. The followers of the Hinayana school of Buddhism believed in the old religion propounded by Lord Buddha and the devotees of the Mahayana school made certain changes of their own choice. This event is famous as the transformation of Buddhism in ancient Indian History.

Difference between Hinayana and Mahayana

There are many differences between the Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhist. This article has explained in detail all the differences between them.

 Idol worship

The followers of the Hinayana school of Buddhism used to regard the Buddha as a great man. They never worshipped him as a god. But the followers of the Mahayana school have worship Lord Buddha as a god. They constructed statues of Lord Buddha and start worshipping him as the Hindus worshipped their gods.

Faith in Place of Reason

Gautama Buddha has never taught his followers to accept things blindly. He said it is the self-efforts of a man that leads a man to salvation. Thus, No blind faith is helpful.  But the followers of the Hinayana school stressed on personal efforts. On the other hand, the Mahayana gave more importance to worship Lord Buddha. Thus the theory of reasoning was replaced by faith, by the Mahayanists.

Pali replaced by Sanskrit

The followers of the Hinayana School being the true devotees of Buddha. They wrote their entire literature in Pali. On the other hand, Mahayana patronizes the Sanskrit language. They composed their books in Sanskrit

Worship of Bodhisattvas

Besides the worship of Lord Buddha, the devotees of the Mahayana school of Buddhism start worshipping those Buddhist monks who achieve prominence due to their virtue. Thus, Mahayana followers installed the statue of Monks in the temples.

Theory of Heaven instead of Nirvana

The ultimate aim of human life during the lifetime of the Buddha was to attain Nirvana which was now replaced by Heaven. In fact, the common masses failed to understand the significance of Nirvana and the missionaries in order to lure the innocent Hindus into Buddhism propagated the theory of Hinduism. Therefore, the Buddhists gave up their own principle of Nirvana. The followers of the Mahayana school of Buddhism thus endeavored to get prominence.

Beginning of prayers and offerings

The Buddha vehemently criticized prayers and offerings and the Hinayana school of Buddhism stuck to this principle. On the other hand, the Mahayana Buddhists offer prayers and offerings before the statue of Lord Buddha. Thus, they offer fruits and flowers statue of Gautama Buddha just like the Hindus religion offers to their God and Goddesses.

Source: Mohammed Rafi Komol & O. Jnanendra Singh

An Extreme Useful Guide to History of Ancient India, Book

Note: There are some changes in the Length and Text of the Article.


Difference between Hinayana and Mahayana in other words:

In other words, we can differentiate between Hinayana and Mahayana as follows.

  1. The followers of Hinayana believe that a man should strive for his own emancipation. According to Mahayana, it is a narrow outlook, if lord Buddha had not cared for the welfare of the entire society, he would have been satisfied with his own salvation. But he continued his struggle and explained his principal for the welfare of the entire humanity.
  2. Mahayana believes in material worship whereas Hinayana believes in indevotional worship  (Bhawa Puja). Mahayana considers Gautam Buddha as God of the whole universe. So they worship the idol of Gautam Buddha.
  3. Mahayana lays emphasis on five vows. They are charity, modesty, tolerance, valor, and attention (Dhyan) and Knowledge (Pragya). Hinayana considers ten vows as necessary. They are charity, modesty, selflessness, knowledge, valor, tolerance, abode, efforts, friendship and indifference.
  4. Transitoriness, not believing in soul and atheism are the main concept of Hinayana. But, according to Mahayana, the whole world is an extension of science, that is, knowledge.
  5. The ideal of Hinayana is personal emancipation but the ideal of Mahayana is Bodhisattva. Bodhisattva is that being who does not recognize his own deliverance till all the living beings do not get salvation. Mahayana is filled with the feeling of the welfare of all. Its greatest aim is to serve the poor and miserable.

Source: P. Jain

Indian Philosophical Book.

Note: There are some changes in the Length and Text of the Article.


In the lifetime of Lord Buddha, Buddhism had no branches. Lord Buddha bought to light the cause of life and death for the welfare and happiness of the entire mankind. However, after the death of Lord Buddha, various Buddhist Council takes place. It was during the 4th Buddhist Council, in 98 A.D. the difference between Hinayana and Mahayana was born.  Thus, the Sect of Buddhism-Mahayana was born only after the 4th Buddhist Council.  However, it is worth mentioning that the oldest form of Buddhism is Hinayana.

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