Mahayana stems from the Theravada School of Buddhism. Mahayanists believe that the Theravada-ist to be (Hinayana, meaning the lesser vehicle) Mahayanists consider themselves followers of the greater vehicle. Mahayanists, also accept much of the scripture and ritual that the Theravada-ist developed, but they believe their own scriptures to be of higher value and truth. No one knows the origins to Mahayana Buddhism, although the movement was probably started by small groups of religious individuals in northern India as well as Central Asia. Presently, most followers live in East Asia. The majority of Buddhist follow the Mahayanistic doctrine.
The fundamental doctrine for Buddhism is the Four Noble Truths. It "...has always been the nucleus of this religion from its primitive states to the developed form of Mahayanism through its long history of twenty-four centuries." (Tachibana, 14). However, there are many other Buddhist doctrines besides the Four Noble Truths, one being the bodhisattva doctrine.
Early Buddhism had the term referring to the belief in just one Buddha, but as time passed, the term came to encompass the belief in many Buddha's. Many forms of the religion uphold the bodhisattva doctrine, but the Mahayana bodhisattva doctrine differs from the rest in that "...the Mahayana insistence that the goal of all religious practice is Buddhahood itself, making all those whose conceive of the aspiration to be liberated bodhisattvas, or future Buddha's." (Buddhism, 459)
The Mahayana bodhisattva doctrine is centered around the goal of liberation from suffering. People who set their eyes on this goal commit themselves to ceaseless work for the benefit of others. They concentrate and aspire to reach perfect awakening, the bodhicita (Buddhism, 369). In trying to reach perfect awakening, these people are also pressing towards actually becoming bodhisattvas. As travelers walk along their paths, they...