The Mahayana Buddhism movement has its beginnings in northern India and Central Asia around 410 B.C.E. and is well rooted in the Theravada School. However, the Mahayanists consider the Theravada to be Hinayana or "the lesser vehicle". Mahayanists accept much of the scripture and ritual that the Hinayanists believe in, but they hold their concepts to be of higher value than that of the Hinayana. Their belief in attaining Nirvana through devotion, their view of Nirvana as heaven, and their notion that salvation is attained through intercession of a bodhisattva distinguishes them from the Hinayanists.
Mahayanists believe that Nirvana could be achieved "through devotion and not just through painstaking attention to one's behavior" (Duiker and Spielvogel, 243). According to Mahayana Buddhism, Theravada teachings are too stern for commoners to handle and more favorable to the wealthy since they have the time, energy, and resources to spend enormous number of weeks or even months away from their daily occupations for religious activities (Duiker and Spielvogel, 243).
So, Mahayana Buddhism was for the commoners; it provided hope for them to reach their Nirvana.
Mahayana Buddhism also teaches that salvation could also "come from the intercession of a bodhisattva (he who possesses Buddhahood)" (Duiker and Spielvogel, 244). According to this concept, an individual who attained Nirvana has an option to stay on this earth in a form of spirit to help all human beings who are trying to attain Nirvana. This is another notion that attracted many commoners to Mahayana Buddhism, since this idea instilled hope of attaining salvation in the minds of many ordinary people.
Mahayana Buddhism also attempted to interpret Buddhism as a religion rather than a philosophy. It manipulated the notion of Nirvana by adding new depth to its meaning. Nirvana, according to...