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Mahàyàna, meaning the ‘the Great Way,’ is a general name for schools of Buddhism that began to evolve around the first millennium, some 500 years after the Buddha.

The original impetus for the development of Mahàyàna was a legitimate unease about the increasing quietism, self-absorption and over-emphasis of monasticism within early Buddhist schools. While some Mahàyàna concepts are logical developments of the Buddha’s teachings and others are unique, although not contrary with the Buddha’s teachings, there are others that reflect the distinct influence of Hinduism.

In time, Mahàyàna absorbed even more Hindu concepts and this led to yet another movement within Buddhism called Vajrayana. Today Mahàyana is practised in Vietnam, China, Korea, Japan and in various Chinese communities around the world. Over the centuries the different schools of Buddhism often engaged in vigorous debates with one another, but there are very few examples where this led to persecution.