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Sacred Narratives

There is no single sacred narrative in Mahayana Buddhism. Accounts of the lives and activities of the buddhas, boddhisattvas, female deities, and significant monks serve as a means of spreading and explaining Mahayana doctrine and practice.

Ultimate Reality and Divine Beings

The bodhisattva is perhaps the defining characteristic of the Mahayana. Bodhisattvas are enlightened beings who remain in the world to assist those beings still suffering in samsara. The Mahayana pantheon is populated by thousands of bodhisattvas, as well as buddhas and goddess-like figures.

Human Nature and the Purpose of Existence

The Mahayana holds that the cultivation of wisdom, prajna—through various meditation techniques, sometimes with the help of bodhisattvas—allows individuals to cut through the ignorance and grasping that keep them stuck in samsara.

Suffering and the Problem of Evil

As with other schools of Buddhism, the Mahayana holds that suffering is caused by grasping on to things and experiences that are, by their very nature, impermanent.

Afterlife and Salvation

Final salvation in the Mahayana is nirvana, although the meaning of that term changed significantly as the Mahayana developed. Some schools hold that enlightened beings are reborn in pure lands, limitless paradises where they reside with buddhas and bodhisattvas.