If there are no followers of the Bodhisattva ideal,
there would be no Buddhas arising
to teach the Buddhadharma,
and no followers of the Buddhadharma [including the Arya Sangha].
The formation of the extant written canons of the schools, both in India and in Sri Lanka, is now generally accepted by scholars to belong to a relatively late period. The Mahayana teachings, as well as those of the other schools, including the Theravada, began to appear in written form more than five hundred years after the time of the Buddha. We know with certainty that the Theravada canon – recorded in Pali, an early Indian vernacular language – was first compiled in the middle of the first century B.C.E. The earliest Mahayana sutras, such as the Lotus Sutra and the Sutra of the Perfection of Wisdom are usually dated no later than the first century C.E .Therefore, the written canons of the Theravada and Mahayana traditions date to roughly the same period.
After the parinirvana of the Buddha, the views of the elders among the monks dominated Buddhist religious life, but by the first century C.E., dissatisfaction with the ideal of the Arhat whose goal was the achievement of personal freedom had grown significantly among the monastic and lay communities. The followers of the Buddha were presented with a choice between two different ideals of religious life – Arhatship and Buddhahood. While the aspiring Arhat is interested in gaining freedom for him or herself, the Bodhisattva or Buddha to be is committed to achieving Enlightenment for the sake of all living beings.
The essence of the Mahayana conception of religious life is compassion for all living beings. Indeed, it is in this context that we should understand the increasing popularity of the Mahayana. It is hardly surprising if many devoted Buddhists chose to follow the example of the Buddha whose compassion and wisdom were infinite and not that of his prominent disciples, the elders and Arhats who for the most part seemed austere and remote. In short, the Mahayana, with its profound philosophy, its universal compassion and its abundant use of skillful means, rapidly began to attract an enthusiastic following not only in India, but in the newly Buddhist lands of central Asia. [More]
The Tree Of Enlightenment: An Introduction To The Major Traditions Of Buddhism
Peter Della Santina