Mahayana and Hinayana: Sects of Buddhism

During the Fourth Buddhist Council, in the reign of Kanishka, Buddhism was split into two sects— Hinayana and Mahayana.


  • Mahayana considered Buddha as an incarnation of God as he could ensure salvation. As a result, images of Buddha began to be made.
  • The concept of Boddhisattvas developed. According to Mahayana, Boddhisattvas were the holy Buddhists who had not attained salvation but were on the way towards it.
  • Kanishka was a follower of the Mahayana sect. The followers of Mahayana are found in the northwestern parts of India, Southeast Asia, China, and Japan.


  • The people belonging to this sect stood for following the doctrines of Buddha.
  • They denied the existence of God and believed that the Eight Fold Path was the means of attaining salvation.
  • Buddha was not considered God but as human being who had attained salvation.
  • Followers of the Hinayana sect are found in India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos.

Impact of Buddhism

  • The doctrine of ahimsa or non-violence impacted the people and society deeply. Stress was given to animal protection.
  • Buddhism challenged Hindu practices such as yajnas, sacrifices, and rituals. It outrightly rejected these practices and the caste system.
  • Buddhists influenced emperors such as Ashoka and Chandragupta who later became non-violent. Thus, it affected Indian politics.
  • As Buddhism spread to many parts of the world, such as China, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia, close cultural contacts emerged between these countries and India.
  • Buddhism contributed immensely to language and literature. Many Buddhist texts were written during the period. Tripitakas-Vinaypitaka, Suttapitakas and Abhidhammapitaka were composed. The Vinaypitaka lays down rules for the Buddhist monks living in the sanghas. Suttapitakas contained various teachings of Lord Buddha and Abhidhammapitaka deals with Buddhist philosophy. The Jataka tales tell us about the life of Buddha.
  • Stupas, chaityas, viharas, and rock-cut cave temples were constructed by the Buddhists. The stupas were the semi-spherical dome-like structures that contained the relics of Buddha. The Stupas at Sanchi, Amravati, and Bharhut have survived till today.
  • Chaityas were rectangular halls with semi-circular roofs supported by a number of columns.

One of the reasons for the decline in Buddhism was the spilled of the religion into the two major sects of Mahayana and Hinayana.

Also, Read 10 Causes Responsible for the decline of Jainism and Buddhism in India

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