Mahayana literally, the great vehicle (from maha, great, and yana, vehicle) is one of the two Buddhist sects, the other being theravada. After gautam buddha's death, divisions arose among his followers leading ultimately to two main sects: theravada Buddhists and Mahayana Buddhists or Mahasanghik. Later, 18 groups arose from these two sects.

Mahayana Buddhists believe in the concept of the bodhisattva, a person who undergoes several rebirths in order to assume the sins and sorrows of human beings and thus achieve salvation for them. He does not work for his own Nirvana, but for the Nirvana of all human beings. After achieving this state he is freed from the cycle of birth and rebirth. The principal aim of Mahayana Buddhists is to achieve the ideal of the Bodhisattva.

Mahayana Buddhism is divided into madhyamik shunyavad and yogachar vijvanavad. According to madhyamik sunyavad, the external forms of life are temporary; they have no eternal existence. The greatest exponent of this concept was the philosopher Nagarjun. According to yogachar vijnanavad, all external matter is illusory. The way to salvation alone is real. The branches of Mahayana Buddhism are Mantrayana, Tantrayana, Kalachakrayana and vajrayana. These are not original concepts, but have arisen mainly as subsidiary concepts out of a mixture of Buddhism and hinduism.

Mahayana Buddhists believe that the Buddha is divine and that he manifests himself again and again for the salvation of human beings. They believe that 26 Buddhas preceded Gautam Buddha, who was the 27th Buddha, and that the 28th Buddha is yet to appear. Apart from Nagarjun, there were several other Mahayana philosophers, including Chandrakirti, Asanga, Vasubandhu, Dinnag, Dharmakirti, Ashwaghosh and atish dipankar srijnan. Mahayana Buddhism flourishes in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Mongolia, China, Tibet, Vietnam, Nepal and Bhutan. [Rebatapriya Barua]