Compare Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism

Mahayana Buddhism Theravada Buddhism
etymology Sanskrit, "Great Vehicle" Pali, "School of the Elder Monks"
languages Sanskrit. Scriptures translated into local languages. Pali. Tripitaka is only in Pali. Teaching in Pali supplemented by local language.
main locations Northern (Tibet, China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, parts of Southeast Asia) Southern (Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Laos, Cambodia, parts of Southeast Asia)
Influences Heavily influenced by local religious ideas as transmitted to new cultures (China, Japan, Tibet). Mainly pre-Buddhist Indian influences like concepts of karma, sangha, etc.
branches 8 major schools: four practice-based (Zen, Pure Land, Vajrayana, Vinaya); four philosophy-based (Tendai, Avamtasaka, Yogacara and Madhyamika) One surviving school (as many as 18 existed at one time)
texts Tripitaka plus many other sutras (e.g. Lotus Sutra) Pali Canon/Tripitaka only
Buddhas Gautama Buddha plus Amitabha, Medicine Buddhas, and others Historical Buddha (Gautama) and past Buddhas only
Bodhisattvas Maitreya, Avalokitesvara, Mansjuri, Ksitigarbha and Samanthabadra Maitreya only
goal of practice
Trikaya Emphasized, including the samboga-kaya or reward/enjoyment body Very limited emphasis; mainly on nirmana-kaya and dharma-kaya
Buddha's disciples Many bodhisattvas that are not historical figures Historical disciples described in Scriptures
buddha-nature Emphasized, especially in practice-based schools Not taught
bardo Taught by all schools Rejected
practices Many, owing to local cultural influences Very few; not emphasized
mantras Emphasized in Vajrayana; sometimes incorporated in other schools Some equivalent in the use of Parittas