Difference between Theravada and Mahayana

SectTheravada Mahayana
MeaningThe Teachings of the EldersThe Great Vehicle
CountriesSri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, ThailandChina, Korea and Japan. Ch’an and Zen Buddhism, of China and Japan are meditation schools.
AgeMost orthodox school of BuddhismModern school of Buddhism
PhilosophyAll worldly phenomena are subject to three characteristics – They are impermanent and transient; Unsatisfactory and  There is nothing in them which can be called one’s own, nothing substantial, nothing permanent. All compounded things are made up of two elements: the non-material part, the material part. They are further described as consisting of nothing but five constituent groups, namely the material quality, and the four non-material qualities – sensations, perception, mental formations and lastly consciousness.Middle Path – The practitioner lives according to the Noble Eightfold Path which consist of Right View, Right Resolve, Right Speech, Right Actions, Right Occupation, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration According to these schools, to look inward and not to look outwards is the only way to achieve enlightenment, which to the human mind is ultimately the same as Buddhahood. In this system, the emphasis is upon ‘intuition’, its peculiarity being that it has no words in which to express itself at all, so it does this in symbols and images.
DivisionMahayana Buddhism is divided into two systems of thought Madhyamika and Yogacara. The Madhyamikas were so called on account of the emphasis they laid on the middle view. Here, the middle path, stands for the non-acceptance of the two views concerning existence and nonexistence, eternity and non-eternity, self and non-self. In short, it advocates neither the theory of reality nor that of the unreality of the world, but merely of relativity.
Ultimate GoalWhen that perfected state of insight is reached, i.e. Nibanna, that person is a ‘worthy person’ , an Arhat. The life of the Arhat is the ideal of the followers of this school, ‘a life where all (future) birth is at an end, where the holy life is fully achieved, where all that has to be done has been done, and there is no more returning to the worldly life’.The ideal of the Mahayana school, therefore, is that of the Bodhisattva, a person who delays his or her own enlightenment in order to compassionately assist all other beings and ultimately attains to the highest Bodhi.