for all, styled itself Mahayana, the Greater Vehicle (to Salvation), as opposed
to the older Buddhism, which it contemptuously referred to as Hinayana, or
the Lesser Vehicle. The Mahayana scriptures also claimed to represent the
final doctrines of the Buddha, revealed only to his spiritually most advanced
followers, whereas the earlier doctrines were viewed as merely preliminary.
Though Mahayana Buddhism, with its pantheon of heavenly Buddhas and
Bodhisattvas and its idealistic metaphysics, was strikingly different in many
respects from the Hinayana, of which the main body was the Theravada, it
can be viewed as a culmination of tendencies that had existed long before—a
development favoured and accelerated by great historical changes taking
place in north-western India at that time.
    It is probable that even in the life time of the Buddha it was thought that
he was only the last of a series of earlier Buddhas. It was held that Gautama
Buddha was preceded by six Buddhas, viz. (1) Vipasyi, (2) Sikhi, (3)
Visvabhu, (4) Krakuchchhanda, (5) Kanakamuni, and (6) Kasyapa, and the
prevalence of their worship among the Buddhists is confirmed by their
representations in Buddhist art. Further support to this contention is provided
by the Nigali Sagar Edict of Asoka which refers to the enlargement of a stupa
erected in honour of Kanakamuni by the Mauryan monarch. Five of these
past Buddhas, except Sikhi, are represented in the art of Bharhut,
understandably by means of their characteristic tree-symbols along with
identification labels. Later, perhaps through Zoroastrian influence, it came to
be believed that other Buddhas are yet to come, and interest developed in
Maitreya, the future Buddha, whose coming was said to have been
prophesied by the historical Buddha and who in years to come, would purify
the world with his teachings.
    The next step in the development of this new form of Buddhism was the
changing of the goal at which the believer aimed. According to Buddhist
teaching there are three types of perfected beings—‘Buddhas’, who perceived
the truth for themselves and taught it to others; ‘Pratyeka Buddhas’ (Private
Buddhas), who perceived it, but kept it to themselves and did not teach it; and
‘Arhats’ or ‘Arhats’ (Worthies), who learned it from others, but fully realised
it for themselves. According to earlier schools the earnest believer should
aspire to become an Arhat, a perfect being for whom there was no rebirth,
who already enjoyed nirvana,