For some time after Buddha, the Buddhists remained united but soon some difference arose among them. These differences continued to become wider and wider though every effort was made from time to time to patch them up. During the reign of Kanishka these differences became so wide that the Buddhist Sangha was divided into two separate sects—the Hinayana and Mahayana. The Hinayana Buddhism was the old sect the foundation of which was laid down by Buddha himself and the new sect began to be known as the Mahayana Buddhism. There were many differences between these two sects, some of the most important are the following:
- The people belonging to the Mahayana faith began to worship Buddha as a God and they even made his idols for worship. But the people belonging to the Hinayana Buddhism still regarded Buddha as a pious and great man and never indulged in idol-worship.
- Mahayana Buddhism began to lay much emphasis on faith while the people of the Hinayana faith did not accept anything without testing it on the touch-stone of reason.
- The Mahayanists adopted Sanskrit and preached in it, while the Hinayanists still preached in Pali, the local dialect of the common masses.
- In the Mahayana faith much emphasis began to be laid on worship, prayer and ritualism while the people belonging to the older faith still believed in the life of purity and self-denial.
- The ultimate goal of life for the “Neo-Buddhists” also changed. They now began to strive for a place in “Swarga” or heaven in place of getting “Nirvana” or freedom from the cycle of deaths and births. The Hinayanists still clung to the older path shown by Buddha himself and believed in the achievement of ‘Nirvana’ as the chief aim of their life.
- The followers of the Mahayana faith began to worship the “Bodhisattvas” along with Buddha. The Bodhisattvas were those holy Buddhists who had not as yet got Nirvana like Buddha but who were proceeding rapidly towards it. In short they were Buddha in the making. The Hinayanists worshipped neither Buddha nor his proto-types, i.e. Bodhisattvas.