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Buddhism Essays and Homework
1.      What are some of the unique traits of Mahayana Buddhism?
2.      What is necessary in order to attain bodhicitta?
3.      Why do you think Mahayana Buddhism appeals to such large numbers of people?

1.  Mahayana teaches that we can all become enlightened, not only monks and nuns.  Also Mahayana emphasises the inter-connectedness of all sentient beings, and as such the logicality of the teachings about compassion.  Compassion is the main focus of Mahayana teaching and the development of loving kindness and equanimity towards all sentient beings.  The Mahayana path may be summarised in the six perfections: perfection of giving, ethics, patience, joyous effort, concentration, and wisdom.

2.  In order to attain bodhicitta it is necessary to generate a genuine and deep wish to help all sentient beings.  The six perfections, as mentioned in the answer to the previous question are all ways in which this deep feeling can be aroused.  As we deepen these desires to help others it becomes our very reason to live, and our lives are dedicated to that one aim.  Then we have truly achieved bodhicitta.  Some traditions suggest there are two levels of bodhicitta - aspiring, and aroused.  
3.  This is a somewhat difficult question to answer because I think that Mahayana is so wide that different branches of the Mahayana path can attract different people, and also the question is not clear whether it is referring worldwide or more specifically to one region.  As with most religions, what the traditions are in that country are more likely to influence which branch one follows, regardless of specifics and details of teaching.  For example, someone from Thailand is more likely to follow the Theravada path than someone in Tibet, and similarly with those living in countries where the Mahayana is the tradition.  It would be most odd for a Tibetan to follow a Theravadian path.  If the question is referring to the west then there are other factors, but as a percentage of the whole, numbers in the west are very small and I will therefore not go into the specifics of those other influences as the question refers simply to "large numbers" and clearly the vast majority of followers are from those countries where the various branches have established themselves as traditional values in those countries.  Suffice to say, if the question is meaning popularity in the west, Chan/Zen, Pure Land, Vajrayana, etc (all Mahayana) appeal in very different ways.  They are so different in the methods of practice that it is impossible to generalise them all as having much common ground to attract people who not from those traditions originally.

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