Mahayana Buddhism, or "The Greater Vehicle," emerged around the first century A.D., providing an alternative for the majority of people who could not follow the monastic life demanded by the Theravada. Consequently, Mahayana Buddhists refer to the Theravada as Hinayana , or the "Lesser Vehicle." Mahayana taught that Shakyamuni was not the only Buddha, but one of many Buddhas. Followers believed that Maitreya , the Buddha of the future, awaits to appear and that Buddha is an entity that manifests itself in different forms called Buddhas. The early Buddhas rule over heavenly lands where devotees can aspire to be reborn. Mahayana also introduced the Bodhisattvas, or beings destined for enlightenment. A Boddhisattva forestalls entrance to Nirvana to help others reach it. Compassion and love for creatures is the core of Mahayana Buddhism, and the Bodhisattva is the model of the doctrine. Mahayana Buddhism eventually flourished in the Far East societies of China, Korea, and Japan.
Buddhism also incorporated mystical practices similar to those exercised by its neighboring religions, Hinduism and Jainism. During the seventh century A.D., Hindu and Buddhist beliefs about sorcery, necromancy, mysticism, magical rites, and ritualistic eroticism combined to form Vajrayana Buddhism. This form of Buddhism is also known as Tantrism or Esoteric Buddhism. Vajrayana insists that enlightenment defies explanation and is unintelligible to anyone who has not lived through it. Thus, it ordains that a master teach meditation techniques and lead the aspirant to enlightenment. Vajrayana deals with how it feels to aspire to enlightenment through practice. This form of Buddhism became popular among the Himalayan cultures. Local deities from the Himalayan cultures were absorbed into the expanding Buddhist pantheon that originated in India.
Eventually Buddhism weakened in India, but it had already made its mark on the cultural and artistic life of the region. Like many religions, Buddhism gained momentum gradually. Eventually it reached peoples over nearly all of Asia, and it continues to be one of the foremost religions in Asia today.