This is a comparison of the two main strands of Buddhism — Theravada and Mahayana.

In his book, Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung?, Buddhist monk Ajahn Brahm writes:

I am often asked what the difference is between the major strands of Buddhism - Mahayana, Theravada, Vajrayana and Zen. The answer is that they are like identical cakes with four different icings: on the outside the traditions may look and taste different, but when you go deeply into them, you find the same taste — the taste of freedom.

Comparison chart

Mahayana versus Theravada comparison chart
Edit this comparison chartMahayanaTheravada
Belief There is the belief that some celestial beings exist in other realms but cannot help people There are no beliefs. However, there is a faculty of conviction that is required for a worldling in order to start their practice. Initially, it has to be embraced that the Buddha is fully enlightened, thus actual investigation might follow.
Goal of religion Becoming a Buddha, hence fulfilling the destiny of a Bodhisattva, enlightenment & inner peace. Deliverance of mind. Becoming an Arahant and freeing one's self from bondage, namely samsara.
Place of worship Temples and monasteries. There is no worship in Theravada, though there are monastic temples.
Practices Meditation, regularly visit to temples to make offerings to the Buddha. Donation (alms-giving, etc.), Morality, and Meditation (insight). (Morality is nobler than donation and meditation is nobler than morality.)
Place of origin India Indian subcontinent
Founder Siddhartha Gautama Siddhāttha Gotama
Literal Meaning Mahayana means "Great vehicle" Theravada means "teaching of the elders". It refers to the pure or original teachings of the Buddha over 2500 years ago.
Concept of Deity There are deities, celestical beings, but nothing like creator gods of theistic religions. Though it is believed that some devas are able to help lower beings. There are classes of beings. Some are called devas, higher life forms than human beings, though nothing supernatural. They are all stuck in their own samsara. There is no absolute entity, as an existing entity is seen as a conditioned phenomenon.
God's role in salvation Mahayanists don't believe in a Supreme Being Who is the Creator of the universe. Some do believe in numerous devas. Theravada rejects the concept of creator god. Beings are heirs of their own kamma.
Clergy Monks, Nuns, Laypeople , Clergy-People, , disciples & Monastics Sangha; ones who live according to the monastic codes. The concept of monk, or nun did not exist in earlier Buddhism. Those who chose to live under the guidance of the Tathāgata (Siddhāttha Gotama) parted from the worldlings.
Means of salvation Becoming a Buddha, through the path of the Bodhisattva. A Bodhisattva is an enlightened being to an extent, seeking full enlightenment out of compassion for all beings. Attaining Nibbāna through the Noble Eightfold Path, thus becoming an Arahant, an awakened one.
Status of women Equal to men, are able to become clergy-people. Anyone of any sex or gender identity can become a Mahayana Buddhist, Sex and Gender are both impermanent and fluid. Women can join the Sangha. In the Dharmic approach, the Buddha was the very first to allow women into monastic life.
Use of statues and pictures Statues are used for meditation and prayers. Statues of the Buddha are objects of meditation.
Marriage Not required. Marriage is viewed as a secular concept. One can marry and lead a moral life but should know that desire, attachments and cravings lead to suffering.
Religious Law Dharma is a set of instructions for those willing to follow, not a set of laws. There are no religious laws in Theravada, rather teachings of wisdom, and the Dhamma for those who are seeking liberation.
Confessing sins Confessing is not relevant, but meditation practice may eliminate negative impressions in mind created by harmful actions. There is no concept of sin in Theravada. Kamma implies volitional action and all deeds have their fruits. Nevertheless, not being mentally attached to a certain misdeed was strongly adviced by the Buddha.
Geographical distribution and predominance Asia, Australia and North America. Asia, Australia and North America.
View of Abrahamic religions There are no specific views of Abrahamic religions in the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism. They respect all beliefs. There are no specific views of Abrahamic religions in the Dhamma of the Theravada. Though they reject theism for themselves.
Belief of God Non-Thestic, Some Atheists, Some believe in gods. N/A
Life after death Reincarnation. Reincarnation, Heaven/Hell are both temporary
Status of Adam N/A N/A
About Inner Peace, Enlightenment, Wisdom. Spiritual awakening one's self through meditation.
Angels No Angles N/A
Identity of Jesus N/A. Regular Person who preached peace, love, and acceptance
Birth of Jesus Normal Birth Normal Birth, Regular Person.
Promised Holy one. N/A. None.
Concept of God No gods N/A
Death of Jesus Death by Crucifixion Death by Crucifixion
Ressurection of Jesus N/A Denied
Human Nature Every human (or any other being) is driven by illusory disturbing emotions, ignorance and ego. On the other hand each being has indestructible perfect potential (sometimes called a state of Buddha) that is their true nature. Human life is very hard to obtain, hence it is very important to practice. An ordinary human is called a puthujjana, a worldling. This kind is motivated by their illusory ego in all aspects of life.
Clothes Some people wear robes while others wear long clothing. Clothes shouldn't be revealing to anyone. Robes, Clothes comfortable for meditation; not reveling.
View of the Buddha Founder of Buddhism. "Buddha" can also be understood as a nature of mind inherent in any being or any being that realised that state. The Tathāgata is the worthy one. According to Theravada, Siddhāttha Gotama had the supreme enlightenment, which makes him superior to an Arahant. He's the one who propounded the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.
Second coming of Jesus N/A Denied.
Introduction main existing branches of Buddhism and a term for classification of Buddhist philosophies and practice. The Buddhist tradition of Vajrayana is sometimes classified as a part of Mahayana Buddhism, but some scholars may consider it as a different branc (Pali, literally "school of the elder monks") is a branch of Buddhism that uses the teaching of the Pāli Canon, a collection of the oldest recorded Buddhist texts, as its doctrinal core, but also includes a rich diversity of traditions and practices
View of theistic religions Mahayana Buddhists respect all beliefs, though they see them as mistaken. The Buddha stated in doctrine that such theistic ideas and overall organized religion have the potential to drive someone insane, thus causing fanaticism or self-harm. According to Theravada, such theistic ideas originate out of false ego-belief.
Teachings Mahayana Buddhists usually follow Siddhartha Gautama (The Buddha) or sometimes Amitābha who is a canonical figure, usually described as a celestical Buddha. Prajñāpāramitā Sutras are one of the main canonical texts of the Mahayana tradition. Theravadins follow Siddhāttha Gotama's teachings only. Their canonical texts are the Pali Canon, namely Tipitaka.

video explaining both Mahayana and Theravada practices

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