There are significant differences between the two main movements of the current Buddhism, Mahayana and Theravada. Among them some are particularly important to understand, how these divisions mutually exclusive contrast between them. Before addressing these specific differences however we must be made clear that the main and fundamental divergence between the two groups, from which it can be concluded that all remaining derived, is that the practice Mahayana emphasizes an inclusiveness that presents itself as the antithesis Theravada doctrine of preservation. While the adaptability of the Mahayana has attracted new practitioners and amended on itself to adjust to modernity, the Theravada shows a strong resistance to change that allows it to remain faithful as a container of thoughts Buddhists original, questioned yet preserved front of two millennium process.
Continuing with this view, one of the most visible examples of flexibility or, a more critical, revisionism of the Mahayana doctrine has been the adoption of the Bodhisattva ideal way to describe the most desirable in the quest for illumination. The model of sacrificial Bodhisattva coexists well with the Western perceptions of the qualities that one should be above have - compassion in the form of the figure of Christ and altruism. Although there is little emphasis on responsible postponement of Nirvana in the early Buddhist teachings, this heroic concept, which resounds well with newer members, has become one of the lifting of the Mahayana tradition. So, while the Mahayana Buddhists preach a magnificent rejection of personal salvation and make it their ultimate goal, discipline in Theravada great effort that is reserved only for the most capable. It can therefore conclude that the customs Mahayana were trained in large part for the needs of religion in attracting new members in accordance with the specific realities of the past.
Strengthening this argument is the classical incongruity between the Mahayana and Theravada perspective on the nature of Buddha, or innate human potential for lighting. For the theologians of the Mahayana, humanity is endowed with an unquestionable ability to achieve an exit from the cycle of rebirth. This positive perspective is easier to understand when imposed on the philosophy Theravada, a much less pleasant, that human nature is an obstacle to be surpassed in search of transcendence. In short nature of humanity of the Mahayana is in conflict with the Theravada idea of human nature of the Buddha because for a human nature naturally leads to freedom, while for the other it provides obstacles. Therefore, a Buddha-nature-of flourishing, even in the absence of this self-realization, the idea to which the followers of the Mahayana join, is a philosophy attractive cosmopolitan which has a capacity to attract converted much larger than the description of Theravada fire-and-sulfur to the human condition. It should not surprise that the interpretation Mahayana, optimistic and receptive, is the target of many objections among the Theravadins, who suspect that the truth is being exchanged for larger numbers.
There are other minor differences between the Mahayana and Theravada, but not enough to separate them so clear as those mentioned above. One small but detectable difference is the role of the sangha, or spiritual community, in practice the faith. The Theravadins, for whom the concept of "being a lamp for itself" has greater significance tend to think of the sangha as a practical tool but not necessarily useful in search of religious fullness. That is a monastic community can be useful for an economic point of view the work of lighting but the presence of others in that environment does not influence the acquisition of enlightenment itself. This idea is opposed to the importance that the Mahayanists often attach to their congregations whose purpose is to provide individual members with encouragement and mutual support over their spiritual journeys. Again you can see that the high esteem that the Mahayana is the Sangha meets the tastes and western confrontations since the religions of the West are often practiced in groups and collectives of comparision does not conflict with this stance. Again the tongue seems to be a priority for Mahayanists and a situation to be avoided for Theravadins.
Increasing the list of disparities secondary - yet significant - compared to the two divisions is presented initial inconsistency between schools about how long we must wait after knowing the Dharma until there is the possibility of lighting; Theravadins while accepting the answer Orthodox and canonical "eons" they like many fundamentalists interpret as meaning at least several lives is typical of the Mahayana school or opt for interpret "eons" metaphorically to describe a long period in the life of this practitioner or alternatively by discard the need to wait for complete and declare that the possibility of lighting is immediate. (The latter interpretation of enlightenment "sudden" is of course a belief exclusive of Zen and therefore should not be considered representative of the Mahayana tradition). With such range of possibilities should not surprise the viewer understand that each variety of search engines has a corresponding Buddhist discipline and that the modus of troubled western is easier to adjust the practice Mahayana? The instant gratification that made possible the modern era and that its citizens now hope to have conveniently accessible can explain much of the popularity of Mahayana and especially of Zen in the developed world. Therefore the malleability of Buddhism under the flag of the Mahayana again appears to be open to the new faith though possibly at the cost of undermining its own message.
Finally it seems that the liberal spirit of concession that the authorities of Mahayana bring to the formulation of canons - building terminology somewhat imprecise and emphasizing elements in some arbitrary - there is a similar way in the political arena where political "liberals" are often accepted by religious organizations. Although both the Theravada as the Mahayana have a tendency to identify more with current left-wing than other beliefs the issue of abortion divided these two streams of Dharma in the same way he made with the American public in general. This particular subject of debate is an example of how both though considered highly correlated with regard to the political perspective we still may differ dramatically in lines of orthodoxy-and-retirement. With the refusal of the Theravada hand to recognize the right of choice of women in all circumstances and adoption by the Mahayana a more attenuated and modified by political and social context recognizing the right to life while mitigating proposes it is apparent that the variety makes a value system that corresponds more closely to the people of the modern era. So the mentality Mahayana moves further because of traditionalism to promote camaraderie, which undoubtedly spreads sensitivity to public opinion.
The above examples were offered to reinforce the premise that, although a wide variety of differences exist between the two vehicles of the most prominent Buddhist transmission, its origins refer to a single, small difference of opinion - as if a change of guard and resulting numerical increase is preferable to a tradition of conservation that could in theory sell beginners.