From an ultimate perspective, Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism are essentially the same:
The Basic Points Unifying the Theravāda and the Mahāyāna is an important Buddhist ecumenical statement created in 1967 during the First Congress of the World Buddhist Sangha Council (WBSC), where its founder Secretary-General, the late Venerable Pandita Pimbure Sorata Thera, requested the Ven. Walpola Rahula to present a concise formula for the unification of all the different Buddhist traditions. This text was then unanimously approved by the Council.
The Eightfold Path of Theravada Buddhism is equivalent to the Six Paramitas of Mahayana Buddhism:
- Generosity (Skt. Dāna, Jp. fuse 布施)
- Moral conduct, upholding precepts (Skt. Śīla, Jp. jikai 持戒)
Corresponding elements of the Eightfold Path: Right Speech, Right Conduct, and Right Livelihood
- Forbearance (Skt. Kṣānti, Jp. ninniku忍辱)
Corresponding element of the Eightfold Path: Right Effort with regard one’s state of mind.
- Diligence (Skt. Vīrya, Jp. shōjin 精進)
Corresponding element of the Eightfold Path: Right Effort with regard one’s words and actions.
- Contemplation (Skt. Dhyāna, Jp. zenjō 禪定)
Corresponding elements of the Eightfold Path: Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration.
- Wisdom (Skt. Prajñā, Jp. chie 智慧)
Corresponding elements of the Eightfold Path: Right View and Right Thought.
While it’s often claimed that Theravadins settle for mere arahantship, rather than Buddhahood, this is untrue:
Sāvaka-buddha (Pāli) is a rarely used term in Theravada Buddhism, identifying enlightened ‘disciples of a Buddha’ as Buddhas. These disciples are those enlightened individuals who gain Nibbana by hearing the Dhamma as initially taught by a Sammasambuddha (a self-taught Buddha).