Also, the oldest manuscripts of the Lotus Sutra are among the oldest manuscripts in the world:Here is where I clicked Rewind: these newly found manuscripts, he declared, strike the coup de grâce to a traditional conception of Buddhism’s past that has been disintegrating for decades. It is now clear that none of the existing Buddhist collections of early Indian scriptures—not the Pali, Sanskrit, Chinese, nor
even the Gandhari—“can be privileged as the most authentic or original words of the Buddha.”. . .
Cox suggests that “rather than asking the question what single language did the Buddha use and what
represents the earliest version of his teachings, we might have to accept that from the very beginning
there were various accounts of his teachings, different sutras, and different versions of sutras transmitted
in different areas. At the very beginning we might have a number of different sources, all of whom
represent or claim to represent the teaching of the Buddha.”
Cox emphasizes that the Gandharan Buddhism is clearly not a “rebel offshoot” of the Pali canon but its own entirely localized strand— unique, but not unrelated. Early Buddhists in different regions shared many texts in common. Clearly, Buddhist monks of different language traditions in early India were in contact, and they traded ideas and influenced each other in complex ways.
We can contrast this with the Pali scriptures:The Gilgit manuscripts were nominated in 2006 to be included on the UNESCO Memory of the World register, but without success. The Gilgit manuscripts are among the oldest manuscripts in the world, and the oldest manuscript collection surviving in Pakistan, having major significance in the areas of Buddhist studies and the evolution of Asian and Sanskrit literature. The manuscripts are believed to have been written in the 5th to 6th centuries AD, though some more manuscripts were discovered in the succeeding centuries, which were also classified as Gilgit manuscripts.
Recent scholarship has suggested that the oldest Mahayana sutras were not much different doctrinally from the scriptures which came previously, except for their emphasis on the Bodhisattva path:The climate of Theravāda countries is not conducive to the survival of manuscripts. Apart from brief quotations in inscriptions and a two-page fragment from the eighth or ninth century found in Nepal, the oldest manuscripts known are from late in the fifteenth century, and there is not very much from before the eighteenth.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P%C4%81li ... anuscripts
http://enlight.lib.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/ ... 386266.pdf
As explained by Rev. Walpola Rahula below, the essential difference between Mahayana and Theravada is that Mahayana developed a separate body of literature dedicated to the Bodhisattva path, while Theravada did not. The Bodhisattva path is not unique to Mahayana Buddhism:
Sadly, there are some who don't recognize Mahayana as a legitimate Buddhist path. The more one learns about the history and doctrines of Mahayana Buddhism, the harder it is to reject its legitimacy as an equal expression of the Buddha's teachings:
https://dhammawiki.com/index.php?title= ... d_Mahayana
May you be happy and well.