Buddhism > Buddhist Sects

Schools of Buddhism

There are numerous different schools or sects of Buddhism. The two largest are Theravada (ထေရဝါဒ) Buddhism and Mahayana (မဟာယာန) Buddhism. Theravada is most popular in Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Burma (Myanmar). Mahayana is strongest in Tibet, China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and Mongolia.

The majority of Buddhist sects do not seek to proselytise (preach and convert), with the notable exception of Nichiren Buddhism. All schools of Buddhism seek to aid followers on a path of enlightenment.

Theravāda (ထေရဝါဒ) Buddhism

Theravāda, “Doctrine of the Elders” is one of the earliest schools of Buddhism to crystallize into form. According to tradition, its name is derived from the fact of having been fixed by 500 holy Elders of the Order, soon after the death of the Master.
Theravāda Buddhism represent the original teachings of the historical Buddha SHAKYAMUNI handed down in Pāli. Theravāda consider the Pali Canon, the earliest Buddhist scriptures (written down in the 1st century b.c.), as an authoritative guide.
In contrast to Mahayana and Vajrayana, Theravada emphasizes the individual over the group, holding that it is the individual who must reach nirvana on their own. Its central virtue is thus wisdom, which is to be achieved by the arhat who attains enlightenment in this life and nirvana upon death. It discourages speculation about the nature of the cosmos, enlightenment, and nirvana, instead focusing on meditation to achieve enlightenment. The main social group is therefore the sangha, the gathered monks and nuns who support and teach each other as each one strives to achieve enlightenment.
Theravāda is currently the dominant form of Buddhism in Southeast Asia mainly in Myanmar, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Laos, Cambodia and parts of Vietnam.

Mahayana Buddhism

The Mahayana tradition started to develop in India between about 200 B.C. and 100 A.D.  It has adapted to different Asian cultures absorbing elements of Hinduism and Taoism.  Mahayana Buddhism emphasizes compassion and faith with the goal of helping all others attain enlightenment.  The Zen, Nichiren and Pureland sects are included in Mahayana Buddhism.

Vajrayana Buddhism

The Vajrayana or Tibetan tradition arose in India around 700 A.D. when Buddhist Indian monks brought over to Tibet a brand of Buddhism with tantric practices. This combined with elements of the local Bon religion, gives Vajrayana some of its unique practices. It tends to rely more on rituals, mantra chanting and visualizations. The most well-known figure of Buddhism, the Dalai Lama, is the spiritual head of the Vajrayana tradition.

Related Articles

An article on a short history of Buddhist Schools – by Cristian Violatti from Ancient History Encyclopedia