Schools of Buddhism

The schools of Buddhism are the various institutional and doctrinal divisions of Buddhism that have existed from ancient times up to the present. The classification and nature of various doctrinal, philosophical or cultural facets of the schools of Buddhism is vague and has been interpreted in many different ways, often due to the sheer number (perhaps thousands) of different sects, subsects, movements, etc. that have made up or currently make up the whole of Buddhist traditions. From a largely English-language standpoint, and to some extent in most of Western academia, Buddhism is separated into two groups:

  1. Theravāda, literally “the Teaching of the Elders” or “the Ancient Teaching”
  2. Mahāyāna, literally the “Great Vehicle”

The most common classification among scholars is threefold:

  1. Theravāda
  2. Mahāyāna
  3. Vajrayāna

Theravāda: “Teaching of the Elders”
This tradition, mainly dominant in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, generally focuses on the study of its main textual collection, the Pali Canon as well other forms of Pali literature. This tradition is sometimes denominated as a part of Nikaya Buddhism, referring to the conservative Buddhist traditions in India who did not accept the Mahayana sutras into their Tripitaka collection of scriptures.

Mahāyāna: “Great Vehicle”
Prominent in East Asia and derived from the Chinese Buddhist traditions which began to develop during the Han Dynasty, this tradition focuses on the teachings found in Mahāyāna sutras (which are not considered canonical or authoritative in Theravāda), preserved in the Chinese Buddhist Canon. There are many schools and traditions, with different texts and focuses, such as Zen (Chan in Chinese) and Pure Land (see below).

Vajrayāna: “Vajra Vehicle”
Vajrayāna, also known as Mantrayāna, Tantric Buddhism and Esoteric Buddhism, is prominent in Tibet, Bhutan and the Himalayan region as well as in Mongolia and the Russian republic of Kalmykia. It is sometimes considered to be a part of the broader category of Mahāyāna Buddhism instead of a separate tradition. The main texts of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism are contained in the Kanjur and the Tenjur. Besides the study of major Mahāyāna texts, this branch emphasizes the study of Buddhist tantric materials, mainly those related to the Buddhist tantras.

Pure Land Buddhism
Pure Land Buddhism is a broad branch of Mahayana Buddhism and one of the most widely practiced traditions of Buddhism in East Asia. Pure Land is a tradition of Buddhist teachings that are focused on the Buddha Amitābha. Pure Land oriented practices and concepts are found within basic Mahāyāna Buddhist cosmology, and form an important component of the Mahāyāna Buddhist traditions of China, Japan, Korea, Tibet and Vietnam. The term “Pure Land Buddhism” is used to describe both the Pure Land soteriology of Mahayana Buddhism, which may be better understood as “Pure Land traditions” or “Pure Land teachings,” and the separate Pure Land sects that developed in Japan from the work of Hōnen. Pure Land Buddhism is built on the belief that there will never be a world which is not corrupt, so the rebirth in another plane, referred to as the “Pure Land” is the goal.




copied and republished from Wikipedia