Buddhism is a major world religion with over 500 million followers. It began in India over 2,000 years ago and continues to draw a huge following of devoted practitioners. Today it’s practiced worldwide, and Buddhist temples can be found from Sri Lanka to Canada.
So, what different types of Buddhism are there? Does a Buddhist in North America follow the same practices as a Buddhist in Japan?
We’re going to take a look at how to practice Buddhism in different ways with the three main branches of Buddhism.
What Are The 3 Types Of Buddhism?
The three main branches of Buddhism are Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana.
But don’t be fooled. There are many different types of Buddhism, including Zen, Thai Forest Tradition, and Pure Land Buddhism.
Today, we’re going to cover the three main schools of Buddhism. First up: Theravada Buddhism.
1. Theravada Buddhism: The School Of The Elders
Theravada is the oldest school of Buddhism. It’s called the School of the Elders because it draws its practices from the earliest Buddhist teachings.
Theravada Buddhism follows the Pali Canon — the oldest recorded teachings of the Buddha. The teachings are written in the ancient Indian language Pali, which can be found in Theravada Buddhism and Hinduism.
Theravada is the most conservative branch of Buddhism. Strict rules govern meditation practice and new teachings aren’t usually incorporated into the practice.
The aim of Theravada Buddhism is to become an arhat — a fully awakened being. This can be achieved through meditation, the contemplation of sutras, and following the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path: right vision, right emotion, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right meditation.
Today, Theravada Buddhism is most popular in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar.
2. Mahayana Buddhism: The Great Vehicle
Next up is Mahayana Buddhism: the most popular branch of Buddhism today. Mahayana Buddhism is most popular in Nepal, Japan, China, Tibet, and Korea.
In Sanskrit, Mahayana means “Great Vehicle.” This is a reference to the Mahayana Buddhism teaching of the bodhisattva.
A bodhisattva is a person who has become awakened. Bodhisattvas have the ability to access nirvana, the state beyond suffering. But instead of doing so, they choose to delay their nirvana to guide and teach others.
In Mahayana Buddhism, anyone can become a bodhisattva. And bodhisattvas work to help others achieve freedom from suffering.
Mahayana tradition allows for new teachings outside the Pali canon. Popular sutras in Mahayana Buddhism are the Lotus Sutra and the Heart Sutra.
3. Vajrayana Buddhism: The Way Of The Diamond
Vajrayana Buddhism is known as“the Way of the Diamond.” It’s sometimes also called Tantric or Esoteric Buddhism.
As far as different types of Buddhism go, Vajrayana is one of the most unique.
What makes Vajrayana Buddhism so special is its approach to rapid Enlightenment through the use of tantras — mystical texts that date back to the 6th century CE. Some of these practices combine spiritual and physical practices that can be overwhelming for beginners.
Because of the intense application needed for many Vajrayana Buddhist practices, most Vajrayana schools only accept advanced teachers and students.
What Are The 5 Rules Of Buddhism?
These 5 rules of Buddhism are similar to the rules of any other religion.
- “I undertake the training-precept to abstain from the onslaught on breathing beings.” (Pali: Pāṇātipātā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi.)
- “I undertake the training-precept to abstain from taking what is not given.” (Pali: Adinnādānā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi.)
- “I undertake the training-precept to abstain from misconduct concerning sense-pleasures.” (Pali: Kāmesumicchācāra veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi.)
- “I undertake the training-precept to abstain from false speech.” (Pali: Musāvādā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi.)
- “I undertake the training-precept to abstain from alcoholic drink or drugs that are an opportunity for heedlessness.” (Pali: Surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi.)
So, which of the three different types of Buddhism intrigued you most? Share your thoughts in the comments below.