Foundational Teaching and Branches of Buddhism
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Foundational Teaching and Branches of Buddhism

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Foundational Teaching and Branches of Buddhism

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Foundational Teaching and Branches of Buddhism

The foundations of Buddhist tradition and practice are the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma (the teachings), and the Sangha (the community). All schools of Buddhism seek to aid followers on a path of enlightenment.Saṃsāra defined as the continual repetitive cycle of birth and death that arises from ordinary beings' grasping and fixating on a self and experiences. Specifically, samsara refers to the process of cycling through one rebirth after another within the six realms of existenceThere are numerous different schools or sects of Buddhism. The two largest are Theravada Buddhism, which is most popular in, and Mahayana Buddhism, which is strongest in.Two major extant branches of Buddhism are generally recognized by scholars: Theravada ("The School of the Elders")Mahayana ("The Great Vehicle"). Vajrayana, a body of teachings attributed to Indian siddhas, may be viewed as a third branch or merely a part of Mahayana.


has a widespread following in Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Burma (Myanmar).

Mahayana which includes the traditions of Pure Land, Zen,




, and




) is found in Tibet, China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and Mongolia.

Tibetan Buddhism, which preserves the Vajrayana teachings of eighth century India, is practiced in regions surrounding the Himalayas, Mongolia and Kalmykia.

The majority of Buddhist sects do not seek to


(preach and convert), with the notable exception of





Branches of Buddhism

Movement and development of the branches of Buddhism


Branches of Buddhism Theravada Buddhism

In Theravada Buddhism, the ultimate goal is the attainment of the sublime state of Nirvana, achieved by practicing the Noble Eightfold Path (also known as the Middle Way), thus escaping what is seen as a cycle of suffering and rebirth.Distinctive doctrines:The Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama, Shakyamuni) is gone, and individual practitioners must work out their salvation on their own.The Buddha was unique, and individual practitioners cannot become Buddhas, only arhats ("saints"). There will be a future Buddha, Maitreya, but not for thousands of years.Nirvân.a (liberation) and samsâra (the place of death and rebirth) are definitely different. Samsâra is a place of suffering to be left behind. Nirvân.a is a liberation that is free of death and rebirth but is beyond description and rational understanding.Every Buddhist from the Therevada school recites a ‘formula’: The Three Refugees and The Five Precepts. They are moral laws somewhat like the ten commandments. The Three Refugees:I take refuge in Buddha.I take refuge in the Dharma – the method.I take refuge in the Sangha – the fraternity of thefollowers of the Buddha.The Five Precepts: I promise to abstain from taking life. I promise to abstain from taking what is not given. I promise to abstain from exploiting my passions. I promise to abstain from false speech. I promise to abstain from getting intoxicated.

Theravada Temple China


Branches of Buddhism Mahayana Buddhism

Distinctive Doctrine: The Gautama Buddha is not gone, and individual practitioners are not on their own. The Buddha taught the dharma out of compassion, and his compassion would prevent him from being unavailable to practitioners now. To emulate the compassion of the Buddha, practitioners become bodhisattvas, who vow to carry all beings with them into salvation. Bodhisattvas are also available, like the Buddhas, to help people work out their salvation. Maitreya is presently a bodhisattva, but the most important bodhisattva is probably Avalokiteshvara, who developed into the Chinese goddess of Mercy, Guanyin (Kwan-in in Wade-Giles, Kannon in Japan).The Buddha was not unique, and individual practitioners who have become bodhisattvas can become Buddhas. There are already multiple Buddhas besides Shakyamuni. Most important are Mahâvairocana and Amitâbha. Most of the famous Buddha statues in Japan are not Shakyamuni: the great outdoor bronze Buddha at Kamakura is Amida, and the Buddha enshrined in the Tôdaiji ("Great Eastern") Temple in Nara (the largest wooden building in the world), is another Buddha named Locana.The awakening consists in understanding the true nature of reality. The bodhisattvas seek to understand this reality through wisdom (prajna) and to actualize it through compassion (karuna). They realize that since no individual has a “self,” there can be no real difference between themselves and others, and therefore their own liberation is not distinct from the liberation of all beings.

Mahayana Temple New York



Branches of Buddhism Mahayana Buddhism

Distinctive Doctrine: They are thus “self-less,” both philosophically, in the sense of understanding the absence of self or essence in all things and persons, and ethically, since they act for all beings without discrimination. As developed by later philosophers, such as Jnanagarbha in the 8th century, the doctrine of the Two Truths, absolute truth (paramarthasatya) and conventional truth (samvritisatya), resolves the apparent conflict by stating that ultimately things do not exist as such, which is to say, do not exist as they seem to exist, substantially. Understanding absolute truth consists in understanding the nature of ordinary reality as nothing more than conventional.


Branches of Buddhism Mahayana Buddhism

Distinctive Doctrine: The universal accessibility of awakening, together with the idea that the universe has no beginning in time and is filled with an infinite number of beings and an infinite number of worlds, leads to the conclusion that there are not only an infinite number of bodhisattvas in the universe but also an infinite number of buddhas, each dwelling in his own world-realm.The existence of these buddhas erases the separation between samsara and nirvana inherent in the idea that buddhas cease to exist upon attaining nirvana. Nirvana and samsâra are no longer definitely different. The "Fourfold Negation" is applied to the relationship between the two. Samsâra and nirvana are thus neither the same, nor different, nor both the same and different, nor neither the same nor different. This allows some room for maneuver, which may have made Buddhism more palatable in China, where Confucianism never did approve either of the world-denying metaphysics or the monasticism of Buddhism. Distinctively Chinese schools of Buddhism developed, like T'ien-t'ai (Tendai in Japan) and Ch'an (Seon [Son] in Korea, Thien in Vietnam, Zen in Japan), for whom samsâra and nirvana were virtually identical, so that enlightenment and nirvana transformed the world rather than eliminated it. The paradoxical metaphysics of Buddhism could be assimilated to the similar paradoxical doctrines of the native Chinese philosophical school of Taoism.


Branches of Buddhism Vajrayâna Buddhism

Distinctive Doctrine: Vajrayâna Buddhism is Tantric Buddhism, often called "esoteric" Buddhism. Although it is sometimes also translated as "diamond" (i.e. "hard"), The vajra (kongô in Japanese) was originally the thunderbolt of Indra; and in Vajrayâna it symbolizes the magical power of Tantrism. Tantric magic could be worked through mandalas, sacred diagrams, mantras, sacred formulas for recitation (the most famous one being, "Om, mane padme hum" -- "The jewel is in the lotus"), and mudrâs, sacred gestures.This Tantric magic could be merely "wonder working" or could be regarded as means of achieving liberation in addition to or apart from meditative or meritorious practices. Just as Hindu Tantrism expresses its magical power through goddesses like Kâlî, Vajrayâna emphasizes female figures. Vajrayâna comes to balance male Bodhisattvas with female Bodhisattvas as attendants of the various Buddhas. Tibetan Buddhism supplies female figures corresponding to each Buddha, like the "savioresses" Green Târâ, White Târâ, and Mâmakî, who actually vow to always be reborn as women in the process of leading all beings to salvation.Vajrayâna symbolism always balances male and female: the Vajra Mandala (or the "jewel" above) corresponds to the Womb (or Matrix) Mandala (the "lotus"). Vajrayâna Buddhism most importantly spread to Tibet and then Mongolia. In Tibet it assumed distinctive forms that are usually called Lamaism, since the monks are called Lamas. The present Dalai Lama, who was the priestly ruler of Tibet until he fled the Communist Chinese in 1959, is from a line that is reputed to be successive incarnations of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara.


Branches of Buddhism Comparision




There is the belief that some celestial beings exist in other realms and they are able to help humans and answer prayers.

There are no beliefs. However, there is a faculty of conviction that is required for a


in order to start their practice. Initially, it has to be embraced that the Buddha is fully enlightened, thus actual investigation might follow.

Goal of religion

Becoming a Buddha, hence fulfilling the destiny of a Bodhisattva, enlightenment & inner peace.

Deliverance of mind. Becoming an Arahant and freeing one's self from bondage, namely samsara.

Place of worship

Temples and monasteries.

There is no worship in Theravada, though there are monastic temples.


Meditation, regularly visit to temples to make offerings to the Buddha.

Donation (alms-giving, etc.), Morality, and Meditation (insight). (Morality is nobler than donation and meditation is nobler than morality.)

Place of origin




Siddhartha Gautama



Literal Meaning

Mahayana means "Great vehicle"

Theravada means "teaching of the elders". It refers to the pure or original teachings of the Buddha over 2500 years ago.

Concept of Deity

There are deities, celestical beings, but nothing like creator gods of theistic religions. Though it is believed that some devas are able to help lower beings.

There are classes of beings. Some are called devas, higher life forms than human beings, though nothing supernatural. They are all stuck in their own samsara. There is no absolute entity, as an existing entity is seen as a conditioned phenomenon.

God's role in salvation

Mahayanists don't believe in a Supreme Being Who is the Creator of the universe. Some do believe in numerous devas.

Theravada rejects the concept of creator god. Beings are heirs of their own




Branches of Buddhism




Monks, Nuns, Laypeople , Clergy-People, , disciples & Monastics

Sangha; ones who live according to the monastic codes. The concept of monk, or nun did not exist in earlier Buddhism. Those who chose to live under the guidance of the





) parted from the



Means of salvation

Becoming a Buddha, through the path of the Bodhisattva. A Bodhisattva is an enlightened being to an extent, seeking full enlightenment out of compassion for all beings.



through the Noble Eightfold Path, thus becoming an Arahant, an awakened one.

Status of women

Equal to men, are able to become clergy-people. Anyone of any sex or gender identity can become a Mahayana Buddhist, Sex and Gender are both impermanent and fluid.

Women can join the Sangha. In the


approach, the Buddha was the very first to allow women into monastic life.

Use of statues and pictures

Statues are used for meditation and prayers.

Statues of the Buddha are objects of meditation.


Not required. Marriage is viewed as a secular concept.

One can marry and lead a moral life but should know that desire, attachments and cravings lead to suffering.

Religious Law

Dharma is a set of instructions for those willing to follow, not a set of laws.

There are no religious laws in Theravada, rather teachings of wisdom, and the


for those who are seeking liberation.

Confessing sins

Confessing is not relevant, but meditation practice may eliminate negative impressions in mind created by harmful actions.

There is no concept of sin in Theravada.


implies volitional action and all deeds have their fruits. Nevertheless, not being mentally attached to a certain misdeed was strongly


by the Buddha.


Branches of Buddhism



Geographical distribution and predominance

Asia, Australia and North America.

Asia, Australia and North America.

View of Abrahamic religions

There are no specific views of Abrahamic religions in the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism. They respect all beliefs.

There are no specific views of Abrahamic religions in the Dhamma of the Theravada. Though they reject theism for themselves.

Belief of God



, Some Atheists, Some believe in gods.


Life after death


Reincarnation, Heaven/Hell are both temporary


Inner Peace, Enlightenment, Wisdom.

Spiritual awakening one's self through meditation.

Concept of God

No gods


Human Nature

Every human (or any other being) is driven by illusory disturbing emotions, ignorance and ego. On the other hand each being has indestructible perfect potential (sometimes called a state of Buddha) that is their true nature.

Human life is very hard to obtain, hence it is very important to practice. An ordinary human is called a


, a


. This kind is motivated by their illusory ego in all aspects of life.


Some people wear robes while others wear long clothing. Clothes shouldn't be revealing to anyone.

Robes, Clothes comfortable for meditation; not reveling.


Branches of Buddhism



View of the Buddha

Founder of Buddhism. "Buddha" can also be understood as a nature of mind inherent in any being or any being that


that state.



is the worthy one. According to Theravada,



had the supreme enlightenment, which makes him superior to an Arahant. He's the one who propounded the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.


main existing branches of Buddhism and a term for classification of Buddhist philosophies and practice. The Buddhist tradition of Vajrayana is sometimes classified as a part of Mahayana Buddhism, but some scholars may consider it as a different




, literally "school of the elder monks") is a branch of Buddhism that uses the teaching of the


Canon, a collection of the oldest recorded Buddhist texts, as its doctrinal core, but also includes a rich diversity of traditions and practices

View of theistic religions

Mahayana Buddhists respect all beliefs, though they see them as mistaken.

The Buddha stated in doctrine that such theistic ideas and overall organized religion have the potential to drive someone insane, thus causing fanaticism or self-harm. According to Theravada, such theistic ideas originate out of false ego-belief.


Mahayana Buddhists usually follow Siddhartha Gautama (The Buddha) or sometimes Amitābha who is a canonical figure, usually described as a celestical Buddha. Prajñāpāramitā Sutras are one of the main canonical texts of the Mahayana tradition.





teachings only. Their canonical texts are the


Canon, namely