Theravada is the only remaining early Buddhist school. It’s doctrine is the Pali Canon (Tipitaka), and it’s largely a monastic tradition. Theravada came from Sri Lanka. Then it spread to India and the Southeast as other Buddhist schools were dying out.

By Johnathon Lee

This is a (hopefully) helpful guide to the extant schools of Buddhism. Let’s get on with it, shall we?

Theravada

Theravada is the only remaining early Buddhist school. It’s doctrine is the Pali Canon (Tipitaka), and it’s largely a monastic tradition. Theravada came from Sri Lanka. Then it spread to India and the Southeast as other Buddhist schools were dying out. 

Theravadans emphasize the Four Noble Truths, the Three Marks of Existence, the Four Immeasurables and samatha/vipassana meditation. The Thai Forest Tradition is a new, layperson orientated, strand of Theravada. The Vipassana and mindfulness movements, as well as Non-religious Buddhism in general, are derived from Theravada.

If you’re interested in getting as close to early Buddhism as you can, then Theravada is your best bet. 

The remaining Buddhist schools are collectively called “Northern Buddhism,” and most of them are derived from the Sanskrit and Chinese Canons. 

Vajrayana

Vajrayana is an umbrella term for several Tibetan Buddhist lineages including Gelug, the Dalai Lama’s Tradition. Vajrayana incorporates views and practices from most other Buddhist schools. It also involves Tantra and Mantra. 

Tibetan Buddhism is grounded in the Bodhisattva ideal of not entering nirvana until all beings are enlightened. Vajrayana is more mystical than the other schools on this list, but that’s one of the things that makes it awesome. There’s a lot of ritual in it, but a lot of heart too, and the focus is often on enlightenment here and now. 

Pure Land

Pure Land Buddhism is based on the Infinite Life Sutra, among others. It’s probably the best school for laypeople. The focus is on attaining enlightenment in the next life, in Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land. 

The moral code is similar to other Buddhist schools, but meditation practice is far more straightforward: chant Amitabha’s name out loud or internally. You can do that seated or on the go. Pure Land is perhaps the most widely practiced school of Northern Buddhism. 

Dhyana Buddhism

Dhyana Buddhism entails Chan, Zen, Seon and Thien. Each of these lineages have different methods and focal points. However, all of them place seated meditation and Buddha-nature at the forefront. The main message is, “Just this is enlightenment.” 

Other notable mentions are Engaged Buddhism, which is derived from Thien, and it focuses on social action. Nichiren has its roots in the Lotus Sutra and it has accessible practices with light philosophy, and Navayana is a new Indian Buddhist school that’s trying to uplift the Untouchable caste. 

There are more sects of Buddhism as well, but this is just a basic guide. My practice is Dhyana Buddhism, so It’s ironic that I didn’t say much about it, but eh, it’s fine. Just watch the Karate Kid or something. 

 

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Photo: Pixabay

 

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