Schools of Buddhism

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Map showing the three major Buddhist divisions

Schools of Buddhism refers to 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 or 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. The sectarian and conceptual divisions of Buddhist thought are part of the modern framework of Buddhist studies, as well as comparative religion in Asia.

From a largely English language standpoint, and to some extent in most of Western academia, Buddhism is separated into two groups at its foundation: Theravāda literally, "the Teaching of the Elders" or "the Ancient Teaching," and Mahāyāna, literally the "Great Vehicle." The most common classification among scholars is threefold, with Mahāyāna itself between the traditional Mahāyāna teachings, and the Vajrayāna teachings which emphasize esotericism.

Classifications[edit]

The Macmillan Encyclopedia of Religion distinguishes three types of classification of Buddhism, separated into "Movements", "Nikāyas" and "Doctrinal schools":[clarification needed]

  • Doctrinal schools

Terminology[edit]

The terminology for the major divisions of Buddhism can be confusing, as Buddhism is variously divided by scholars and practitioners according to geographic, historical, and philosophical criteria, with different terms often being used in different contexts. The following terms may be encountered in descriptions of the major Buddhist divisions:

"Conservative Buddhism"
an alternative name for the early Buddhist schools.
"Early Buddhist schools"
the schools into which Buddhism became divided in its first few centuries; only one of these survives as an independent school, Theravāda
"East Asian Buddhism"
a term used by scholars[1] to cover the Buddhist traditions of Japan, Korea, Singapore and most of China and Vietnam
"Eastern Buddhism"
an alternative name used by some scholars[2][page needed] for East Asian Buddhism; also sometimes used to refer to all traditional forms of Buddhism, as distinct from Western(ized) forms.
"Esoteric Buddhism"
usually considered synonymous with "Vajrayāna".[3] Some scholars have applied the term to certain practices found within the Theravāda, particularly in Cambodia.[4][page needed]
"Hīnayāna"
literally meaning "lesser vehicle." It is considered a controversial term when applied by the Mahāyāna to mistakenly refer to the Theravāda school, and as such is widely viewed as condescending and pejorative.[5] Moreover, Hīnayāna refers to the now non extant schools with limited set of views, practices and results, prior to the development of the Mahāyāna traditions. The term is currently most often used as a way of describing a stage on the path in Tibetan Buddhism, but is often mistakenly confused with the contemporary Theravāda tradition, which is far more complex, diversified and profound, than the literal and limiting definition attributed to Hīnayāna .[6] Its use in scholarly publications is now also considered controversial.[7]
"Lamaism"
an old term, still sometimes used, synonymous with Tibetan Buddhism; widely considered derogatory.
"Mahāyāna"
a movement that emerged from early Buddhist schools, together with its later descendants, East Asian and Tibetan Buddhism. Vajrayāna traditions are sometimes listed separately. The main use of the term in East Asian and Tibetan traditions is in reference to spiritual levels,[8][page needed] regardless of school.
"Mainstream Buddhism"
a term used by some scholars for the early Buddhist schools.
"Mantrayāna"
usually considered synonymous with "Vajrayāna".[9] The Tendai school in Japan has been described as influenced by Mantrayana.[8][page needed]
"Newar Buddhism"
a non-monastic, caste based Buddhism with patrilineal descent and Sanskrit texts.
"Nikāya Buddhism" or "schools"
an alternative term for the early Buddhist schools.
"Non-Mahāyāna"
an alternative term for the early Buddhist schools.
"Northern Buddhism"
an alternative term used by some scholars[2][page needed] for Tibetan Buddhism. Also, an older term still sometimes used to encompass both East Asian and Tibetan traditions. It has even been used to refer to East Asian Buddhism alone, without Tibetan Buddhism.
"Secret Mantra"
an alternative rendering of Mantrayāna, a more literal translation of the term used by schools in Tibetan Buddhism when referring to themselves.[10]
"Sectarian Buddhism"
an alternative name for the early Buddhist schools.
"Southeast Asian Buddhism"
an alternative name used by some scholars[11][page needed] for Theravāda.
"Southern Buddhism"
an alternative name used by some scholars[2][page needed] for Theravāda.
"Śravakayāna"
an alternative term sometimes used for the early Buddhist schools.
"Tantrayāna" or "Tantric Buddhism"
usually considered synonymous with "Vajrayāna".[9] However, one scholar describes the tantra divisions of some editions of the Tibetan scriptures as including Śravakayāna, Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna texts[12] (see Buddhist texts). Some scholars[13][page needed], particularly François Bizot,[14] have used the term "Tantric Theravāda" to refer to certain practices found particularly in Cambodia.
"Theravāda"
the traditional Buddhism of Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and parts of Vietnam, China, India, and Malaysia. It is the only surviving representative of the historical early Buddhist schools. The term "Theravāda" is also sometimes used to refer to all the early Buddhist schools.[15]
"Tibetan Buddhism"
usually understood as including the Buddhism of Tibet, Mongolia, Bhutan and parts of China, India and Russia, which follow the Tibetan tradition.
"Vajrayāna"
a movement that developed out of Indian Mahāyāna, together with its later descendants. There is some disagreement on exactly which traditions fall into this category. Tibetan Buddhism is universally recognized as falling under this heading; many also include the Japanese Shingon school. Some scholars[16][page needed], also apply the term to the Korean milgyo tradition, which is not a separate school. One scholar says, "Despite the efforts of generations of Buddhist thinkers, it remains exceedingly difficult to identify precisely what it is that sets the Vajrayana apart."[17]

Early schools[edit]

An image of Gautama Buddha with a swastika, a traditional Buddhist symbol of infinity, on his chest. Ananda, the Buddha's disciple, appears in the background. This statue is from Hsi Lai Temple.

Twenty sects[edit]

The following lists the twenty sects described as Hīnayāna, as the classification is understood in some Mahāyāna texts:

Sthaviravāda split into the 11 sects:

 Sthaviravāda─┬─ Haimavata────────────────────────────────────────────
              └─ Sarvāstivādin─┬───────────────────────────────────
                               ├ Vatsīputrīya ─┬────────────────────
                               │               ├ Dharmottara───────
                               │               ├ Bhadrayānīya─────
                               │               ├ Sammitiya────────
                               │               └ Channagirika─────
                               ├ Mahīśāsaka─┬─────────────────────
                               │            └ Dharmaguptaka──────
                               ├ Kāśyapīya────────────────────────
                               └ Sautrāntika──────────────────────

Mahāsāṃghika split into 9 sects:

Mahasanghika─┬──────────────────────┬─────
             ├ EkavyahārikaCaitikaLokottaravādinAparaśailaKaukkutikaUttaraśailaBahuśrutīyaPrajñaptivāda

Influences on East Asian schools[edit]

The following later schools used the vinaya of the Dharmaguptaka:

The following involve philosophical influence:

Theravāda subschools[edit]

Samādhi Buddha statue at Mahamevuna Park in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka carved in the 4th century AD.

The different schools in Theravāda often emphasize different aspects (or parts) of the Pāli canon and the later commentaries, or differ in the focus on and recommended way of practice. There are also significant differences in strictness or interpretation of the vinaya.

Mahāyāna schools[edit]

Esoteric schools[edit]

Subcategorised according to predecessors

New Buddhist movements[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ B & G, Gethin, R & J, P & K
  2. ^ a b c Penguin, Harvey
  3. ^ Encyclopedia of Religion, Macmillan, New York, volume 2, page 440
  4. ^ Indian Insights, Luzac, London, 1997
  5. ^ "Hinayana (literally, 'inferior way') is a polemical term, which self-described Mahāyāna (literally, 'great way') Buddhist literature uses to denigrate its opponents", p. 840, MacMillan Library Reference Encyclopedia of Buddhism, 2004
  6. ^ Ray, Reginald A (2000) Indestructible Truth: The Living Spirituality of Tibetan Buddhism, p.240
  7. ^ "The supposed Mahayana-Hinayana dichotomy is so prevalent in Buddhist literature that it has yet fully to loosen its hold over scholarly representations of the religion", p. 840, MacMillan Library Reference Encyclopedia of Buddhism, 2004
  8. ^ a b '
  9. ^ a b Harvey, pages 153ff
  10. ^ Hopkins, Jeffrey (1985) The Ultimate Deity in Action Tantra and Jung's Warning against Identifying with the Deity Buddhist-Christian Studies, Vol. 5, (1985), pp. 159–172
  11. ^ R & J, P & K
  12. ^ Skilling, Mahasutras, volume II, Parts I & II, 1997, Pali Text Society, Lancaster, page 78
  13. ^ Indian Insights, loc. cit.
  14. ^ Crosby, Kate( 2000)Tantric Theravada: A bibliographic essay on the writings of François Bizot and others on the yogvacara Tradition. In Contemporary Buddhism, 1:2, 141–198[1]
  15. ^ Encyclopedia of Religion, volume 2, Macmillan, New York, 1987, pages 440f; Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, sv Buddhism
  16. ^ Harvey
  17. ^ Lopez, Buddhism in Practice, Princeton University Press, 1995, page 6
  18. ^ http://www.shengyen.org/e_content/content/about/about_04_06.aspx.

Literature[edit]

  • Dutt, N. (1998). Buddhist Sects in India. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
  • Coleman, Graham, ed. (1993). A Handbook of Tibetan Culture. Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc.. ISBN 1-57062-002-4.
  • Warder, A.K. (1970). Indian Buddhism. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

External links[edit]