forms of Buddhism can be understood by becoming familiar with
the two major schools that arose out of the Buddha's basic teachings:
major schools of Buddhism, Theravada and the Mahayana, are to
be understood as different expressions of the same teaching
of the historical Buddha. Because, in fact, they agree upon
and practice the core teachings of the Buddhas Dharma.
And while there was a schism after the first council on the
death of the Buddha, it was largely over the monastic rules
and academic points such as whether an enlightened person could
lapse or not. Time, culture and customs in the countries in
Asia which adopted the Buddha-dharma have more to do with the
apparent differences, as you will not find any animosity between
the two major schools, other than that created by healthy debate
on the expression of and the implementation of the Buddha's
(The Teachings of the Elders)
In the Buddhist
countries of southern Asia, there never arose any serious differences
on the fundamentals of Buddhism. All these countries - Sri Lanka,
Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand, have accepted the principles
of the Theravada school and any differences there might be between
the various schools is restricted to minor matters.
available teachings of the Buddha are to be found in Pali literature
and belongs to the school of the Theravadins, who may be called
the most orthodox school of Buddhism. This school admits the
human characteristics of the Buddha, and is characterised by
a psychological understanding of human nature; and emphasises
a meditative approach to the transformation of consciousness.
of the Buddha according to this school is very plain. He asks
us to abstain from all kinds of evil, to accumulate all
that is good and to purify our mind. These can be accomplished
by The Three Trainings: the development of ethical conduct,
meditation and insight-wisdom.
of this school is straight forward. All worldly phenomena are
subject to three characteristics - they are impermanent and
transient; unsatisfactory and that there is nothing in them
which can be called one's own, nothing substantial, nothing
permanent. All compounded things are made up of two elements
- the non-material part, the material part. They are further
described as consisting of nothing but five constituent groups,
namely the material quality, and the four non-material qualities
- sensations, perception, mental formatives and lastly consciousness.
individual thus understands the true nature of things, she/he
finds nothing substantial in the world. Through this understanding,
there is neither indulgence in the pleasures of senses or self-mortification,
following the Middle Path the practitioner lives according to
the Noble Eightfold Path which consist of Right View, Right
Resolve, Right Speech, Right Actions, Right Occupation, Right
Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. She/he realises
that all worldly suffering is caused by craving and that it
is possible to bring suffering to an end by following the Noble
Eight Fold Path. When that perfected state of insight is reached,
i.e.Nibanna, that person is a worthy person an Arhat.
The life of the Arhat is the ideal of the followers of this
school, a life where all (future) birth is at an end,
where the holy life is fully achieved, where all that has to
be done has been done, and there is no more returning to the
(The Great Vehicle)
is more of an umbrella body for a great variety of schools,
from the Tantra school (the secret teaching of Yoga) well represented
in Tibet and Nepal to the Pure Land sect, whose essential teaching
is that salvation can be attained only through absolute trust
in the saving power of Amitabha, longing to be reborn in his
paradise through his grace, which are found in China, Korea
and Japan. Chan and Zen Buddhism, of China and Japan,
are meditation schools. According to these schools, to look
inward and not to look outwards is the only way to achieve enlightenment,
which to the human mind is ultimately the same as Buddhahood.
In this system, the emphasis is upon intuition,
its peculiarity being that it has no words in which to express
itself at all, so it does this in symbols and images. In the
course of time this system developed its philosophy of intuition
to such a degree that it remains unique to this day.
It is generally
accepted, that what we know today as the Mahayana arose from
the Mahasanghikas sect who were the earliest seceders, and the
forerunners of the Mahayana. They took up the cause of their
new sect with zeal and enthusiasm and in a few decades grew
remarkably in power and popularity. They adapted the existing
monastic rules and thus revolutionised the Buddhist Order of
Monks. Moreover, they made alterations in the arrangements and
interpretation of the Sutra (Discourses) and the Vinaya (Rules)
texts. And they rejected certain portions of the canon which
had been accepted in the First Council.
to it, the Buddhas are lokottara (supramundane) and are connected
only externally with the worldly life. This conception of the
Buddha contributed much to the growth of the Mahayana philosophy.
Buddhism is divided into two systems of thought: the Madhyamika
and the Yogacara. The Madhyamikas were so called on account
of the emphasis they laid on the middle view. Here, the middle
path, stands for the non-acceptance of the two views concerning
existence and nonexistence, eternity and non eternity, self
and non-self. In short, it advocates neither the theory of reality
nor that of the unreality of the world, but merely of relativity.
It is, however, to be noted that the Middle Path propounded
at Sarnath by the Buddha had an ethical meaning, while that
of the Madhyamikas is a metaphysical concept.
School is another important branch of the Mahayana. It was so
called because it emphasised the practice of yoga (meditation)
as the most effective method for the attainment of the highest
truth (Bodhi). All the ten stages of spiritual progress of Bodhisattvahood
have to be passed through before Bodhi can be attained. The
ideal of the Mahayana school, therefore, is that of the Bodhisattva,
a person who delays his or her own enlightenment in order to
compassionately assist all other beings and ultimately attains
to the highest Bodhi.