How do different Buddhists see Zen Buddhism

The 4 Types of Buddhism - Which Do You Know?

Last update: 13 September, 2020

Buddhism is not organized in hierarchies of power like other religions. For example, in the so-called book religions, the person who honors and should convey the meaning of the sacred texts is at the top. That is not the case with Buddhism. Furthermore, we can find different schools, branches or types of Buddhism, each of which is organized differently. This post is about the four main types of Buddhism.

Buddhism is both a religion, although the formal definition of the term does not fully capture it, and a philosophical doctrine. Around half a billion people who call themselves Buddhists share its traditions, beliefs and practices and pass them on to future generations. Like many other Eastern teachings, Buddhism has recently become increasingly popular in the Western world.

What distinguishes Buddhism?

Buddhism originated in India between the 6th and 4th centuries BC. Today he is the religion with the fourth most adherents in the world. It is often said that there are two main currents: Theravada (or "The Way of the Elders") and Mahayana (or "Great Way"). There are many differences between them, but they branch even further.

In Buddhism, the Buddhist scriptures correspond to the sacred texts of the book religions. It is about cultivating wisdom, practicing meditation, renouncing the material and promoting kindness and compassion among people. Of course, there are different ways to practice these Buddhist practices. For example, some Buddhists live in monasteries in order to practice particularly strict rituals. However, most of the people who practice this religion do so less intensely. Even so, the philosophical principles to which they are committed are no different from those followed by monks in monasteries.

The understanding of Buddhism is holistic. In other words, the Buddhist teachings are interrelated and come together as a whole. The Buddhists again emphasize that these teachings are only a guide to the Dharma. Although there is no literal translation of “Dharma” in the Western languages, the term is often described as “things as they are”.

The four types of Buddhism

According to the criteria we want to use, we can define different types of Buddhism. In addition to Mahayana and Theravada, there is about a third mainstream, Vajrayana.

However we approach the task, the branches of Buddhism all coincide in various ways. So they largely agree on the history and beginnings of the doctrine. In addition, the various teachings have many similarities but also differences that are not easy to classify.

1. Traditional Buddhism and Modern Buddhism

While traditional Buddhism encompasses ancient beliefs, traditions, and practices, there are also very modern interpretations of this system.

2. Nikaya Buddhism

According to Nikaya Buddhism, there are 19 types of Buddhism or 19 schools of Nikaya. Of these 19, only Theravada Buddhism survived. This branch of Buddhism identifies the contents of the Pali Canon, a series of sacred texts, as the true sutras.

Introspection plays an important role in Theravada Buddhism. Individual experiences and critical arguments oppose blind faith and pursue the goal of liberation and attainment of nirvana.

3. Mahayana

As mentioned earlier, this is one of the mainstreams of Buddhism. In contrast to Theravada Buddhism, the Buddhist scriptures are understood here more as a guide than a teaching in the narrower sense.The goal is to decipher the truth through criticism and reasoning and to question the theories of the past. We could compare Mahayana to a scientific study. This variety differs from Theravada Buddhism also in the acceptance of the sutras.

Zen Buddhism is one of the subspecies of the Mahayana flow. He seeks the experience of wisdom and distances himself from theoretical and intellectual knowledge.

4. Vajrayana Buddhism

Also known as “esoteric Buddhism”, it developed in the Himalayas and is the main religion of Bhutan and Mongolia. This direction of Buddhism knows four schools:

  • Nyingma: This school relates to the purification of body, mind and word. It's about promoting the absolute truth.
  • Kagyu: This school promotes the transcendence of conceptual elaboration, the simplification of phenomena and the realization of the path.
  • Sakya: Sakya is based on the Lamdré doctrine or the "path of fruit". The main Dharma system of this school is the "path with its results".
  • Gelug: This is one of the most important schools of Buddhism in Tibet; the Dalai Lama belongs to her. Sometimes it is assigned to the Mahayana stream because it shares certain sutras with it.

The different types of Buddhism have inspired countless people and encourage us to look more inward and less outward.

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