Buddhism originated sometime between the 4th and 6th centuries BCE, when Siddhartha Gautama gained enlightenment and began teaching the Dharma. Since then his teachings have spread out from India, integrated with local cultures and belief systems resulting in many schools and traditions. However, despite their diversity, all these schools have one thing in common, the Middle Way taught by the Buddha.
the Three Schools
The origins of Buddhism are attributed to the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, a prince believed to have lived between the 4th and 6th Centuries BCE in what is now present day India, who became the Buddha or Awakened One. As his teachings spread, they eventually became over 18 sub-schools of thought. His teachings also spread beyond India, where the teachings integrated into the cultures and existing religions of local communities, resulting in the many, many different faces of Buddhism that we see today. However, despite this diversity, there are only 3 main schools of Buddhism – Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana (or two schools, as Vajrayana is considered part of the Mahayana school.)
You may have also have heard of the term Hinayana, which means “Lesser Vehicle” in Sanskrit. This is not interchangeable with the term Theravada. Hinayana is a term used by Mahayana traditions to describe the earlier schools (of which only Theravada remains) that practice to attain the state of an Arhat. This is considered a lesser path than the Mahayana ideal of the path of the Bodhisattva. This term isn’t used much any more, as some consider it a derogatory term.
Buddha by Unknown Artist
In contrast to the Theravada school, the Mahayana school teaches that all sentient beings can attain Buddhahood – that we have a Buddha nature. Thus the main Mahayana motivation is the enlightenment of all beings. The Mahayana ideal is to become a bodhisattva who strives to free all beings from the suffering of samsara, as there is no separation of self from the world. Thus to free the world from suffering is to free oneself from suffering. This motivation is reflected in taking Bodhisattva vows on top of taking Refuge. These vows are not taken for this life only, but for all future lives as well, until this goal is achieved. The main practices of a Mahayanist are in the 6 perfections (Paramita): the perfection of generosity, discipline, patience, diligence, meditation and wisdom.
Golden Buddha – Craig Loftus
Vajrayana emphasises the quick attainment of Buddhahood. There is emphasis on speed, as the belief is that the sooner one achieves Buddhahood, the sooner one can be of maximum benefit to world . Tantra practice may require taking additional vows on top of the Refuge and Bodhisattva vows. There may also be other specific practices to be followed depending on the school and lineage.
Photo by Marilyn Rhie and Robert Thurman via Mountains of Travel Photos
Background Photo Credit: Untitled via Pixabay