BUDDHIST SCHOOLS (SECTS): THERAVADA, MAHAYANA AND TIBETAN BUDDHISM

THREE MAIN TYPES OF BUDDHISM

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Theravada monks in Myanmar
There are many different schools or sects of Buddhism. The two largest are Theravada Buddhism, the dominant form of Buddhist in Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Burma (Myanmar), and Mahayana Buddhism, which is dominant in Tibet, China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and Mongolia. Tibtean Buddhist which is viewed as a kind Mahayana Buddhism is strong in Tibet, the Himalayan region and Mongolia. All schools of Buddhism seek to aid followers on a path of enlightenment. The majority of Buddhist sects do not seek to proselytise (preach and convert), with the notable exception of Nichiren Buddhism in Japan. [Source: BBC]

There are three main Buddhist sects: 1) Theravada Buddhism, 2) Mahayana Buddhism, and 3) Vajrayana (Tibetan Buddhism and Tantrism). According to the Asia Society Museum: “Three main types of Buddhism have developed over its long history, each with its own characteristics and spiritual ideals. "Foundational Buddhism," [precursor of Theravada Buddhism] often known by the pejorative term Hinayana ("Lesser Vehicle"), is the earliest of the three and emphasizes the attainment of salvation for oneself alone and the necessity of monastic life in order to attain spiritual release. The Mahayana ("Greater Vehicle"), whose members coined the word "Hinayana" and believed its adherents pursued a path that could not be followed by the majority of ordinary people, teaches the salvation of all. Practitioners of the Vajrayana ("Diamond Vehicle"), or Esoteric Buddhism [Tibetan Buddhism], believe that one can achieve enlightenment in a single lifetime, as opposed to the other two types, which postulate that it takes many eons to accrue the necessary good karma. [Source: Asia Society Museum asiasocietymuseum.org |~| ]

“These three types were not mutually exclusive, but their emphasis on different practices affected Buddhist art. For example, whereas foundational Buddhism teaches that only a few devotees are able to reach enlightenment and that they do so through their own efforts, Mahayana and its later offshoot, Vajrayana, teach that buddhahood is attainable by everyone with help from beings known as bodhisattvas. As a result, images of bodhisattvas proliferated in Mahayana and Vajrayana art and are often depicted flanking buddhas. |~|

Steven Kossak and Edith Whitney Watts wrote in “Art of South and Southeast Asia: A Resource for Educators”: “The earliest form of Buddhism is called the Theravada (Way of the Elders). It adheres strictly to the Buddha’s teaching and to his austere life of meditation and detachment. Theravada Buddhists believed that very few would reach nirvana. Initially, in this system, the Buddha was represented in art only by symbols, but in the first century A.D., under the Kushan rulers, the Buddha began to be depicted in human form. At about this time, a new form of Buddhism emerged called the Mahayana (the Great Way), which held that the Buddha was more than a great spiritual teacher but also a savior god. It was believed that he had appeared in perfect human form to relieve suffering with the message that, by performing good deeds and maintaining sincere faith, everyone could reach nirvana through means less strict and arduous than in Theravada (which Mahayana Buddhists called the Hinayana, or Lesser Way). [Source: Steven Kossak, Edith Whitney Watts, “Art of South and Southeast Asia: A Resource for Educators”, Metropolitan Museum of Art \^/]

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Tibetan Buddhist monks
“Tantric or Vajrayana Buddhism, grew out of Mahayana Buddhism beginning in the late sixth or early seventh century. Esoteric Buddhists accepted the tenets of the Mahayana but also used forms of meditation subtly directed by master teachers (gurus) involving magical words, symbols, and practices to speed the devotee toward enlightenment. They believed that those who practiced compassion and meditation with unwavering effort and acquired the wis- dom to become detached from human passions could achieve in one lifetime a state of perfect bliss or “clear light,” their term for ultimate realization and release. Their practices paralleled concurrent developments in Hinduism.” \^/

"Many new deities appeared in the Esoteric Buddhist pantheon who, in their poses, gestures, and expressions, visualize philosophical ideas. For instance, male and female deities shown in embrace express the union of wisdom and compassion. Wrathful deities symbolize protection, and their violent and horrific appearance helps devotees to overcome the passions that hinder salvation. Also central to Esoteric thinking were the five celestial Buddhas (the four directions and the zenith), who represent both the energy of the universe and the potential for wisdom within the psychological make- up of the individual."

Websites and Resources on Buddhism: Buddha Net buddhanet.net/e-learning/basic-guide ; Religious Tolerance Page religioustolerance.org/buddhism ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Internet Sacred Texts Archive sacred-texts.com/bud/index ; Introduction to Buddhism webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/buddhaintro ; Early Buddhist texts, translations, and parallels, SuttaCentral suttacentral.net ; East Asian Buddhist Studies: A Reference Guide, UCLA web.archive.org ; View on Buddhism viewonbuddhism.org ; Tricycle: The Buddhist Review tricycle.org ; BBC - Religion: Buddhism bbc.co.uk/religion ; Buddhist Centre thebuddhistcentre.com; A sketch of the Buddha's Life accesstoinsight.org ; What Was The Buddha Like? by Ven S. Dhammika buddhanet.net ; Jataka Tales (Stories About Buddha) sacred-texts.com ; Illustrated Jataka Tales and Buddhist stories ignca.nic.in/jatak ; Buddhist Tales buddhanet.net ; Arahants, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas by Bhikkhu Bodhi accesstoinsight.org ; Victoria and Albert Museum vam.ac.uk/collections/asia/asia_features/buddhism/index ;

Theravada Buddhism: Readings in Theravada Buddhism, Access to Insight accesstoinsight.org/ ; Readings in Buddhism, Vipassana Research Institute (English, Southeast Asian and Indian Languages) tipitaka.org ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Encyclopædia Britannica britannica.com ; Pali Canon Online palicanon.org ; Vipassanā (Theravada Buddhist Meditation) Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Pali Canon - Access to Insight accesstoinsight.org ; Forest monk tradition abhayagiri.org/about/thai-forest-tradition ; BBC Theravada Buddhism bbc.co.uk/religion ;

Mahayana Buddhism: Seon Zen Buddhism buddhism.org ; Readings in Zen Buddhism, Hakuin Ekaku (Ed: Monika Bincsik) terebess.hu/zen/hakuin ; How to do Zazen (Zen Buddhist Meditation) global.sotozen-net.or.jp ;
Wikipedia article ; Comparison of Buddhist Traditions (Mahayana – Therevada – Tibetan) studybuddhism.com ; The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra: complete text and analysis nirvanasutra.net ; Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in Mahayana Buddhism cttbusa.org ; The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravāda Theory and Practice by Jeffrey Samuels info-buddhism.com ; Zen Buddhism zen-buddhism.net ; The Zen Site thezensite.com ; Wikipedia article on Zen Buddhism Wikipedia ;

Tibetan Buddhism: ; Religion Facts religionfacts.com ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Tibetan Buddhist archives sacred-texts.com ; Buddha.net list of Tibetan Buddhism sources buddhanet.net ; Tibetan Buddhist Meditation tricycle.org/magazine/tibetan-buddhist-meditation ; Gray, David B. (Apr 2016). "Tantra and the Tantric Traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism". Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion. oxfordre.com/religion ; Wikipedia article on Tibetan Buddhism Wikipedia ; Shambhala.com. larges publisher of Tibetan Buddhist Books shambhala.com ; tbrc.org ; Tibetan Philosophy, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy iep.utm.edu/tibetan

Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism

Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism and the two main branches of Buddhism. Theravada means “Way of the Elders,” an implication that it is literally what Buddha taught. Mahayana means “Greater vehicle,” a derogatory reference that it superior to Theravada Buddhism, the Lesser Vehicle. One of the main difference between the two is that the ideal of Mahayana is becoming a Bodhisattva (Buddha to be). Buddha only referenced himself as this and never gave instructions on how one should become a Bodhisattva. Sutra that address this matter were created after he died. During his life, The Buddha stressed the need to end suffering in this very life and try for the highest goal Arhatship. Theravada Buddhists resist the idea of Bodhisattvas and regard their system of beliefs as being purer and close to what The Buddha taught.

Confusing matters is the fact that Buddha referred to himself as an Arhat (Pali for "one who is worthy" or a "perfected person" who achieved Nirvana). This seems to have implied that heas no different from any of his enlightened disciples who attained this state. The only difference was that he was a full master of all the powers and great perfections that go with being elightened, things that others didn't necessarily have. One inference of Mahayana Buddhism is that in attaining perfections and striving for nirvana one must forestall full enlightenment to continuously work on the perfections. [Source: reddit.com]

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19th Century Japanese
Mahayana Buddhist monks
Most of Mahayana is based on the Lotus Sutra, which, according to to legend, was brought from the Nagas by Nagarjuna, regarded as the second greatest teacher in Buddhism. Some people even feel that Nagarjuna is the second Buddha who The Buddha prophesied would come sometime after to clarify things.Nagarjuna did much to clarify the nature of emptiness and is responsible also the Heart Sutra.

The fact that Buddha never stressed the Bodhisattva ideal as the goal of teaching has created strain between the Theravada and Mhayana Buddhist schools. The highest version of the Bodhisattva Ideal is based on Avalokiteshvara, who wanted to achieve enlightenment only when all being did so first, hence this high level means that Mahayana has a focus on compassion.

Development of Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism

Sanskrit scholar R.P. Hayes wrote: “Between 100 to 200 years after the passing away of the Buddha, the Sangha (the monastic community) split over the political question of 'Who runs the Sangha?' A controversy over some monastic rules was decided by a committee of Arahats (fully Enlightened monks or nuns) against the views of the majority of monks. The disgruntled majority resented what they saw as the excessive influence of the small number of Arahats in monastery affairs. From then on, over a period of several decades, the disaffected majority partially succeeded in lowering the exalted status of the Arahat and raising in its place the ideal of the Bodhisattva (an unenlightened being training to be a Buddha). [Source: R.P. Hayes, Buddhist Society of Western Australia, Buddha Sasana =|=]

“Previously unknown scriptures, supposedly spoken by the Buddha and hidden in the dragon world, then appeared giving a philosophical justification for the superiority of the Bodhisattva over the allegedly 'selfish' Arahat. This group of monks and nuns were first known as the 'Maha Sangha', meaning 'the great (part) of the monastic community'. Later, after impressive development, they called themselves the 'Mahayana', the 'Greater Vehicle' while quite disparagingly calling the older Theravada 'Hinayana', the 'Inferior Vehicle'. =|=

Mahayana still retains most of the original teachings of the Buddha (in the Chinese scriptures these are known as the 'Agama' and in the Tibetan version as the 'Kangyur') but these core teachings were mostly overwhelmed by layers of expansive interpretations and wholly new ideas. The Mahayana of China, still vibrant in Taiwan, reflects an earlier phase of this development, the Mahayana of Vietnam, Korea and Japan (mostly Zen) is a later development, and the Mahayana of Tibet and Mongolia is a much later development still. =|=

Nagarjuna


Nagardjuna

Nagarjuna (A.D. c. 150 – c. 250 CE) is regarded by many as the second greatest teacher in Buddhism after The Buddha. Some people even feel that Nagarjuna is the second Buddha who The Buddha prophesied would come sometime after to clarify things. Nagarjuna did much to clarify the nature of emptiness and is responsible for the Heart Sutra.

Nagarjuna is widely considered the most important Mahayana philosophers. Along with his disciple Aryadeva, he is considered to be the founder of the Madhyamaka school of Mahayana Buddhism. Nagarjuna is also credited with developing the philosophy of the Prajñaparamita sutras and, in some sources, with having revealed these scriptures in the world, having recovered them from the nagas (water spirits often depicted in the form of serpent-like humans). Furthermore, he is traditionally supposed to have written several treatises on rasayana as well as serving a term as the head of Nalanda. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Very little is reliably known of the life of Nagarjuna, since the surviving accounts were written in Chinese and Tibetan centuries after his death. According to some accounts, Nagarjuna was originally from South India. Some scholars believe that he was an advisor to a king of the Satavahana dynasty. Archaeological evidence at Amaravati indicates that if this is true, the king may have been Yajña Sri Satakari, who ruled between A.D. 167 and 196. On the basis of this association, Nagarjuna is conventionally placed at around 150–250 CE. +

According to a 4th/5th-century biography translated by Kumarajiva, Nagarjuna was born into a Brahmin family in Vidarbha (a region of Maharashtra) and later became a Buddhist. Some sources claim that in his later years, Nagarjuna lived on the mountain of Sriparvata near the city that would later be called Nagarjunakoa ("Hill of Nagarjuna"). The ruins of Nagarjunakoa are located in Guntur district, Andhra Pradesh. +

Nagarjuna Writing and Philosophy

A number of influential Buddhist texts have attributed to Nagarjuna though many of the claims have dubious evidence to back them up. A lively debate over which are his authentic works continues to this day. The only work that all scholars agree is Nagarjuna's is the Mulamadhyamakakarika (Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way), which contains the essentials of his thought in twenty-seven chapters. [Source: Wikipedia +]

According to Christian Lindtner, the works definitely written by Nagarjuna are: Mulamadhyamaka-karika (Fundamental Verses of the Middle Way); Sunyatasaptati (Seventy Verses on Emptiness); Vigrahavyavartani (The End of Disputes); Vaidalyaprakaraa (Pulverizing the Categories); Vyavaharasiddhi (Proof of Convention); Yuktiaika (Sixty Verses on Reasoning); Catustava (Hymn to the Absolute Reality); Ratnavali (Precious Garland); Pratityasamutpadahdayakarika (Constituents of Dependent Arising); Sutrasamuccaya; Bodhicittavivaraa (Exposition of the Enlightened Mind); Suhllekha (Letter to a Good Friend); Bodhisabhara (Requisites of Enlightenment). +

“From studying his writings, it is clear that Nagarjuna was conversant with many of the Sravaka philosophies and with the Mahayana tradition. However, determining Nagarjuna's affiliation with a specific nikaya is difficult, considering much of this material has been lost. Nagarjuna assumes a knowledge of the definitions of the sixteen categories as given in the Nyaya Sutras, the chief text of the Hindu Nyaya school. +



Nagarjuna's major thematic focus is the concept of sunyata, or "emptiness," which brings together other key Buddhist doctrines, particularly anatman "not-self" and pratityasamutpada "dependent origination", to refute the metaphysics of some of his contemporaries. For Nagarjuna, as for the Buddha in the early texts, it is not merely sentient beings that are "selfless" or non-substantial; all phenomena (dhammas) are without any svabhava, literally "own-being", "self-nature", or "inherent existence" and thus without any underlying essence. They are empty of being independently existent; thus the heterodox theories of svabhava circulating at the time were refuted on the basis of the doctrines of early Buddhism. This is so because all things arise always dependently: not by their own power, but by depending on conditions leading to their coming into existence, as opposed to being. Chapter 24 verse 14 of the Mulamadhyamakakarika provides one of Nagarjuna's most famous quotations on emptiness: “All is possible when emptiness is possible. Nothing is possible when emptiness is impossible.” +

As part of his analysis of the emptiness of phenomena in the Mulamadhyamakakarika, Nagarjuna critiques svabhava in several different concepts. He discusses the problems of positing any sort of inherent essence to causation, movement, change and personal identity. Nagarjuna makes use of the Indian logical tool of the tetralemma to attack any essentialist conceptions. Nagarjuna’s logical analysis is based on four basic propositions: 1) All things (dharma) exist: affirmation of being, negation of non-being. 2) All things (dharma) do not exist: affirmation of non-being, negation of being. 3) All things (dharma) both exist and do not exist: both affirmation and negation. 4) All things (dharma) neither exist nor do not exist: neither affirmation nor negation.

Theravada Buddhism

“Theravada Buddhism” ("doctrine of the elders") is the oldest and most orthodox of Buddhism's three major sects. Regarded as the belief closest to the one taught by The Buddha himself, it is based on the recollections of The Buddha’s teachings amassed by the Elders — the elder monks who were Buddha’s companions. It is practiced in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and the Mekong Delta areas of Vietnam. Theravada Buddhism was one of 18 schools that existed in centuries after The Buddha’s death.. It spread from India to Sri Lanka and then to Southeast Asia and remained close to the original Pali canon (See Below). The other 17 schools disappeared when Muslims swept into northern India and destroyed the Buddhist monasteries that existed there. Theravada Buddhism is sometimes referred to in a somewhat dismissing way as Hinayana (“Lesser Vehicle”) Buddhism by Mahayana Buddhists (See Below).

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Theravada Buddhist stupa
in Myanmar
Theravada Buddhism stresses spirituality, the enlightenment of the individual, self-discipline, the importance or pure thought and deed, the importance of the monastic life and the strict observance of the ancient “Vinaya” code It has distinct roles for monks and lay people, emphasizes that each individual is responsible for his or her salvation and takes the position that only monks are capable of reaching nirvana.

Theravada Buddhism Beliefs

The Noble Virtues of Therevada Buddhism are loving kindness, understanding, serenity and satisfaction for others’ well-being. The three principal aspects of existence are: 1) “dukkha” (suffering, disease and pursuit of desire); 2) “anicca” (impermanence and the temporary state of all things); and 3) “anatta” (the illusion of reality).

The guiding principal in Theravada Buddhism is that nothing is permanent and attachment to things will only bring unhappiness and distract one from intrinsic spiritual matters. Anicca teaches that nothing lasts. Trying to embrace experiences, states of mind and objects only causes dukkha. Annatta is coming to the understanding that there is there is no point dwelling on one’s place in this world.

In Theravada Buddhism worship and devotion to persons is frowned upon. The offerings of fruit and flowers made are temples are symbols of impermanence not an object of worship. Chants are not prayers but are reminders of the beneficence of The Buddha, Dharma and the monk community.

Theravada Buddhists insist that Gautama, both as Siddhartha and The Buddha, was a man, not a god or myth or legend, and was subject to the same pain and suffering as other humans but sought a transcendent state beyond human life. They say The Buddha took a vow aeons ago under the First Buddha to pursue the enlightenment on his own, and was reincarnated hundreds of times in that quest before he became a Buddha. They view his death as such a complete break from material existence that is he so free from the human world that he no longer exists.


Mahayana Buddhism

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Mahayana Buddhist pagoda
in Japan
“Mahayana Buddhism” encompasses a wide range of philosophical schools, metaphysical beliefs, and practical meditative disciplines. It is more widespread and has more followers than Theravada Buddhism and includes Zen and Soka-gakkai Buddhism. It is practiced primarily in northern half of the Buddhist world: in China, Tibet, Korea, Mongolia, Vietnam and Japan.

"Mahayana” means "the Great Vehicle.” The word vehicle is used because Buddhist doctrine is often compared to a raft or ship that carries one across the world of suffering to better world. Greater is reference to the universality of its doctrines and beliefs as opposed to narrowness of other schools. Theravada Buddhism is sometimes referred to in a somewhat dismissing way as the Hinayana (“Lesser Vehicle”) sect.

Mahayana Buddhism evolved around the A.D. 1st century during the second phase of Buddhist development as a reinterpretation of the Theravada rules for monks. It teaches that there is only one path to enlightenment and it is open to all beings; holds Bodhisattvas in great reverence; and places an emphasis on ritualistic practices, sutras and meditation and discourages forming attachments on the basis they are impermanent.

Mahayana spread to more distant lands than Theravada Buddhists because it allowed monks to travel more freely and was able to assimilate and accommodate local religions by using the concept of Bodhisattvas. Mahayana Buddhists have great reverence for Bodhisttavas, the future Buddha Maitreya and Amitabha, the Buddha of the Western Paradise and the Buddhist equivalent of a savior who helps followers get into "heaven.”.

Mahayana Buddhism Beliefs

Mahayana Buddhists believe in a multitude of heavens, hells and descriptions of nirvana and have great reverence for “Bodhisattvas” “Buddhist "saints" on the verge of nirvana who stopped short of attaining it, so, like Buddha, they could teach their method to others.

The tenets of Mahayana Buddhism are more vague and all-encompassing than the strict tenets of Theravada Buddhism, but its followers often conform to a very regimented routine as is the case with Zen..

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Zen monk in Japan
Mahayana Buddhists believe that salvation is accessible to all those who have faith and regard their religion as a way of life that can be embraced by any one. They also enjoy philosophical discussion and intellectual gymnastics and enlist the help of female deities and magical forces and worship a pantheon of gods, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

Mahayana Buddhists see The Buddha as the sum total of everything there is; discount his historical personage; view his life on earth in magical and transcendent terms; and have Bodhisattvas and Buddhas that address issues important to ordinary people. The Supreme Buddha became an all knowing force that pervaded every part of the universe, like a creator God.

Mahayana Buddhism places an emphasis on the process of attaining nirvana through the purification of the consciousness and has been “expanded” to respond to the needs of local people it severed. Its followers a number of mythologies and ontological doctrines. They see true reality as “Emptiness”; define ten stages which Bodhisattvas must pass through to reach Buddhahood; and see everything being connected by a kind of cosmic thread rooted in true reality.

Differences Between Mahayana Buddhist and Theravada Buddhists

Mahayana Buddhists claim their doctrines are rooted in early teachings of Buddha and say they do not reject the beliefs of Theravada Buddhism, but have just expanded on them. Theravada Buddhists view Mahayana Buddhism as a corrupted form of Buddha’s teaching plus see it as too easy. Theravada Buddhists are taught that one must “work out one’s own salvation with diligence — whereas Mahayana Buddhists believe faith is enough to earn all believers eventual salvation.

Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism differ greatly on the matter of Bodhisattvas. Mahayana Buddhists recognize many of them as well as many Buddhas. Theravada Buddhists recognize just one, The Buddha.

Tantrism and Tibetan Buddhism


percentage of Buddhists that belong to the major branches

Tibetan Buddhism is a syncretic mix of Mahayana Buddhism, Tantrism and local pantheistic religions, particularly the Bon religion. Its organization, public practices and activities are coordinated mainly by monasteries associated with temples. Religious authority is in the hands of priests called lamas.

Tantrism is sometimes regarded as one of the three major sects of Buddhism along with Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism. Originally from India, it is a highly ritualistic religion that combines beliefs in magic and esoteric philosophy and emphasizes mystic symbols, sacred chants, and other esoteric devotional techniques. It is usually associated with Tibetan Buddhism and Hinduism.

Tantric Buddhism is often called Vajrayana ("thunderbolt vehicle"). In Tibet, it is heavily influenced by the ancient Bon religion,which used shaman to dispel demons and appease the gods, and incorporates a number of mudras ("ritual postures"), mantras ("sacred speech"), yantras ("sacred art") and secret initiation rites. Most of the ritual objects and images of deities used in Tibetan Buddhism are derived from Tantrism. The techniques are generally not written down but passed orally from master to student.

Tantrism emerged around A.D. 600 and was based on texts known as Tantras. It put forth the idea that all human states and conditions, even one traditionally regarded as polluting,, were connected and things such as desire and wrath could be viewed as being on the same plane with love and righteousness.

Tantrism is seen by some as a complex union of Hinduism and Buddhism: incorporating different offshoots of each religion with folk religious beliefs and combing Hindu gods with Buddhist theology. One religious text described Tantrism as “Buddhist and Hindu hierarchies converted to create rigid social organizational patterns that merge “erotic Hindu ideas....static and authoritative Buddhist teachings...Hindu patterns of individual paths to enlightenment” and “Buddhist notions of the power of many.”

Zen and the Ch'an Sect of Buddhism

The Ch'an (or Ching’T’u) Sect has been described as a religion of “wisdom or intuitive insight” and is the inspiration for the Zen school of Buddhism in Japan. Ch'an means mediation. Its key elements are summed up by the four phrases: 1) “A special transmission outside of doctrines”; 2) “Not setting up the written word as an authority”; 3) “Pointing directly at the heart of man”; 4) “seeing one’s nature and becoming a Buddha.”

The Ch'an sect’s origins are obscure. It is it not clear whether its early patriarchs were legendary or real. Under the leadership of its sixth patriarch Hui-neng (A.D. 637-723) it grew from a cult with around 500 members to a distinct sect after Hui-neng spent 15 years meditating in the hills.

Zen Buddhism evolved out of the Ch'an School, which was introduced to Japan from China during the Chinese Sung Dynasty in the 10th century by a Chinese monk named Huineng. Zen initially had a relatively small following and didn't take hold and flourish in Japan until the 12th century.

Ch’an aesthetics had a great impact on Chinese and Japanese art. Ch’an artists rejected the symmetry and iconography of the Sino-Indian tradition. They aimed for extreme economy and means by trying to get the most meaning possible out of each line and shade to suggest a maximum of intensity, rhythm, special counterpoint and tonal harmony. For artists painting became a contemplative exercise; for viewers it became a form of meditation.


geographical location of the main Buddhist branches


School of Pure Land

The School of Pure Land (known is Japan as the School of Pure Thought) is another important Chinese school of Buddhism. It emerged about A.D. 500 as a form of devotion to Amitabha, the Buddha of the Western Paradise, and differs from the Ch'an school in that it encourages idolatry. The School of Pure Land is not nearly as strong in China as it once was but it remains one of the largest Buddhist sects in Japan.

The School of Pure Land takes the Mahayana belief in Buddhas or Bodhisattvas a step further than Buddhist traditionalists want to go by giving Bodhisattvas the power to help people attain enlightenment that they otherwise would be unable to attain it on their own. The emphasis on Bodhisattvas is manifested in the numerous depictions of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in Pure Land temples and caves.

Some historians believe the School of Pure Land originated in India but there is no definitive proof of this because the oldest known texts are in Chinese not Sanskrit. Others say the sect was founded by the Chinese monk Hui Yuan (A.D. 334-417). In any case as the school became popular in China, images of Buddha and Bodhisattvas acquired Chinese names and statues of the sitting Buddha (in meditation) and the sleeping Buddha (asceticism) were raised all over the country.

Other Buddhist Sects and Cults

See Chinese and Japanese Buddhist Schools: See Separate Articles:CHINESE BUDDHIST SCHOOLS AND SECTS factsanddetails.com , CH'AN SCHOOL OF BUDDHISM factsanddetails.com , NICHIREN, SHUGENDO, TENDAI AND OTHER BUDDHIST SECTS IN JAPAN factsanddetails.com and ZEN BUDDHISM: BELIEFS, ASCETICISM, AESTHETICS AND LIFE AT A ZEN MONASTERY factsanddetails.com

Hsing Yin now controls one of the largest Buddhist organizations in the world with an estimated worth of more than $400 million. He has filled stadiums in South Africa and Malaysia and earned $780,000 to tape 20 hours of speeches. Bookstores and a mail order business for his organization sell books, CDs, videos, magazines, children's educational comic books and other materials.

See NEW RELIGIOUS AND CULTS IN JAPAN: SOKA GAKKAI, PERFECT LIBERTY, PANAWAVE LABORATORY, HAPPY SCIENCE under Japan factsanddetails.com


Schools of Buddhism


Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons. Ray Kinnane, Onmark productions, Buddha.net and the Buddhism school diagram, jameskennedymonash.wordpress.com

Text Sources: “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); “The Creators” by Daniel Boorstin and National Geographic articles. Also the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018


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