Buddhism - Schools and Traditions

Schools and Traditions

Two of his disciples became the inspiration for two main schools of Buddhism that were developed at least 200 years after Gautama died. Gautama praised both of them and to this day both schools are "authentic". Sariputta inspired the Theravada school, generally known to be analytical and monastic. Maudgalyayana inspired the Mahayana school, which emphasizes compassion and tends to be democratic.

Buddhists generally classify themselves as either Theravada or Mahayana. This classification is also used by some scholars and is the one ordinarily used in the English language. An alternative scheme used by some scholars divides Buddhism into the following three traditions or geographical or cultural areas: Theravada, East Asian Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism.

Some scholars use other schemes. Buddhists themselves have a variety of other schemes. Hinayana (literally "lesser vehicle") is used by Mahayana followers to name the family of early philosophical schools and traditions from which contemporary Theravada emerged, but as this term is rooted in the Mahayana viewpoint and can be considered derogatory, a variety of other terms are increasingly used instead, including Śrāvakayāna, Nikaya Buddhism, early Buddhist schools, sectarian Buddhism, conservative Buddhism, mainstream Buddhism and non-Mahayana Buddhism.

Not all traditions of Buddhism share the same philosophical outlook, or treat the same concepts as central. Each tradition, however, does have its own core concepts, and some comparisons can be drawn between them. For example, according to one Buddhist ecumenical organization, several concepts common to both major Buddhist branches:

  • Both accept the Buddha as their teacher.
  • Both accept the Middle way, Dependent origination, the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path and the Three marks of existence.
  • Both accept that members of the laity and of the sangha can pursue the path toward enlightenment (bodhi).
  • Both consider buddhahood the highest attainment.

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