We’ve all got some Buddhist in Us

In the contemporary world, dozens of factions compete to declare their version of Budddhism to be correct.

In fact, each of us carries a mixture of beliefs based on our experience of the world, things we’ve read, and what we had for dinner last night.

Here, I supply a summary of my findings, so you can locate your position in the land of the Buddha.

It begins

The Dhammapada, or the “Virtuous Path According to Lord Buddha,” probably written by Buddha, is considered to be the manual of Buddhist teaching. 423 verses divided into 26 chapters. The three main parts of Dhammapada are:

  1. Karma Yoga or the Philosophy of Action
  2. Sadhana or Spiritual Training
  3. Nistha or Faith


The four noble truths: There are many ways to express these 4 truths. My favorite comes from Plato, Not Prozac! : Applying Philosophy to Everyday Problems by Lou Marinoff, HarperCollins, (New York), 1999

  1. All life is suffering
  2. Suffering is cause by wanting things to be different than they are.
  3. There is a way to end suffering.
  4. Accept what is, and move on from there.
Lou Marinoff

The eight-fold path: A convention started by early translators of Buddhist texts into English, found within the 4th noble truth.

  1. Right understanding (Samma ditthi)
  2. Right thought (Samma sankappa)
  3. Right speech (Samma vaca)
  4. Right action (Samma kammanta)
  5. Right livelihood (Samma ajiva)
  6. Right effort (Samma vayama)
  7. Right mindfulness (Samma sati)
  8. Right concentration (Samma samadhi)

After the death of Buddha – about 400 to 800 years before Christ — two schools of Buddhism emerged. One was Theravada Buddhism, the original deal. Theravada Buddhism emphasizes personal salvation through one’s own efforts. The other was Mahayana Buddhism — we’re all in this together. Then, various cultures, various teachers split things up.

Xuan Zang, a 7h century scholar who traveled the Silk Road to India, where he gathered Buddhist texts and translated them into Chinese, said that Theravada is like a kayak; it carries the individual.  Mahayana is like a boat that carries a tribe. Mahayana is like an ocean liner; it carries the entire community.

The Major Schools

Theravada: “The School of the Elders.” Theravada Buddhism emphasizes personal salvation through one’s own efforts. The fundamental principle of Theravada Buddhism is that an individual must rely on his or her analytical power to understand the world around him. Although a rational man is self sufficient with his logic, yet he needs a guide or a wise man to guide him. In order to break the cycle of misery and agony, man needs to free his mind from the defilements of the temporal world Theravada Buddhism is the oldest school of Buddhism. It was popularized in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, China and other Asian countries. An individual needs to abide by the basic principles of Buddhism strictly. Moral conduct, meditation and wisdom are the three basic principles of Theravada Buddhism. all worldly phenomena are subject to 3 characteristics.

  1. They are impermanent and transient;
  2. unsatisfactory and that there is nothing in them which can be called ones own.
  3. All compounded things are made up of two elements – the non-material part and the material part.

They are further described as consisting of 5 constituent groups, namely

  1. the material quality
  2. sensations
  3. perception
  4. mental formatives
  5. consciousness.

When the perfected state of insight is reached, that person is a worthy person, an Arhat.


Mahayana School of Buddhism: The main idea behind Mahayana Buddhism is that anyone can reach the stature of the Buddha by following Buddha Marga. Mahasanghika sect is believed to be the source of the Mahayana Buddhism. This school of Buddhism had a huge impact on China, Korea and Japan. Mahayana school is a huge umbrella under which a number of philosophies and principles are included.


Madhyamika Buddhism, literally meaning the middle path, was founded in the second century, during the early stages of development of Mahayana Buddhism. It was developed by the great Indian scholar and philosopher Nagarjuna who wrote the ‘Wisdom Sutras,’ a total of about 40 texts which have been collected under the title of Prajnaparamita (perfection of wisdom). All phenomena are devoid of intrinsic nature, and exist only due to the conditions created by other phenomena. It is referred to as the middle path because it rejects the two extreme philosophies of eternalism and nihilism. It is a dialectic school which, according to Nagarjuna, was founded by Lord Buddha himself. In the 11th century, Madhyamikas divided into 3 distinct schools:  Prasangika, Svatantrika and the synthesis of later Yogacara and Madhyamika, referred to as Yogacara-Svatantrika-Madhyamika.


Vajrayana School of Buddhism: Indian tantric master Padmasambhava, the 2nd Buddha, founded Vajrayana in the 7th century. AKA The tantric school, a part of the Mahayana School, called Lamaism because at the center of the school lies the Lama. By practicing Vajrayana, a Buddhist follower can achieve enlightenment easily. Vajra is a symbol for thunder, diamond and lightning. The most prominent features of Vajrayana include the use of mantras; gives much importance to the teacher or guru; the significance of meditation, which also includes concentration techniques like; the visualization of bodhisattvas. The followers of the faith are brought in to these practices by initiation called empowerment. One of the salient features of Vajrayana is that it considers Mahayana and Theravada as the base on which the tantras could be practiced. The knowledge of these two earlier branches is absolutely essential to practice Vajrayana. It is more popularly used in Tibetan Buddhism.

Chinese Schools of Buddhism: An integral part of the Chinese culture, this school of Buddhism is further divided into 10 more Buddhist schools. Their way of expression may differ but the basic doctrines of Buddhism, such as the Eightfold Paths, Four Noble Truths and others are the same. The Chinese monastic community is an extension of the order of the monks that Buddha had established. The Arahants here are known as Lohans. The 10 Chinese Schools of Buddhism are:-

  • Reality School. Also known as Abhidharma School or Kosa School
  • Satysiddhi School or Chengse School
  • Three Sastra School or Sanlun School
  • The Lotus School or T’ientai School
  • The Garland School or Avatamsaka School. Also known as Huayen School
  • Intuitive School or Chan School or Dhyana School
  • Discipline or Lu or Vinaya School.
  • Esoteric or Chenyien School or Mantra School
  • Dharmalaksana School or Fasiang School
  • Pureland School, Sukhavati School or Chingtu School


Japanese Schools of Buddhism

  • Nichiren Buddhism: Nichiren propagated the Lotus Sutra. Nichiren was a Tendai monk but he left the establishment to pursue his own path. Followers need to recite the Lotus Sutra to realize the Buddha nature in them.
  • Pure Land: Amida Buddhism. It teaches the salvation tradition of the Amida Buddha. Amida Buddha is an incarnation of Buddha. He refuses to accept his enlightenment unless he has achieved it for his followers. Pure Land Buddhism gained popularity in Japan during the Kamakura Period. This school opened Buddhism for the lower classes as well as for women.
  • Shingon Buddhism: This school was established by Kobo Daishi. This is the tantric school of Buddhism in Japan. During the Heian Period it came into prominence. Till date it is one of the popular forms of Buddhism in Japan. The main doctrine of Shingon Buddhism was to realize one’s own nature with the celestial Buddha. This is can be achieved by following a secret doctrine that is transmitted orally fro the teacher to the disciple.
  • Tendai Buddhism: This is probably the most important Japanese School of Buddhism. This school is based on the Lotus Sutra. This sutra is considered to be the supreme mixture of Buddhist doctrine. It became popular in the Heian Period.
  • Zen Buddhism: This is the most popular Japanese School of Buddhism. It is closely associated with the art and culture of Japan. The origin of Zen Buddhism is in India. All the traditions of Buddhism are followed in this Japanese School of Buddhism.


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