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Home  → Teachings  → Schools of Buddhism

Schools of Buddhism

Buddhism never gained followers with fire and the sword. It would normally spread as an interesting philosophy in line with mind exercises and practical advice on everyday life. Being introduced into a new culture it didn’t annihilate a local one but instead it would adapt itself to it, acquiring its special traits. Nowadays Buddhism exists in the form of dozens of different traditions and schools. Their teachings fit different types of people, however the essential content of the Buddhist path remains unchanged: its methods lead to liberation from suffering, the development of mind’s qualities for the benefit of all beings and inner peace.

There are three core cycles of teachings – they are the so called Three Vehicles: Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana. In the first cycle of teachings, Hinayana (Small Vehicle), Buddha explained that everyone willing to free themselves from suffering should avoid two extremes in their lifestyle – ascetism and excessiveness. If one deliberately causes pain and harm to one’s body this makes one’s life difficult and it’s impossible to reach Liberation. It is also impossible to achieve it while leading a luxurious lifestyle. That was the reason why Buddha introduced the concept of a Middle Way, having said: «This way is beyond extremes, which leads to mind’s peace and highest wisdom».

To fully cut off any possibility for a potential mistake Hinayana practitioners become monks and nuns. They also take a wide range of outer vows regulating their behavior. Anyone following the Eightfold Path can free themsleves from suffering forever. Today Hinayana exhists in the form of Theravada – Southern Buddhism. 

Buddha taught Hinayana for many years and after that he received different types of students – more mature, and possessing stronger compassion. It was not their own suffering that disturbed them, but the pain of others. These people wanted to know how to help other beings to liberate themselves from suffering. In response to that they received what was later called Mahayana teachings (Great Vehicle). Here Buddha explained that real happiness was to think of others’ happiness. Mahayana teaches about compassion and love, which like the sun shines equally on everyone without exception. It is also the teaching about wisdom which knows the true nature of all things. They who possess intuitive wisdom know everything because they are inseparable from anything.

Whilst Hinayana is based on calming the mind and abandoning the actions that cause harm and troubles to others, the Mahayana principle is the wish of hapiness to others and wise behavior for the benefit of all beings. Nowadays Mahayana is widely spread in China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam.

However, Buddha also had different types of students to whom he gave the teachings of the third cycle which became the foundation of Vajrayana(Diamond Vehicle). Those very bright students could already refrain from causing harm and possessed compassion and wisdom, but there was also another characteristic quality of theirs – trust and confidence that each person’s mind has a seed for Enlightement, Buddha’s nature. Thanks to that they could identify with the Buddha and see their Enlightened reflection in him. Their way is to behave like a Buddha in any situation. This is the way to develop all of the mind’s qualities fast. Today Vajrayana is practised in the Northern Himalayas, Tibet, Butan, Mongolia, Buryatia, Kalmykia and Tuva.

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