Schools of Buddhism
Gautama (Sakyamuni) Buddha is the original and historical founder of Buddhism. Lord Buddha attained Enlightenment [The Supreme Knowledge] seated under the Bodhi Tree in 598 BC., at the age of 35. In the eras following the ‘mahaparinirvana’ of Lord Gautam Buddha, His disciples got divided into different sects and spread all over the world. This led to the foundation of numerous monasteries all around the world. But Bodh Gaya remains the Holiest of Holy Sites for Buddhists. Over the years various countrie have built many temples and the formation of different Schools of Buddhism.
Schools of Buddhism refers to the various institutional and doctrinal divisions of Buddhism that have existed from ancient times up to the present.
There are many subdivisions within Buddhism, but most can be classified into three major branches:
Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana.
Theravada [“Way of the Elders”],
Mahayana [“Greater Vehicle”] and
Vajrayana [“Diamond Vehicle”].
Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism went their separate ways in the first century CE.
Mahayana then subdivided into several diverse schools, such as Zen, Pure Land and Nichiren, many of which flourish today in East Asia.
The Vajrayana Buddhist tradition is an esoteric sect that is predominant in Tibet and Nepal.
The information on “Schools of Buddhism” is from website: ReligionFacts.. click here..
Northern Buddhism/ Greater Vehicle.
Mahayana Buddhism emerged in the first century CE as a more accessible interpretation of Buddhism. As the “Greater Vehicle”, Mahayana is a path available to people from all walks of life – not just monks and ascetics.
Mahayana Buddhism – Northern Buddhism: is the primary form of Buddhism in North Asia and the Far East, including China, Japan, Korea, Tibet and Mongolia, and is thus sometimes known as Northern Buddhism. Mahayana Buddhists accept the Pali Canon as sacred scripture with the Theravadans, but also many other works, the Sutras, which were written later and in Sanskrit.
Theravada and Mahayana Buddhists differ in their perspective on the ultimate purpose of life and the way in which it can be attained. Theravada Buddhists strive to become arhats, or perfected saints who have attained enlightenment and nirvana. This is considered to only be possible for monks and nuns, who devote their entire lives to the task. The best outcome the laity can hope for is to be reborn in the monastic life. On the other hand, Mahayana Buddhists, hope to become not arhats but boddhisattvas, saints who have become enlightened but who unselfishly delay nirvana to help others attain it as well, as the Buddha did. Mahayana Buddhists further teach that enlightenment can be attained in a single lifetime, and this can be accomplished even by a layperson.
The bodhisattva developed as an enlightened being who postpones his own salvation in order to help others. The most popular bodhisattvas appearing in sculpture and painting include Avalokiteshvara [bodhisattva of mercy and compassion], Maitreya [the future Buddha], and Manjushri [bodhisattva of wisdom].
Southern Buddhism / Lesser Vehicle.
Theravada is believed to be the oldest form of Buddhism. The term itself comes into use later, but the Theravada tradition upholds the monastic path and adheres to the oldest surviving recorded sayings of the Buddha, collectively called the Pali canon. These original texts were set down in the Pali language by monks in Sri Lanka in the first century CE. Prior to this codification, teachings had been transmitted orally, and concern arose that original texts must be preserved in light of the growing heterodoxy that was developing in India.
Theravada Buddhism – Southern Buddhism: Theravada form of Buddhism is dominant in southern Asia, especially in Sri Lanka, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. For this reason it is sometimes known as “Southern Buddhism.” The subject matter of Buddhist art from these traditions focuses on life events of the Buddha.
Theravada means “The Way of the Elders” in Pali, reflecting the Theravadins’ belief that they most closely follow the original beliefs and practices of the Buddha and the early monastic Elders. The purpose of life for Theravadins is to become an arhat, a perfected saint who has acheived nirvana and will not be reborn again. As a result, Southern Buddhism tends to be more monastic, strict and world-renouncing than its Northern counterpart, and its approach is more philosophical than religious.
Because of this focus on personal attainment and its requirement that one must renounce the world to achieve salvation, Mahayana Buddhists refer to Theravada Buddhism as the “Lesser Vehicle” (Hinayana). In Theravada, it is thought to be highly unlikely, even impossible, that a layperson can achieve liberation. Because Mahayana disagrees, it regards itself as providing a “Greater Vehicle” to liberation, in which more people can participate.
VAJRAYANA BUDDHISM / TANTRIC BUDDHISM
Vajrayana Sanskrit, “Diamond Vehicle” or “Thunderbolt Vehicle”) The Tantric branch of Buddhism, which includes Tibetan Buddhism.
Tantric or Esoteric Buddhism, sometimes called Vajrayana (the Vehicle of the Thunderbolt), developed about 500–600 CE in India. An offshoot of Mahayana Buddhism, the origins of Tantric Buddhism can be traced to ancient Hindu and Vedic practices as well, including esoteric ritual texts designed to achieve physical, mental, and spiritual breakthroughs. Tantric Buddhism is sometimes described as offering a shortcut to enlightenment. Vajrayana Buddhism is most closely identified with Tibetan Buddhism, however, it also influenced parts of Southeast Asia and East Asia.
Spread of Buddhism
Buddhism thrived in India for more than a millennium, reaching an expansive culmination in the Pala period in eastern India. By the 1100s CE, Buddhism had declined mainly as a result of Muslim incursions. Before this time, however, Buddhist doctrine had been transmitted to Sri Lanka, which became a further point of reference for the spread of Buddhism to Southeast Asia. Travelers and missionaries carried the message of Buddhism by sea and land routes through Central Asia into China by the first century CE. Buddhism flourished in China between 300 and 900 CE and provided a point of reference for Buddhism as it developed in Korea and Japan. Chinese translations of Indian texts contributed to the development of printing.
Buddhism is still strong today in Bhutan, Cambodia, Japan, Korea, Laos, Burma, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tibet, and Vietnam. Throughout its history and transmission, Buddhism has been very adaptable to local beliefs and customs, and the combination of these local forms with imported beliefs and symbols is a characteristic of Buddhist art throughout Asia.
BUDDHA and BODHISATTVAS
Avalokiteshvara, Maitreya, Manjusri, Tara, and more…
BUDDHA [563 BC – 483 BC].
Gautama Buddha is also known as Siddhartha Gautama, Shakyamuni Buddha and Historical Buddha.
Gautama Buddha: Siddhartha Gautama was the son of King Suddhodana and Maya. Gautama was the family name. When Siddhartha Gautama achieved Enlightenment, he became the “Buddha” [the Enlightened One], or Gautama Buddha.
Shakyamuni Buddha: The name Shakyamuni is Sanskrit for “Sage of the Shakya.” Siddhartha Gautama’s father King Suddhodana, was the leader of the Shakya clan, a clan in Kapilavatthu, Nepal. Siddhartha was born a prince of the Shakya clan. But he adopted the life of a sage, and became the Buddha – the Enlightened One. So the name “Sage of Shakya” or “Shakyamuni Buddha”.
Historical Buddha: Gautama Buddha or Shakyamuni Buddha is also known as the Historical Buddha.
In Sanskrit: bodhi enlightenment + sattva essence.
So Bodhisattva is a person who seeks awakening; hence, an individual on the path to becoming a buddha.
A Bodhisattva is a person, who has abandoned all selfish concern and seeks only the ultimate liberation and happiness of all living beings. He has forsaken the final step to Nirvana in order to help others reach Enlightenment. A bodhisattva understands that as long as he or she remains trapped in the cycle of birth and death (samsara) because of greed, anger and ignorance, there is no way he can help others. Therefore, driven by concern for the welfare of others, a bodhisattva pursues the spiritual path to Buddhahood.
Buddha and Bodhisattva
Bodhisattva is not another term for a Buddha. A bodhisattva is a being who is destined for enlightenment rather than one who has gained it already. A bodhisattva is also normally thought of as consciously working towards enlightenment of himself and others. The earliest use of the term ‘bodhisattva’ refers to Siddhartha Gautama before he gained enlightenment, and also in his previous lives.
In the Theravada, as in Early Buddhism, though, this is the only use of the term. There is only one Buddha, who is the trailblazer who discovers the Dharma.
By about 500 years after the death of the Buddha, a reaction was developing against a narrowness that it was thought was developing in the tradition. To become an arhat, it seemed, all one needed to do was to become a monk or nun, follow the rules, get on with your practice of the Eightfold Path and you’d get there. To the early Mahayanists, this seemed a bit over-focussed on self-fulfilment to the exclusion of the enlightenment of others. After all, the Buddha had devoted fifty years of his life after enlightenment to helping others. So, as an alternative concept of Bodhisattva developed. Mahayana Buddhism is based principally upon the path of a bodhisattva. In Buddhist art, a bodhisattva may appear in divine form wearing crowns and jewels, as an ordinary human, or even as a animal.
There are four principal bodhisattvas in Mahayana Buddhism:
Avalokiteśvara, Manjusri, Ksitigarbha and Samantabhadra.
Other well known Bodhisattva include Maitreya and Tara.
AVALOKITESVARA: The Bodhisattva of Compassion.
[Sanskrit: avalokita, “looking on”; ishivara, “lord”]. Avalokiteshvara supremely exemplifies the Bodhisattva’s resolve to postpone his own buddhahood until he has helped every sentient being on earth achieve liberation [moksha] from suffering [dukkha] and the process of death and rebirth [samsara]. His name has been variously interpreted as “the lord who looks in every direction” and “the lord of what we see” (that is, the actual created world).
MANJUSRI: The Bodhisattva of Wisdom.
In Mahayana Buddhism, Manjusri is Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Insight. In Tibetan Buddhism, he is also a yidam.
KSHITIGARBHA: Savior of Beings in Hell.
Kshitigarbha is a Bodhisattva primarily revered in East Asian Buddhism and usually depicted as a Buddhist monk. His name may be translated as “Earth Treasury,” “Earth Store,” “Earth Matrix,” or “Earth Womb.” Ksitigarbha is known for his vow to take responsibility for the instruction of all beings in the six worlds between the death of Gautama Buddha and the rise of Maitreya, as well as his vow not to achieve Buddhahood until all hells are emptied.
SAMANTABHADRA: A bodhisattva associated with practice and meditation.
He is the protector of those who teach the Dharma and represents the meditation and practice of the Buddhas.
Samantabhadra often is part of a trinity with Shakyamuni Buddha (the historical Buddha) and Manjushri.
MAITREYA: The Bodhisattva of Future
Maitreya is a Bodhisattva who will appear on Earth in the future, achieve complete enlightenment, and teach the pure dharma. According to scriptures, Maitreya will be a successor to the present Buddha, Gautama Buddha, also known as Śākyamuni Buddha. The prophecy of the arrival of Maitreya refers to a time in the future when the dharma will have been forgotten by most on the terrestrial world.
TARA: Female Bodhisattva of Compassion
Tara is a female Bodhisattva. She is known as the “mother of liberation”, and represents the virtues of success in work and achievements.
According to Buddhist tradition, Tara was born out of the tears of compassion of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. It is said that he wept as he looked upon the world of suffering beings, and his tears formed a lake in which a lotus sprung up. When the lotus opened, the goddess Tara was revealed. Tara is also the consort of Avalokiteshvara.
White and Green Tara: White Tara born from the tears of Avalokiteshvara’s left eye and the Green Tara born from those of his right. Green Tara, with her half-open lotus, represents the night, and White Tara, with her lotus in full bloom, symbolizes the day. Green Tara embodies virtuous activity while White Tara displays serenity and grace. Together, the Green and White Taras symbolize the unending compassion of the goddess who labors day and night to relieve suffering.
MEDICINE BUDDHA: Healer of Inner and Outer Sickness
AMITABHA BUDDHA: The Buddha of Infinite Life and Light.
LAUGHING BUDDHA /Prosperity Buddha
Laughing Buddha is often confused with the Historical Buddha, But he is not Buddha at all.
I have found two explanations of Laughing Buddha – one as Chinese monk, another as folkloric deity.
– Laughing Buddha, or Ho Tai, as he is called in Chinese, is actually a revered Chinese Monk. He is somewhat akin to the West’s Santa Claus / St. Nick, since Ho Tai was famous for his Buddhist sermons and for his bag full of gifts, which he brought to children in order to reward them for coming to learn about the Dharma.
– Another explanation is that Laughing Buddha, or Budia, or Pu-Tai is a a Chinese folkloric deity. His name means “Cloth Sack”, and comes from the bag that he is conventionally depicted as carrying. He is seen as an incarnation of Maitreya, the future Buddha, so much so that the Budai image is one of the main forms in which Maitreya is depicted in China. He is almost always shown smiling or laughing, hence his nickname in Chinese, the Laughing Buddha.
PERSONAL NOTE: As a kid, I have spent many summer vacations at Bodh Gaya. It is my maternal grandparents place. I still have many relatives living there. So I have special affinity with Gaya. Now, living in Chicago, I wanted to dig deeper into my favorite childhood vacation destination. Bodh Gaya is the birth place of Buddhism. Buddha was born in Lumbini [Nepal], but Buddhism was born in Bodh Gaya. But I get boggled by the so many terms associated with Buddhism: like the Four Sights, Four Noble Truths, Eight-Fold Path and Four Holy Pilgrim Sites. Then Buddhist Iconography is full of symbolism associated with different mudras and objects. Also, there are various Schools of Buddhism. And then, the concept of Bodhisattva, and the names like Avalokitesvar, Tara, and Maitreya. I needed a better understanding of these names, terms and concepts. So a few posts covering these aspects.
Basic Understanding of Buddhism:
Life of Buddha.. click here..
Schools of Buddhism and Bodhisattva.. click here..
Buddhist Iconography: Aniconic and Iconic representation of Buddha.. click here..
Buddhist Iconography: Mudras and Auspicious Symbols.. click here..