Movements within Buddhism

Various movements fall under the heading of Buddhism. After the death of the historical Buddha, his teachings continued to spread and were therefore mixed with customs from the local culture. Buddhism has developed in different ways within monasteries in different places in Asia. This text will discuss the various movements that have emerged and attempt to provide a framework in which they can be seen; what its characteristics are. There are many different classifications made by different people and institutions. Below is just one of the many ways in which Buddhist movements can be classified.

Two main directions: Hinayana and Mahayana

Roughly speaking, one can say that Buddhism originated from the community of monks that the historical Buddha had founded. After his death, the teaching started to spread and eighteen different directions emerged. These are today called the early Buddhist schools and fall under the heading Hinayana, which means small vehicle. This teaching is characterized by the view that the original teaching of the Buddha should be practiced at its most pure. Guidance for this is provided by the so-called Pali Canon, which contains the most reliable collection of the Buddha’s speeches (suttas). The only school left of this is the Theravada. Theravada stands for ‘teachings of the ancients’. The others disappeared for religious or cultural reasons. In Asia, this teaching is practiced by people in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Theravada places particular emphasis on developing insight into and acceptance of oneself and on abstaining from what can harm others. Rituals and signs of devotion are of no importance. Compared to other movements, this can be seen as the most sober, with almost less use of images.
The Mahayana (great vehicle) came into existence later. As the teaching spread from India, it came into contact with more and more different cultures and customs. Buddhism developed in different ways due to the influences of these cultures and customs. The most famous Mahayana movements are: Tibetan, Pure Land and Chan or Zen.

Tibetan Buddhism

What is common to these movements is that in addition to achieving individual nirvana, a strong emphasis is placed on compassion and help to fellow human beings. A characteristic of this movement is the use of many images and rituals to support the practice. Practitioners are mainly located in Tibet and the Himalayan regions, including Nepal, Bhutan, parts of India, Mongolia, southern Russia and northeastern China.

Vajrayana Buddhism

According to some methods of classification, this is a completely unique movement, third next to Hinayana and Mahayana. Vajrayana stands for diamond vehicle. It is also known as Tantric or Esoteric Buddhism. It is an additional teaching arising from the Mahayana teachings. It occupies an important place, especially within Tibetan Buddhism.

Pure Land Buddhism

This movement bases its teachings on the so-called Pure Land sutras which tell about Amitabha. An advanced monk named Dharmakara made a large number of vows and thereby created the Pure Land. After this act, his appearance was called Amitabha Buddha. An important concept is that through devotion to Amitabha Buddha one is reborn in the Pure Land, where enlightenment is guaranteed. It offers an accessible way to express your beliefs as a Buddhist. Elements of Pure Land Buddhism can be found in Chinese and Japanese schools. In Japan this is also a standalone school.

Ch’an or Zen

Zen is the Japanese word for the Chinese word Chan. It means meditation. Zen emphasizes practice and the idea that wisdom can only come from personal experience. It therefore places less emphasis on theoretical knowledge and the study of religious texts. Sitting meditation is therefore the core of Zen. In Zen this is called za-zen (za means sitting). This is practiced in China and Japan.

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