What Sects of Buddhism Have Evolved Over Time?


Quick Answer

Various Buddhist sects have evolved over time, but the most prominent are Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. Each of these schools has a different outlook on the role of the supernatural, ritual and meditation. Each enjoys considerable popularity in specific geographic regions.

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Full Answer

Theravada Buddhism, sometimes called "Southern Buddhism," means "the doctrine of the elders." It was organized during the first years after the death of Buddha by monks who favored a conservative interpretation of the Buddha's teachings. Theravada emphasizes the importance of meditation and concentration as ways to liberate the mind and achieve enlightenment. It pays little attention to the supernatural or divine, seeing them as distractions that do not contribute to enlightenment. Theravada is the dominant Buddhist sect in Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos.

Mahayana Buddhism arose around the same time as Theravada. The originators of this school preferred a liberal, inclusive interpretation of the Buddha's teachings. Thus, Mahayana is less a uniform school of thought and more a collection of different ideologies, including Zen and Pure Land Buddhism. The uniting characteristics of Mahayana are a focus on the enlightened path and a belief in Buddha as a transcendent being. It has many followers in China, Japan, Taiwan and Korea.

Vajrayana Buddhism has a wide following in the Himalayan nations: Tibet, Mongolia, Nepal and Bhutan. Its major tenet is a unique reverence for tantric spiritual guides known as "lamas," or gurus.

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