Aviva Directory » Faith & Spirituality » World Religions » Eastern Religions » Buddhism » Denominations

There are three major denominations of Buddhism, which are generally known as schools. These are Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. Each of these are further divided into sects, sub-sects, and movements.

The institutional and doctrinal divisions of Buddhism, as well as the cultural and philosophical facets of each, has been interpreted in various ways, according to geographic, historical, and philosophical criteria, leading to vagueness and confusion, often with different terms used in different contexts.

Practiced throughout southern Asia, and centered in Sri Lanka, Theravada Buddhism is the oldest and most common form of Buddhism, having been spread early on by merchants who carried it to trading outposts. Theravada Buddhism is the more conservative school of Buddhism, having a focus on preserving the original teachings of the Buddha.

Mahayana Buddhism developed about five hundred years after the death of the Buddha, although its philosophical origins may have predated its formation by a few centuries. Influential in East Asia, Mahayana Buddhism is dominant in China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.

Vajrayana Buddhism is also known as Tibetan Buddhism, although it developed in medieval India before spreading to Tibet, Bhutan, and East Asia. It is also known as Tantric Buddhism and Esoteric Buddhism, and by other names in various countries. The origins of Vajrayana Buddhism goes back to groups of wandering yogis, known as Mahasiddhas, who lived in forests and caves, coming together in tantric feasts.

Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana Buddhism are each subdivided into several sects or movements.

Although he enjoys worldwide name recognition, the Dalai Lama is not the universal head of Buddhism. In fact, he is not even the head of Tibetan Buddhism, but only of the Yellow Hat (Gelugpa) sect of Vajrayana Buddhism. The first Dalai Lama took office in 1438.

Also well known in the West, Zen Buddhism is actually a sect of Mahayana Buddhism, which developed in China and was strongly influenced by Taoism, spreading to Vietnam, Korea, and Japan.

Pure Land Buddhism is also a sect of Mahayana Buddhism, established in Japan in the late 12th century, although the origins of its teachings were in India and China, as early as 147 CE.

Topics related to Buddhist denominations, schools, movements, or sects are the focus of this category, while those relating to a specific Buddhist group should be submitted to the appropriate subcategory, if available. Resources that relate to a specific Buddhist denomination or sect should be submitted to the subcategory appropriate to that denomination or sect, while those relating to Buddhism in general, or to multiple Buddhist groups, may be listed in the Buddhist Resources category.







Recommended Resources

Search for Denominations on Google or Bing