The Dharmachakra: the symbol of Buddhism

The Many Different Schools of Buddhism

Sometimes the bewildering variety of Buddhist traditions can seem incomprehensible and contradictory, especially if you're only just beginning to find out about it. Buddhist thought and practice have developed over its 2,500 year history, and they have also adapted to the different cultures they have encountered. It is this combination of history and geography that leads to the great diversity of approaches in different Buddhist traditions.

Until about 100 years ago, Tibetan Buddhism was known in the west as Lamaism, and thought of as entirely separate religion to the Buddhism of south-east Asia. When Zen became well known in the 1960s and 1970s many people did not realise it was a form of Buddhism. Even today, many practitioners of Buddhism in the east know little or nothing about other types of Buddhism.

Types of Buddhism

There are a number of different ways that you can look at the different types of Buddhism, and I have created four sections which each explore a major phase in its development. The sections are:

  • Introduction: This page.
  • Early Buddhism: The Buddha's original teachings and the oldest surviving school.
  • The Mahayana: The Great Way, developments a few hundred years after the Buddha's death.
  • The Vajrayana: The Diamond Way, magical perspectives of Tantric Buddhism, the third phase of Buddhist development
  • Contemporary Buddhism: Buddhism in the modern world

By attempting to condense the whole of Buddhism down to a few webpages I have inevitably over-simplified some complex issues, and missed out all sorts of things. I hope it's accurate enough to provide some sort of overview and offer a launching pad for further exploration If you'd like to know more, or offer any suggestions for correcting or improving the page please let me know. For a more thorough guide I recommend Andrew Skilton's A Concise History of Buddhism.

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