Schools of Buddhism: 7 Powerful Paths to Enlightenment and Peace

You are currently viewing Schools of Buddhism: 7 Powerful Paths to Enlightenment and Peace

Schools of Buddhism: 7 Powerful Paths to Enlightenment and Peace

Buddhism is one of the oldest and most popular religions in the world. It is based on teachings by Siddhartha Gautama, who is known as the Buddha, or “the Enlightened One.” The schools of Buddhism teach about the 4 Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.

Buddhism teaches that there is no single path to salvation and that each person must find their own way to Enlightenment.

There are many different schools of Buddhism, each with its own practices and beliefs. However, all Buddhists share the goal of ending suffering and reaching Nirvana, or a state of perfect peace.

Overview of Buddhism

Buddhism is a spiritual tradition that originated in ancient India and has since spread to many parts of the world. It is founded on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, also known as the Buddha, who lived in the 5th century BCE.

The core beliefs of Buddhism revolve around the pursuit of enlightenment and the alleviation of suffering through ethical conduct, mindfulness, and meditation. There are several schools of Buddhism, each with its unique interpretations and practices.

These include Theravada Buddhism, which emphasizes individual meditation and self-liberation, and Mahayana Buddhism, which focuses on compassion and the pursuit of enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. Other schools include Zen Buddhism, Pure Land Buddhism, and Tibetan Buddhism, each with its own distinct practices and rituals.

The Beliefs and Teachings of Buddhism

Buddhism is a religion that encompasses a set of beliefs and teachings rooted in the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, also known as the Buddha. Its main objective is to guide individuals on the path to salvation by seeking enlightenment and liberation from suffering.

Buddhism emphasizes the importance of understanding the nature of existence, the impermanence of all things, and the concept of karma. It teaches that salvation can be attained through the practice of mindfulness, meditation, and ethical conduct.

There are various schools of Buddhism, including Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana, each with its own unique interpretations and practices, but all sharing the common pursuit of enlightenment.

The Four Noble Truths

The Four Noble Truths are fundamental teachings in Buddhism. They proclaim the reality of suffering, its origin, its cessation, and the path leading to its end. According to these truths, suffering is an inherent part of human existence, arising from our desires and attachments.

The origin of suffering lies in craving and ignorance. However, the good news is that suffering can be overcome by following the Noble Eightfold Path, which includes practices such as right understanding, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

Variations of the Four Noble Truths exist in different schools of Buddhism, but their essence remains consistent.

The Eightfold Path

The Eightfold Path is a fundamental teaching in Buddhism, guiding practitioners towards the attainment of enlightenment. It consists of eight interconnected aspects that provide a framework for leading a wholesome and mindful life.

These aspects include Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. Each aspect holds importance and contributes to the overall spiritual development of individuals.

It is worth noting that different schools of Buddhism may interpret and emphasize certain aspects of the Eightfold Path differently, but the underlying goal remains the same – to alleviate suffering and reach a state of enlightenment.

Schools of Buddhism

There are three main schools of Buddhism:

  • Theravada
  • Mahayana
  • Vajrayana.

Each school has its unique teachings and practices. 

Theravada, also known as the Doctrine of the Elders, is the oldest school and is prevalent in Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Southeast Asia.

Mahayana, the largest school, is found in China, Japan, and Korea, among other countries. It emphasizes compassion and the idea of the bodhisattva, an enlightened being who works for the liberation of all sentient beings.

Vajrayana, also known as Tibetan Buddhism, is prevalent in Tibet, Bhutan, and Nepal. It incorporates esoteric rituals and practices to attain enlightenment swiftly.

In addition to these three main schools, there are numerous branches and Chinese schools of Buddhism with their own distinctive practices and traditions.

The Chinese Schools of Buddhism encompass a diverse array of philosophical and doctrinal traditions. These schools played a significant role in shaping the development of Buddhism in China.

Ten main schools emerged, each with unique perspectives and approaches to the Buddhist teachings. The Chinese Buddhist Schools include the Reality School, Satyasiddhi School, Three Sastra School, Lotus School, Garland School, Intuitive School, Discipline School, Esoteric School, Dharmalaksana School, and Pure-land School.

Each school contributed to the rich tapestry of Buddhist thought and practice in China, leaving a lasting impact on the country’s religious and cultural landscape.

The Chinese Buddhist Schools

The Kosa School

The Kosa School of Chinese Buddhism is based on the Abhidharma-kosa-sastra by Vasubandhu, which was brought to China from India by Shuan-chuang.

This school, propagated by his disciples Yu-kuang and Fa-pau, focuses on the classification of all phenomena in the cosmos into seventy-five categories.

The ultimate goal of this school is for students to liberate themselves from passions and achieve the cessation of suffering. They do so by following the teachings of the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.

It is important to note that this school teaches Theravadin Buddhism and was predominantly popular during the T’ang Dynasty.

Satysiddhi School

Based upon the Satyasiddhi Sastra by Harivarman (4th century A.D.) translated into Chinese by Kumarajiva (5th century).

This School flourished during the six-Dynasty and T’ang Dynasty (5th & 6th century). It teaches one to look upon the cosmos in realms: the worldly realm and the supreme realm. A student is to meditate on the unreality of self and the unreality of things in order to enter Nirvana.

Three Sastra School

The Chinese Schools of Buddhism encompass the Three Sastra School, which is based on the Madhyamika Sastra, Dvadasanikaya Sastra by Nagarjuna, and the Sata Sastra by Aryadeva.

These three Sastras were translated by Kurnarajiva in the 5th century. The teachings of this school focus on the disposal of the Eight Misleading Ideas, such as birth, death, end, permanence, identity, difference, coming, and going, in order to establish correct thinking.

By exploring the truth between the relative and absolute senses, one can attain a deeper understanding. Rev. Yin-sun has played a significant role in spreading this school’s teachings and has published a modern commentary on the Madhyamika.

The Lotus School

The Lotus School, also known as the T’ien-t’ai school, was established by Chih-che during the Sui Dynasty in the 6th century. Its name is derived from the Tien-tai Mountain in Che-chiang Province.

The primary scripture of this school is the Lotus Sutra, along with texts like the Commentary on the Prajnaparamita Sutra and the Mahaparinirvana Sutra.

The Lotus School categorizes the ten realms of existence into ten divisions, each possessing ten qualities, resulting in a total of one thousand qualities. These qualities are further multiplied by three (past, present, and future), yielding three thousand qualities altogether. Additionally, Chih-che divided the teachings of Buddha into five periods and the doctrine into eight categories.

Vatamsaka School

The Chinese School of Buddhism, known as the Vatamsaka School, was founded by Tu-shun in the 7th century during the T’ang Dynasty.

Its foundational text is the Garland Sutra. The school was further developed by patriarchs such as Chih-yien, Fa-chang, Ch’en-kuan, and Chung-mi.

It encompasses five schools of Buddhism, including Theravada, Proto-mahayana, Mahayana, the Intuitive, and the Perfect.

These five schools are further divided into ten schools of thought. The Vatamsaka School emphasizes meditation on the fundamental nature of the universe as the path to enlightenment.

 The profundity of its theory is said to be fully appreciated through the study of the Garland Sutra. The late Ven. Yue-shia established the Hua-yen College in Shanghai, while the Ven. Ying-ch’ih also played a significant role in the school’s development.

Intuitive School

The Schools of Chinese Buddhism comprise various traditions, one of which is the Intuitive School.

Established by Bodhidharma in the 6th century during the Liang Dynasty, this school emphasizes direct insight into the mind and one’s own nature, rather than relying on written texts. Hui-k’o, Shen-ch’an, Tao-sin, Hong-jen, and Hui-neng, the 6th Patriarch, continued the transmission of this special teaching.

Following the 6th Patriarch, the Intuitive School expanded into five and later seven schools. Its popularity over a thousand years led many temples in China to be named Ch’an Temples.

Remarkable practitioners such as Ven. Shu-yun, who could meditate continuously for ten to twenty days, and Ven. Lai-kuo of Kau-wen Temple in Yang-chou, Chiang-su Province, who achieved a similar level of attainment, exemplify the depth of this tradition.

The Discipline School

The Discipline School, one of the Chinese Schools of Buddhism, is based on the monastic rules established by the Buddha.

These rules are divided into five sections, with separate sets for Theravada and Mahayana. Tao-shuan, during the T’ang Dynasty, advocated for the Four-division Vinaya, and thus founded this school.

He authored numerous treatises and commentaries on the Vinaya. The core principle of this school is to cultivate goodness and abstain from evil, strictly adhering to the ethical code.

Its objective is to liberate oneself from suffering and attain Buddhahood. After a seven-hundred-year dormancy, the Discipline School was revived by the late Master Hong-it, following the lineage of Master Ling-chi of Sung Dynasty and Master Yuan-chau of Yuan Dynasty.

the Esoteric School

The major Schools of Buddhism consist of various strands, including the Esoteric School. The Esoteric School is rooted in scriptures such as the Vairocana Sutra, the Diamond Apex Sutra, and the Susiddhi Sutra.

Its core principles revolve around the six elements (earth, water, fire, air, space, and cognition) and the four magic circles (pagoda, jewel, lotus, and sword), which symbolize the immense power of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

Practitioners seek self-realization through the three mystic aspects of body, namely the association of the mystic body with earth, water, and fire, the words from the mouth with wind space, and the mind with cognition.

This school acknowledges the duality of the cosmos, dividing it into the phenomenal or material and the absolute or spiritual.

While it was somewhat diminished in China proper after the T’ang Dynasty, it found a home in Tibet, known there as the Tibetan Esoteric School. The ceremonies and services within this school are highly intricate and require guidance from a knowledgeable teacher to fully comprehend.

Dharmalaksana School

The Dharmalaksana School of Chinese Buddhism focuses on studying the relationship between nature and the expression of cosmic existence. Its foundational texts include the Sandhi-nirmocana Sutra, Abhidharma Sutra, Yogacaryabhumi Sastra, and Vijnaptimatrasiddhi Sastra.

Initially advocated by Maitreya, it was later succeeded by Asang, Vasubandhu, and Dharmaplala Silabhadra in India. Shuan-chuang, after studying this school from Silabhadra at Nalanda Monastery, translated numerous sutras and sastras upon his return to China. These translations were carried out in the Ch’e-en Temple, which was constructed by the T’ang Emperor.

Pure-land School

The Pure-land School of Chinese Buddhism, established by Hui-yuan in the 4th century, is based on the Sukhavati Vyuha Sutra, the Great Sukhavati Vyuha Sutra, and the Small Sukhavati Vyuha Sutra. Hui-yuan founded the Lotus Society in Chiang-si Province, attracting 123 distinguished members, including renowned poets Vau-yen-ming and Liu-wei-min.

This organization played a significant role in fostering enthusiasm for the study of Buddhism in China. During the T’ang Dynasty, San-tau and Kuang-ming took on the task of popularizing this school. The teachings emphasize focusing the mind solely on Amitabha, repeatedly reciting the holy name, and attaining salvation in the Pure-land of Amitabha.

Buddhism offers numerous benefits to individuals who adopt its spiritual teachings and embrace its principles. By practicing mindfulness and cultivating a deep sense of awareness, Buddhists become adept listeners, able to truly engage with others and foster meaningful connections.

Additionally, Buddhism emphasizes techniques for enhancing memory, enabling practitioners to sharpen their cognitive abilities and retain information more effectively.

Furthermore, the emphasis on mental well-being in Buddhism promotes practices that can help individuals maintain optimal mental health, reducing stress and anxiety. By leading a mindful life guided by Buddhist principles, individuals can strive to live well and cultivate inner peace and contentment.