Theravada – The Way of the Elders
Theravada (meaning Doctrine of the Elders) or Hinayana (meaning small vehicle) Buddhists form the earliest school. It has one hundred million or so followers. They are mainly found in Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Burma and Sri Lanka as well as parts of Vietnam.
It is more serious in manner than the other school. It insists on a monastic way of life. It regards the path to Nirvana as an individual pursuit and places reliance on individual wisdom.
Buddha thought that both men and women could be enlightened but nuns are seen as less important than monks within this school of thought. It focuses on the historical Buddha and the idea that the individual has achieved release from rebirth. It is based on the Pali canon of scriptures.
Mahayana – The Great Vehicle
This is found in Central Asia, China, Tibet and Japan. Its special characteristic includes belief in many Buddhas who can be present at the same time and the concept of Sunnata – emptiness. It also believes in the Bodhisattva – a perfect being who embodies panna (wisdom) and karuna (compassion) and is dedicated to help all sentient beings achieve liberation from the world. It has many different canons of scripture including the Chinese Canon and the Tibetan Canon.
In Tibet Buddhism became a form of government as well as a religion.The Dalai Lama is the Tibetan Buddhists’ spiritual leader and is seen as a reincarnation of the spirit of Buddha. Before the invasion of Tibet by China, he was also the Tibetans’ ruler.
Zen Buddhists developed martial arts e.g. Kung fu and Karate as a way to help them meditate. They are thought to focus the mind and increase concentration and self-awareness. They also use riddles as an important part of meditation. This is thought to teach the mind new ways of understanding.