Schools of Buddhism

The schools of Buddhism are the various institutional and doctrinal divisions of Buddhism that have existed from ancient times up to the present. The classification and nature of various doctrinal, philosophical or cultural facets of the schools of Buddhism is vague and has been interpreted in many different ways, often due to the sheer number (perhaps thousands) of different sects, subsects, movements, etc. that have made up or currently make up the whole of Buddhist traditions. The sectarian and conceptual divisions of Buddhist thought are part of the modern framework of Buddhist studies, as well as comparative religion in Asia.

From a largely English-language standpoint, and to some extent in most of Western academia, Buddhism is separated into two groups at its foundation: Theravāda, literally "the Teaching of the Elders" or "the Ancient Teaching," and Mahāyāna, literally the "Great Vehicle." The most common classification among scholars is threefold, with Mahāyāna itself split between the traditional Mahāyāna teachings, and the Vajrayāna teachings which emphasize esotericism.

Classifications

Map showing the three major Buddhist divisions
Percentage of Buddhists by country, according to the Pew Research Center.

In contemporary Buddhist studies, modern Buddhism is often divided into three major branches, traditions or categories:[1][2][3][4]

Another way of classifying the different forms of Buddhism is through the different monastic ordination traditions. There are three main traditions of monastic law (Vinaya) each corresponding to the categories outlined above: