Schools of Buddhism actually refer to different doctrinal and institutional divisions of the Buddhism religion that is in existence from its ancient times till today.
It is to be noted that classification and nature of different schools is not clear and has been interpreted in several ways. It is primarily because of hundreds and thousands of different movements, sects, subsects etc that make up the entire of Buddhist traditions.
During the 45 years teaching career, Gautam Buddha have imparted his teachings and learning to large number of people. Buddha gave them teachings that are further classified into 3 major schools that are discussed below.
Theravada (School of Elders)
It literally means school of elder monks and all the teachings are preserved in Pali Canon as its doctrinal core. One important feature is the teachings tend to be extremely conservative regarding matters of monastic discipline and doctrine.
Theravada includes a wide range of practices and traditions that have developed over its long history of interactions across numerous religious committees and cultures.
It provides teachings related to cause and effect which is commonly called “karma” these days. It offers to pacify meditations for creating distance from difficult thoughts and feelings.
It signifies that the feelings should not be considered as personal and gives opportunity to people to act in a humanitarian way for accumulating positive karma.
The teachings of this school of Buddhism became quite popular and spread to different countries in South East Asia like Cambodia, Thailand, Burma and Sri Lanka. The main objective from the teaching is for the liberation of human soul from all kinds of disturbances.
At the moment, Theravada Buddhists who are otherwise known as Theravardins have a total number of 150 million across the globe and the numbers have risen drastically in the past few decades.
Mahayana (Great Way)
Mahayana is a Sanskrit word that means Great Vehicle. It is interesting to note that Mahayana tradition is the largest major tradition of the Buddhism religion in practice now with 53.2% practitioners.
The most important teaching of this school of Buddhism is to motivate people for becoming useful to others. This attitude of human being for the betterment of others is called Bodhisattva.
The teachings and meditations can go a long way to increase wisdom and compassion. According to Gautam Buddha, world is just like a dream that can be changed with our thoughts, actions and words.
The teachings of Gautam Buddha spread to different Northern Asia like Korea, Tibet, China, Vietnam and Japan. That is why this Mahayana is often known as Northern Buddhist School.
It is to be noted that Mahayana includes all the teachings of Theravada. The main objective of this school of Buddhism is not to become just liberated but to become fully enlightened for the benefit of everyone.
Vajrayana (Diamond Way)
This school of Buddhism talks about the mind itself. These direct teachings from Buddha are meant for those people who have a special kind of confidence.
It further talks about perfection that should not be limited to outside. What matters most is innate perfection because it contributes to the well being of an individual.
In this school of Buddhism, Gautam Buddha is not considered to be a person but is actually the mirror to our own mind. What matter most is the quality of mind because it leads to the overall perfection of the soul and body.
The teachings are often known as the Buddhist Tantra. It is to be noted that when the Buddhism religion was destroyed in its native land, only the teachings could survive in Tibet. Vajrayana includes teachings of Theravada as well as Mahayana.