3 Main Buddhist Schools – Mahayana / Theravada / Vajrayana

Its important when studying Buddhism to cover at a minimum the major Buddhist schools, to get a closer understanding of how Buddhism is taught and what methods are used across the world. I am fortunate to be taught by a great Master in Buddhism and the Abbot of my temple, and am happy to practice my teachings by sharing with others.  So lets take a brief look at the 3 most widely acknowledged schools;

Theravada ‘School of the Oldest’  > or Hinayana ‘Small Vehicle’

Mainly found in Thailand, Cambodia, South India, Laos, Burma

Theravada is called the small vehicle because it is only the vehicle to a small number of people who can reach enlightenment, ie. strict rules to reach enlightenment such as; No lay men or women may reach an enlightened state, only those who are monks, and even those must under go many favorable rebirths to be in a position to achieve enlightenment. It is often expected to under go many lives as a monk to reach a favorable rebirth. It is said that women are only ever able to reach a favorable rebirth as a man to then go forward as a monk. For example in Thailand it is impossible for a woman to become a monk, and if a nun comes to Thailand wearing monk robes she will be arrested for the impersonation of a monk. This shows the severity and strictness of the rules, especially in countries where Buddhism is the state religion.

Mahayana ‘Great Vehicle’

Mainly found in China, Japan,  Korea, Most of Vietnam

The great vehicle takes its name as it is believed that absolutely anybody can reach enlightenment in this lifetime, the person does not have to be Buddhist. They believe there are enlightened Christians, Muslims, Jewish, Atheists e.t.c, but simply use a different phrase or term. This is one of the biggest schools and most widely recognised in the western countries and Europe.

Vajrayana ‘Diamond Vehicle’

Mainly found in Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, Northern India, Mongolia

There is a great story of a king who wanted to convert his countries state belief to Buddhism but was unsure of which school to pursue, for many years Mahayana and Theravada schools would continue in ‘trumping’ the other with reason to follow that school. Gradually after years the king grew bored and set a challenge that the first to climb the highest mountain the region would be the school that is chosen. It is believed that the Mahayana school sent one of their greatest monks to the top of the mountain and he won against the Theravada school, legend has it that the Mahayana monk had the ability to fly which is how he ascended the mountain so quickly. Many people argue that the Diamond Vehicle is taken from Mahayana originally but it is often seen as a combination of the two. Vajra in Sanskrit translates as Diamond or Thunderbolt and is said to cut through illusions and provide absolute clarity on the path to enlightenment.

Since after Buddha died there was only one system. As the time went on and other people suggested different teaching methods many abbots refused to change their teaching methods. These monks who wanted change left the monasteries and ended up forming their own schools, for example in Thailand there are no female nuns. Others did not agree with this and wanted to form their own schools which allowed this, as many of Buddhas teaching have different interpretations this has lead to different teaching methods. Ananda should have taken after Buddha as head of the order, but he was not first patriarch. Many high monks did not like that he wanted women to be ordained as nuns but he believed that it was the right thing to do, knowing this they stopped him being the first patriarch even though he was with Buddha every step of the way and was first hand for almost all the teachings. He then became the second patriarch, and this was still only because he was the last appropriate person who was in direct contact with Buddhas teachings.

Some schools within these are;





The order of Shaolin is a combination of Amida (Pure land) teachings, and Chan/Zen (Caodong (Soto) & Linchi (Rinzai))



Karma Kaqyu


Drikung Kagyu

Theravada / Hinayana
They do not have schools in this tradition simply regional orders, such as Thailand order, Burmese Order etc.

Postscript –
My sister is starting up a blog and now more than ever her content is relevant with keeping clarity in your day and breathing properly. Thich-Naht-Hahn wrote in his book that the Buddhist Sutra ‘The full awareness of breathing’ by learning to simply breathe with full appreciation we can improve all aspects of our life and even reach enlightenment, give it a try today ;


Please take the time to view my whole journey below – any contributions toward my pursuit to further my education in Buddhism is life changing. Thankyou.


I appreciate all the support so far you guys have been fantastic! – Have a beautiful day


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