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Buddhist Sects

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(A) Indian Buddhism (on the basis of thoughts)

1) The four sects of Exoteric Buddhism

Hinayana (小乘) — The Vibhajyavada (說分別部)*1 (was divided into eighteen sections)

The Sautrantika (經量部)*2 (was separated into the Sautrantikas Following Scripture* and the Sautrantikas Following Logic )

Mahayana (大乘) — The Yogacara / Vijnanavada (唯識宗)*5 (was separated into Scripture-followers and Logic-followers)

The Madhyamika (中觀宗)*6 (was divided into Svatantrika*7 subschool and Prasangika*8/Consequence subschool)



  • 2 it means literally ‘those who rely upon the sutras




  *6 it means ‘Doctrine of the Middle Way


2) Four Classes of Tantra

1. Kriya Tantra (作密)^1
2. Charya Tantra (行密)^2
3. Yoga Tantra (瑜珈密)^3
4. Anuttara-Yoga Tantra (無上瑜珈密)^4

^1 Kriya is a Sanskrit term which means ‘action, deed, effort’. Kriya Tantra concerned mainly with external conduct, the practices of ritual purification and cleanliness and so on.
^2 Charya means ‘conduct’ and Charya Tantra places an equal emphasis on the outer actions of body and speech and the inner cultivation of samadhi.
^3 Yoga Tantra emphasizes the inner yogic meditation upon reality, combining skillful means and wisdom.
^4 Anuttara-Yoga Tantra, which is often translated as Highest Yoga Tantra, is associated with the Mahamudra route to enlightenment. The Buddha taught the most profound instructions for transforming sensual pleasure into the quick path to enlightenment, which in turn depends upon the ability to gather and dissolve the inner winds (prana) into the central channel through the power of meditation.

(B) Mongolian and Tibetan Buddhism (on the basis of lineage)

  Four major schools:

  1. Nyingma (寧瑪派)#1 (Red)
  2. Sakya (薩迦派)#2 (Flower)
  3. Gelug (格魯派)#3 (Yellow)
  4. Kagyu (噶舉派)#4 (White)

  1. 1 Nyingma literally means ‘ancient’ and it is the oldest of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. The Nyingma tradition comprises several distinct lineages originated from the Indian Master Padmasambhava.

  1. 2 The name Sakya (‘pale earth’) derives from the unique grey landscape where its first monastery was built. The main Dharma system is the ‘Path with its Result’, which is split into two main lineages, ‘Explanation for the Assembly’ and the ‘Explanation for Close Disciples’. The other major system is the ‘Naropa Explanation for Disciples’.

  1. 3 The Gelug (‘virtuous ones’) is the newest school among the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. It was founded by Je Tsongkhapa, who merged the teaching of mind-training and stages of the path with the Sakya Tantric teachings. He also emphasized monasticism and a strict adherence to vinaya (monastic discipline).

  1. 4 The Kagyu school is also known as the ‘Oral Lineage’ or ‘Whispered Transmission’ school. The central teaching of Kagyu is the doctrine of Mahamudra (the Great Seal).

(C) Buddhism in Han Areas (rely on sutras and sastras)

Ten Sects:

1. The Kusha-shu, based on the Abhidharmakosakarika / Verses on the Treasury of Abhidharma

2. The Tattvasiddhi School, based on the Tattvasiddhi Sastra The Treatise that Accomplishes Reality》.

3. The Risshu/Ritsu Sect, based on the Dharmagupta Vinaya , which belongs to the vinaya (precepts) of the Dharmaguptaka.

4. The Faxiang School@5, based on the Arya-samdi-nirmocana-sutra/Noble sutra of the Explanation of the Profound Secrets and the Yogacara bhumi etc.

5. The Sanlun@6/Three Treatises School based on the Madhyamaka-karika /Treatise on the Middle Way , the Sataka-saatra/One Hundred Verses Treatise and the Dvadasa-dvara-sastra/Twelve Gates Treatise .

6. The Tiantai School , based on theLotus Sutra.

7. The Huayan/Flower Garland School, based on the Avatamsaka Sutra.

8. The Shingon School, based on the Mahavairocana Tantra and the Vajrasekhara Sutra .

9. Zen, a special transmission method other than the teachings of sutra .

10. Pure Land Buddhism, based on the Longer Sukhavativyuha / Infinite Life Sutra etc.

@1 The Abhidharmakosakarika is a key text on the Abhidharma written in Sanskrit verse by Vascubandhu in the 4th or 5th century. It was widely respected and used by schools of Buddhism in India, Tibet and East Asia.

@2 The Tattvasiddhi School was once an influential sect, but short-lived in India. It had a brief continuation in China until the Tang Dynasty (618-907). It was possibly due to the rise of new schools which were more influential such as the Huayan and Tiantai Schools that the Chinese Tattvasiddhi died out.

@3 The Tattvasiddhi Sastra, which is also known as the Sadhyasiddhi Sastra, is an Indian Buddhist text. It was translated into Chinese in 411 by Kumarajiva and then started to gain its popularity in China.

@4 The Dharmagupta Vinaya, which is known in Chinese as the Sifeulu (Vinaya in Four Parts), is one of the four Vinaya traditions transmitted from India to China. It was translated into Chinese by Zhu Fouian and Buddhayasas during 410-412CE.

@5 Since it represented the Indian Yogacara system of thought in East Asia, it is also called the Consciousness-Only School and was initiated in China by Xuanzang, who on his return from India, brought with him a wagonload of the most important Consciousness-Only texts. He then translated them into Chinese with the support of the government at that time as well as many assistants. Later, the Faxiang teachings

were transmitted to Korea and Japan, where they made considerable impact and thus, it is also known as East Asian Yogocara. The term ‘Faxiang’ was first applied by the Huayan thinker Fazang, which meant the dealing with the phenomenal appearances of Dharmas.

@6 It was derived from the Indian Madhyamika School.

@7 Madhyamaka-karika is one of Nagarjuna’s principal works which was translated into Chinese by Kumarajiva in 409. This Chinese translation consists of verses by Nagarjuna and prose commentary on these verses by Pingala. The Sanskrit text of Nagarjuna was regarded as the primary text of the Madhyamika School. The Treatise on the Middle Way expounds the concept of non-substantiality and the practice of the

Middle Way, which is the core of Buddhist philosophy. Nagarjuna’s conception of non-substantiality formed the theoretical basis of Mahayana Buddhism and exerted an inestimable influence on its later development. In China and Japan, The Treatise on the Middle Way became one of the three principal texts of the Three Treatises School, the other two being the One Hundred Verses Treatise also by Nagarjuna and the Twelve Gates Treatise by his disciple Aryadeva.

@8 The Tiantai School was entirely of Chinese origin. It grew and flourished under the 4th patriarch, Zhiyl, who had developed an original and extensive Chinese Buddhist system of doctrine and practice through his many treatises and commentaries. It is sometimes called ‘The Lotus School’ due to the central role of the Lotus Sutra in its teachings.

@9 The Avatamsaka Sutra is rendered in English as Flower Garland Sutra, Flower Adornment Sutra or Flower Ornament Scripture. It is a compilation of disparate texts on various topics such as the Bodhisattva path, the interpenetration of Dharmas, the visionary powers of meditation and the equality of things in emptiness.

@10 The Mahavairocana Tantra is the first true Buddhist tantra, the earliest comprehensive manual of Tantric Buddhism. It was translated into Chinese in 724 and the Chinese translation has preserved the original Sanskrit mantras while its Sanskrit text is lost. The Mahavairocana Tantra consists of three primary mandalas corresponding to the body, speech and mind of Mahavairocana, as well as preliminary practices and initiation rituals.

@11 The Vajrasekhara Sutra is an important Buddhist tantra used in the Vajrayana schools of Buddhism. The sutra begins with Buddha Mahavairocana preaching the Dharma to a great host of Bodhisattvas, including Vajrasattva. Meanwhile, Prince Siddhartha is meditating under the Bodhi tree. Though

enlightenment is imminent, the Prince has not yet attained it because he is still attached in some small way to his forsaken ascetic practices. The deities who were learning the Dharma from Buddha Mahavairocana

just now has proceeded to teach the Prince a more direct path to enlightenment through esoteric ritual. The sutra then details the rituals used to actualize the Dharma. These rituals help forming the basis of esoteric ritual in Shingon Buddhism, including such practices as meditating upon the full moon and the use of certain mantras.

@12 It is a mind to mind transmission instead

@13 In the Infinite Life Sutra, Buddha Sakyamuni begins by describing to his attendant, Ananda a past life of Buddha Amitabha. Amitabha was once a king who renounced his kingdom and became a monastic Bodhisattva named Dharmakara. Under the guidance of Buddha Lokesvararaja (‘World Sovereign King’), innumerable Buddha-lands throughout the Ten Directions were revealed to him. After meditating for five eons

as a Bodhisattva, he then made a great series of vows to save all sentient beings and through his great merit created the realm of Sukhavati (‘Ultimate Bliss’). This land of Sukhavati was later come to be known as the Pure Land in Chinese translation.