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What is Buddhism?

Father of the Sangha

Chapter 3 - Types Of Buddhism

One could say that there is only one type of Buddhism and that is the huge collection of Teachings that were spoken by the Buddha. The original Teachings are found in the Pali Canon, the ancient scripture of Theravada Buddhism, which is widely accepted as the oldest reliable record of the Buddhas words. Theravada Buddhism is the dominant religion in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.

Between 100 to 200 years after the passing away of the Buddha, the Sangha (the monastic community) split over the political question of Who runs the Sangha? A controversy over some monastic rules was decided by a committee of Arahats (fully Enlightened monks or nuns) against the views of the majority of monks. The disgruntled majority resented what they saw as the excessive influence of the small number of Arahats in monastery affairs. From then on, over a period of several decades, the disaffected majority partially succeeded in lowering the exalted status of the Arahat and raising in its place the ideal of the Bodhisattva (an unenlightened being training to be a Buddha). Previously unknown scriptures, supposedly spoken by the Buddha and hidden in the dragon world, then appeared giving a philosophical justification for the superiority of the Bodhisattva over the allegedly selfish Arahat. This group of monks and nuns were first known as the Maha Sangha, meaning the great (part) of the monastic community. Later, after impressive development, they called themselves the Mahayana, the Greater Vehicle while quite disparagingly calling the older Theravada Hinayana, the Inferior Vehicle. Mahayana still retains most of the original teachings of the Buddha (in the Chinese scriptures these are known as the Agama and in the Tibetan version as the Kangyur) but these core teachings were mostly overwhelmed by layers of expansive interpretations and wholly new ideas. The Mahayana of China, still vibrant in Taiwan, reflects an earlier phase of this development, the Mahayana of Vietnam, Korea and Japan (mostly Zen) is a later development, and the Mahayana of Tibet and Mongolia is a much later development still.

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