The teachings of Buddha were passed through the centuries among the monastic community by oral tradition. In more than 2500 years of history of Buddhism, from its beginning in India to the spread in the world, many of the original texts became translations and with it, many formed new schools disseminating his ancient wisdom. Buddhism got divided into two sects namely Mahayana and Theravada. These two types of Buddhism are based on different schools of thought. Like a tree has different branches but a common root, all these Buddhist schools have quite a lot in common along while having some differences.

Here, in this blog, we will be talking about the major types of Buddhism: Mahayana (or the Great Vehicle) and Theravada (or The Way of the Elders). Besides these two, there is another popular Buddhist school- Vajrayana.

Theravada Buddhism: The Traditional School of Buddhism

Theravada Buddhism is one of the main branches of Buddhism that literally means “Teachings of the Elders”. As the name suggests, this form of Buddhism is the most orthodox and conservative one. Theravada Buddhism is a monastic school of Buddhism which comprises the original teachings of Gautam Buddha. The recorded teachings are in Pali Canon. A number of strict rules govern the Theravada practice that dominantly rejects new teachings.

Image of Spinning Wheel: Types of Buddhism
Spinning Wheel

Buddhists of Theravada faith believe Buddha’s word that human life is full of suffering and nothing on Earth is permanent. Hence, the followers of Theravada Buddhism go by the belief that one should not desire anything in this world or hold it closely. They follow Buddha’s instructions to stay away from anything that is evil, seek only that which is good, and also work continuously to purify the mind.

Following the teachings from the sacred texts of Buddhism, the Tripitaka, Theravada Buddhists live ethically, meditate, and seek wisdom in their daily life. They believe that adherence to the teachings will lead them to their ultimate goal: nirvana. Nirvana means enlightenment (attaining supreme knowledge) that frees one from the cycle of death and rebirth. The aim of Buddhist followers which is to become a fully awakened being and gain supreme knowledge can be achieved through meditation, studying the sutras, and following the Noble Eightfold Path stated by Buddha himself.


Mahayana Buddhism: Transition from the Traditional teachings

The next popular form of Buddhism is Mahayana Buddhism. Also known as the Great Vehicle, this type of Buddhism is a modified version of Gautam Buddha’s original teachings. While the exact origin of Mahayana Buddhism is still not completely understood, it was embraced by Buddhists in the 2nd century CE. During that time, Mahayana, like a vehicle, Mahayana brought a shift from the existing schools and systems of Buddhism.

The belief that enlightenment is accessible to everyone differentiates Mahayana Buddhism from the orthodox Theravada school. Mahayana opens up the possibility of Bodhisattva to all. A Bodhisattva is someone who devotes himself or herself to the service of others. It became a new aim of the religious practice of Buddhism as opposed to the Arhat (salvation seeker) which is concerned only with the self-interested pursuit of liberation.

Image of Buddha Statue: Types of Buddhism
Buddha in Meditating Pose

Mahayana Buddhism brought a massive social change in Buddhism for the common people. Renouncing life to become monks or nuns (monastic practitioners devoting their whole lives to Buddha) was no longer advocated by Mahayana Buddhists. Instead, it said that every human being could become a Bodhisattva with traits of kindness, compassion, humility, and goodness.


Vajrayana Buddhism: Another Popular School of Buddhism

The most unique form among the types of Buddhism is Vajrayana Buddhism (the way of Diamond). It also goes by the name Esoteric or Tantric Buddhism as well as Tibetan Buddhism. The school of Buddhism is a modified form of Mahayana Buddhism. It combines practices of ancient Hinduism including Vedic practices along with esoteric ritual texts designed to achieve mental, physical, and spiritual discovery.

Known to offer a shortcut to enlightenment, Vajrayana Buddhism followers engage in acts that are a secret to the world. It includes ideas of both the Yogic discipline and the Madhyamika philosophy. Both concepts are a part of Mahayana Buddhism yet are very different from it. Vajrayana school of Buddhism deals with inner experiences and its texts use a highly symbolic language. Vajrayana attempts to recapture the enlightenment experience of the Buddha. The practice aims at helping its followers to recall within themselves the most valued experiences as human beings.


Practicing Buddhist Teachings in Singapore

Buddhism being more of a simple philosophy has attracted many followers in Singapore. The city has warmly embraced every Buddhist philosophy as such people here practice all forms of Buddhism. The culturally diverse nation has interwoven Buddhist philosophies in its daily life. It has adopted various rituals and practices comprising of different types of Buddhism. Every Buddhist practice is revered in Singapore, however, Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism are the most popular. Though different, each of the different types of Buddhism has a common belief in the Buddha. Besides, they do believe in the search for enlightenment that leads to the path of happiness. Singapore accepts the simple way of life of Buddha. Its Buddhist population celebrates Buddha and his teachings in every possible way.