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Shamans, Buddhists, and Other Womyn Mystics

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HM Comparison


Buddhist Studies schools / lineages
Buddha Dharma Education» History & Culture » Schools / Lineages » Comparative Study of Schools

A Comparative Study of the Schools
Compiled by Tan Swee Eng

Common Ground Between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism

  1. Sakayamuni Buddha is the original and historical founder of Buddhism.
  2. The Three Universal Seals, Four Noble Truths, Eight Fold Paths and Twelve Links of Dependent Origination are the basic foundation to all schools of Buddhism including the Tibetan schools of Vajrayana.
  3. Threefold training of Precepts, Meditation and Wisdom is universal to all schools.
  4. Organisation of the Buddhist teachings / Dharma into three classifications (Sutra, Vinaya and Sastra) is practised among the Buddhist Canons of various countries.
  5. Mind over matter concept. Mind as the principal area of taming and control is fundamental to all schools.

Differences Between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism

The Buddha Only the historical Gautama (Sakyamuni) Buddha and past Buddhas are accepted. Besides Sakyamuni Buddha, other contemporary Buddhas like Amitabha and Medicine Buddha are also very popular.
Bodhisattvas Only Maitreya Bodhisattva is accepted. Avalokitesvara, Mansjuri, Ksitigarbha and Samanthabadra are four very well known Bodhisattvas besides Maitreya.
Objective of training Arahant or Pacceka Buddha. Buddhahood (via the Bodhisattva path).
Organisation of Buddhist scriptures  The Pali Canon is divided into three baskets (Tipitaka): Vinaya Pitaka of 5 books, Sutta Pitaka of 5 collections (many suttas) and Abhidhamma Pitaka of 7 books.


The Mahayana Buddhist Canon also consists of Tripitaka of disciplines, discourses (sutras) and Dharma analysis. It is usually organised in 12 divisions of topics like Cause and Conditions and Verses. It contains virtually all the Theravada Tipikata and many sutras that the latter does not have.
Concept of Bodhicitta Main emphasis is self liberation.
There is total reliance on oneself to eradicate all defilements.
Besides self liberation, it is important for Mahayana followers to help other sentient beings.
Trikaya concept Very limited emphasis on the 3 bodies of a Buddha. References are mainly on Nirmana-kaya and Dharma-kaya. Very well mentioned in Mahayana Buddhism. Samboga-kaya or reward/enjoyment body completes the Trikaya concept.
Transmission route Southern transmission: Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Laos, Cambodia and parts of Southeast Asia. Northern transmission: Tibet, China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Mongolia and parts of Southeast Asia.


Language of Dharma teaching Tipitaka is strictly in Pali. Dharma teaching in Pali supplemented by local language. Buddhist canon is translated into the local language (except for the 5 untranslatables), e.g. Tibetan, Chinese and Japanese. Original language of transmission is Sanskrit.
(Nibbana in Pali)
No distinction is made between nirvana attained by a Buddha and that of an arahat or Pacceka Buddha. Also known as ‘liberation from Samsara,’ there are subtle distinctions in the level of attainment for the three situations.
10 Sakyamuni Buddha’s disciples Basically historical disciples, whether Arahats or commoners. A lot of Bodhisattvas are introduced by Sakyamuni Buddha. Most of these are not historical figures.
11 Rituals and liturgy There are some rituals but not heavily emphasized as in Mahayana schools. Owing to local cultural influences, there is much more emphasis on the use of rituals; e.g. Rituals for the deceased, feeding of Petas, tantric formalities (in Vajrayana).
12 Use of Mantras and Mudras Some equivalent in the use of Parittas. Heavily practised in the Vajrayana school of Mahayana Buddhism. Other schools also have included some mantras in their daily liturgy.
13 Dying and death aspects Very little research and knowledge on the process of dying and death. Usually, the dying persons are advised to meditate on impermanence, suffering and emptiness. The Vajrayana school is particularly meticulous in these areas. There are many inner and external signs manifested by people before they die. There is heavy stress in doing transference of merit practices in the immediate few weeks following death to assist in the deceased’s next rebirth.
14 Bardo This in-between stage after death and before rebirth is ignored in Theravada school. All Mahayana schools teach this after death aspect.
15 One meal a day practice This the norm among the Theravada Sangha. This is a highly respected practice but it is left to the disposition of each individual in the various Sangha.
16 Vegetarianism This aspect is not necessary. In places like Thailand where daily morning rounds are still practised, it is very difficult to insist on the type of food to be donated Very well observed in all Mahayana schools (except the Tibetans due to the geographical circumstances). However, this aspect is not compulsory.
17 Focus of worship in the temple Simple layout with the image of Sakyamuni Buddha the focus of worship. Can be quite elaborate; with a chamber/hall for Sakyamuni Buddha and two disciples, one hall for the 3 Buddhas (including Amitabha and Medicine Buddha) and one hall for the 3 key Bodhisattvas; besides the protectors, etc.
18 Schools/Sects of the tradition One surviving major school following years of attrition reducing the number from as high as 18. 8 major (Chinese) schools based on the partial doctrines (sutras, sastras or vinaya) of the teachings. The four schools inclined towards practices like Pure Land/Amitabha, Ch’an, Vajrayana and Vinaya (not for lay people) are more popular than the philosophy based schools like Tien Tai, Avamtasaka, Yogacara and Madhyamika.
19 Non Buddhist influences Mainly pre-Buddhism Indian/Brahmin influences. Many terms like Karma, Sangha, etc were prevailing terms during Sakyamuni Buddha’s life time. References were made from the Vedas and Upanishads. In the course of integration and adoption by the people in other civilizations, there were heavy mutual influences. In China, both Confucianism and Taoism exerted some influence on Buddhism which in turn had an impact on the indigenous beliefs. This scenario was repeated in Japan and Tibet.
20 Buddha nature Absent from the teachings of the Theravada tradition. Heavily stressed, particularly by schools inclined practices.
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The Tathagatas do not enter ultimate liberation until all living beings have entered ultimate liberation.


“‘Enlightenment is perfectly realized neither by the body nor by the mind. Enlightenment is the eradication of all marks. Enlightenment is free of presumptions concerning all objects. Enlightenment is free of the functioning of all intentional thoughts. Enlightenment is the annihilation of all convictions. Enlightenment is free from all discriminative constructions. Enlightenment is free from all vacillation, mentation, and agitation. Enlightenment is not involved in any commitments. Enlightenment is the arrival at detachment, through freedom from all habitual attitudes. The ground of enlightenment is the ultimate realm. Enlightenment is realization of reality. Enlightenment abides at the limit of reality.

Enlightenment is without duality, since therein are no minds and no things. Enlightenment is equality, since it is equal to infinite space.

“‘Enlightenment is unconstructed, because it is neither born nor destroyed, neither abides nor undergoes any transformation. Enlightenment is the complete knowledge of the thoughts, deeds, and inclinations of all living beings. Enlightenment is not a door for the six media of sense. Enlightenment is unadulterated, since it is free of the passions of the instinctually driven succession of

lives. Enlightenment is neither somewhere nor nowhere, abiding in no location or dimension. Enlightenment, not being contained in anything, does not stand in reality. Enlightenment is merely a name and even that name is unmoving. Enlightenment, free of abstention and undertaking, is energyless. There is no agitation in enlightenment, as it is utterly pure by nature. Enlightenment is radiance, pure in essence. Enlightenment is without subjectivity and completely without object. Enlightenment, which penetrates the equality of all things, is undifferentiated. Enlightenment, which is not shown by any example, is incomparable. Enlightenment is subtle, since it is extremely difficult to realize. Enlightenment is all-pervasive, as it has the nature of infinite space. Enlightenment cannot be realized, either physically or mentally. Why? The body is like grass, trees, walls, paths, and hallucinations. And the mind is immaterial, invisible, baseless, and unconscious.’

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Vimalakirti Sutra

The Buddha then said to the venerable Upali, “Upali, go to the Licchavi Vimalakirti to inquire about his illness.”

Upali replied, “Lord, I am indeed reluctant to go to that good man to inquire about his illness. Why? Lord, I remember that one day there were two monks who had committed some infraction and were too ashamed to appear before the Lord, so they came to me and said, ‘Reverend Upali, we have both committed an infraction but are too ashamed to appear before the Buddha. Venerable Upali, kindly remove our anxieties by absolving us of these infractions.’

Lord, while I was giving those two monks some religious discourse, the Licchavi Vimalakirti came there and said to me, ‘Reverend Upali, do not aggravate further the sins of these two monks. Without perplexing them, relieve their remorse. Reverend Upali, sin is not to be apprehended within, or without, or between the two. Why? The Buddha has said, “Living beings are afflicted by the passions of thought, and they are purified by the purification of thought.”

“‘Reverend Upali, the mind is neither within nor without, nor is it to be apprehended between the two. Sin is just the same as the mind, and all things are just the same as sin. They do not escape this same reality.

“‘Reverend Upali, this nature of the mind, by virtue of which your mind, reverend, is liberated – does it ever become afflicted?’

“‘Never,’ I replied.

“‘Reverend Upali, the minds of all living beings have that very nature. Reverend Upali, passions consist of conceptualizations. The ultimatenonexistence of these conceptualizations and imaginary fabrications – that is the purity that is the intrinsic nature of the mind. Misapprehensions are passions. The ultimate absence of misapprehensions is the intrinsic nature of the mind. The presumption of self is passion. The absence of self is the intrinsic nature of the mind. Reverend Upali, all things are without production, destruction, and duration, like magical illusions, clouds, and lightning; all things are evanescent, not remaining even for an instant; all things are like dreams, hallucinations, and unreal visions; all things are like the reflection of the moon in water and like a mirror-image; they are born of mental construction. Those who know this are called the true upholders of the discipline, and those disciplined in that way are indeed well disciplined.'”

“Then the two monks said, ‘This householder is extremely well endowed with wisdom. The reverend Upali, who was proclaimed by the Lord as the foremost of the upholders of the discipline, is not his equal.’

“I then said to the two monks, ‘Do not entertain the notion that he is a mere householder! Why? With the exception of the Tathagata himself, there is no disciple or bodhisattva capable of competing with his eloquence or rivaling the brilliance of his wisdom.’

“Thereupon, the two monks, delivered from their anxieties and inspired with a high resolve, conceived the spirit of unexcelled, perfect enlightenment. Bowing down to that good man, they made the wish: ‘May all living beings attain eloquence such as this!’ Therefore, I am reluctant to go to that good man to inquire about his illness.”