Classification of Buddhism

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For criticism see Criticism of Classification of Buddhism

Classification by Buddhists

Buddhists identify themselves as belonging to either Mahayana or Theravada.[1] An enormous variety of other classifications have been used. Bruno Petzold wrote a thousand-page book just about those used in surviving literature from India, China and Japan.

Classification by scholars

Some scholars use the twofold classification above. The commonest,[2] however, seems to be into three "traditions":

  1. East Asian or Eastern Buddhism
  2. Theravada or Southern Buddhism
  3. Tibetan or Northern Buddhism

Theravada is also described as a "school", while the other two are subdivided into schools.

The Macmillan Encyclopedia of Religion uses a multi-dimensional classification with the following cross-classifications:

  1. "movements"
    1. Theravada (Hinayana)
    2. Mahayana
    3. Vajrayana
  2. "monastic traditions"
  3. "schools"
  4. "sects"
  1. According to Buddhist Religions, 5th edition, these 3 movements are respectively dominant in the 3 traditions of the previous classification, but not to each other's exclusion
  2. Each of those traditions has its own monastic tradition, respectively Theravada, Dharmaguptaka and Mulasarvastivada, though in Japan monasticism has been largely abandoned in favour of a married clergy.
  3. This seems to mean something fairly similar to the above.
  4. Nichiren is given as an example of the last of these. Other sources list it as a school, while others[3] seem to exclude it from Buddhism altogether, or some subdivisions of it.[4]

Notes

  1. Keown, Buddhism, Oxford University Press, 1996, page 11
  2. e.g. Gethin, Foundations of Buddhism, Oxford University Press, Harvey, Introduction to Buddhism, Cambridge University Press, (New) (Penguin) Handbook of (the World's) Living Religions (several titles in different editions)
  3. e.g. the Handbook cited above
  4. e.g. World Christian Encyclopedia