Buddhist Philosophy/Schools

Buddhist Philosophy

  1. Introduction
  2. Details
  3. Meditation
  4. Mindfulness
  5. Sutra
  6. Schools
  7. Esoteric Buddhism
  8. Yinyana
  9. Developments
  10. Glossary
  11. Quips
  12. References and Links

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Most of the 9 early schools of Buddhism have been lost. Therevada, the tradition of 'The Elders' is one surviving model. Schools such as Zen trace their roots through, Ch'an and the Indian monk Bodhidharma, who was a patriarch of the Dhyana school of direct meditation.
Tantra and other forms of Esoteric Buddhism trace their heritage to earlier or other lineages of enlightened Buddhas.



Theravada (pronounced -- more or less -- "tay-rah-VAH-dah"), the "Doctrine of the Elders," is the school of Buddhism that draws its scriptural inspiration from the texts of the Pali Canon, or Tipitaka, which scholars generally accept as containing the earliest surviving record of the Buddha's teachings. For many centuries, Theravada has been the predominant religion of continental Southeast Asia (Thailand, Myanmar/Burma, Cambodia, and Laos) and Sri Lanka; today Theravada Buddhists number over 100 million worldwide. In recent decades Theravada has begun to take root in the West. 'definition from Accesstoinsight'

Ch'an and Zen (禅宗)


Started from the Dhyana school by the conglomerate, legendary Bodhidharma whose attributed works include:

  1. The Outline of Practice
  2. The Bloodstream Sermon
  3. The Wake-Up Sermon
  4. The Breakthrough Sermon

The lineage of this school comes from a legendary sermon of the Buddhas which consisted of raising a flower, leading to the instant understanding of one attendee who then founded what was to become Zen.

Zen Ox Herding pictures

Soto (曹洞宗)


see also Caodong.

Rinzai (臨済宗)




Japanese school of esoteric Buddhism started by Kukai who studied esoteric Buddhism in China from 804 to 806. He developed his own synthesis of esoteric practice and doctrine, centred on the cosmic Buddha Vairocana, held to be identical with the Shinto sun goddess Amaterasu.

Kukai combined the cosmic Buddha Vairocana with the Ultimate Reality, thus producing a composite figure embodying all being.

Most notable treatise is the Sokushin-jobutsugi (The Doctrine of Becoming a Buddha with One's Body During One's Earthly Existence).

Two sacred mandalas presenting diagrammatically the two aspects of Vairocana, the Diamond World (kongo-kai) and Womb World (taizo-kai) are placed on Shingon altars.

Pure Land


Pure Land Buddhism is based upon the Pure Land sutras first brought to China circa 150, which describe Amitabha, an ancient Buddha. This concept, personified or otherwise, can be translated variously but is usually shortened to "Amituo" or "Amitofo" in Chinese (阿彌陀佛, Mandarin wg O1 Mi2 T'o2 Fo2), "Amida" in Japanese and "Amito" in Korean.

Although the Infinite Life Sutra, or Longer Pure Land Sutra, was translated in to Chinese by the royal Kuchean monk Po-Yen as early as 258, the Pure Land school first became prominent with the founding of a monastery upon the top of Mount Lushan by Hui-yuan in 402. It spread throughout China quickly and was systematized by Shan-tao (613-681). The philosophy spread to Japan and slowly grew in prominence. Honen Shonin (1133-1212) established Pure Land Buddhism as an independent sect in Japan, known as Jodo Shu. Today Pure Land is the dominant form of Buddhism in Japan.

Contemporary Pure Land traditions see the Buddha Amitabha preaching the Dharma in his buddha-field (sa. buddhakchetra), called the "Pure Land" (zh. 净土, pinyin jìngtǔ, jp. 浄土 jodo) or "Western heaven" (zh. 西天), a region offering respite from karmic transmigration. In such traditions, entering the Pure Land is popularly perceived as equivalent to the attainment of nirvana.

In fact, the main idea behind Pure Land Buddhism is that nirvana is no longer practical nor possible to attain in our present day. Instead, devotion to Amitabha will gain one enough karmic merit to go to the Pure Land (reminiscent of Heaven) from which Nirvana will be easier to attain, because in this paradise there are no negative experiences so no new negative karma is created. Existing negative karma would disappear.

Some Pure Land Buddhists have taught that in order for a devotee to be reborn in Amitabha's Western Paradise, they should chant or repeat a mantra or prayer to Amitabha as often as possible to reinforce a proper and sincere state of mind (ex: J. Namu Amida butsu). This fairly simple form of veneration has contributed greatly to its popularity, especially in Japan.

Soka Gakkai


























Yogacara (also known as Cittamatra) is a philosophical school that has its origins in India with the monk Asanga who worked alongside his brother, arya Vasubandhu to compile a set of texts on teachings passed to him from the Bodhisattva Maitreya.

The teachings have several important elements to them that have influenced many schools of practice, especially the Zen schools and the Nyingma lineage of Tibetan Buddhism.

The first important aspect of Yogacara, which lead to its alternative name Cittamatra ("mind only") is the relation of phenomena (dharmas) to the mind. The Yogacarins point out that the only way we know of the existence of phenomena is from a subjective perception of them. It is only through the six senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch and thought) that a human is aware of anything. In a similar way to the Idealists such as Bishop Berkeley, the Yogacarins ask "how do we know there's actually an objective world 'out there'? What is its relation to the mind?"

Buddhist philosophy of the mind normally breaks the mind and body into eighteen parts, called the dhatus. We are aware of six different kinds of phenomena. These are objects of sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch and thought. Objects of thought include discursive thoughts, emotions etc. The mind that perceives these can therefore be broken down into six 'sense-minds', one for each sense object. In addition, there are six organs of perception; the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind-organ.

The yogacarins state that the object sensed and the respective sense-organs are intimately linked, and in fact arise from the same cause.

The analysis of how they arise is linked to another important concept the Yogacara introduced; the storehouse consciousness (alayavijnana). This answers the question of ‘where are karmic seeds (bija) stored before coming into fruition?’ Since there is a delay between most actions and their corresponding results, the mental karmic seed that will produce a result in the future must reside somewhere. The storehouse consciousness is the Yogacarin’s answer to this. The alayavijnana is where the collection of seeds resides, and also answers the questions relating to the eighteen dhatus. A single karmic seed that comes into fruition grows from where it is stored in the mind-stream’s alaya, and produces ‘’both’’ the sense consciousness and the object it is consciousness. In this way the eighteen dhatus grow from the alaya and therefore all parts of being arises from their own storehouse consciousness under the influence of the karma they have accrued.

In addition to the seven parts of the mind (six senses, plus alaya) the Yogacarins posit another part of the mind, the conceptual mind: the ‘’manas’’. This is the parts of the mind-stream that intellectualise and discriminate phenomena in an incorrect, ignorant way, and sees phenomena as being objectively real and separate from the being that perceives them.

One more important concept taught by the Yogacara is the three levels of truth. There can be said to be three levels of understanding. The first is the completely erroneous view of phenomena having self nature - an objective, permanent nature that is not dependent. The second view, which is correct according to the relative truth of how things function, is that phenomena are subject to dependent origination. All phenomena arise from causes; the mechanism by which this happens is therefore the fruition of the seeds held in the alayavijnana. Then there is the third level of truth, which is the ultimate nature of reality according to the Yogacara. This is that consciousness is the ultimate nature of things, since it is consciousness that gives rise to them. There is nothing that does not ultimately come from consciousness. This is the Yogacara interpretation of emptiness.

There are several misconceptions about the Yogacara school. The first is that all things exist in some kind of cosmic consciousness. This is the view of some Hindu schools, for example, but it is not the Yogacara view. Each mind-stream has its own separate alaya, and the extent to which the experiences of any two beings overlap (which is an important question with relation to the six realms of existence) is due to the extent that the karma of those two beings. Similar karmic patterns in the mind produce an experience that is similar.

The second is that the school is a completely Idealistic one; that physical reality doesn’t exist at all. This is incorrect, since on the relative level they do exist. It is their origin that is tied to the mind; as no object arises without the storehouse consciousness producing it alongside the sense organs and sense consciousnesses to perceive it.