Schools of Buddhism
In Buddhism there were many schools and groups. Currently, there are three main ways of understanding Buddhism, according to the regions of Asia, the continent in which the majority of followers of that religion live.
Southern Buddhism is one that is widespread mainly in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand.
Followers of southern Buddhism say they have the oldest sacred texts and are closest to what Buddha preached. They give great importance to monks, who wear saffron-colored tunics, remain unmarried and have very strict rules of discipline, such as not having more than one meal a day, eaten before noon.
The ideal is the arhat, the monk who managed to awaken, following the example of Buddha, through meditation and wisdom and who will not be reborn again. They think that those who do not follow the discipline of monasteries cannot achieve liberation in this life and will try, through their merits and good karma, to be reborn as monks in order to reach nirvana.
Around the 1st century BC, a different way of understanding Buddhism began to develop, called the Mahayana or the great vehicle for achieving liberation, which advocates arrival upon awakening in many ways without having to be a monk. This path is followed in eastern and northern Buddhism.
In Mahayana Buddhism, each school proposes its own path: some insist that the faithful make the effort to achieve liberation and others, that liberation is granted by the Buddhas.
For example, at the school of “Terra Pura”, which was very popular in China and Japan, it is believed that the Buddha Amitaba or “Amida”, in Chinese, can take his faithful, through death, to a paradisiacal place , the pure land of the west, if you pray to it properly. Devotion, in this case, is the most important, and not meditation, since it is Amitaba who saves thanks to prayer.
On the other hand, in the Zen school the main thing is the daily and constant personal effort in meditation that leads to awakening. Each is saved on its own merits, and Buddhas have nothing to do with it.
The monkey way and the cat way
To explain the different paths followed by Mahayana Buddhism and Zen Buddhism, monks use the example of two animals: the cat way and the monkey way. When the cat is small, its mother takes it by the scruff of the neck with the mouth; the cat has nothing to do but let himself be carried away; on the contrary, the monkey has to hold on tightly to his mother in order to go with her – he has to make the effort.
Eastern Buddhism and Northern Buddhism
Eastern Buddhism is present in Japan and eastern China and there are many different schools. They believe that there are many Buddhas and other supernatural beings, so that Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, would be just one of them. The ideal is the bodhisattva, a person who can be a monk or not, but who, even though he entered nirvana after reaching awakening, decides to return to the world to help living beings, moved by love and compassion for others. .
Northern Buddhism developed in Tibet and spread across Mongolia and western China. There are many sacred texts translated from India or written in Tibetan, among which the most famous is the Bardo Todo \, or Tibetan Book of the Dead.
Tibetan Buddhists believe that certain people with great spiritual development can return after dying and choose their reincarnation. They are recognized because they remember past life and identify objects that were once yours. They are called tulkus and can be incarnations of bodhisattvas or buddhas. Some of Tibet’s religious leaders are tulkus, like the Dalai Lamas. They are the dynasty of Tibet’s political and religious leaders, and their followers believe they are an incarnation of Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion.
Do Buddhists believe in gods?
For southern Buddhism, Buddha is an exemplary human being, who taught the way to awaken, but is not a god. In their sacred texts, the question of whether or not the gods exist seems to be of little interest, because it adds nothing to the real problem that concerns them: how to achieve awakening. This attitude is very significant, since they do not believe that there is a creative god, nor that the universe is maintained by its action, nor that the awakening is achieved through its intermediation.
In Eastern and Northern Buddhism, however, the role of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas is given great importance. They are very numerous supernatural beings who are worshiped because they help to achieve awakening and there are paradises that can be reached through their intercession and, therefore, they look like what, in other religions, the gods would be.
Unlike what happens in Western religions, such as Christianity, Judaism or Islam, for Buddhists there is no creative entity in the world and no need for it to exist. In this way, the theological problem of the existence of an all-powerful God who created a world in which there is evil is also eliminated.
Buddha avoided metaphysical speculation about whether the world is eternal or not, whether the soul is the same as the body or whether a Buddha exists after death, considering that in matters of this type “greed for opinions tends not to be edifying”.
In Buddha’s long sermons collected at Digha Nikaya, Buddha ironic with the Great Brahma of Hinduism, who would be the closest to the creator God that Christians believe:
“There was a monk who wondered how he could transcend all the worlds and meditated in order to be able to contact the gods and convey his question to them. None of the gods of the lower heaven, nor of any other heaven until he reached the retinue of Brahma, could help him, but he was assured that the great Brahma could do it. After a while the great Brahma became visible and the monk asked his question. However, the only answer he got was Brahma’s proud claim that he was the creator. After responding three times in this way, Brahma led the monk aside and told him that he could not deceive his entourage by publicly admitting that he did not know the answer. ”