This original Hinayana school of Buddhism is known as the smaller vehicle and is regarded as more orthodox in its teaching, emphasizing the five precepts, the four noble truths, karma, reincarnation and Nirvana (extinction). It is prominent in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia.
Maha means large and this strain is referred to as the larger vehicle, because it is broader in its view. It has integrated rather than usurped other existing religions, and also added the belief that Buddha remains accessible to suffering humanity. Likewise, angelic beings such as Bodhisattvas can be called on in the quest for Nirvana. It spread north from India into countries like Tibet, Mongolia, China, Korea and Japan.
Enlightenment in Tibetan Buddhism can be reached in one’s lifetime if one is prepared to take certain risks. It is a form of Mahayana Buddhism and the ritual to aid meditation involves the use of mantras. This, combined with Hindu mysticism, gives way to strong links with occult practices. It can be found in Tibet, Mongolia, Northern Nepal and Bhutan.
This is a Chinese and Japanese school of Buddhism and is seen as a revolt against the intellectual Buddhism of India. Enlightenment can be found just as much by working in the world as in withdrawing from it. In Japan, where it is the strongest, it was able to entwine itself with the already existing religion of Shintoism.
Buddhism also offers a place for westerners who have a desire for a religion but have rejected a belief in God. They are attracted to Buddhism because it is “a kind of atheism” and “a form of humanism”. Once again it has taken on its own form and mixed with a variety of practices.