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The Branches of Buddhism for AP World History

Cate O'Donnell

2 min read

Apr 19

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A study of the branches of Buddhism is an illustrative example of the Developments in East Asia from 1200 to 1450 topic in Unit 1 of AP World History. You could reference this example on your AP World History test.



the Dalai Lama
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The different branches of Buddhism, including Theravada, Mahayana, and Tibetan (a form of Vajrayana), each offer unique approaches and practices that cater to diverse spiritual needs. Here’s a deeper look into these three major types:


Theravada Buddhism

Theravada, known as “the Teaching of the Elders,” is the oldest surviving Buddhist branch and is considered to be closest to the original teachings of the Buddha. Predominant in countries like Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar, Theravada focuses on the Pali Canon as its primary scripture, which is believed to be the most accurate record of the historical Buddha’s teachings.


Theravada emphasizes individual enlightenment and the path of the arhat, a person who has achieved enlightenment and is no longer bound by the cycle of birth and rebirth. The practice is heavily centered around meditation and moral conduct as means to develop insight and understanding of the nature of existence. Monastic life is highly valued, and monks and nuns play key roles in the spiritual and social lives of the community.


Mahayana Buddhism

Mahayana, or “the Great Vehicle,” developed later than Theravada and introduces the bodhisattva ideal, focusing on achieving enlightenment not only for oneself but also for all beings. This form of Buddhism is more expansive, encouraging followers to aspire to become bodhisattvas who seek to save all beings before entering enlightenment themselves.


Mahayana is found in China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, and various parts of the West. It incorporates a vast number of scriptures beyond the Pali Canon, including sutras such as the Lotus Sutra and the Heart Sutra. Practices vary widely and include chanting, meditation, and devotion to various Buddhas and bodhisattvas who are considered powerful intercessors. Mahayana has also developed many sub-schools with diverse teachings, such as Zen, Pure Land, and Nichiren Buddhism.


Tibetan Buddhism

Tibetan Buddhism, which evolved from the Mahayana tradition, is practiced primarily in Tibet, Bhutan, Mongolia, parts of Nepal, and regions of India where Tibetan exiles reside. It is known for its rich ritual life and deep philosophical teachings. Tibetan Buddhism emphasizes the role of the guru or lama and includes unique practices such as the use of mantras, mudras, and visualizations to transform the mind and body.


Tibetan Buddhism is organized into four major schools: Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya, and Gelug, each with its own interpretations and practices. The Dalai Lama, who belongs to the Gelug school, is one of the most well-known figures of Tibetan Buddhism globally. Tibetan practices often aim to accelerate the path to enlightenment by using advanced techniques under the guidance of a teacher.



Printable Reading Passage on the Branches of Buddhism

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Branches of Buddhism FREE Reading Passage


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Developments in East Asia from 1200 to 1450


Unit 1:The Global Tapestry


AP World History



Branches of Buddhism

#APWorldHistory

Cate O'Donnell

2 min read

Apr 19

4

0

0

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