Like all religions, there are different branches, traditions, whatever you want to call them. Why would you choose one over the others? Do you think one is right and the others are wrong? Does one fit with your lifestyle? I can see being born into one you might not have a choice. If they are all the same thing at heart, why have the differences? What if you choose the wrong one?
The Buddha taught all, but such an attainment is rare. Even in the Buddha's time, Ānanda asked about the difference in practice.
MN64:16.1: “Sir, if this is the path and the practice for giving up the five lower fetters, how come some mendicants here are released in heart while others are released by wisdom?”
MN64:16.2: “In that case, I say it is the diversity of their faculties.”
Buddhist practice actually consists of three practices. Different teachers may be adept at one or more of these and appeal to different students:
AN3.89:1.1: “Mendicants, these are the three trainings. What three? The training in the higher ethics, the higher mind, and the higher wisdom.
The three practices support each other. If one cannot find a teacher for all three, one can certainly choose a teacher who teaches what one lacks.
Different traditions emphasize different practices. I first trained in Zen for mind/immersion, but later studied the suttas themselves for ethics and wisdom.
Participating re a particular organisation or group wouldn't necessarily imply rejection of other organisations; there are typically relatively few monasteries /temples /ji /otera/ within walking distance etc, often may meet less than once per day, some places may benefit from some help with things, or maybe only meet in early morning etc. Its re The Teachings of The Buddha, and Sangha, so sharing with many is good. May have friends at different places. Or some may use different conversational languages from others, or different outfits, but thats ok. Or have acquaintances who are at different places. Nice places can be different but nice places can be the same. Nice people.
Different Branches have tended to develop in different places & regional contexts & regions over centuries & millenia.
The Six qualities of the Dhamma:
- Svakkhato: The Dhamma is not a speculative philosophy, but is the Universal Law found through enlightenment and is preached precisely. Therefore it is Excellent in the beginning (Sila — Moral principles), Excellent in the middle (Samadhi — Concentration) and Excellent in the end (Panna — Wisdom),
- Samditthiko: The Dhamma is testable by practise and known by direct experience,
- Akaliko: The Dhamma is able to bestow timeless and immediate results here and now, for which there is no need to wait until the future or next existence.
- Ehipassiko: The Dhamma welcomes all beings to put it to the test and to experience it for themselves.
- Opaneyiko: The Dhamma is capable of being entered upon and therefore it is worthy to be followed as a part of one's life.
- Paccattam veditabbo vinnunhi: The Dhamma may be perfectly realized only by the noble disciples who have matured and enlightened enough in supreme wisdom.
(from Anguttara Nikaya 11.12)
In essence, the Dhamma:
- is not a speculative philosophy (which is unactionable and cannot be put to practice) and
- gives tangible and verifiable, empirical and experiential results
OP: Why would you choose one over the others?
You should choose a system which
- de-emphasises speculative philosophies which are unactionable or cannot be put into practice and
- has well laid-out a practice or training system which gives quantifiable and tangible empirical and experiential results fast
OP: Do you think one is right and the others are wrong?
The onus is on oneself to figure out through validating the practice and experiences. If you do not get quantifiable and tangible empirical and experiential results, then this might not be the right system.
Buddhism is like medical treatment but where the treatment is is for maladies of the mind. Say there are different courses of treatment administered to different groups. If one group is getting results as anticipated then this is the right system to achieve the anticipated goal. Similarly one should choose a system which produces the best results, which would be the right system to achieve the Buddhist goal.
OP: Does one fit with your lifestyle?
One should fit the lifestyle to the practice than the other way around.
The practice starts with Sila — Moral principles and is the foundation upon the next strategies are built. If one's lifestyle lacks:
- Right speech
- Right action
- Right livelihood one will not be able to get tangible results
I can see being born into one you might not have a choice.
Though on is born into one system one may get attached to it but one can always choose something else.
OP: If they are all the same thing at heart, why have the differences?
I think these have arisen since people have created, modified, added and subtracted from techniques they have learned, mostly in good faith. These modifications can have an impact on results and effectiveness, which one can verify by trying it out and figuring out what is the best.
Also, some techniques are better suited for some people. This is something one has to figure out through trial and error.
In terms of meditation subjects, there are ones which are suitable based on personality.
OP: What if you choose the wrong one?
You would not get the desired results, which will make it evident that one has chosen the wrong technique or practised the technique the wrong way, perhaps due to misunderstanding or missing out some of the instructions. If one is practising the wrong way one can correct it. If the techniques are not giving results one can choose another, which one can put to practice and verify if it gives the desired results.
Essentially the take away is to do what works and actionable.
According to the earliest texts The Buddha said that his teaching would eventually be counterfeited.
He said that his true Dhamma would last 500 years and that it wouldn't disappear all at once but as gold disappears when counterfeit gold gets into circulation so the true Dhamma would start to disappear with the arising of the fake Dhamma.
There have been schisms and schools have different canons, thus some of the schools consider others to be based on the counterfeit Dhamma with counterfeit texts and counterfeit doctrines.
I can't say much more due to site rules but there is a good reason for choosing carefully and at least doing basic research.
The schools are definitely not the same, alike or equal.