Every major religion has several different belief systems (sects) that have the same general core belief, but have a significant enough different to have be separated from each other.

What are the major (3-10) sects of Buddhism? How are they different from each other?

  • I follow the SGI. Its roots are from the lotus sutra
    – tgkprog
    Commented Jun 18, 2014 at 20:27

2 Answers 2


Mahayana is not a sect at all; it is a vehicle.

Major traditions in Buddhism are usually country or region related. We can distinguish three major branches of Buddhism in the World by what they keep as canon.

Some countries mix several aforementioned branches.

  • catnpnosis, you used the word "branches" in your answer: is "branch" different from "sect" and "vehicle", or were you using it as a synonym for "sect"? If the latter, your answer would be clearer if you replaced "branches" by "sects" (or at least clarified that they were the same thing.)
    – tkp
    Commented Jun 23, 2014 at 13:18
  • FYI, Wikipedia refers to Mahayana as both a vehicle and a branch: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahayana (which would further suggest that when you said "branches" you really meant "sects", no?)
    – tkp
    Commented Jun 23, 2014 at 13:27
  • @Tommy I used branch as most general division (plus, it's neutral), and 'sect' copied from the question, actually, not very correctly. Sect is loaded term, it supposes more organized / centralized unit, or even smaller schools. I will edit and replace 'sects' in my answer with 'traditions'. Thanks.
    – catpnosis
    Commented Jun 23, 2014 at 20:06
  • More or less these geographical and linguistic entities coincide with the different vehicles.
    – zwiebel
    Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 16:44
  • @zwiebel They don't.
    – catpnosis
    Commented Jun 26, 2014 at 12:05

The three major sects would be Hīnayāna - the small vehicle/path; Mahāyāna - the great vehicle/path and Vajrayāna - the diamond vehicle/path. For differences compare this thread: What are the main differences between the Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana branches of Buddhism?

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