I know there are three vehicles in Buddhism: Therevada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. It seems there are so many sects of buddhism. Each of these three vehicles has sub-sects, (Zen, Pureland). Do the majority of Buddhist study each in depth in order to choose which fits them best in order to study the sutras accordingly? I find comfort in reading small pieces of sutras from each sect, though I've always loved Vajrayana and Zen. Is there a large difference?

On a side note: is the eightfold path is acknowledged by all three sects?

  • The introduction to Buddhism by country -- Eastern Buddhism (Mahayana), Southern Buddhism (Theravada), Northern Buddhism (Vajrayana) -- suggests it's often a matter of which country you are in ... and, I would expect, which language you understand. I suppose that until recently (e.g. 100 years ago) it would have been difficult for most people to study from more than their own (local) sect. – ChrisW Jun 8 '15 at 9:21
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    Side note: the answer to What teachings do all schools of Buddhism share? says "yes"; a few other answers e.g. here (and maybe elsewhere on this site) suggest that path is not as central in later sects. The eightfold path was explained in the first turning of the wheel of dharma. – ChrisW Jun 8 '15 at 9:33
  • From biographies I've read on Wikipedia I think that usually at least the founder of each sect has studied in depth from the materials and/or other teachers available. – ChrisW Jun 8 '15 at 10:05

Demographically the majority of Buddhists today (nearly 99%) are born in Asia into Buddhists families and would likely follow their family or local tradition.

But assuming your question is regarding those of us who have converted to Buddhism in primarily non Buddhist countries, there may still be no consensus on what the majority of these Buddhist converts do to select a tradition or sect.

One important consideration is whether one wishes to practice with a local group. If so, it might be more practical to gather information on local Buddhist centers/monasteries/temples and visit each to see where one might comfortably fit in and have an opportunity to study and practice along with other like minded local people rather than spending time learning in depth about traditions which may not be represented locally.

If one is more interested in studying and practicing alone or in online communities, the possibilities are far less limited and studying at least the basics of each of 3 major branches and the major sub sects within the major branches could give one enough information to see which branch really peaked ones interest to begin a more in depth study into a particular branch. This answer links information on the various canons used in different traditions.

Finding a teacher whom one really feels they can learn from, whether a present day teacher teaching locally, online, or through books/videos or a historical teacher teaching through their writings, can certainly influence an individual's choice of sect too. When teachings resonate, the energy to learn more grows.

Your question is interesting to me because it's the same thing I wondered when I first began learning about Buddhism. The information on the various schools seemed overwhelming. I started with a local group to make things easier for myself. Then spotted some interesting online resources which made me think beyond the local group. Then found the energy to begin to study the different branches in a basic way and eventually found the tradition that really resonates for me. But I think if I had just sat down and tried to read up on everything all at once, it wouldn't have made much sense. :)


I first was interested in Buddhism at the age of 15, but actually started meditating that year with Hindu yogis from India.

For some time, I practiced in a Japanese school of Buddhism but after seven years but I realized I had joined a cult. That was very disappointing. Not only did they never meditate, but their practice consisted solely of chanting one mantra. When I asked about emptiness, for example, they would just tell me that this was not important.

Later I found myself attending the Zen Center in my community, and then I would periodically attend the insight meditation Center in my city. The one day I met a Tibetan teacher and I realized that this was my path. There is a somewhat mystical or maybe even silly belief in the Dharma community that one finds oneself exactly where one should be.

I have found that many Catholics and Jews seem to enjoy the Tibetan practices, probably because of the ritualistic aspects. Who knows. It is not necessary to know everything about each school, for example, because the basics of Buddhism are 1, to be compassionate and loving towards all sentint and beings, and 2, a belief in awakening: that is to say that we can recognize our own true nature, the awakened state, or enlightenment.

Whichever path you choose, all you have to do is walk that path and practice. Some individuals are more cerebral, and enjoy reading, deliberating philosophy, and other "academic" endeavors, and they may find themselves enrolled in a Tibetan University for 12 years, in order for them to obtain the equivalent to a doctoral degree, called a GESHE.

As such,you may meet a Tibetan teacher who will be referred to as "Geshe-la," an honorific title which denotes that he has received a PhD in Tibetan studies. most monks and nuns in University, at least in the Tibetan system, will study for many years.

I wish you the best in your search for awakening.


Each of the sects alive today originated to suit their time and place - they were a result of the personalities of the teachers, and the receptiveness of the population. There were other sects that have since perished and faded {source}, but enlightened a great many when they were popular.

The truth of nirvana can be attained through a great many ways, and the Buddha himself never offered a single formula for all to follow.

Some find samadhi or meditation more appealing, some find sila or ethical behavior more appealing, and some best respond to philosophical inquiry or prajna. It depends on our respective past lives, past merits and available opportunities.

For some, especially those on the path of wisdom or prajna, examining several schools maybe necessary. They are cautious by nature, and are fond of extensive verification. Their quest of inquiry may take them to several teachers, and even several religions. As long as their intent is to realize the truth, there is nothing wrong with this. In fact, the Buddha too was like this, and over his several lives, studied with a great many teachers.

It works best if we find a teacher or school that resonates, that changes us deeply. We use what works, discard what doesn't.

Some people have bad allergies from good medicine, it is not the fault of the medicine or the individual.

We must ultimately be very practical about our choices. If we are not too hungry, we can wait until we find a restaurant we like, but if we are really hungry, we eat wherever we get food.

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