The three vehicles
Buddhism has evolved into myriad schools that can be roughly grouped into three families. The Sanskrit term used for these forms is yāna; or vehicles. Each yāna sees itself as representing the true, original teachings of the Buddha, although some schools believe that the dialectic nature of Buddhism allows its format, terminology, and techniques to adapt over time in response to changing circumstances.
The three vehicles include, first, the Hinayāna; or "Lesser vehicle". The Hinayana vehicle represents the class of practitioners who seek enlightenment for themselves, and is represented in literature by those teachings that encourage arhatship rather than Buddhahood.
All traditions accept the Hinayana teachings as being authentic (and they are generally considered to be the earliest). However, "Hinayana schools", sometimes referred to as Nikaya schools, are those schools who recognise solely the Hinayana teachings as authentic. The Theravada school, or "Way of the Elders", is the only surviving Nikaya tradition. Theravada is practiced today in Sri Lanka, Burma, Laos, Thailand, and portions of Vietnam and Malaysia.
The second vehicle is the Mahāyāna;, or "Great Vehicle", which emphasizes universal compassion and the selfless ideal of the bodhisattva. In addition to the Hinayana scriptures, Mahāyāna schools recognize all or part of a genre of scriptures that were first put in writing around 1 CE. These later scriptures are concerned with the purpose of achieving Buddhahood through following the ten stages of the Bodhisattva'a progress to Buddhahood across three countless aeons of lifetimes; because of the immense time, many Mahāyāna schools accept the idea of working towards rebirth in a Pure Land, where the attainment of enlightenment is much easier. Mahāyāna is practiced today in China, Japan, Korea, parts of India, and most of Vietnam.
The third vehicle is the Vajrayāna; or "Diamond Vehicle" (also known as Tantric Buddhism), which, while sharing many of the basic concepts of Mahāyāna, also includes a vast array of spiritual techniques designed to enhance Buddhist practice.
One component of the Vajrayāna is harnessing psycho-physical energy as a means of developing profoundly powerful states of concentration and awareness. These profound states are in turn used as an efficient path to Buddhahood. Using these techniques, it is claimed that a practitioner can achieve Buddhahood in as little as three years! In addition to the Hinayāna and Mahāyāna scriptures, Vajrayāna Buddhists recognise a large body of texts that include the Buddhist Tantras. Vajrayana is practiced today mainly in Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, Mongolia, areas of India, Kalmykia and, to a limited extent, in China and Japan.
Buddhism After the Buddha
Buddhism spread slowly in India until the powerful Maurya emperor Asoka converted to it and actively supported it. His promotion led to construction of Buddhist religious sites and missionary efforts that spread the faith into the countries listed at the beginning of the article.
After about 500, Buddhism waned in India, becoming a very minor religion after about 1200. This was partially due to Muslim invasions, and partially due to Source | Copyright