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Buddhists: So many schools, so many lineages. Is it really all "one dharma, one sangha"?

I have studied Tibetan, Dzogchen, Vipassana, etc. Squabbling about who has the spirit of the “true Buddha’ teachings”. I’m joining a Zen temple and no nothing of Zen! Will the message be the same?
Mahayan and Theraveda are the 2 major scools, Mahayan being the younger.


  1. I don’t really follow any of the classical traditions, but I’m sure that there is pride and arrogance leaching into buddhism, just as every other belief and practice.
    I read the tao and pretty much go my own way. It works for me so far, but maybe not everyone can do that.
    Good luck to you! You will find a good way for you, I am sure of it. 😉

  2. Consider for a moment that the original teachings of the Buddha was centered on The Four Noble Truths. These are not so much about religion as they are concerned with a practical philosophy of life.

  3. It is my personal prejudice that Zen is the way to go if you choose Buddhism.
    I have noticed things that I find to be contrary to what we think of as “Buddhist” in other sects.
    But it isn’t really about the destination, is it? If you follow what you interpret to be “the middle path” you should be ok.
    Good Luck on your journey!

  4. While it is correct that there are differences in each tradition, they all agree in basic principles. Please see http://www.serve.com/cmtan/buddhism/panel.html for a concise explanation of each main tradition.
    As the Buddha stated, “Sometimes I [the Buddha] spoke of myself, sometimes of others; sometimes I presented myself, sometimes others; sometimes I showed my own actions, sometimes those of others. All my doctrines are true and none are false.” (Lotus Sutra 16)
    Again, in Vinaya Pitaka ii.10, the Buddha states, “Of whatsoever teachings, Gotamid, you can assure yourself thus, ‘These doctrines conduce to passions, not to dispassion; to bondage, not to detachment; to increase of worldly gains, not to decrease of them; to covetousness, not to frugality; to discontent, and not contentment; to company, not solitude; to sluggishness, not energy; to delight in evil, not delight in good’–of such teachings you may with certainty affirm, Gotamid, ‘This is not the Norm. This is not the Discipline. This is not the Master’s Message.’ But of whatsoever teachings you can assure yourself [that they are the opposite of these things that I have told you]–of such teachings you may with certainty affirm, ‘This is the Norm. This is the Discipline. This is the Master’s Message.'”
    As to the preponderance of books and teachings on Buddhism and the various schools, lineages, and traditions, there is a Tibetan slogan that says, “All dharma agrees at one point.” Dharma in this case refers to “teachings” as explained by Chogyam Trungpa in his book “Taming the Mind and Cultivating Loving-Kindness”. He writes, “Whether teachings are hinayana or mahayana, they all agree. The purpose of them all is to overcome ego. Whatever sutras, scriptures, or commentaries on the teachings of Buddhism you read, they should all connect with your being and be understood as ways of taming your ego.”
    Again in The Lotus Sutra (chapter 5) the Buddha explains that his teachings are like the rain that falls in the forest. The rain is made up of many individual drops but it is still one rain. There are many different plants in the forest and the same rain falls on each of them. But different plants require different amounts of the life-giving rain and each takes what is needed at that time in its growth. You should view the great quantity of material about Buddhism and the different Buddhist traditions in a similar vein; even though there are many, they all agree.
    May all be at peace.

  5. As the eminent scholar and reformer Lama Tsong Khapa said – it doesn’t matter {what lineage} the teachings belong to, the practitioner must likewise belong to {that lineage}. He was speaking of the Mahayana in particular so I modified the quote slightly to illuminate the thought. Be kindhearted, that is the intent of the Able Sage. All else is method, and method is only viable if it serves to increase wisdom, which is the true opponent to to the root of all of cyclic existence, ignorance. Otherwise, method is for show and will be like an anchor dragging you repeatedly to the depths of samsara’s vast ocean. There is no contradiction in any of these systems you have listed; but to the untrained observer there may appear to be contradiction. You could spend eons and eons pouring over the discourses of the Conqueror Shakyamuni Buddha and the realizational doctrine of all who have followed his instruction; but until you realize that all of it is instruction for practice for you to follow, then your mind and true paths of dharma have gone separate ways. Or you could spend some time among the Lam Rim texts and see how concisely all of the teachings of the Thus Gone One have been systematized. Consider the great Dharma Lord Atisha whose “Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment” so beautifully covers the graded path and delineates the whole of the Dharma according to the capacity of the practitioner. Implicit within this is the Perfection of Wisdom trainings which cover the pathway minds of sravakas, pratyekabuddhas and bodhisattvas. So, upon investigation you see how all of these scopes of practice fit together and how all of these avenues point to specific goals. Were you heading to Florida, “drive south” is not sufficient instruction. Especially if you were leaving from Chicago. Or Cuba. You would miss the goal entirely. It is for this reason that you ask for directions from a qualified guide, someone who has travelled the road him or herself most preferably; and then follow a map and look for landmarks and so forth. So, when you join a Zen Center – you are joining a Mahayana system with its basis in the Cittamatrin Tenets – the Mind-Only, or Yogacara, system of thought; which posits a truly established foundational or storehouse consciousness and which sees that because things are dependently originated they are intrinsically existent. Isn’t that right? I could be wrong, but maybe some of the Zen scholars like P’Ang could help you better than me. I am just starting out myself. Best wishes to you on your journey and by the slight merit of this simple offering may all sentient beings benefit.


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