For quick information on the major Buddhist denominations, holidays, and rites and rituals, check out Quick Facts.
Pure Land Schools A form of Buddhism that teaches enlightenment through rebirth in a "Pure Land," a celestial realm where spiritual liberation is easy. Rebirth in one of these realms is attained through devotion to a Buddha, a fully enlightened being, particularly the Buddha Amitabha or Amida. Pure Land Buddhism is more devotional than most other forms of the religion. It is one of the dominant forms of Buddhism in Japan.
Theravada Literally "the way of the elders." The predominant form of Buddhism in Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka, the Theravada also claims to be the oldest and original form of the Buddha's teaching. It focuses on the central Buddhist teachings of the Four Noble Truths (essentially the fact of suffering and the cessation of suffering through enlightenment) and the Eightfold Noble Path of spiritual development. Because it emphasizes personal rather than collective enlightenment, it is sometimes pejoratively referred to as the Hinayana ("Lesser Vehicle").
Tibetan Buddhism Buddhism was brought to Tibet in the eighth century A.D. by Padmasambhava, a teacher from India. It was rapidly established there, and Tibet soon became a refuge for Buddhist teachings that were lost or destroyed elsewhere. There are four main lineages of Tibetan Buddhism: Nyingmapa, Kagyupa, Gelugpa, and Sakyapa. All recognize the spiritual leadership of the Dalai Lama, who until 1959 was also the political ruler of Tibet. Tibetan Buddhism is sometimes called Vajrayana (the "Diamond Vehicle") to distinguish it from the Mahayana ("Greater Vehicle" and Theravada ("Way of the Elders"), but Tibetan Buddhism also embraces many of the Mahayana teachings, especially the motivation to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings.
Zen The largest school of Buddhism in Japan, it was imported to that nation from China (where it is known as Ch'an Buddhism) in the late fifth century A.D. Like all forms of Buddhism, Zen emphasizes attaining enlightenment through realization of the true nature of the mind. However, it emphasizes direct transmission of spiritual experience from one who is already enlightened rather than through the study of sacred texts. Zen teachings are known for their paradoxical, even quirky, character. Zen has had a tremendous influence upon art and culture in Japan and, over the past generation, in the U.S. as well.