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published: 3/17/04
updated: 7/5/13

Buddhist Sects, Schools & Denominations

What are the sects of Buddhism?

There are many subdivisions within Buddhism, but most can be classified into three major branches: Theravada ("Way of the Elders"), Mahayana ("Greater Vehicle") and Vajrayana ("Diamond Vehicle").

Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism went their separate ways in the first century AD. Mahayana then subdivided into several diverse schools, such as Zen, Pure Land and Nichiren, many of which flourish today in East Asia. The Vajrayana Buddhist tradition is an esoteric sect that is predominant in Tibet and Nepal.

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