Why are there different schools of Buddhism?
Q: Why are there so many Buddhism schools? Won't it be simpler if they all unified?
A: Since the aptitude of sentient beings varies greatly, Shakyamuni Buddha gave his teachings in accordance with their karmic inclinations and capabilities -- the 84,000 Dharma paths. The schools' patriarchs or lineage masters, taking into account their times and karmic conditions, delineated paths to liberation suitable for large numbers of practitioners. Thus were the schools formed. It's like going on a long journey. Because of their different circumstances, people choose to travel on land, over water or in the air. If there were but a single mode of transportation, many would find it difficult to make the trip. Although the methods are different, the aim is the same -- to achieve Buddhahood.
Q: Since the aim is the same, why are there disagreements between different sects?
A: Because each school views things from different perspectives, their conclusions vary accordingly. Various sutras and treatises may seem contradictory, as there seem to be numerous answers to a particular question. This is because the Buddha gave his teachings to different audiences. Consider giving directions to head downtown. To people in the east side of the city, you would tell them to go westward. But to residents of the west side, you would say: Go east.
In a story in The Analects, Zi Lu asks Confucius: "Is it right to do things by following a principle you just heard?" Confucius says: "You have a father and elder brothers. How could you act without first consulting them?" When another disciple Ran You asked the same question, Confucius replied: "Act once you have heard it." Confucius gave completely different answers because Zi Lu tended to recklessness, while Ran You was overly cautious.
Q: It seems Buddhism emphasizes teaching students according to their characteristics as well?
A: That's right. But the Buddhist expression is "compliance with both principle and circumstances." The teaching must fit both the requirements of the truth and the aptitudes of its audiences.
Q: We hear little about some sects. Is that because they didn't accord with most people's aptitudes?
A: You could say that. The doctrines of some schools are too abstruse to be understood by ordinary people. There were some historical factors as well. Gradually, certain schools fared less well than they did during the Sui and Tang dynasties.
From Buddhism for Beginners – Questions and Answers
- Recitation of Amitabha’s name, relying on his Fundamental Vow (the 18th)
- Rebirth of ordinary beings in the Pure Land’s Realm of Rewards
- Rebirth assured in the present lifetime
- Non-retrogression achieved in this lifetime
The 18th Vow of Amitabha Buddha
If, when I achieve Buddhahood, sentient beings of the ten directions who sincerely and joyfully entrust themselves to me, wish to be reborn in my land and recite my name, even ten times, should fail to be born there, may I not attain perfect enlightenment. Excepted are those who commit the five gravest transgressions or slander the correct Dharma.
Faith in, and acceptance of, Amitabha’s deliverance
Single-minded recitation of Amitabha’s name
Aspiration to rebirth in Amitabha’s Pure Land
Comprehensive deliverance of all sentient beings