Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Buddha's Spirit Body Teachings

There are generally considered to be three main branches of Buddhism -- Theraveda, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. The difference between the branches is mainly what meditation techniques they focus on and what teachings of the Buddha they use.

Theraveda is the oldest school and focuses on the teachings the Buddha gave during his lifetime. The main techniques focused on are breathing meditation and insight meditation.

Mahayana has a relationship with Theraveda in a similar way that the New Testament has with the Old Testament in that it recognizes the teachings of Theraveda but also recognizes later teachings of the Buddha. So it uses additional meditation techniques like compassion cultivation practice. However most Theravedan schools also teach similar techniques so the differences are more subtle.

Vajrayana is a tantric form of Buddhism that holds valid the teachings of the other two schools but introduces advanced meditation techniques taught by the Buddha, many of them visualizations of various forms of deities.

It should be noted that of all of these cited teachings by the Buddha, only the Theravedan teachings are from Buddha's lifetime. Both the Mahayana and Vajrayana teachings are claimed to be taught by the Buddha after his death via a spirit body, and taught only to elder monks. If one doesn't believe in spirit bodies, one might consider this to be an indication that the later Buddha teachings are a sham, and only the Theravedan teachings should be taken seriously. However, regardless of the validity of the source of Mahayana and Vajrayana, the later teachings are valuable in and of themselves. It is important to experience the various meditation techniques directly and make one's own judgement as to their value.