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.
Comparison Chart: Theravada vs. Mahayana
Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism are different schools of Buddhist thought that sometimes have different convictions, different sources of authority, and different practices.
The Theravada form of Buddhism is dominant in southern Asia, especially in Sri Lanka, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. For this reason it is sometimes known as "Southern Buddhism."
Mahayana Buddhism emerged in the first century CE as a more liberal, accessible interpretation of Buddhism. As the "Greater Vehicle" (literally, the "Greater Ox-Cart"), Mahayana is a path available to people from all walks of life - not just monks and ascetics.
Nichiren Buddhism is a form of Japanese Buddhism that emphasizes repeated recitation of the mantra namu myoho renge kyo ("salutation to the Lotus Sutra") for health, happiness and enlightenment.
Pure Land Buddhism
Pure Land Buddhism (also known as Shin Buddhism and Amidism) is based upon the Pure Land sutras that were first brought to China around 150 CE by the monks An Shih Kao and Lokaksema.
Tendai/T'ien Tai Buddhism
The Tendai school of Buddhism has been called "one of the most important developments in Chinese and Japanese Buddhism."
Zen Buddhism is perhaps the most well-known school of Buddhism in America.
Vajrayana and Tibetan Buddhism
Tibetan Buddhism (sometimes called Lamaism) is the form of Mahayana Buddhism that developed in Tibet and the surrounding Himalayan region beginning in the 7th century CE.