The Schools of Buddhist Practice


Below, by way of an introduction to this subject, is an interview with Venerable Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua conducted by Karl Ray, which originally appeared in the former Shambala Review under the title “Back to the Source”.

Karl Ray: (KR)

The first question I would like to ask is based on an article in which you suggest that Buddhists forget sectarian lines. Can you suggest practical steps that Buddhist organizations can take to bring this about?

Master: (M)

Before the Buddha came into the world there was no Buddhism. After the Buddha appeared, Buddhism came into being, but there was not as yet any division into sects or schools. Sectarianism is a limited view, a view of small scope, and cannot represent Buddhism in its entirety. The complete substance of Buddhism, the totality, admits no such divisions. When you divide the totality of Buddhism into sects and schools, you merely split it into fragments. In order to understand Buddhism in its totality, one must eliminate views of sects and schools and return to original Buddhism. One must return to the root and go back to the source.


That brings me to a question about the different teachings taught here at Gold Mountain Monastery. I understand that you teach five different schools, including the Ch’an School, the Teaching School, the Vinaya School, the Secret School, and the Pure Land School. Can they all be taught like this together? Do they all belong to the original corpus of Buddhist teachings?


The Five Schools were created by Buddhist disciples who had nothing to do and wanted to find something with which to occupy their time. The Five Schools all issued from Buddhism. Since they came forth from Buddhism, they can return to Buddhism as well. Although the Five Schools serve different purposes, their ultimate destination is the same. It is said,

There is only one road back to the source,
But there are many expedient ways to reach it.

Although there are five different schools, they are still included within one “Buddhism”. If you want to understand the totality of Buddhism, you need not divide it up into schools or sects. Originally there were no such divisions. Why make trouble when there is none? Why be divisive and cause people to have even more false thoughts than they already have?

People think that the Five Schools are something really special and wonderful. In fact, they have never departed from Buddhism itself. It is just like the government of a country. The government is made up of different departments. There is a Department of Health, Department of Economics, a State Department, a Department of the Interior, and so forth. People may not realize that all these different departments are under a single government. All they recognize the department, and they don’t recognize the government as a whole. Their outlook is narrow. Now, we wish to move from the branches back to the roots. In the analogy, the roots are the government and the branches are the various departments. People should not abandon the roots and cling to the branches. If you only see the individual departments and fail to recognize the government, you will never be able to understand the problems faced by the country as a whole. You will have no idea what they are all about.


Then one should feel free to pursue any or all of the teachings?


Of course. Religion cannot be allowed to tie one up.


And if one chooses to follow only one certain school, can one reach the goal that all of them aim for?


All roads lead to Rome. All roads come to San Francisco. All roads will take you to New York. You may ask, ‘Can I get to New York by this road?’ but you would do better to ask yourself, ‘Will I walk that road or not?’

The following chapters cover three of the most widely practiced schools of Buddhism.


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