Exploring Buddhism’s Three Branches: Teachings, Tools, Joys, Emotionality, And Healing Dimensions - The Shankara Experience

Exploring Buddhism’s Three Branches: Teachings, Tools, Joys, Emotionality, And Healing Dimensions

Embark on a radiant journey through the rich and illuminating landscapes of spirituality as we explore the three luminous branches of Buddhism: Mahayana, Theravada, and Vajrayana. Each path, like a unique beam of light channeled through a mystical prism, offers its own spectrum of wisdom, practices, joys, and destinations on the quest for enlightenment:

Mahayana, the Great Vehicle, extends its compassionate arms, aspiring to ferry all Beings across the tumultuous seas of suffering to the shores of enlightenment. This is where you’ll find the divine and sacred sutras.

Theravada, with its pristine clarity and focus on individual liberation, beckons with the promise of inner peace and Self-realization. This is where you’ll find the original texts including the Pali or Tipitaka. 

Vajrayana, the mystical path of tantra, invites the daring with its profound rituals and accelerated methods, aiming to transform ordinary experiences into transcendent wisdom. 

Together, these paths illuminate the rich tapestry of Buddhist practice, each strand interwoven with threads of joy, compassion, and profound understanding, guiding seekers on their journey to the heart of spiritual awakening.

The three major branches of Buddhism differ from each other in several key aspects, including the joys, philosophies, tools, practices, emotionality, healing, paths to enlightenment, and roles of the Bodhisattva. 

Buddha’s Direct Teachings

Theravada Buddhism is traditionally considered the branch more closely aligned with the Buddha’s original teachings. 

Here’s why:

Pali Canon: Theravada Buddhism adheres to the Pali Canon or Tipitaka, which is the oldest collection of Buddhist scriptures. These texts are believed to contain the actual words of the Buddha and his early disciples, preserving the teachings as they were originally presented in the centuries immediately following the Buddha’s passing. 

The Pali Canon consists of three Pitaka (baskets): The Sutta Pitaka, Vinaya Pitaka, and Abhidamma Pitaka. The Vinaya Pitaka are rules for those who live a monastic or celibate life as a monk in either their homes or a temple. The Sutta Pitaka are actual dialogues and teachings from the Buddha. The Abhidamma Pitaka are also words of the Buddha, according to Theravada, though Buddha’s long-time disciples may have written some of this basket. Learn more about Buddha’s original teachings through the Pali Canon.

Emphasis on Early Teachings: Theravada focuses on the teachings that are thought to be closest to what the Buddha himself taught, such as the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, the concept of Anatta (not-self), and Anicca (impermanence). It maintains a conservative approach to Buddhism, emphasizing personal enlightenment through insight meditation (Vipassana) and ethical living.

Historical Continuity: Theravada claims a direct lineage back to the original group of monks (the Sthaviravada school) that split from the Mahasanghika school early in Buddhist history. This split led to the formation of various schools, with Theravada eventually becoming dominant in South and Southeast Asia.

Monastic Tradition: The monastic code (Vinaya) followed by Theravada is considered to be very close to the original rules established by the Buddha for the monastic community. Theravada monastics live according to a strict code of conduct that is believed to reflect the lifestyle and disciplinary practices instituted by the Buddha.

While Theravada is often viewed as being closest to the Buddha’s original teachings, it’s important to recognize that all Buddhist traditions have evolved over time and have been shaped by cultural, historical, and geographical influences. The Theravada monks and leaders I’ve met are quite deep and unique in their approach and practices.

Mahayana and Vajrayana also contain teachings and practices that they believe are rooted in the Buddha’s words, though these branches emphasize different texts, philosophies, and practices that have developed over the centuries. 

Each branch offers a unique path to understanding and enlightenment, reflecting the diversity of Buddhist thought and practice.

Let’s dive in!

Philosophical Differences

Mahayana Buddhism emphasizes the Bodhisattva path, where the goal is to achieve enlightenment (Buddhahood) for the sake of all sentient beings, rather than personal liberation alone. It introduces the concept of Sunyata (emptiness) as central to understanding the nature of reality. Mahayana texts also expand the Buddhist canon with a vast number of sutras not found in Theravada.

Theravada Buddhism, often considered more conservative, focuses on the historical Buddha’s original teachings, emphasizing personal enlightenment and liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth (samsara). The Pali Canon is its primary scriptural basis, and the goal is to become an Arahant, a fully enlightened individual.

Vajrayana Buddhism, sometimes considered a subset of Mahayana, incorporates esoteric practices and rituals not found in other forms of Buddhism. It aims for rapid enlightenment through the use of tantric techniques, visualization, and the guru-disciple relationship.

The Emotional Journey

Choosing a path within Buddhism – be it Mahayana, Theravada, or Vajrayana – often reflects an individual’s spiritual inclinations, emotional, and psychological makeup, cultural background, and personal aspirations. 

As individuals within each tradition can vary widely, we can explore some tendencies and attributes that might align with each path. Emotional intelligence and mental health play significant roles in spiritual practice, influencing how one approaches and benefits from a particular Buddhist tradition.

Mahayana Buddhism

Attributes: Mahayana practitioners are often drawn to the ideal of the Bodhisattva, aspiring to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all beings. This path might appeal to those with a strong sense of compassion, altruism, and a desire to engage actively in the world to alleviate suffering.

Emotional and Psychological Makeup: Individuals attracted to Mahayana Buddhism may have a high degree of empathy and emotional intelligence, prioritizing the well-being of others. They might be inclined towards practices that cultivate compassion and interconnectedness.

Theravada Buddhism

Attributes: Those who are drawn to Theravada Buddhism might appreciate its emphasis on personal enlightenment and adherence to the Buddha’s original teachings. This path may attract individuals who value discipline, self-reliance, and a methodical approach to spiritual development.

Emotional and Psychological Makeup: Practitioners might possess or aspire to develop a high level of self-awareness and mindfulness, appreciating the detailed meditative practices and ethical precepts. This path suits those who are introspective and value personal responsibility in their spiritual journey.

Vajrayana Buddhism

Attributes: Vajrayana, with its esoteric practices and rituals, might appeal to individuals seeking a more direct and experiential path to enlightenment. This tradition often attracts those who are comfortable with ambiguity, complexity, and the use of symbolic imagery and rituals.

Emotional and Psychological Makeup: Practitioners may be open to exploring the depths of their psyche, including unconscious patterns, through meditation and visualization techniques. Emotional resilience and the willingness to confront and transform inner demons and obstacles are crucial.

The Joy Journey

Each branch of Buddhism – Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana – offers unique aspects for practitioners to enjoy and celebrate, enriching the spiritual journey with diverse practices, teachings, and insights.

 While joy might seem superfluous, consider this: the more you enjoy your path, guru, and disciplines, the more you will focus on them.

Theravada Buddhism: The Joy of Mindfulness and Purity

Enjoy and Celebrate:

Simplicity and Clarity: Theravada’s focus on the original teachings of the Buddha offers a clear and direct path to enlightenment, emphasizing personal responsibility and mindfulness. Practitioners celebrate the simplicity of living in accordance with the Dhamma (Dharma), finding joy in the purity of the practice.

Meditative Practice: The emphasis on Vipassana (insight meditation) and Samatha (tranquility meditation) allows for deep self-exploration and understanding, leading to moments of profound peace and clarity that are deeply celebrated.

Community and Tradition: Participating in the Sangha (community) and upholding the tradition through observance of the precepts and participation in festivals and rituals like Vesak (Buddha Day) strengthen a sense of connection and belonging.

Mahayana Buddhism: The Compassion and Bodhisattva Ideal

Enjoy and Celebrate:

Compassion and Altruism: The Mahayana path highlights the cultivation of bodhicitta (the mind of enlightenment) and the aspiration to become a Bodhisattva for the benefit of all beings. The joy comes from practicing compassion and engaging in acts of kindness and altruism.

Diversity of Practices and Texts: Mahayana’s rich tapestry of sutras (such as the Lotus Sutra and the Heart Sutra) and the variety of practices (Zen, Pure Land, etc.) offer a wide range of approaches to enlightenment, providing something for every temperament and interest.

Festivals and Art: Mahayana Buddhism is celebrated through vibrant festivals, intricate art, and profound rituals that express the deep devotion and the aspiration towards enlightenment for all. These cultural expressions bring the teachings to life in colorful and impactful ways.

Vajrayana Buddhism: The Energy and Directness of the Tantric Path

Enjoy and Celebrate:

Tantric Practices: Vajrayana’s use of tantra, including visualization, mantra recitation, and elaborate rituals, taps into deep psychological and spiritual energies. Practitioners enjoy the intensity and directness of these methods, which are said to lead to rapid progress on the path to enlightenment.

Guru-Devotion: The relationship with a guru or spiritual teacher in Vajrayana is central, offering guidance, transmission, and a direct link to the lineage of teachings. Celebrating the guru’s kindness and wisdom is a key aspect of the practice.

Empowerments and Festivals: Vajrayana is known for its empowerments (initiations) and festivals, which are rich with symbolism and offer profound experiences of transformation and blessing. Losar (Tibetan New Year) and Saga Dawa (honoring the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and parinirvana) are among the many occasions for joyous celebration.

In each branch, the joy and celebration stem from the deep engagement with the path, the community, and the transformative potential of the teachings. Whether through the clarity and mindfulness of Theravada, the compassion and altruism of Mahayana, or the intensity and directness of Vajrayana, practitioners find unique expressions of joy and reasons to celebrate on their journey towards enlightenment.

The Sex Journey

In Buddhism, as well as in many monastic traditions, there are specific precepts and rules regarding sexuality, including the practice of celibacy. The expression of sexuality and the permissibility of activities such as sex, self-pleasure, or masturbation vary significantly between lay practitioners and monastics, as well as across different Buddhist traditions.

For Monastics

Celibacy: The most fundamental rule for Buddhist monastics (bhikkhus and bhikkhunis) across all major traditions—Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana—is the vow of celibacy. Monastic rules prohibit sexual activity of any kind as part of their commitment to live a life free from sensual desires. This includes refraining from sex, self-pleasure, and masturbation.

Vinaya Pitaka: The Vinaya Pitaka, one of the three baskets that make up the Tripitaka or Pali Canon, contains the code of monastic discipline. It outlines in detail the rules governing the conduct of monks and nuns, including those related to sexuality. The Vinaya is taken very seriously, and infractions can lead to various consequences, depending on the severity of the rule broken.

Spiritual Goals: The rationale behind these rules is not to repress or deny sexuality but to cultivate a mind free from attachment and desire, which are seen as obstacles to enlightenment. The monastic life is designed to minimize distractions and create a conducive environment for achieving spiritual insights and liberation.

For Lay Practitioners

Lay followers of Buddhism are typically not expected to practice celibacy unless they choose to take specific vows or during certain times, such as Buddhist Lent (Vassa) or while on retreat. 

The expectation for laypeople is to follow the Five Precepts, the third of which advises against sexual misconduct. This precept is generally interpreted as engaging in consensual and harm-free sexual behavior, respecting the bounds of relationships.

Self-Care for Monastics

Self-care for monastics focuses on maintaining physical and mental health to support their spiritual practice. This includes following a moderate diet, engaging in appropriate physical exercise, practicing meditation and mindfulness for mental health, and participating in community life for emotional support. 

Monastics are encouraged to develop wholesome qualities such as compassion, loving-kindness, and equanimity to deal with any emotional or psychological challenges that may arise, including those related to celibacy.

Buddhist monastics are expected to live a celibate life, refraining from sexual activities, including Self-pleasure and masturbation, as part of their commitment to overcoming desire and attachment. The rules and the rationale behind them are rooted in the broader spiritual objectives of Buddhism, aiming to create conditions conducive to achieving enlightenment.

Retention Of The Ejaculate For Men And Women

In some spiritual traditions, semen retention is part of a broader practice of energy conservation and transmutation. The idea is that sexual energy, or “Qi,” can be transformed and channeled upwards towards higher spiritual centers, contributing to spiritual growth, vitality, and enlightenment.

Some traditions claim that retaining semen can lead to increased vitality and energy, as sexual energy is conserved and used for other bodily processes.

Practices like moving Qi upward are believed to enhance spiritual awareness and development, facilitating a deeper meditation experience and a stronger connection with the divine or one’s higher self.

Some practitioners report that semen retention leads to improved focus, mental clarity, and creativity, attributing these benefits to the conservation of energy.

Meanwhile, Sexual health, including practices around ejaculation, is closely tied to overall mental and emotional well-being. Any practice that causes stress, anxiety, or feelings of deprivation should be reconsidered. Spiritual practices, including those related to celibacy or ejaculate retention, should ideally contribute to one’s sense of peace, fulfillment, and spiritual progress.

I personally recommend often withholding and channeling the energy upwards to the heart and crown chakras for the most spiritually illuminating and healing benefits.

Practice and Community

Mahayana practitioners aspire to become Bodhisattvas, beings who seek Buddhahood through the practice of perfections (paramitas) such as generosity, patience, and wisdom. It has a more diverse range of practices and philosophical texts, accommodating a wide spectrum of beliefs and practices.

Theravada practice focuses on monastic life and meditation as the central means of achieving enlightenment. Lay followers support the monastic community and practice ethical precepts, meditation, and generosity to accumulate merit.

Vajrayana emphasizes the practice of rituals, mantra recitations, and meditation techniques, including deity yoga, as means to transform ordinary experiences into opportunities for enlightenment.

Geographical Spread

Mahayana Buddhism is prevalent in East Asia and parts of Southeast Asia, including China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Taiwan.

Theravada Buddhism is dominant in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos.

Vajrayana Buddhism is primarily found in Tibet, Bhutan, Mongolia, and parts of Russia and Nepal.

Textual Tradition

Mahayana Buddhism has a vast array of sutras including the Heart Sutra, the Diamond Sutra, and the Lotus Sutra. These texts elaborate on the nature of emptiness and the Bodhisattva path.

Theravada Buddhism relies on the Pali Canon (Tipitaka), which includes the Vinaya Pitaka (monastic rules), Sutta Pitaka (discourses), and Abhidhamma Pitaka (philosophical and doctrinal analyses).

Vajrayana Buddhism incorporates Mahayana sutras along with tantric texts (Tantras) that detail its distinctive practices and rituals.

Emotional Intelligence and Mental Health

Emotional intelligence – the ability to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically—plays a vital role in the spiritual path. 

A person’s emotional and mental health can guide them towards a tradition that resonates with their needs and aspirations, offering practices that support their growth and healing.

The Ho’Oponopono

Ho’oponopono, an ancient Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness, aligns well with many principles of Buddhism, particularly those related to mindfulness, compassion, healing, and the liberation from suffering. Though originating from different cultural and spiritual backgrounds, Ho’oponopono can complement the Buddhist path in several meaningful ways:

Ho’oponopono encourages a deep level of mindfulness and self-awareness by focusing on forgiveness, acceptance, and love towards oneself and others. This practice can enhance a Buddhist’s meditation and mindfulness practices by fostering a heightened state of presence and attentiveness to one’s thoughts and emotions, leading to a deeper understanding of the mind and its patterns.

The practice of Ho’oponopono, with its emphasis on love and forgiveness, resonates with the Buddhist teachings on compassion (karuna) and loving-kindness (metta). By cultivating these qualities towards oneself and others, practitioners can work to dissolve anger, resentment, and ill will, which are obstacles on the path to enlightenment.

Ho’oponopono addresses the healing of relationships and inner conflicts, which is in harmony with the Buddhist goal of overcoming dukkha (suffering). By releasing negative emotions and past grievances through forgiveness, individuals can free themselves from the cycles of emotional suffering and attachment that contribute to samsara, the cycle of rebirth and suffering.

The practice acknowledges the interconnectedness of all beings, a concept that aligns with the Buddhist teaching of dependent origination (pratītyasamutpāda). This understanding can deepen one’s insight into the nature of reality, fostering a sense of unity and empathy that supports the Bodhisattva’s vow to help all beings achieve liberation.

Ho’oponopono emphasizes personal responsibility for one’s reality, including the harmony and discord in one’s relationships. This mirrors the Buddhist teaching on karma, where one’s actions, thoughts, and intentions directly impact one’s experience of suffering or happiness. Through this lens, practitioners can take mindful action to create positive change in their lives and the lives of others.

Integrating Ho’oponopono into the Buddhist path offers a method for healing and purifying the mind and heart, which complements the Buddhist practices aimed at understanding the nature of suffering, cultivating virtuous qualities, and ultimately achieving liberation. By embracing forgiveness and reconciliation within the Self, Buddhists can deepen their practices, reduce suffering, and move closer to enlightenment with an open, resolved, and compassionate heart.

The Sedona Method

The Sedona Method, a technique for releasing emotional baggage and limiting beliefs, might find resonance across all three traditions but could particularly appeal to individuals in the Vajrayana and Mahayana paths. 

These traditions’ focus on transformation, emotional work, and dealing with mental constructs aligns with the goals of The Sedona Method. However, anyone with an interest in personal growth, emotional healing, and spiritual development, regardless of their Buddhist path, might take The Sedona Method seriously if they see it as a complementary tool for their practice.

The allowing and releasing process within The Sedona Method is quite healing and transformational. It was created by a lovely man named Lester Levinsen. You can find The Sedona Method book online and there are many practitioners who can help you learn it and apply it to your life. It’s very simple. I am also a practitioner of The Sedona Method.

The Shankara Oracle

The Shankara Oracle, while not a traditional part of Buddhist practice, could serve as a complementary tool for individuals on their spiritual journey, including those following the Buddhist path. Its elements – Vedic astrology, Sanskrit, and deeply confronting oracle cards – can provide unique perspectives and insights that facilitate self-exploration and personal growth. 

Here’s how it might assist someone in their exploration of themselves and support their Buddhist path to enlightenment:

Self-Awareness: Vedic astrology can offer insights into an individual’s personality, tendencies, strengths, and challenges based on their birth chart. This heightened self-awareness can be instrumental in identifying areas of one’s life that require attention, cultivation, or transformation in accordance with Buddhist teachings.

Karmic Insights: It can also provide perspectives on karmic patterns and lessons, aligning with the Buddhist understanding of karma and rebirth. Recognizing these patterns can help individuals understand their life experiences in a broader spiritual context, fostering a deeper sense of purpose and direction on their path.

Philosophical Depth: Sanskrit, the language of many ancient Buddhist and Hindu texts, offers profound philosophical concepts that can enrich one’s understanding of the Dharma. Engaging with these concepts can deepen one’s meditation practice and philosophical inquiry, essential components of the Buddhist path.

Mantras and Chants: Learning Sanskrit chants or mantras can be a powerful practice for focusing the mind, cultivating positive states, and connecting with the spiritual lineage. Mantras are used in both Hindu and Buddhist traditions to support meditation and spiritual development.

Shankara’s deeply confronting oracle cards penetrate and illuminate the practitioner. Oracle cards that provoke deep introspection can serve as mirrors to one’s subconscious, bringing to light hidden fears, desires, and inner truths. This process can complement Buddhist practices of mindfulness and self-inquiry, helping individuals confront and understand the root causes of suffering.

The contemplative process of drawing and reflecting on oracle cards can enhance mindfulness and presence. It encourages individuals to slow down, observe their thoughts and emotions, and connect with the present moment, which is a cornerstone of Buddhist practice.

While The Shankara Oracle and similar tools are not part of traditional Buddhist practices, they can be integrated into one’s spiritual journey with discernment and intentionality. They can provide supplementary means for Self-exploration, understanding karmic patterns, and cultivating qualities like mindfulness, compassion, and wisdom. 

It is advised to engage The Shankara Oracle to primarily support rather than replace your buddhist and other spiritual practices like meditation, yoga, and devotion to a guru.


Ultimately, the choice of a Buddhist path is deeply personal and can be influenced by a variety of factors, including one’s emotional and psychological attributes. Many practitioners find that their path evolves as they grow and learn more about themselves and the Dharma.

Overall, while there are significant differences in doctrine, practice, and spiritual goals across these traditions, they all share the basic teachings of the Buddha, including the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.

Shri Krishna Kalesh
Author: Shri Krishna Kalesh

Shri Krishna Kalesh is a mystic who guides people as a Spiritual Guide, Intuitive Reader, Dharma Teacher, and Coach. He has served thousands of people toward their healing and expansion - through personal sessions, mystical readings, courses, and retreats. His mission is to help others source their own boundless creative genius and joy, embody virtue, find clarity, and master their lives. Shri Krishna Kalesh created The Shankara Oracle as a divine portal to The Unlimited, All-Knowing, All-Conscious Universe.

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