Chinese Buddhism vs. Tibetan Buddhism: How are they different?

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Difference between Chinese Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism

Buddhism is a way of life and a religious tradition for millions. It turns our sights to our inner world and through vehicles such as meditation, teaches followers how to develop themselves spiritually. Achieving an ultimate state of awareness is necessary in order to become kind and acquire wisdom. Buddhism does not believe in worshipping a creator god but it is pretty practical and straightforward. It is a bit like a chain-reaction, where every single action has a consequence. If one follows the teachings of Gautama Buddha, one can enter into the state of Buddha themselves. Buddha was born in India, in the area now known as Nepal and he traveled in his lifetime teaching to those in the Ganges plains – along the edge of the Himalayas.

Chinese Buddhism
Tibetan Buddhism

Introduction to Buddhism

Buddhism is a guide to behave, be responsible, be honest and doing this all with a mind of peace, harmony, compassion, and sharing. Buddhism is the opposite of conservatism and does not wish to force other people into believing and relies on oneself to obtain a higher state of awareness and the capacity to truly understand the nature of things. People are the focus point instead of the traditional belief that we worship and give our lives over to a creator.

Buddhism was translated into Chinese centuries ago. Fact is, the Chinese began suppressing it as early as 213B.C. The original translations were performed by Indian wise men who understood the terminology of the Taoists and translated teachings in terms understood by the Chinese. Mahayana teachings were quite popular but eventually gave way to Theravada schools. Ultimately in 845A.D. during the Tang Dynasty, suppression of Buddhism came down hard because Chinese rulers viewed Buddhists as withdrawn from society, lacking in Confucius inspired family influenced values, as tax evaders, and far too powerful in their reach into the minds of its citizenry. Buddhism never fully recovered. Today Theraveda Buddhism is practiced by ethnic minorities in Northern China.

Tibetan Buddhism is also based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha but became very popular during the 7th century under the rulership of King Gampo. Indian sage Guru Rinpoche is credited with translating many important texts for the Tibetans and for creating numerous tertons – or texts to be found in the future when the time is right to know certain truths. Two notable characteristics of Tibetan Buddhism are critical skepticism and devotion to the Guru. Due to the open skeptical aspect of Buddhism, Mao’s socialist idealism was determined to destroy followers of Buddhist teachings in China. Tibetans also are credited with altering Buddhist practices in several ways including the establishment of several schools of thought, detailing Mahayana practices and the establishing the practice of reincarnating lamas.

The Four Noble Truths

The fundamentals of Buddhism in China relies on the 4 noble truths; First Truth, sickness, aging, injuries, anger, frustration, anxiety, loneliness and death are just one of the many aspects of life when suffering physically and mentally; Second Truth, craving causes these sufferings and people who are selfish and greedy will eventually be unhappy and cause sickness; Third Truth, the truth relies on avoiding all of these sufferings if one gives up the greediness and prepares to endure life without it and eventually happiness will eventually be obtained; Fourth Truth, the eightfold path is the way to overcome these sicknesses and involves, Perfect Concentration, Perfect Mindfulness, Perfect Effort, Perfect Livelihood, Perfect Action, Perfect Speech, Perfect Though, and Perfect Understanding.

China and Tibet

The Buddhism practiced in northern China is known as Theravada Buddhism and is based on the original teachings of the Gautama Buddha. It focuses on the personal enlightenment. Tibetan Buddhism is known as Mahayana Buddhism and focuses on bringing enlightenment to all sentient beings on the Earth. It recognizes that all humans are one family and enlightenment is the ultimate goal for our race.


  • There are over 400 million people who follow Buddhism world wide
  • Buddhism relies on the 4 Noble Truths
  • Buddhism is a path to self-awareness and enlightenment
  • Buddhism ultimately releases the pain and suffering by following the 8 fold path
  • Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism are not the same

Which is better understood in the West?
  • Chinese Buddhism
  • Tibetan Buddhism

Discuss It: comments 9

  • Guest
  • Rama Patel wrote on May 2010

Excellent article. Yes indeed Buddhism is a way of life so as Hinduism.

Buddha was born in 563 BCE or 623 BCE in Lumbini, India(now in Nepal). He died in 483 BCE or 543 BCE (at the age of 80) in Kushinagar, India.

Hindus still believe that Buddha is one of the Hindu incarnations.

Buddha is a refiner of Hinduism.

  • Guest
  • jose wrote on May 2010

after seeing the twitter remarks, i think he was looking at this article in the wrong light. i think it has some good points.

  • Guest
  • John wrote on May 2010


  • Guest
  • Lisa wrote on May 2010

Very good comparison of Buddhism. Could you please write Zen Buddhism vs Tibetan Buddhism?

This article is not accurate. China practices Mahayana Buddhism. Confucius and Daoist ideas are incorporated into Chinese Buddhism to fit the Chinese culture. Daoist ideas and Confucius ideals are not in conflict with Buddhist ideas, it only increases it's wisdom. Tang Dynasty is when Chinese Buddhism actually flourished. Theravada Buddhism is mainly practiced by South East Asia countries like Thailand, Combodia etc. Chinese Buddhism was only suppressed by the communist goverment, but it quickly flourished again in the 21st century in Taiwan and Malaysia etc. Tibetan Buddhism is the way it is because of it's culture, Buddhism changes according to region's culture not because it's greater or lesser. The important point is that both Tibetan and Chinese Buddhism practices Mahayana

The Buddhism practiced in northern China is known as Theravada Buddhism and is based on the original teachings of the Gautama Buddha.


This is wrong, Chinese Buddhism is a Mahayana Buddhism, not Theravada. And Chinese Buddhists don't eat meat, don't use sex as a practice path, absolutely strict Mahayana.

I have read and reseached on a number of religions of the world and I was brought up as a christian however buddisim is the only religion I find to be meaningful and provides me with answers to life an its purpose, yet I hate the fact that just like most religions of the world, the are diferent sects of buddisim, because it leaves me with the inevitable question, of which is the correct buddism

  • Guest
  • Dr. Don Rhudy wrote on January 2015

Matete, as Gotama and the Dalai Lama point out, Buddhism has many sects because people are different. Don't get caught up in exoterica. Practice the approach that feels best to you.

This article is very wrong, and has a very strong political agenda. I recommend "Free Tibet" misfits spend the time to learn about Chinese Buddhism and Chinese culture before trying to slander fellow Dharma practitioners.

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