Simple High Level Comparison of Major Schools of Buddhism

OriginOldest form, based on the Pali Canon.Developed later, based on Mahayana Sutras.Evolved from Mahayana, incorporating Tantric elements.
FocusIndividual enlightenment (Arhatship).Enlightenment for all beings (Bodhisattva ideal).Speedy path to enlightenment using Tantric practices.
Key ConceptsFour Noble Truths, Noble Eightfold Path, Emphasis on monastic life.Emptiness (Sunyata), Compassion (Karuna), Skillful Means (Upaya).Tantra, Mandalas, Rituals, and Guru devotion.
ScripturesPali Canon (Tripitaka).Large body of Mahayana Sutras.Tantras in addition to Mahayana Sutras.
PracticeInsight meditation (Vipassana), adherence to Vinaya (monastic rules).Meditation, Devotional practices, Philosophical study.Visualization, Mantra recitation, Esoteric rituals.
Goal of PracticeAchieving Nirvana and escaping the cycle of rebirth.Achieving Buddhahood for the sake of all beings.Achieving Buddhahood in a single lifetime.
Notable RegionsSri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Laos, Cambodia.China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam.Tibet, Mongolia, parts of the Himalayas.