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Theravada is Pali for "the Doctrine of the Elders" (from Sanskrit sthavira, Pali thera, "old person"). The Theravada school bases its practice and doctrine exclusively on the Pali canon. This is the only surviving representative of the historical early Buddhist schools. Enlightenment can be reached only by personal training and living a live by the Noble Eightfold Path. Thus, restricting enlightenment to the ones which having devoted their lives entirely to Buddhism and living in monasteries.
Mahayana, Sanskrit: "Great Vehicle", emphasizes teachings and trainings by the already enlightened, called the Bodhisattvas. A Bodhisattva stays on earth to bring the "Awakened Mind" (bodhicitta) of Buddhahood to all sentient beings to lead them into Nirvana. The term Bodhisattva is derived from bodhicitta - the selfless, ultra-altruistic quest to bring enlightenment with the infinite, universal compassion (maha-karuna).
Vajrayana is an extension of Mahayana Buddhism consisting not of philosophical differences, but rather the adoption of additional Shamanic techniques which evolved earlier. The most well known are the Tibetian Buddhism in Tibet and the Shingon Buddhism in Japan.
Buddhist scriptures and other texts exist in great variety. Different schools of Buddhism place varying levels of value on them. Some schools venerate certain texts as religious objects in themselves, while others take a more scholastic approach. The Buddhist canon of scripture is known in Sanskrit as the Tripitaka and in Pali as the Tipitaka. These terms literally mean "three baskets". The most widely-known version is the Pali Canon of the Theravada school.