Exotoric refers to a practice method of Buddhism, namely Exotoric Buddhism. It means “clear and easy-to-understand teaching”, as opposed to Esoteric Buddhism. It also refers to the monarch’s name (meaning the name of the emperor when he was enshrined in the temple)
Interpretation – Exotoric Buddhism
Exotoric Buddhism refers to an appellation different from “Esoteric Buddhism”, it can be understood as explicit teaching, and mostly refers to Hinayana doctrines such as “True Attainment Treatise” and “Abhidharmakosa-Bhasya”.
Exotoric Buddhism, the opportunity to count all beings, it is the saying of the incarnation, a person who shows the method of judging the reasoning and cultivating cause and effect.It’s for the teaching of whatever you want,and the reason is obvious. So it is called Exotoric Buddhism. It is a fallacy to refer to Chinese Buddhism collectively as Exoteric Buddhism. For example, Huayan sect, Fahua sect, etc., there is no distinction between it and Esoteric Buddhism, and it can be said that both are Exotoric and Esoteric Buddhism.
Source & development
The source of the word Exotoric corresponds to Esoteric. Esoteric Buddhism is a branch of Mahayana Buddhism, it was the mainstream of the late India Buddhism(5th century). This sect of Buddhism is not allowed to be taught in publicity and is full of mysterious content, so it is also called Esoteric Buddhism. Compared with Buddhism sects other than Esoteric Buddhism, it usually refers to Hinayana Buddhism, collectively known as Exotoric Buddhism.
Mahayana Buddhism was developed from the Mahasamghika in the 1st century AD. Mahayana Buddhism considers its teachings is to be a great boat for all living beings. All other Buddhism sects in the past can only be satisfied with self-liberation, so they call their own sect “Mahayana”, and all other Mahasamghika and Sthaviravada sects were called “Hinayana”
The branch of Mahayana Buddhism that spread to Central Asia gradually became known as Northern Buddhism, and Sthaviravada which is also a sect of Buddhism, developed into Theravada Buddhism in later generations that is Southern Buddhism and was ranked alongside Mahayana Buddhism as the two most basic Buddhism sects
In the later development of Mahayana Buddhism, it absorbed some theories and methods of Indian traditional Brahmanism and developed Tantra, also known as Vajrayana which thinks its own teaching is the “true secret meaning” that was proclaimed by the Tathagata. But Hinayana teachings such as “True Attainment Treatise” and “Abhidharmakosa-Bhasya” is just the saying of “Upaya” of Buddha.
At the same time that the Indian Vajrayana appeared, Tibetan Buddhism appeared, “Esoteric Buddhism” has developed rapidly in Tibetan Buddhism.
Sutra, Inner Tantras, Outer Tantras
Although Tibetan Buddhism reveals both practices Tantra and Exotoric Buddhism, however Tantra is the mainstream nowadays. And the teaching is judged as the “Sutra” , which is opposite to the “Three Inner Tantras” and “Three Outer Tantras”.
Three Inner Tantras: It is the “Higher Tantras” that is the highest three vehicles of Nyingma Pa, those are “Maha Yoga”; “Anu Yoga”,and “Ati Yoga” (Dzogchen — Great Perfection or Great Completion）.
Three Outer Tantras: It is the “Lower Tantras” that is the middle three vehicles of Nyingma Pa, those are “Criya Tantra”, “Upaya Tantra”, and “Yoga Tantra”
Sutra : It means the three vehicles of “Hearing”, “Prektabuddha”, “Buddha”
Exotoric Buddhism is not a sect of Buddhism. The term “Exotoric Buddhism” corresponds to “Esoteric Buddhism“. It is divided based on the way of practice and teaching, and there is no fundamental difference in doctrine
In addition, Exotoric Buddhism in a broad sense includes Theravada Buddhism and Chinese Buddhism which are doctrinally different, and compared with Theravada Buddhism, Chinese Buddhism uses the term Exotoric more.