Buddhism as a whole is quite different from the theological religions with which Westerners are most familiar. It is a direct entrance to a spiritual or divine realm, without assistance from deities or other “agents.”
Vipassana can be translated as “insight,” a clear awareness of exactly what is happening as it happens. Samatha can be translated as “concentration” or “tranquillity,” and is a state in which the mind is focused only on one item, brought to rest, and not allowed to wander.
There are an enormous number of distinct sects within Buddhism. They divide into two broad streams of thought: Mahayana and Theravada.
Mahayana Buddhism prevails throughout East Asia, shaping the cultures of China, Korea, Japan, Nepal, Tibet, and Vietnam. The most widely known of the Mahayana systems is Zen, practiced mainly in Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and the United States.