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What is Theravada Buddhism?

by Eddy Hsu سبتمبر 24, 2023

What is Theravada Buddhism?

Theravada Buddhism, often referred to as the "School of the Elders," is one of the three major branches of Buddhism, the others being Mahayana Buddhism and Vajrayana Buddhism.  It is the more conservative and traditional of the three, and it is predominantly practiced in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia, and Laos, with smaller communities in other countries.

Here are some key characteristics and beliefs associated with Theravada Buddhism:

1. Historical Origin: Theravada Buddhism is considered the oldest existing school of Buddhism, tracing its origins to the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, who became the Buddha. It claims to preserve the most accurate and authentic interpretation of the Buddha's teachings.

2. Pali Canon: The Theravada tradition relies on the Pali Canon, a collection of scriptures written in the Pali language. This canon consists of three main "baskets" or collections: the Vinaya Pitaka (rules for monastic discipline), the Sutta Pitaka (discourses of the Buddha), and the Abhidhamma Pitaka (philosophical and doctrinal analysis). Theravada Buddhists consider these texts to be the authoritative source of Buddhist doctrine.

3. Focus on Individual Liberation: Theravada Buddhism emphasizes personal spiritual growth and he attainment of Nirvana (or Nibbana in Pali) as the ultimate goal. It is often seen as the path of the arhat, an enlightened being who has freed themselves from the cycle of birth and death (samsara).

4. Monasticism: Monastic life plays a significant role in Theravada Buddhism. Monks and nuns (bhikkhus and bhikkhunis) adhere to strict codes of conduct and are responsible for preserving and propagating the Buddha's teachings. Laypeople support the monastic community through offerings and support.

5. Meditation: Meditation is a central practice in Theravada Buddhism. It is seen as a means to gain insight into the nature of reality and the workings of the mind. Vipassana (insight) meditation is particularly popular within this tradition.

6. Emphasis on Original Teachings: Theravada Buddhists place a strong emphasis on adhering to what they believe to be the original and unaltered teachings of the Buddha. They are often seen as more conservative in this regard compared to Mahayana Buddhists.

7. Cosmology: Theravada Buddhism generally adheres to a more modest cosmology compared to some Mahayana schools. It typically emphasizes the concept of the three marks of existence (impermanence, suffering, and non-self) and the Four Noble Truths as core doctrinal principles.

While Theravada Buddhism is prominent in certain Southeast Asian countries, Mahayana Buddhism, with its diverse array of schools and practices, has a broader presence across Asia and the world. Both branches share core Buddhist principles but have different interpretations and emphases in their teachings and practices.



Eddy Hsu
Eddy Hsu

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