Discover the World of Theravāda Buddhism

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Theravāda Buddhism: The Oldest Extant School

  • Theravāda is the oldest existing school of Buddhism, with its adherents preserving Gautama Buddha's teachings in the Pāli Canon for over two millennia.

  • The Pāli Canon is the most complete Buddhist canon surviving in a classical Indian language, Pāli, which serves as the school's sacred language and lingua franca.

  • Theravāda tends to be conservative in matters of doctrine and monastic discipline, rejecting the authenticity of the Mahayana sutras.

  • Modern Theravāda derives from the Mahāvihāra order, a Sri Lankan branch of the Vibhajjavāda tradition, which is a sect of the Indian Sthavira Nikaya.

  • Theravāda is the official religion of Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Cambodia, and the dominant religion in Laos and Thailand.

  • New developments in Theravāda Buddhism include Buddhist modernism, the Vipassana movement, the Thai Forest Tradition, and the spread of Theravāda westward to places like India and Nepal, along with Buddhist immigrants and converts in the European Union and the United States.

  • The Theravāda school descends from the Vibhajjavāda, a division within the Sthāvira nikāya, one of the two major orders that arose after the first schism in the Indian Buddhist community.

  • Theravāda Buddhism spread throughout India and reached Sri Lanka through the efforts of missionary monks like Mahinda.

  • Throughout the history of ancient and medieval Sri Lanka, Theravāda was the main religion of the Sinhalese people, and its temples and monasteries were patronized by the Sri Lankan kings.

  • Burmese and Thai kings saw themselves as Dhamma Kings and as protectors of the Theravāda faith, promoting the building of new temples, patronizing scholarship, monastic ordinations, and missionary works.

  • In the modern era, Theravāda Buddhists came into direct contact with western ideologies, religions, and modern science, leading to the growth of "Buddhist modernism."

  • According to Theravāda, the Pāli Tipiṭaka, also known as the Pāli Canon, is the highest authority on what constitutes the Dhamma and the organization of the Sangha.

  • The Pāli Tipiṭaka consists of three parts: the Vinaya Pitaka, Sutta Pitaka, and Abhidhamma Pitaka.Theravāda Buddhism: Doctrine, Canons, and Literature

  • The Theravāda school of Buddhism is one of the oldest and most authoritative sources on the doctrines of pre-sectarian Buddhism.

  • The Nikayas and parts of the Vinaya are believed to be the oldest and most authoritative sources of Early Buddhist texts.

  • The Theravāda school adherents preserved the non-sectarian body of teachings, which is not specifically "Theravādan".

  • The Abhidhamma and some parts of the Vinaya contain distinctive elements and teachings unique to the Theravāda school.

  • The Abhidhamma method attempts to build a single consistent philosophical system, which has often been compared to a kind of phenomenological psychology.

  • The Theravāda school traditionally held the doctrinal position that the canonical Abhidhamma Pitaka was actually taught by the Buddha himself.

  • The works of the influential scholar Buddhaghosa, known for his Pāli commentaries, are important for the tradition even though they are not part of the Tipiṭaka.

  • The Jataka tales, stories of the Buddha's past lives, are very popular among all classes and are rendered in a wide variety of media formats.

  • The core of Theravāda Buddhist doctrine is contained in the Pāli Canon, which includes central concepts such as Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path.

  • Theravāda scholastics developed a systematic exposition of the Buddhist doctrine called the Abhidhamma.

  • Theravāda cosmology outlines a hierarchical cosmological system with various planes of existence into which sentient beings may be reborn.

  • According to Theravāda doctrine, release from suffering is attained in four stages of awakening and a Buddha is a sentient being who has discovered the path out of samsara by themselves, has reached Nibbana, and then makes the path available to others by teaching.Theravāda Buddhism: Beliefs, Practices and History


  • Theravāda Buddhism is one of the oldest surviving forms of Buddhism, tracing its roots to the earliest Buddhist teachings.
  • The ultimate goal of Theravāda Buddhism is to achieve liberation from suffering and attain Nirvana.
  • The Pali Canon is the main scriptural source for Theravāda Buddhism, and it includes the Tripitaka (three baskets): the Vinaya Pitaka (rules for monks and nuns), the Sutta Pitaka (discourses of the Buddha), and the Abhidhamma Pitaka (philosophical and psychological analysis).
  • Theravāda Buddhism emphasizes the importance of personal effort and self-reliance in achieving liberation.
  • The Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path are central to Theravāda Buddhist teachings.
  • The Buddha is not considered a god, but rather a teacher and guide who showed the path to liberation.
  • The Sangha, or monastic community, is highly respected in Theravāda Buddhism, and laypeople support the Sangha through donations and offerings.


  • Theravāda Buddhism originated in India, but it is now practiced mainly in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos.
  • The spread of Theravāda Buddhism was influenced by the patronage of kings and rulers, as well as the efforts of Buddhist missionaries and scholars.
  • During the colonial period, Western scholars and Christian missionaries encountered Theravāda Buddhism and sparked new debates and doctrinal works.
  • Modern Theravāda scholars have taken a historical critical perspective on Theravāda literature and doctrine, attempting to understand its historical development.
  • Modern Theravāda thinkers have written on topics such as socially engaged Buddhism and Buddhist economics.
  • Western Buddhist monks have also contributed to modern scholarship in Theravāda Buddhism.


  • The Noble Eightfold Path is a central framework for Buddhist practice, which includes moral conduct, meditation, and wisdom.

  • Moral conduct (sīla) is mainly defined as right speech, right action, and right livelihood.

  • Meditation (bhāvanā) is an important aspect of Theravāda Buddhist practice, and it is categorized into two broad categories: samatha (calming) and vipassana (investigation, insight).

  • The ultimate goal of meditation is to achieve mundane and supramundane wisdom, which leads to the direct apprehension of Nibbana.

  • The Burmese Vipassana movement has popularized meditation in Theravāda Buddhism, but traditional forms of meditation still exist.

  • Laypersons and monks also perform various types of religious practices daily.Theravada Buddhism: Practices, Lay and Monastic Life

  • Theravada Buddhism is a major form of Buddhism that originated in Sri Lanka and spread to other parts of Southeast Asia.

  • One of the main practices of Theravada Buddhism is keeping a Buddhist shrine with a picture or statue of the Buddha for devotional practice in one's home, offering candles, incense, flowers, and other objects to the shrine.

  • Chanting is also a widely practiced form of Buddhist devotion among monks and laypersons, who may recite famous phrases in front of their shrine or as part of a daily puja ritual.

  • Another important religious practice is keeping special religious holidays known as Uposatha based on a lunar calendar. Laypersons commonly take the eight precepts while visiting a temple or monastery and commit to focusing on Buddhist practice for the day.

  • The Theravada tradition has a distinction between the practices suitable for a lay person and the practices undertaken by ordained monks, with monastic life being hailed as a superior method of achieving Nirvana.

  • Laypeople are primarily occupied with merit-making activities, including offering food and other basic necessities to monks, making donations to temples and monasteries, and charity to the needy.

  • Study of the Pāli scriptures and the practice of meditation are less common among the lay community, but have become more popular in the 20th century.

  • Lay disciples can become enlightened, but they usually attain Arahantship on the brink of death or enter the monastic order soon after their attainment.

  • Forest monks tend to be the minority among Theravada sanghas and also tend to focus on asceticism and meditative praxis.

  • Ordination as a monk or nun is possible for men and women born in Western countries, but it is easier to live life as a monk or nun in countries where people generally live by the culture of Buddhism.

  • Temporary ordination is common for young men in most Theravada countries, with young men typically ordaining for the retreat during Vassa, the three-month monsoon season.

  • Some well-known Theravada monks include Ajahn Mun, Ajahn Chah, Ledi Sayadaw, and Bhikkhu Bodhi.

  • The caste system in Sri Lanka plays a role in the taboo against temporary or permanent ordination as a bhikkhu in some orders.


Test your knowledge on Theravāda Buddhism, the oldest existing school of Buddhism that emphasizes personal effort and self-reliance in achieving liberation from suffering and attaining Nirvana. This quiz will cover topics such as the history, beliefs, practices, and literature of Theravāda Buddhism, including the Pāli Canon, the Noble Eightfold Path, and the Sangha. See how much you know about this influential and respected form of Buddhism that is practiced in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand

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