Aviva Directory » Faith & Spirituality » World Religions » Eastern Religions » Buddhism » Denominations » Theravada

Practiced throughout southern Asia, Theravada Buddhism is the oldest and most common form of Buddhism.

Conservative in doctrine and monastic discipline, Theravada Buddhism has preserved its version of the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, also known as Gautama Buddha, in the Pali Canon, the only complete surviving Buddhist canon in the classical Indian language.

Originating in India, Theravada Buddhism quickly spread throughout southern India, and into Sri Lanka, which became the chief center of the Theravada branch of Buddhism.

Theravada tradition emphasizes the lives of its monks rather than that of its laypeople, teaching that the only way to achieve salvation is through becoming a monk. In Theravadan countries, laypeople assume that they will not achieve Nirvana in this life, as that is a state reserved for the monks. However, they can improve their chances in the next life by leading moral lives and assisting the monks.

Theravadan monks are characterized by their orange robes, signifying the cultural connections between Buddhism and its parent religion, Hinduism. Theravadan monks are often seen carrying an umbrella, which is not only practical in monsoon season, but representative of the authority of the Buddha.

Each new and full moon, Theravadan monks recite the rules of the order, and confessions are heard. Serious offenses can be punished by expulsion from the order.

The practice of Theravadan monks is to beg for food. However, because they are usually the best-educated people in the community, they also operate schools for village children and give advice on various matters. Monasteries are generally located in the center of town.

The community of monks in the Theravada tradition is known as sangha, a word in Pali and Sanskrit that may also mean "association," "assembly," "company," or "community," but more commonly refers to the Buddhist community of monks (bhikkhus) and nuns (bhikkhunis), and according to the Theravada school, the term does not refer to lay followers (savakas), nor to Buddhists as a whole. Because there is no Sangha tradition in the West, Theravada Buddhism hasn't caught on in Western countries. Although there are Theravadan communities in the West, the tradition was learned in Theravadan countries.

The Pali Canon is made up of three "baskets," or groups of discourses that form thirty-one texts, known as baskets because the original palm leaf texts were stored in baskets. These discourses are said to have been compiled soon after the death of the Buddha be a council of five hundred monks who had studied under the Buddha. Each sutra begins with the words, "This I have heard..."

The first basket is the Vinaya Pitaka, the book of discipline, containing the rules for monasteries and nunneries. The second basket is the Sutta Pitaka, which includes the basic discourses or sermons of the Buddha. The Abhidhamma Pitaka is the third basket, and it contains treatises of technical, metaphysical, and scholarly material, apparently intended to organize Buddhist knowledge and to refute the views of other schools.

Other literature used in the Theravada tradition includes The Pali Commentaries, written in the 4th or 5th centuries, as well as other texts, handbooks, and summaries written by Theravadan monks, which have become part of Theravada heritage, but do not hold the same authority as the Pali Canon.

Theravadan meditation practices are intended to lead to tranquility, and that which leads to insight. The orientation of meditation if outward, looking toward Nirvana, rather than inward, as in Hinduism.

Through practice, a technique known as dhamma, the truth taught by the Buddha is uncovered, leading to the attainment of gnosis, which may be attained through gradual training, gradual action, and gradual practice.

Moral conduct is defined as right speech, right action, and right livelihood, understood through the doctrine of kamma.

Movements and sects related to Theravadan Buddhism in Asia are largely divided by country. Myanmar Buddism includes Thudhamma Nikaya, Shwekyin Nikaya, the Vipassana tradition of Mhasi Sayadaw, and Dvaya Nikaya. Bangladesh has Sangharaj Nikaya and Mahasthabir Nikaya. Sri Lanka includes Siam Nikaya, Waturawila, Amarapura Nikaya, Kanduboda, Tapovana, Ramanna Nikaya, Sri Kalyani Yogasrama Samstha, Deldowa, and Forest Nikaya. In Thailand are Maha Nikaya, Dhammakaya Movement, Thammayut Nikaya, and the Thai Forest Tradition.

In America, there are the South Asian Schools, which include the Bhavana Society, Forest Tradition, Vipassana, IMB, and the Insight Meditation Society.

Topics related to Theravada Buddhism are the focus of this category. Resources specific to Theravadan tradition should be submitted to this category rather than to the more general Buddhist Resources category.


Forest Tradition




Recommended Resources

Search for Theravada on Google or Bing