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Religion Library: Theravada Buddhism

Quick Facts

Formed100 BCE
OriginIndia / Sri Lanka
Followers124,000,000
DeityNone (n/a) / pantheon of deities
Sacred TextsPali Tipitaka, Jataka
HeadquartersNone

Theravada Buddhism, the "Doctrine of the Elders," is one of the three major sects of Buddhism. It emerged out of a series of schisms that began in the 4th century B.C.E. in the Buddhist communities of India and became prominent in Sri Lanka and southeast Asia including Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos, which has led some to call it Southern Buddhism. Pejoratively labeled the "Hinayana" (the "Lesser Vehicle") by Mahayana Buddhism, Theravada schools claim to adhere most accurately to the original practices and doctrines taught by Buddha. The Theravada claims to trace their lineage back to the the original followers of the Buddha, to those who literally heard his sermons. The Theravada canonical writings, a collection of the Buddha's teachings written in the Pali language, are divided into the Buddha's sermons (the sutta pitaka), the monastic rules (the vinaya pitaka), and philosophical enumeration of the Buddha's teachings (the abhidamma pitaka). Theravada doctrine is founded on the distinction between samsara (the cyclic realm of suffering) and nirvana (or nibbana, release). The ultimate goal of the Theravada is to escape samsara and enter nirvana. This is accomplished by achieving the status of an arhat, a perfect saint who has been released from the cycle of samsara and will never be reborn again. The Theravada is typically understood to be a rigorous monastic tradition; however, laypeople actively participate in the religion by providing material support to the monks (which produces positive karma, or merit), meditating, and following the basic ethical principles of the Buddha's teachings.


 

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