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Theravada is one of the eighteen (or twenty) Nikāya schools; that formed early Buddhism. These developed in India during the century subsequent to the passing away of the Buddha. The name of the sect implies the meaning of "those supporting the teachings of the elders" which means that this was a school that had conservative tendencies—an attempt to conserve the original teachings of the Buddha. It is the longest surviving of the original twenty sects, and for many centuries Theravada has been the predominant religion of continental Southeast Asia (parts of south west China, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand) and Sri Lanka. Today Theravada Buddhists number over 100 million worldwide, and in recent decades Theravada has begun to take root in the West.
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During the reign of Emperor Asoka in India, the third Council was held in Pataliputta (308 BC). The existing heresies and deviations in the religion were expelled and a volume containing the teachings of the council was compiled. This book — the Kathavatthu — contained the "Teachings of the Elders" or Theravada. These books were sent to different parts of India and Sri Lanka.

Theravadins claim to follow the earliest forms of Buddhist practice, with the main goal being the achievement of the state of Arahant (lit. "worthy one", "winner of Nibbana").

Therevada Buddhism focuses on Meditation and understanding. By meditating, a practitioner can gain valuable insight on himself/herself as well as understanding the concepts of Dhamma better. Meditation techniques include:

Buddha Purnima is the highest religious festival in Theravada.

Table of contents
1 Many Buddhisms, One Dhamma-vinaya
2 Pali: The Language of Theravada Buddhism
3 External links

Many Buddhisms, One Dhamma-vinaya

The Buddha called the religion he founded Dhamma-vinaya, "the doctrine and discipline" (Pali Dhamma or Sanskrit Dharma for short). To provide a social structure supportive of the practice of Dhamma, and to preserve these teachings for posterity, the Buddha established the order of bhikkhus (monks) and bhikkhunis (nuns) — the Sangha — who continue to this day to pass his teachings on to subsequent generations of laypeople and monastics, alike. But within two centuries after the Buddha's passing, as the Dhamma spread across much of India, several different interpretations of some of the Buddha's original teachings arose, leading to schisms within the Sangha and the emergence of as many as eighteen distinct sects of Buddhism.

Pali: The Language of Theravada Buddhism

The language of the Theravada canonical texts is known as Pali (lit., "text"), which is based on a dialect of Middle Indo-Aryan that was probably spoken in central India during the Buddha's time. Most of the sermons (suttas) the Buddha delivered were memorized by Ven. Ananda, the Buddha's cousin and close personal attendant; those sermons at which Ananda was not present are said to have been repeated to him later on. Shortly after the Buddha's death (ca. 480 BCE), five hundred of the most senior monks — including Ananda — convened to recite and verify all the sermons they had heard during the Buddha's forty-five year teaching career. Most of these sermons therefore begin with the disclaimer, Evam me sutam — "Thus have I heard."

The teachings were passed down orally within the monastic community, in keeping with an oral tradition that long predated the Buddha. By 250 BCE the Buddha's teachings had been systematically arranged and organized into three basic divisions: the Vinaya Pitaka (the "basket of discipline"; the texts concerning the rules and customs of the Sangha), the Sutta Pitaka (the "basket of discourses"; the sermons and utterances by the Buddha and his close disciples), and the Abhidhamma Pitaka (the "basket of higher [or special] doctrine"; a detailed philosophical and psychological analysis of the Dhamma). Taken together these three are known as the Tripitaka — the "three baskets". In the 3rd century BCE Sri Lankan monks began compiling a series of detailed commentaries to the Tripitaka that were finally collated and translated into Pali beginning in the fifth century CE. The Tripitaka plus the post-canonical Pali texts (commentaries, chronicles, etc.) together constitute the complete body of classical Theravada texts.

Pali was originally a spoken language with no alphabet of its own. It wasn't until about 100 BCE that the Tripitaka was first fixed in writing, by Sri Lankan scribe-monks writing the Pali phonetically in their own Sinhala alphabet. Since then the Tripitaka has been transliterated into many different scripts (Devanagari, Thai, Burmese, Roman, Cyrillic, to name a few). Although English translations of the most popular Tripitaka texts abound, many students of Theravada find that learning the Pali language — even just a little bit here and there — greatly deepens their understanding and appreciation of the Buddha's teachings.

Of course, no one can prove that the Tripitaka contains any of the actual words uttered by the historical Buddha. But practicing Buddhists have never found this problematic. Unlike the scriptures of many of the world's other great religions, the Tripitaka is not meant to be taken as gospel, containing unassailable statements of divine truth, revealed by a prophet, to be accepted purely on faith. Instead, its teachings are meant to be assessed firsthand, to be put into practice in one's life so that one can find out for oneself if they do, in fact, yield the promised results. It is the truth towards which the words in the Tripitaka point that ultimately matters, not the words themselves. Although scholars will undoubtedly continue to speculate about the authorship of passages from the Tripitaka for years to come (and thus miss the point of these teachings entirely), the Tripitaka will quietly continue to serve — as it has for centuries — as an indispensable guide for millions of followers in their quest for Awakening.

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