Buddhism: Theravāda


Primary Author
Chara Scroope,
  • Theravāda Buddhism does not present the Buddha as a supreme god. Rather, the Buddha is considered to be a human who has undergone a profound spiritual transformation. He is said to have gained complete liberation from suffering and rebirth, as well as various miraculous powers, after his enlightenment.
  • In South and South East Asian countries, Buddhism is deeply intertwined with the local culture. This means that some Buddhists may be more active in practising their faith, while others may be nominally Buddhist.
  • Ancient Buddhist scripture and doctrine originally developed the classical Indian languages of Pāli and Sanskrit. As such, many Theravāda Buddhist terms and chants used in contemporary societies are foremost in Pāli, followed by Sanskrit. Some texts and chants are translated into the vernacular of the country. In Theravāda Buddhism, concepts are generally referred to in Pāli. Meanwhile in Mahāyāna Buddhist traditions, concepts are often referred to in their local vernacular or in Sanskrit.
  • Theravāda Buddhism is sometimes referred to as ‘Hīnayāna’ Buddhism. This has no basis in the scriptural tradition and is usually a derogatory term meaning ‘Lesser Vehicle’, used as a polemic argument to contrast against Mahāyāna Buddhism (‘Higher Vehicle’).
  • In predominantly Theravādin countries such as Thailand and Sri Lanka, the national government has usually either heavily favoured or officially recognised Theravāda Buddhism as the state religion. In these cases, the role of the Buddhist monastic community (Saṅgha) is often to act as a spiritual guide to the population. While the government and the Saṅgha are two distinct entities, there are cases where there is considerable intertwining. For example, monks (usually from elite families) may act as governmental advisors.
  • Buddhism is often , meaning it may incorporate different religions or cultures into its tradition. This means that some practices which appear to be Buddhist may actually originate from a different religion or cultural traditions. It also means that Buddhism is quite distinctive depending on the culture and local religious beliefs of the country. Moreover, Buddhist rituals and ceremonies vary from country to country and region to region.
  • Theravāda Buddhism, as with other Buddhist traditions, has been gaining popularity over the decades in Western countries and other non-Asian cultures through the practice and teachings of both ordained and lay Buddhists within those countries.  
  • The official position held by a branch or tradition is not necessarily indicative of the attitudes and beliefs of all lay followers. Individuals may have personal interpretations and applications of the teachings of their respective tradition.

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