What is Theravada Buddhism?
The "Doctrine of the Elders" Theravada (Pali: thera "elders" + vada "word, doctrine"), the "Doctrine of the Elders," is the name for the school of Buddhism that draws its scriptural inspiration from the Pali Canon, or Tipitaka, which scholars generally accept as the oldest record of the Buddha's teachings. For many centuries, Theravada has been the predominant religion of Sri Lanka, Burma, and Thailand; today Theravada Buddhists number over 100 million worldwide. In recent decades Theravada has begun to take root in the West -- primarily in Europe and the USA.
The many names of Theravada Theravada Buddhism goes by many names. The Buddha himself called the religion he founded Dhamma-vinaya, "the doctrine and discipline," in reference to the two fundamental aspects of the system of ethical and spiritual training he taught. Owing to its historical dominance in southern Asia (Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Burma), Theravada is also identified as "Southern Buddhism," in contrast to "Northern Buddhism," which migrated northwards from India into China, Tibet, Japan, and Korea. Theravada is often equated with "Hinayana" (the "Lesser Vehicle"), in contrast to "Mahayana" (the "Greater Vehicle"), which is usually a synonym for Tibetan Buddhism, Zen, Ch'an, and other expressions of Northern Buddhism. The use of "Hinayana" as a pejorative has its origins in the early schisms within the monastic community that ultimately led to the emergence of what would later become Mahayana. Today scholars of many persuasions use the term "Hinayana" without pejorative intent.
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