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Basic Buddhism
 
Hinayana & Theravada

The Theravada Buddhism is better known as the earliest form of Buddhism. The terms 'Thera' means old and 'Vada' means school, and therefore, the word 'Theravada' is sometimes translated as 'the Teaching of the Elders'. The Theravada school consists of the teachings of the Buddha, rules for monastic life and philosophical and psychological analysis.

The main point that the Theravada Buddhism deals with is the emphasis on bringing perfection into one's life to attain enlightenment. The Theravadins practice both - Samatha and Vipassana, though they emphasis more on Vipassana. The school of ancient Theravada is popular even today throughout the world, but dominant in the countries like Sri Lanka, Myanmar(Burma), Cambodia and Thailand. 


Origin and Spread of Theravada 
The Theravada school belongs to one of the ancient eighteen Buddhist Nikaya schools and traces its development after the death of the Buddha. Its lineage is traced back to the first Buddhist council, when five Arahants including Mahakashyapa opted for all the lesser and minor rules set by Lord Buddha for the Buddhist monks.

However, there is another group which traces the origin of the Theravada Buddhism from the second Buddhist council in 383 BCE at Vaishali(India), in which the lenient Buddhist doctrines were condemned by the conservatives or the Theras(elders) and they led to the formation of the Theravada school. The Theras' views were opposed by the reformers and their different ideological views led to the split of the Buddhism into two parts - Theravada and Mahayana, at the third Buddhist council, convened in 250 BCE by King Ashoka at Pataliputra (Now Patna, India). 

After the formation of the Theravada Buddhism, it was spread to Sri Lanka by the Indian emperor Ashoka's son, Mahindra, who was also a Buddhist monk. The school of Theravada became a national dogma in Sri Lanka and centered at the great monastery of Mahavihara and further got associated with the Sri Lankan monarchy. Ashoka's missionaries also spread Theravada Buddhism to Myanmar and Thailand.

A time came in the history of Buddhism when its early sects were either dying out or were intermingling into Mahayana Buddhism. But on the contrary, nothing could affect Theravada. Even during 12th-13th century CE, when Buddhism was on its decline in India, Theravada was still dominant in Sri Lanka and south-east Asia. A Theravada reform movement took place in Sri Lanka in 10th century CE, which is still considered as a turning point in Sri Lanka as it consolidated the Sri Lankan kingdom as a Theravada monarchy. This reformation also spread as far as Myanmar (Previous Burma), Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, where it not only revitalised the Theravada tradition, but also established its supremacy over other Buddhist sects. 


Theravada Principles
The basic principles of the Theravada Buddhism are based on the teachings of the Lord Buddha. The Theravada Buddhism basically deals with the Four Noble Truths and the reality of the chain of causation or the cycle of rebirth. 
According to the Theravada doctrine, only a monk can attain nirvana and a laity can only aspire to be reborn as a monk after many reincarnations spent discharging the burden of intentional karma. But in some of the countries like Myanmar and Thailand, young men are also placed in monasteries temporarily, which is a part of their education, thereby fostering their involvement in the Sangha. However, in the Theravada concept, there is a limited participation of women and common people in the Sangha, and when they participate, they generally wear white robes and take up asceticism (self-denial) without entering a monastic order. 

Though the Theravada concept states that a being can attain the ultimate 'nirvana' by practicing the Eightfold Noble path and the Four Cardinal Virtues; but at the same time it also focuses on the practices of meditation and concentration. According to the Theravadin school of thought, a meditation practice can only be successful by controlling over one's feelings(Vedana), physical body(Rupa), cognitive perception(Sanna), mental pre-disposition(Sankhara), and consciousness(Vijnana) and six senses. Therefore, Theravada is considered to be more of a scientific discipline rather than being a mere philosophical doctrine.



 
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