The Theravada ( Pali: School of the Elders ) is the oldest existing school tradition of Buddhism. It conducts its lineage back to those monastic community, which was one of the first followers of the Buddha. Theravada is now widespread in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and partly also in Vietnam and China ( Yunnan ). From the Mahayana it is counted to the Hinayana, this assignment is rejected even by the Theravada and perceived as discriminatory.


Three months after the death of Buddha his disciples came into Rajagarha together for the first council to discuss the Dhamma and Vinaya and hold in accordance with the teachings of the Buddha. The other tradition was an oral one. About 100 years later, the second council took place in Vesali. Discussed were now especially the rules of the monastic community, as it was by then already come to form different groups with different interpretations of the original rules. During the Second Council and the following meetings up to 18 different schools ( Nikaya schools ) were created, they were based on different ways to the original teachings of the Buddha. In addition, the Mahasanghika, which advocated adjustments to the rules to changing circumstances and can be considered as early precursor of Mahayana formed.

In the 3rd century BC came into Pataliputra (now Patna ), under the auspices of King Ashoka and the Chair of the monk Moggaliputta Tissa, the third council together. The aim of the meeting was to agree on a uniform again Buddhist teaching. Heretics should be excluded from the Community and false doctrines are refuted. In the course of the council, the book Kathāvatthu was written for this purpose, which summarizes the philosophical and scholastic treatises. This text became the core of the Abhidhammapitaka, a philosophical text collection. Together with the Suttapitaka, the written down Discourses of the Buddha, and the Vinayapitaka, the collection of monastic rules, it forms the Pali wrote Tipitaka (Sanskrit: Tripitaka, " three baskets ", also called " Pali Canon " ), the oldest surviving great summary Buddhist written material in an Indian language.

Only these fonts were recognized by the Council as authentic fundamentals of Buddhist doctrine, which sealed the division of the monastic community. During the Theravada, agreed by the teachings of the elders on the unchanged absorption of the original teachings and rules that Mahasanghika laid down no fixed canon of scriptures and also took writings, the origin of Buddha could not be clearly demonstrated in their teachings.


After the end of the 3rd Council and Sanghamitta Mahinda, son and daughter of Ashoka, the Tipitaka brought to Sri Lanka, where the text has been completely preserved until today. They were sent as missionaries to the island and indeed the state religion of the Kingdom was the Theravada soon. From Sri Lanka were subsequently missionaries in the area of ​​today's Myanmar, then a kingdom of the Mon sent. Traditions date these missionary to the time of King Ashoka's reign, so the 3rd century BC. Secured the occurrence of Theravada is in this region from the 5th century. From there he was also further east, in the area of present-day Thailand, widespread. Again report traditions of early missionaries of Ashoka, who were to Nakhon Pathom, one of the oldest cities in Thailand and then inhabited by Mon, come and from there toured the country. Findings show a spread from the 6th century. The Thai, who had immigrated since the 6th century from southern China coming to Southeast Asia, took over the Theravada of the population living there. When she finally penetrated in the 11th and 12th centuries in the plane central Thailand and its first kingdoms, Sukhothai and Ayutthaya later founded (see also history of Thailand ), was the state religion Theravada. At the same time also took over the inhabitants of the kingdom to Luang Prabang, which is the present-day Laos, this belief. In the 13th century boarded Srindravarman (reigned 1295-1309 ), the throne of the Khmer kingdom Kambuja (now Cambodia). He was the first of the kings of Angkor, the followers of Theravada was. Although Kambuja lost with and after him visibly in power and influence, the Theravada but has since also in Cambodia and southern Vietnam, the most widespread religion.

Currently, about 80 % of the population of Sri Lanka, 89 % of the Burmese, 94% of Thais, 60 % of Laotians and Cambodians, 95% of the Theravada confess. There are also followers in Vietnam and southwest China ( Yunnan ). In India, the number of Theravada Buddhists will not least by a movement among the Dalits, the " untouchables " to go back to that found in the conversion to Buddhism a way to escape the discrimination by the caste system.

Teaching ( Dhamma pali, sanskrit Dharma )

Since the transcript of the Tipitaka during the Third Council whose texts are recognized as the basis of doctrine and rules of monastic life in Theravada exclusively.

Nibbana ( extinction )

The goal of every follower of Theravada is the state of Nibbana (Sanskrit: Nirvana ), thus overcoming and extinction of all binding to the existence of factors such as I - addiction, greed, attachment, etc., and thus leaving the cycle ( samsara ) of reincarnations (not to be confused with the Christian concept of rebirth). Nibbana is not comparable with the notion of paradise in Judaism, Christianity or Islam, which is the " eternal happiness " promises the souls of the faithful. Neither I, so also the soul, nor happiness are, according to the teachings of Buddhism, forever. Nibbana means the recognition of the transience of all things and states, and the overcoming of " sticking " to the phenomena of the world. The attainment of Nibbana is not to be equated with death. Siddhattha Gotama (Sanskrit: Siddhartha Gautama ), the historical Buddha himself was alive and still teaching more than 40 years after he learned Bodhi ( "awakening" ), reaching Nibbana.

Buddha was a Samma - Sambuddha, that is a Buddha who is capable of the four noble truths, which exist regardless of whether a Buddha appears or not to announce an entire world.

Bodhi ( awakening )

According to the Theravada doctrine, there are three types of Bodhi, can realize by a Buddhist Nibbana:

  • Savaka - Bodhi is achieved by those who attain the Bodhi as a disciple of a spiritual teacher. One of such Awakened (also Arhat ) called Arahat. Arahats themselves, not least due to his own experience, useful for other teachers.
  • Pacceka - Bodhi is achieved without the help or instruction by teachers. An awakened in this way is called Pratyeka Buddha ( " awakened one individual "). In the Tipitaka is to the fact that such Buddhas can indeed appear in greater numbers, but only at times, is lost where the teaching ( Dhamma ). The ability of a Pratyeka Buddha, to help other people on the path to awakening is lower than for the other two manifestations of the Buddhas.
  • Samma - Sambodhi is the highest, perfect form of awakening. As a pratyekabuddha reached Samma - Sambuddha ( "Perfectly Awakened One " ) Bodhi by our own power, without the instruction of others. But he also has the ability to pass on the other, the Dhamma, and to accompany them also to Nibbana, liberation from samsara. While the type of exemption for all three entities is the same, a Fully Awakened One is considered the highest authority due to his ability to teach.


In Theravada a bodhisattva is viewed as someone who seeks redemption in order to help others on their way in the sequence can. Buddha himself was in his previous incarnations, before he was born as Siddhartha Gautama, was a Bodhisattva. In the texts of the Jataka ( birth stories ), which recount the previous lives of the Buddha and of the Suttapitaka of the Tipitaka are also reported it. They are often used by Buddhist lay people as a source of inspiration. Any practitioner who or which is committed to the bodhisattva ideal, and in the 10 Paramitas: exercise ( Pali Paramis ) = perfections such as generosity, meditative absorption, etc., is considered in the Theravada as a bodhisattva (or Pali Bodhisatta ). This has to do with the fact that it is the attitude that makes a Bodhisattva, and not the vehicle in which to formally practiced.

Differences to the Mahayana

During the Theravada, practically accepted with very few exceptions, only the texts of the Pali Tipitaka as the basis for the doctrine and life of the monks, a definitive canon was fixed fonts in Mahayana never. Although the Sanskrit Tripitaka is also the core of the tradition, but also other sutras have been used, for example, to name just a few of the most important, the Heart Sutra ( Prajnaparamita Sutra ), the Diamond Sutra ( Vajrachhedikaprajnaparamita Sutra ) and the Lotus Sutra ( Sutra Saddharmapundarika ).

Another major difference is that the three -way Bodhi and thus to achieve Nibbana, as known by the Theravada, Mahayana were postponed in favor of Bodhisattvahood. Not reaching the Nibbana through his own power, as it knows the Theravada, is the focus, but the ideal of the Bodhisattva who renounces the Parinibbana, the final absorption in Nibbana after death, preferring instead to another on their way to awakening help. The Mahayana uses a multitude of Bodhisattvas. In addition to Maitreya, Avalokiteshvara and Manjushri are two of the most important.