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Theravada Buddhism

Theravada Buddhism: The View of the Elders

Copyright Date: 2012
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    Theravada Buddhism
    Book Description:

    This book brings to life the age-old religious tradition of Theravada (literally, “view of the elders”) Buddhism as it is found in ancient texts and understood and practiced today in South and Southeast Asia. Following a brief introduction to the life of the historical Buddha and the beginning of his mission, the book examines the Triple Gem (the Buddha, his teachings, and the community of monastic followers) and the basic teachings of the Buddha in the earliest available Pali sources. Basic Buddhist concepts such as dependent co-origination, the four noble truths, the three trainings, and karma and its result are discussed in non-technical language, along with the Buddha’s message on social wellbeing.

    The author goes on to chronicle his own involvement as an observer-participant in “the Theravada world,” where he was born and raised. His is a rare first-hand account of living Theravada Buddhism not only in its traditional habitats, but also in the world at large at the dawn of the twenty-first century. He concludes with a discussion on what is happening to Theravada today across the globe, covering issues such as diaspora Buddhism, women’s Buddhism, and engaged Buddhism. The book’s accessible language and clear explication of Theravada doctrine and texts make this an ideal introduction for the student and general reader.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3729-7
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Editors’ Preface
    (pp. IX-XVI)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. XVII-XVIII)
  5. Notes on References and Romanization of Sanskrit and Pali
    (pp. XIX-XX)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. XXI-XXVIII)

    The Buddha repeatedly stated that his teaching first and foremost dealt with the concept ofdukkha(the more painful features of being human) (see the Glossary for a detailed explanation) and the liberation therefrom. All the details of the religion and everything else the Buddha said must be understood in this particular context. Hence, what follows is a story of how one man perceived his existential problem; his journey in search of a solution to it; his discovery of a solution; and how, according to one tradition, the Theravada, he helped others to achieve what he achieved. It is also...

  7. CHAPTER 1 The Beginning of Buddhism
    (pp. 1-18)

    According to a story of somewhat later origin in the Theravada tradition, in his penultimate birth before leaving his heavenly abode for his final birth into the human world, the future Buddha carefully pondered five important details: the proper time, continent, region, and family to be born into, and who his mother might be. After careful consideration he decided to be born into the Sakya family of the Sakyan state of the Jambu-dvipa (“rose-apple island,” as India is called in the Buddhist literature), as the son of the queen Maha Maya. This story, though coming down to us in the...

  8. CHAPTER 2 The Triple Gem
    (pp. 19-30)

    To be a follower of the Buddha is to “take refuge” or “go for refuge” in the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha—the Triple Gem, as Buddhists would usually refer to the objects of their religious veneration. It is said that those who engaged in this practice for the first time were two passing merchants who gave some food to the newly awakened Buddha.¹ It is further said that they took refuge only in the Buddha and the Dhamma, for the third gem—the order of monks—had not yet come into existence.

    As we found in the account...

  9. CHAPTER 3 The Basic Teachings of the Buddha
    (pp. 31-60)

    The Theravada tradition holds that just after his Enlightenment the Buddha felt the need to have a teacher for himself. This seems very odd, but it seems he felt that, insofar as his enlightenment was concerned, he had had no teacher in the sense of one who instructed and guided him to achieve his goal. Thus he decided to treat the Dhamma as his teacher. This story is clearly symbolic. As we saw in the previous chapter, the Triple Gem follows the sequence of the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha. According to this episode in the Buddha’s life, however,...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Karma and Its Results
    (pp. 61-69)

    The concept of karma (Palikamma) is a pan-Indian religious and philosophical belief. It is basically defined as “action.” What is generally intended by this is action that can be evaluated ethically. The early Indian beginnings of this concept can be seen in Vedic literature, where the sacrificial act, which is considered to be the precursor of karmic belief, is mentioned. The elementary forms of the concepts of good (Skt.punya/Palipunna) and bad (Skt. and Palipapa) are found in the early post-Vedic period. Among the Sramana groups, Jains believed in good and bad karma as forming a part...

  11. CHAPTER 5 The Social Teachings of the Buddha
    (pp. 70-78)

    In the two previous chapters I discussed the basic teachings of the Buddha. Now I shall move on to the social teachings of the Buddha. One might form the impression that what will be discussed here is not the teaching proper but some sort of secondary aspect of it. The popular view among Western readers of Buddhism is that it does not contain any social teaching. For instance, the celebrated sociologist Max Weber was of the opinion that Buddhism, which is soteriological and meant for a monastic community, cannot have anything to do with worldly affairs. Therefore, whatever exists today...

  12. CHAPTER 6 The Traditional Theravada World
    (pp. 79-91)

    Having dealt with the concept of “precept” in Theravada in the previous two chapters, now is the place to discuss its practice. As a prelude to this discussion on practice I shall outline the history of Buddhism in the traditional Theravada world, namely, in South and Southeast Asia. Of the three Buddhist traditions existing in the world today Theravada, being the oldest, naturally has the longest history. Although we do not possess many records of its continuation in its place of birth after the period of Asoka, we do have an unbroken record of its practice in Sri Lanka from...

  13. CHAPTER 7 The Traditional Theravada Practice
    (pp. 92-137)

    In the parlance of Western Buddhists, “practice” usually means meditation, which is understood as something one does during a specific allocated time set aside for it in one’s daily life. This concept is almost nonexistent in traditional Theravada life. Although sometimes “practicing Buddhists” are spoken of and compared to “not practicing Buddhists,” the contrast is more value-laden than factual. In traditional Buddhist societies all Buddhists are Buddhists, but with obvious differences in the number of practices they undertake that they would call Buddhist or religious.

    It is possible to discuss separately the practice of Theravada in each of the countries...

  14. CHAPTER 8 Theravada in Wider Perspective
    (pp. 138-154)

    Theravada Buddhism today is no longer confined to its traditional habitats. For the past one hundred years, it has been reaching out to the world beyond South and Southeast Asian borders. This is not unusual for Theravada in particular or Buddhism in general. In its history of more than twenty-five centuries Buddhism has mixed with and been assimilated into different cultures, undergoing changes in itself and causing changes in the host cultures in the process. The difference today is that, for understandable reasons, this process is taking place much more rapidly and extensively. What is happening to Theravada in the...

  15. Appendix 1 A Sample of Basic Theravada Liturgy (Vandana and Puja)
    (pp. 155-158)
  16. Appendix 2 Canonical Texts and Related Readings
    (pp. 159-164)
  17. Glossary of Pali Terms
    (pp. 165-170)
  18. Guide to Further Reading
    (pp. 171-176)
  19. Index
    (pp. 177-186)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 187-189)