1. Pāli Canon
In Theravāda Buddhism the Pāli Canon is the highest authority on what constitutes the Dhamma (the Truth or Teaching of the Buddha) and the organization of the Saṅgha (the community of monks and nuns).
The Sutta and Vinaya portion of the Tipiṭaka shows considerable overlap in content to the Āgamas, the parallel collections used by non-Theravāda schools in India which are preserved in Chinese and partially in Sanskrit, Prākṛta, and Tibetan, and the various non-Theravāda Vinayas.
On this basis, both these sets of texts are generally believed to be the oldest and most authoritative texts on pre-sectarian Buddhism by scholars.
It is also believed that much of the Pāli Canon, which is still used in Theravādin communities, was transmitted to Śrī Lanka during the reign of Aśoka.
After being orally transmitted (as was the custom for religious texts in those days) for some centuries, the texts were finally committed to writing in the 1st century BCE, at what Theravādins usually reckon to be the 4th Council, in Śrī Lanka.
Theravāda is one of the first Buddhist schools to commit its complete Canon to writing.
Much of the material in the Pāli Canon is not specifically "Theravāda", but the collection of teachings that this school's adherents preserved from the early, non-sectarian body of teachings.
The Theravādins, then, may have added texts to the Canon for some time, as authoritative commentaries and such, but they do not appear to have tampered with what they already had from an earlier period.
The Pāli Tipiṭaka consists of 3 parts:
1. Vinaya Piṭaka
2. Sutta Piṭaka
3. Abhidhamma Piṭaka
Of these, the Abhidhamma Piṭaka is believed to be a later addition to the first two Piṭakas, which, in the opinion of many scholars, were the only 2 Piṭakas at the time of the First Buddhist Council. The Pāli Abhidhamma was not recognized outside the Theravāda school.
The Tipiṭaka is composed of 45 volumes in the Thai edition, 40 in the Burmese and 58 in the Sinhala, and a full set of the Tipiṭaka is usually kept in its own (medium-sized) cupboard.
2. Vinaya (monastic discipline) & Abhidhamma
Since much Sutta material overlaps with that found in the Sūtra collections of other Buddhist traditions, it is the Vinaya (monastic discipline) and Abhidhamma that are the most distinctive formal aspects of Theravāda Buddhism, unique to Theravāda.
The Vibhajjavāda School (‘the analysts’), the branch of the Sthāvira School from which Theravāda is derived, differed from other early Buddhist schools on a variety of teachings:
The differences resulted from the systematization of the Buddhist teachings, which was preserved in the Abhidharmas of the various schools.
The unique doctrinal positions of the Theravāda school are expounded in what is known as the Abhidhamma-Piṭaka, as well as in the later Pāli commentaries (Aṭṭhakathā) and sub-commentaries (ṭīkā).
Because of the size of this canonical and commentarial literature the Pāli tradition developed a tradition of handbooks and doctrinal summaries, the most influential of which are the Visuddhimagga and the Abhidhammattha-sangaha.
The Pāli Abhidhamma is "a restatement of the doctrine of the Buddha in strictly formalized language ... assumed to constitute a consistent system of philosophy".
Its aim is not the empirical verification of Buddhist teachings, but "to set forth the correct interpretation of the Buddha's statements in the Sūtra to restate his 'system' with perfect accuracy".
Because Abhidhamma focuses on analysing the internal lived experience of beings and the intentional structure of consciousness, the system has often been compared to a kind of phenomenological psychology by numerous scholars such as Nyanaponika, Bhikkhu Bodhi and Alexander Piatigorsky.
The Theravāda school has traditionally held the doctrinal position that the canonical Abhidhamma Piṭaka was actually taught by the Buddha himself.
Modern scholarship in contrast, has generally held that the Abhidhamma texts date from the 3rd century BCE:
However, the early Abhidhamma texts developed out of exegetical and catechetical work which made use of doctrinal lists which can be seen in the Suttas, called Mātikās.
3. Non-canonical literature
In the 4-5th century Buddhaghoṣa Thera wrote the first Pāli commentaries to much of the Tipiṭaka (which were based on much older manuscripts, mostly in old Sinhala), including commentaries on the Nikāyas and his commentary on the Vinaya, the Samantapāsādikā.
Buddhaghoṣa wrote as part of the Mahāvihāra tradition in Śrī Lanka, a tradition which came to dominate the island and all of Theravāda after the 12th century.
After him many other monks wrote various texts, which have become part of Theravāda's heritage. These texts do not have the same authority as the Tipiṭaka does, though Buddhaghoṣa’s Visuddhimagga is a cornerstone of the commentarial tradition.
Another important genre of Theravādin literature is shorter handbooks and summaries, which serve as introductions and study guides for the larger commentarial works:
2 of the more influential summaries are Sāriputta Thera's Pāli-muttaka-vinaya-vinicchaya-saṅgaha, a summary of Buddhaghoṣa's Vinaya commentary and Anuruddhā's Abhidhammaṭṭha-saṅgaha (Manual of Abhidhamma).
The Pāli texts and language are symbolically and ritually important for many Theravādins;
However, most people are likely to access Buddhist teachings though vernacular literature, oral teachings, sermons, art and performance as well as films and Internet media.
There is a far greater volume of Theravāda literature in vernacular languages than in Pāli.
An important genre of Theravādin literature, in both Pāli and vernacular languages are the Jātaka tales, stories of the Buddha's past lives:
They are very popular among all classes and are rendered in a wide variety of media formats, from cartoons to high literature. The Vessantara Jātaka is one of the most popular of these.
Theravāda Buddhists consider much of what is found in the Chinese and Tibetan Mahāyāna scriptural collections to be apocryphal, meaning that they are not authentic words of the Buddha.
4. Study (pariyatti)
Theravāda traditionally promotes itself as the Vibhajjavāda "teaching of analysis":
This doctrine holds that insight must come from the aspirant's experience, application of knowledge, and critical reasoning.
However, the Theravādin school's scriptures also emphasize heeding the advice of the wise, considering such advice and evaluation of one's own experiences to be the 2 tests by which practices should be judged.
Yet, in its actual praxis the majority of Theravādins and dedicated Buddhists of other traditions, including monks and nuns, have focused on cultivating moral behaviour, preserving the Buddha’s teachings (dharma), and acquiring the good karma that comes from generous giving.
5. Core doctrines
The core of Theravāda doctrine is contained in the Pāli Canon, the only complete collection of Early Buddhist texts surviving in a classical Indic language.
These ideas are shared by other Early Buddhist schools as well as by Mahāyāna traditions. They include central concepts such as:
1. The Middle Way
2. The 4 Noble Truths
3. The Noble Eightfold Path
4. 3 marks of existence (impermanence, suffering, not-self)
5. Five aggregates
6. Dependent arising
7. Karma and rebirth
9. 37 factors conducive to awakening
10. Kleśas (mental defilements) and Āsavas
11. Avidyā (Ignorance)
6. Textual basis
In the Pāli Canon, the Path (magga) or Way (Paṭipadā) of Buddhist practice is described in various ways; one of the most widely used frameworks in Theravāda is the Noble Eightfold Path:
The Blessed One said,
"Now what, monks, is the Noble Eightfold Path?
- Right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. "
The Noble Eightfold Path can also be summarized as the 3 Noble Disciplines of Sīla (moral conduct or discipline), Samādhi (meditation or concentration) and Paññā (understanding or wisdom).
Theravāda orthodoxy takes the 7 stages of purification as outlined in the Visuddhimagga as the basic outline of the path to be followed.
The Visuddhimagga, a Sinhala Theravāda doctrinal summa written in the 5th century by Buddhaghoṣa, became the orthodox account of the Theravāda path to liberation in Śrī Lanka after the 12th century and this influence spread to other Theravāda nations.
It gives the sequence of 7 purifications, in 3 sections:
I The 1st section (part 1) explains the rules of discipline, and the method for finding a correct temple to practice, or how to meet a good teacher.
II The 2nd section (part 2) describes Śamatha (calming) practice, object by object (see kammaṭṭhāna for the list of the 40 traditional objects). It mentions different stages of Samādhi.
III The 3rd section (parts 3–7) is a description of the 5 Skandhas, Āyatanas, the Four Noble Truths, dependent origination, and the practise of Vipassanā (insight) through the development of wisdom. It emphasizes different forms of knowledge emerging because of the practice. This part shows a great analytical effort specific to Buddhist philosophy.
This basic outline is based on the 3-fold discipline:
The emphasis is on understanding the 3 marks of existence, which removes ignorance. Understanding destroys the 10 fetters and leads to Nibbāna.
Theravādins believe that every individual is personally responsible for achieving his or her own self-awakening and liberation, each being responsible for his or her own kamma (actions and consequences).
Applying knowledge acquired through direct experience and personal realization is more heavily emphasized than beliefs about the nature of reality as revealed by the Buddha.
7. Moral conduct
Sīla, meaning moral conduct, is mainly defined as right speech, right action, and right livelihood.
It is primarily understood through the doctrine of kamma. In Theravāda, one's previous intentional actions strongly influence one's present experience. Whatever intended actions are carried out will have future consequences, whether in this life or subsequent lives.
Intention is central to the idea of kamma. Actions done with good intentions, even if they have bad results, will not have negative karmic consequences.
Several sets of precepts or moral trainings (sikkhāpada) guide right action:
After taking refuge in the 3 jewels, lay Theravādins traditionally take the 5 precepts (whether for life or for a limited time) in the presence of a monastic.
Laypeople also sometimes take an extended set of 8 precepts, which includes chastity during special occasions such as religious holidays.
Performing good deeds is another important feature of Theravāda ethics. Doing so is said to make merit (puñña), which results in a better rebirth.
The "10 wholesome actions" is a common list of good deeds:
1. Generosity (Dāna); This typically involves providing monks with “the 4 requisites”: food, clothing, shelter, and medicine; however, giving to the lay needy is also considered Dāna.
2. Moral Conduct (Sīla); Keeping the five precepts and generally refraining from doing harm.
3. Meditation (bhāvanā).
4. Transferring merit; doing good deeds in the name of someone who has died or in the name of all beings.
5. Rejoicing in merit of good deeds done by others, this is common in communal activities.
6. Rendering service to others; looking after others.
7. Honouring others; showing appropriate deference, particularly to the Buddha, Dhamma and Saṅgha, and to seniors and parents. Usually this is done by placing the hands together in Añjali Mudrā, and sometimes bowing.
8. Preaching Dhamma; the gift of Dhamma is seen as the highest gift.
9. Listening to Dhamma
10. Having correct views; mainly the four noble truths and the three marks of existence.
Meditation (Pāli: Bhāvanā, literally "causing to become" or cultivation) means the positive cultivation of one's mind.
Theravāda Buddhist meditation practice varies considerably in technique and objects:
Currently, there are also various traditions of Theravāda meditation practice, such as the Burmese Vipassanā tradition, the Thai Forest tradition, the esoteric Borān kammaṭṭhāna ('ancient practices'), the Burmese Weikza tradition, Dhammakāya meditation and the Western Insight Meditation movement.
Theravāda Buddhist meditation practices or bhāvanās (cultivations) are categorized into 2 broad categories:
a) Śamatha bhāvanā (calming)
b) Vipassanā bhāvanā (investigation, insight).
Originally these referred to effects or qualities of meditation, but after the time of Buddhaghoṣa, it also referred to 2 distinct meditation types or paths (Yāna).
Śamatha (calm) consists of meditation techniques in which the mind is focused on a single object, thought, or mantra, leading to Samādhi:
In traditional Theravāda, it is considered to be the base for Vipassanā (insight).
In the Theravāda-tradition, as early as the Pāli Nikāyas, the 4 jhānas are regarded as a Śamatha-practice. The 8th and final step of the Eightfold Path, Right Samādhi, is often defined as the 4 jhānas:
In the Pāli Nikāyas, Jhānas are described as preceding the awakening insight of the Buddha, which turned him into an awakened being.
Yet, the interpretation of jhāna as single-pointed concentration and calm abiding, may be a later re-interpretation, in which the original aim of jhāna was lost.
Vipassanā (insight, clear seeing) refers to practices which aim to develop an inner understanding or knowledge of the nature of phenomena (dhammas),
- especially the characteristics of dukkha, anatta and anicca, which are seen as being universally applicable to all constructed phenomena (sankhata-dhammas).
Vipassanā is also described as insight into dependent origination, the 5 aggregates, the sense spheres and the 4 Noble Truths:
It is the primary focus of the modernist Burmese Vipassanā movement. In western countries, it is complemented with the 4 divine abidings, the development of loving-kindness and compassion.
Vipassanā practice begins with the preparatory stage, the practice of Sīla, morality, giving up worldly thoughts and desires.
The practitioner then engages in Ānāpānasati, mindfulness of breathing, which is described in the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta as going into the forest and sitting beneath a tree and then to simply watch the breath:
If the breath is long, to notice that the breath is long, if the breath is short, to notice that the breath is short.
In the "New Burmese Method," the practitioner pays attention to any arising mental or physical phenomenon, engaging in Vitarka, noting or naming physical and mental phenomena ("breathing, breathing"), without engaging the phenomenon with further conceptual thinking.
By noticing the arising of physical and mental phenomena, the meditator becomes aware how sense impressions arise from the contact between the senses and physical and mental phenomena, as described in the 5 skandhas and Paṭiccasamuppāda (dependent origination).
The practitioner also becomes aware of the perpetual changes involved in breathing, and the arising and passing away of mindfulness.
This noticing is accompanied by reflections on causation and other Buddhist teachings, leading to insight into dukkha, anatta, and anicca.
When the 3 characteristics have been comprehended, reflection subdues, and the process of noticing accelerates, noting phenomena in general, without necessarily naming them.
According to Vajirañāṇa Mahāthera, writing from a traditional and text-based point of view, in the Pāli Canon whether one begins the practice by way of Śamatha or by way of Vipassanā is generally seen as depending on one's temperament:
According to Vajirañāṇa Mahāthera, it is generally held that there are 2 kinds of individuals:
Those of a passionate disposition (or those who enter the path by faith), attain Arahatship through Vipassanā preceded by Śamatha.
Those of a sceptical disposition (or those who enter by way of wisdom or the intellect), achieve it through Śamatha preceded by Vipassanā.
9. Aims of meditation
Traditionally, the ultimate goal of the practice is to achieve mundane and supra-mundane wisdom:
Mundane wisdom is the insight in the 3 marks of existence. The development of this insight leads to 4 supra-mundane paths and fruits, these experiences consist a direct apprehension of Nibbāna.
Supra-mundane (lokuttara) wisdom refers to that which transcends the world of samsara.
Apart from Nibbāna, there are various reasons why traditional Theravāda Buddhism advocates meditation, including a good rebirth, supra-normal powers, combating fear and preventing danger.
Recent modernist Theravādins have tended to focus on the psychological benefits and psychological well-being.
10. Four stages of Enlightenment
According to Theravāda doctrine, liberation is attained in 4 Stages of Enlightenment:
1. Stream-Enterers: Those who have destroyed the first three fetters (false view of Self, doubt, and clinging to rites and rituals);
2. Once-Returners: Those who have destroyed the first three fetters and have lessened the fetters of lust and hatred;
3. Non-Returners: Those who have destroyed the five lower fetters, which bind beings to the world of the senses;
4. Arahants: Those who have reached Enlightenment – realized Nibbāna, and have reached the quality of deathlessness - are free from all defilements. Their ignorance, craving and attachments have ended.
11. Other practices
Laypersons and monks also perform various types of religious practices daily or during Buddhist holidays:
One of these is keeping a Buddhist shrine with a picture or statue of the Buddha for devotional practice in one's home, mirroring the larger shrines at temples. It is common to offer candles, incense, flowers and other objects to this shrine.
Gestures of respect are also done in front of Buddha images and shrines, mainly the respectful salutation with the hands (Añjali kamma), and the 5-limb prostration (pañcanga-vandana).
Buddhist forms of chanting are also widely practiced by both monks and laypersons, who may recite famous phrases such as the taking of refuge, the Metta Sutta and the Maṅgala Sutta in front of their shrine.
Chanting may also be part of the practice of recollection (Anussati, Anusmṛti), which refers to contemplating various topics such as the sublime qualities of the Buddha, Dhamma and Saṅgha or the 5 subjects for daily recollection. This may be done as part of a daily pūjā ritual.
Another important religious practice for the devout is the keeping of special religious holidays known as Uposatha which are based on a lunar calendar.
Laypersons commonly take the 8 precepts while visiting a temple or monastery and commit to focusing on Buddhist practice for the day.
Study (ganthadhura) of the Buddhist texts and listening to Dhamma talks by monks or teachers are also important practices.
12. Lay and monastic life
Traditionally, Theravāda Buddhism has observed a distinction between the practices suitable for a lay person and the practices undertaken by ordained monks (in ancient times, there was a separate body of practices for nuns).
While the possibility of significant attainment by laymen is not entirely disregarded by the Theravāda, it generally occupies a position of less prominence than in the Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna traditions, with monastic life being hailed as a superior method of achieving Nirvāṇa.
The view that Theravāda, unlike other Buddhist schools, is primarily a monastic tradition has, however, been disputed:
Some Western scholars have erroneously tried to claim that Mahāyāna is primarily a religion for laymen and Theravāda is a primarily monastic religion:
Both Mahāyāna and Theravāda have as their foundation strong monastic communities, which are almost identical in their regulations.
Schools of Mahāyāna Buddhism without monastic communities of fully ordained monks and nuns are relatively recent and atypical developments, usually based on cultural and historical considerations rather than differences in fundamental doctrine.
Both Mahāyāna and Theravāda also provided a clear and important place for lay followers.
The role of lay people has traditionally been primarily occupied with activities that are commonly termed merit-making:
Merit-making activities include offering food and other basic necessities to monks, making donations to temples and monasteries, burning incense or lighting candles before images of the Buddha, and chanting protective or merit-making verses from the Pāli Canon.
Some lay practitioners have always chosen to take a more active role in religious affairs, while still maintaining their lay status:
Dedicated lay men and women sometimes act as trustees or custodians for their temples, taking part in the financial planning and management of the temple.
Others may volunteer significant time in tending to the mundane needs of local monks (by cooking, cleaning, maintaining temple facilities, etc.).
Lay activities have traditionally not extended to study of the Pāli scriptures, or the practice of meditation, though in the 20th century these areas have become more accessible to the lay community, especially in Thailand.
A number of senior monastics in the Thai Forest Tradition, including Buddhādasa, Ajahn Mahā Bua, Ajahn Plien Panyapatipo, Ajahn Pasanno, and Ajahn Jayasaro, have begun teaching meditation retreats outside of the monastery for lay disciples.
Ajahn Sumedho, a disciple of Ajahn Chah, founded the Amaravati Buddhist Monastery in Hertfordshire in United Kingdom, which has a retreat centre specifically for lay retreats.
Sumedho extended this to Harnham in Belsay, Northumberland as Aruṇa Rātnagiri under the present guidance of Ajahn Munindo, another disciple of Ajahn Chah.
13. Lay devotee
In Pāli the word for a male lay devotee is Upāsaka and a female devotee is Upāsikā.
One of the duties of the lay followers, as taught by the Buddha, is to look after the needs of the monk/nuns. They are to see that the monk/nuns do not suffer from lack of the 4 requisites:
1. food, 2. clothing, 3. shelter and 4. medicine.
As neither monks nor nuns are allowed to have an occupation, they depend entirely on the laity for their sustenance. In return for this charity, they are expected to lead exemplary lives.
In Myanmar and Thailand, the monastery was and is still regarded as a seat of learning. In fact today about half of the primary schools in Thailand are located in monasteries.
Religious rituals and ceremonies held in a monastery are always accompanied by social activities. In times of crisis, it is to the monks that people bring their problems for counsel.
Traditionally, a ranking monk will deliver a sermon 4 times a month: when the moon waxes and wanes and the day before the New and full moons. The laity also have a chance to learn meditation from the monks during these times.
It is also possible for a lay disciple to become Enlightened - as Bhikkhu Bodhi notes:
"The Suttas and commentaries do record a few cases of lay disciples attaining the final goal of Nirvāṇa.
However, such disciples either attain Arahantship on the brink of death or enter the monastic order soon after their attainment.
They do not continue to dwell at home as Arahant householders, for dwelling at home is incompatible with the state of one who has severed all craving."
In the modern era, it is now common for lay disciples to practice meditation, attend lay meditation centres and even aim for awakening:
The impetus for this trend began in Myanmar and was supported by prime minister U Nu who himself established the International Meditation Centre (IMC) in Yangon.
Modern lay teachers such as Sayagyi U Ba Khin (who was also the Accountant General of the Union of Burma) promoted meditation as part of a laypersons daily routine.
Another development in modern Theravāda is the formation of lay Buddhist associations that have partially assumed the social service responsibilities formerly associated with the monastery:
These include social service and activist organizations such as the Young Men's Buddhist Association of Colombo, the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress, the Sarvodaya Shramadana of A. T. Ariyaratne, the NGO's founded by Sulak Sivaraksa such as Santi Pracha.
14. Monastic vocation
Theravāda sources dating back to medieval Śrī Lanka (2nd century BCE to 10th century CE) such as the Mahāvaṁsa show that monastic roles in the tradition were often seen as being in a polarity between urban monks (Pāli: gāmavāsī = village people) on one end and rural forest monks (Pāli: araññavasi = forest people, Nagaravāsī = town’s people, also known as Tapassin = ascetics) on the other.
The ascetic focused monks were known by the names Pamsukulikas (rag robe wearers) and Araññikas (forest dwellers).
The Mahāvaṁsa mentions forest monks associated with the Mahāvihāra.
The Pāli Dhammapāda Commentary mentions another split based on the "duty of study" and the "duty of contemplation":
This 2nd division has traditionally been seen as corresponding with the city – forest split, with the city monks focusing on the vocation of books (ganthadhura) or learning (pariyatti) while the forest monks leaning more towards meditation (Vipassanādhura) and practice (paṭipatti).
However this opposition is not consistent and urban monasteries have often promoted meditation while forest communities have also produced excellent scholars, such as the Island Hermitage of Nyanatiloka.
Scholar monks generally undertake the path of studying and preserving Theravāda's Pāli literature.
Forest monks tend to be the minority among Theravāda Saṅgha and also tend to focus on asceticism (Dhūtāṅga) and meditative praxis:
They view themselves as living closer to the ideal set forth by the Buddha, and are often perceived as such by lay folk, while at the same time often being on the margins of the Buddhist establishment and on the periphery of the social order.
While this divide seems to have been in existence for some time in the Theravāda school, only in the 10th century is a specifically forest monk monastery, mentioned as existing near Anurādhapura, called "Tapavānā" (Ascetics’ Forest).
This division was then carried over into the rest of Southeast Asia as Theravāda spread.
Today there are forest based traditions in most Theravāda countries, including the Śrī Lankan Forest Tradition, the Thai Forest Tradition as well as lesser known forest based traditions in Burma and Laos, such as the Burmese forest based monasteries of Pa Auk Sayadaw.
In Thailand, forest monks are known as Phra Thudong (ascetic wandering monks) or Phra Thudong kammaṭṭhāna (wandering ascetic meditator).
The minimum age for ordaining as a Buddhist monk is 20 years, reckoned from conception.
However, boys under that age are allowed to ordain as Novices (Sāmaṇera), performing a ceremony such as Shinbyu in Myanmar:
Novices shave their heads, wear the yellow robes, and observe the 10 Precepts.
Although no specific minimum age for Novices is mentioned in the scriptures, traditionally boys as young as 7 are accepted. This tradition follows the story of the Buddha's son, Rāhula, who was allowed to become a novice at the age of 7.
Monks follow 227 rules of discipline, while Nuns follow 311 rules.
In most Theravāda countries, it is a common practice for young men to ordain as monks for a fixed period of time:
In Thailand and Myanmar, young men typically ordain for the retreat during Vassa, the 3-month monsoon season, though shorter or longer periods of ordination are not rare.
Traditionally, temporary ordination was even more flexible among Laotians:
Once they had undergone their initial ordination as young men, Laotian men were permitted to temporarily ordain again at any time, though married men were expected to seek their wife's permission.
Throughout Southeast Asia, there is little stigma attached to leaving the monastic life. Monks regularly leave the robes after acquiring an education, or when compelled by family obligations or ill health.
Ordaining as a monk, even for a short period, is seen as having many virtues:
In many Southeast Asian cultures, it is seen as a means for a young man to "repay" his parents for their work and effort in raising him, because the merit from his ordination accrues to them as well.
Thai men who have ordained as a monk may be seen as more fit husbands by Thai women, who refer to men who have served as monks with a colloquial term meaning "ripe" to indicate that they are more mature and ready for marriage.
Particularly in rural areas, temporary ordination of boys and young men traditionally gave peasant boys an opportunity to gain an education in temple schools without committing to a permanent monastic life.
In Śrī Lanka, temporary ordination is not practised, and a monk leaving the order is frowned upon.
The continuing influence of the caste system in Śrī Lanka plays a role in the taboo against temporary or permanent ordination as a Bhikkhu in some orders.
Though Śrī Lankan orders are often organized along caste lines, men who ordain as monks temporarily pass outside of the conventional caste system,
and as such during their time as monks may act (or be treated) in a way that would not be in line with the expected duties and privileges of their caste.
Men and women born in Western countries, who become Buddhists as adults, may wish to become Monks or Nuns:
It is possible, and one can live as a monk or nun in the country they were born in, seek monks or nuns which has gathered in a different Western country or move to a monastery in countries like Śrī Lanka or Thailand.
It is seen as being easier to live a life as a monk or nun in countries where people generally live by the culture of Buddhism, since it is difficult to live by the rules of a monk or a nun in a Western country.
For instance, a Theravāda Monk or Nun is not allowed to work, handle money, listen to music, cook and so on, which are extremely difficult rules to live by in cultures which do not embrace Buddhism.
Some of the more well-known Theravādin monks are:
Mun Bhuridatta, Ajahn Chah, Ledi Sayadaw, Webu Sayadaw, Ajahn Plien Panyapatipo, Ajahn Sumedho, Ajahn Khemadhammo, Ajahn Brahm, Bhikkhu Bodhi, Buddhādasa, Mahāsī Sayadaw,
Nyanaponika Thera, Preah Mahā Ghosānanda, U Paṇḍita, Ajahn Amaro, Ajahn Sucitto, Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu, Walpola Rahula, Henepola Gunaratana, Bhante Yogāvacara Rāhula and Luang Pu Sodh Candasaro.
16. Monastic practices
The practices usually vary in different sub-schools and monasteries within Theravāda.
But in the most orthodox forest monastery, the monk usually models his practice and lifestyle on that of the Buddha and his first generation of disciples by living close to nature in forest, mountains and caves.
Forest monasteries still keep alive the ancient traditions through following the Buddhist monastic code of discipline in all its detail and developing meditation in secluded forests.
In a typical daily routine at the monastery during the 3 month Vassa period, the monk will wake up before dawn and will begin the day with group chanting and meditation.
At dawn the monks will go out to surrounding villages bare-footed on alms-round and will have the only 1 meal of the day before noon by eating from the bowl by hand.
Most of the time is spent on Dhamma study and meditation.
Sometimes the abbot or a senior monk will give a Dhamma talk to the visitors. Laity who stay at the monastery will have to abide by the traditional 8 Buddhist precepts.
The life of the monk or nun in a community is much more complex than the life of the forest monk:
In the Buddhist society of Śrī Lanka, most monks spend hours every day in taking care of the needs of lay people such as preaching Dhamma, accepting alms, officiating funerals, teaching Dhamma to adults and children in addition to providing social services to the community.
After the end of the Vassa period, many of the monks will go out far away from the monastery to find a remote place (usually in the forest) where they can hang their umbrella tents and where it is suitable for the work of self-development.
When they go wandering, they walk barefoot, and go wherever they feel inclined. Only those requisites which are necessary will be carried along:
These generally consist of the bowl, the 3 robes, a bathing cloth, an umbrella tent, a mosquito net, a kettle of water, a water filter, razor, sandals, some small candles, and a candle lantern.
The monks do not fix their times for walking and sitting meditation, for as soon as they are free they just start doing it; nor do they determine for how long they will go on to meditate.
Some of them sometimes walk from dusk to dawn whereas at other times they may walk from between 2-7 hours. Some may decide to fast for days or stay at dangerous places where ferocious animals live in order to aid their meditation.
Those monks who have been able to achieve a high level of attainment will be able to guide the junior monks and lay Buddhists toward the 4 degrees of spiritual attainment.
A few years after the arrival of Mahinda, the Bhikkhunī Saṅghamittā, who is also believed to have been the daughter of Aśoka, came to Śrī Lanka. She ordained the first Nuns in Śrī Lanka.
In 429, by request of China's Emperor, Nuns from Anurādhapura were sent to China to establish the order there, which subsequently spread across East Asia.
The Pratimokṣa of the Nun's order in East Asian Buddhism is the Dharmaguptaka, which is different than the Pratimokṣa of the current Theravāda school;
the specific ordination of the early Saṅgha in Śrī Lanka is not known, although the Dharmaguptaka sect originated with the Sthāvirīya as well.
The Nun's order subsequently died out in Śrī Lanka in the 11th century and in Burma in the 13th century. It had already died out around the 10th century in other Theravādin areas.
Novice ordination has also disappeared in those countries. Therefore, women who wish to live as renunciants in those countries must do so by taking 8 or 10 precepts.
Neither laywomen nor formally ordained, these women do not receive the recognition, education, financial support or status enjoyed by Buddhist men in their countries.
These "precept-holders" live in Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Nepal, and Thailand.
In particular, the governing council of Burmese Buddhism has ruled that there can be no valid ordination of women in modern times, though some Burmese monks disagree.
In 1996, 11 selected Śrī Lankan women were ordained fully as Theravāda Bhikkhunīs by a team of Theravāda monks in concert with a team of Korean Nuns in India: There is disagreement among Theravāda Vinaya authorities as to whether such ordinations are valid.
The Dambulla chapter of the Siam Nikāya in Śrī Lanka also carried out a Nun's ordination at this time, specifically stating their ordination process was a valid Theravādin process where the other ordination session was not. This chapter has carried out ordination ceremonies for hundreds of nuns since then.
This has been criticized by leading figures in the Siam Nikāya and Amarapura Nikāya, and the governing council of Buddhism in Myanmar has declared that there can be no valid ordination of Nuns in modern times, though some Burmese monks disagree with this.
In 1997 Dhamma Cetiya Vihāra in Boston was founded by Ven. Gotamī of Thailand, then a 10 precept nun; when she received full ordination in 2000, her dwelling became America's first Theravāda Buddhist Bhikkhunī Vihāra.
A 55-year-old Thai Buddhist 8-precept white-robed Maechi Nun, Varanggana Vanavichayen, became the 1st woman to receive the going-forth ceremony of a Novice (and the gold robe) in Thailand, in 2002.
On February 28, 2003, Dhammānanda Bhikkhunī, formerly known as Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, became the first Thai woman to receive Bhikkhunī ordination as a Theravāda Nun. Dhammānanda Bhikkhunī was ordained in Śrī Lanka.
The Thai Senate has reviewed and revoked the secular law passed in 1928 banning women's full ordination in Buddhism as unconstitutional for being counter to laws protecting freedom of religion.
However Thailand's 2 main Theravāda Buddhist orders, the Mahā Nikāya and Dhammayuttika Nikāya, have yet to officially accept fully ordained women into their ranks.
In 2009 in Australia 4 women received Bhikkhunī ordination as Theravāda Nuns, the first time such ordination had occurred in Australia. It was performed in Perth, Australia, on 22 October 2009 at Bodhinyana Monastery:
Abbess Vayama together with Venerable Nirodha, Seri, and Hāsapañña were ordained as Bhikkhunīs by a dual Saṅgha act of Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunīs in full accordance with the Pāli Vinaya.
In 2010, in the US, 4 Novice Nuns were given the full Bhikkhunī ordination in the Thai Theravāda tradition, which included the double ordination ceremony:
Henepola Gunaratana and other monks and nuns were in attendance. It was the first such ordination ever in the Western hemisphere.
The 1st Bhikkhunī ordination in Germany, the ordination of German woman Sāmaṇerī Dhīrā, occurred on June 21, 2015 at Aneñja Vihāra.
In Indonesia, the 1st Theravāda ordination of Bhikkhunīs in Indonesia after more than a thousand years occurred in 2015 at Wisma Kusalayani in Lembang, Bandung in West Java:
Those ordained included Vajiradevi Sadhika Bhikkhunī from Indonesia, Medha Bhikkhunī from Śrī Lanka, Anula Bhikkhunī from Japan, Santasukha Santamana Bhikkhunī from Vietnam, Sukhi Bhikkhunī and Sumaṅgala Bhikkhunī from Malaysia, and Jenti Bhikkhunī from Australia.
18. Monastic orders in Theravāda
Theravāda monks typically belong to a particular Nikāya, variously referred to as Monastic Orders or fraternities:
These different orders do not typically develop separate doctrines, but may differ in the manner in which they observe monastic rules.
These Monastic Orders represent lineages of ordination, typically tracing their origin to a particular group of monks that established a new ordination tradition within a particular country or geographic area.
In Śrī Lanka caste plays a major role in the division into Nikāyas.
Some Theravāda Buddhist countries appoint or elect a Saṅgharaja, or Supreme Patriarch of the Saṅgha, as the highest ranking or senior most monk in a particular area, or from a particular Nikāya.
The demise of monarchies has resulted in the suspension of these posts in some countries, but patriarchs have continued to be appointed in Thailand.
Myanmar and Cambodia ended the practice of appointing a Saṅgharaja for some time, but the position was later restored, though in Cambodia it lapsed again.