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Theravada Buddhism

The View of the Elders

Asanga Tilakaratne

Publication Year: 2012

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.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Series: Dimensions of Asian Spirituality


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pp. vii

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Editors’ Preface

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pp. ix-xv

The University of Hawai‘i Press has long been noted for its scholarly publications in, and commitment to, the field of Asian studies. This series, Dimensions of Asian Spirituality, is in keeping with that commitment. It is a most appropriate time for such a series to appear. A number of the world’s religions—major and minor...

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pp. xvii-xviii

To acknowledge gratefully all those who have supported, encouraged, and guided me in the course of this project is its most pleasant aspect. First and foremost, I want to thank Henry Rosemont Jr. for accepting my suggestion to include a book on Theravada in this series and for asking me to write it. ...

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Notes on References and Romanization of Sanskrit and Pali

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pp. xix

It is hard to write a work on Theravada without using some Pali and Sanskrit terminology. In including these foreign terms, I have used the following system: words that appear within parentheses are usually Pali; Sanskrit terms that appear within parentheses are denoted by the abbreviation “Skt.” ...

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pp. xxi-xxvii

The Buddha repeatedly stated that his teaching first and foremost dealt with the concept of dukkha (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. ...

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Chapter 1 The Beginning of Buddhism

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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. ...

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Chapter 2 The Triple Gem

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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...

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Chapter 3 The Basic Teachings of the Buddha

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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. ...

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Chapter 4 Karma and Its Results

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pp. 61-69

The concept of karma (Pali kamma) 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...

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Chapter 5 The Social Teachings of the Buddha

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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...

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Chapter 6 The Traditional Theravada World

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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. ...

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Chapter 7 The Traditional Theravada Practice

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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...

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Chapter 8 Theravada in Wider Perspective

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pp. 138-153

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...

Appendix 1 A Sample of Basic Theravada Liturgy (Vandana and Puja)

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pp. 155-158

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Appendix 2 Canonical Texts and Related Readings

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pp. 159-164

Although it is not necessary to read all the original texts at an introductory level, to acquire any solid acquaintance with the Theravada tradition one must have some familiarity with these texts. Therefore, the following account of primary sources, although an essential aspect of deep understanding of Theravada...

Glossary of Pali Terms

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pp. 165-169

Guide to Further Reading

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pp. 171-175


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pp. 177-186

E-ISBN-13: 9780824837297
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824835965

Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Dimensions of Asian Spirituality