Theravada Buddhism


Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar (Burma).

We don’t try to convert people from Christianity to Buddhism, or from Hinduism to Buddhism.  We only wish to convert people from an evil mind to a good mind, from an ignorant mind to an intelligent mind. -Aung Koe, Co-Founder of Sitagu Dhamma Vihara in Chisago City, MN 

Theravada Buddhism is one of two main branches of Buddhism and remains rooted in South Asian cultures. 1 Practiced in Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Sri Lanka, it arrived to the US in 1965 and has grown not only through immigration, but also through conversion. 2 

Theravada Buddhism is often called the “Doctrine of the Elders,” and prides itself on being the oldest, purest form of Buddhism that stems from the direct words and teachings of Gautama Buddha himself. Of the three branches of Buddhism, it relies the most on the teachings of Buddha, which are recorded in a series of books called the Tipitaka, or the "Three Baskets," written in Pali. 

For more information on Theravada Buddhism or Buddhism in general, please visit The Pluralism Project website's page on Buddhism.

  1. Spiro, Melford E., Buddhism and Society: A Great Tradition and Its Burmese Vicissitudes (New York: Harper & Row, 1970), 5.

  2. Cadge, Wendy, “Gendered Religious Organizations: The Case of Theravada Buddhism in America,” Gender and Society, Vol. 18, No. 6 (2004), 779-781.

Is Buddhism a Religion? A Discussion

One thing that was made clear through my interviews and research is that Buddhism is not necessarily considered a religion.  Ashin Ariyadhamma, a monk, said of Buddha that “He’s not a messenger.  He’s not a prophet.  He’s the one who realized truth in this very life.”  Sayadaw Tikkha and Aung Koe said that there is not quite a proper term for Buddhism beyond religion.  Koe said, “This isn’t really a religion.  It’s just a guiding, a natural truth.”  He says that good Buddhist practice is as follows: “You have to pay attention.  Whatever you do, physically, you need to think first.  Whatever you want to talk, before you talk, think first.  Before you think, think good things first.  So you have to control all of that three activities with mindfulness.”