Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Southern Buddhism

TheravadaIn addition to the Edicts of Aśoka, Buddhist annals compiled at a later date offer a history of the Aśokan and post-Aśokan period. Among these annals are the Dīpavaṃsa, the Mahāvaṃsa, and the Samantapāsādika of the south Indian Vibhajjavāda (Sanskrit: Vibhajyavāda) saṅgha, beside the Divyāvadāna and the Avadānaśataka from the northern Sarvāstivāda (Pāli: Sabbatthivāda) saṅgha. According to the accounts of the Vibhajjavāda, Aśoka convened a third Buddhist council (c. 250 BCE), whose purpose was to produce a definitive text of the Buddha's words. [citation needed] According to the Theravada account, given in the Dipavamsa and elsewhere, Asoka called this council to sort out doctrinal disputes within the sangha, which these sources say were caused by the infiltration of the sangha by non-buddhists, apparently not actually ordained.

The account goes on to say that the council approved the Kathavatthu, compiled by its president Moggaliputta Tissa, as part of the scriptures. As this text consists of doctrinal debates, apparently with other schools, the account seems to imply the other schools were not proper Buddhists or proper monks. The council also saw the formation of the saṅgha of the Vibhajjavāda ("school of analytical discourse") out of various schools of the Sthaviravāda lineage. [citation needed] Vibhajjavādins claim that the first step to insight has to be achieved by the aspirant's experience, critical investigation, and reasoning instead of by blind faith. [14] This school gradually declined on the Indian subcontinent, but its branch in Sri Lanka and South East Asia continues to survive; this branch of the school is now known as Theravada. The Theravāda school claims that the Sarvāstivada and the Dharmaguptaka schools were rejected by the council, although according to other sources the Dharmaguptaka school is classified as one of the Vibhajyavādin schools. However, these schools became influential in northwestern India and Central Asia and, since their teaching is found among the scriptures preserved by the Mahāyāna schools, they may have had some formative influence on the Mahāyāna.

The Sarvāstivadins have not preserved an independent tradition about the Third Council. it has been argued by some scholars that the council was part of a series of debates and/or disputes resulting in the formation of three main doctrinal schools, Vibhajjavada, Sarvastivada, and Puggalavada, which later were subject to further subdivisions. One such subdivision of the Vibhajjavada was established in Ceylon, and in course of time came to resume the name Theravada (given above in its Sanskrit form Sthaviravada). Its scriptures, the Pali Canon, were written down there in the last century BCE, at what the Theravada usually reckons as the fourth council.It was long believed in Theravāda tradition that the Pāli language is equivalent to Māgadhī, the eastern dialect of the kingdom of Magadha spoken by the Buddha. However, linguistic comparisons of the Edicts of Aśoka and the language of the Pāli canon show strong differences between the Māgadhī of the Edicts (characterized by such changes as r → l, masculine nominative singular of a-stems in -e, etc.) and Pāli.

The greatest similarity to Pāli is found in a dialectal variant of the Edicts written on a rock near Girnar in Gujarat.Theravāda is Pāli for "the Doctrine of the Elders" or "the Ancient Doctrine". Theravāda teaches one to encourage wholesome states of mind, avoid unwholesome states of mind, and to train the mind in meditation. The aim of practice, according to Theravāda Buddhism, is the attainment of freedom from suffering, which is linked with Nirvana, the highest spiritual goal. Theravāda teaches that the experience of suffering is caused by mental defilements like greed, aversion and delusion, while freedom can be attained though putting into practice teachings like the Four Noble Truths and especially the fourth one, the Noble Eightfold Path.The Theravāda school bases its practice and doctrine exclusively on the Pāli Canon and its commentaries. The Sutta collections and Vinaya texts of the Pāli Canon (and the corresponding texts in other versions of the Tripitaka), are generally considered by modern scholars to be the earliest Buddhist literature, and they are accepted as authentic in every branch of Buddhism.Theravāda is the only surviving representative of the historical early Buddhist schools. Theravāda is primarily practiced today in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia as well as small portions of China, Vietnam, Malaysia and Bangladesh. It has a growing presence in Europe and America.

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