Make your own free website on

Home ] Syllabus ] Research Project ] Lectures ] Reviews ]

Theravada Buddhism

You should be aware by now that there are two main branches of Buddhism. Theravada (which means "way of the elders") is the non-theistic branch that emphasizes the need for each individual to save himself through following the Eight-fold path.  The other branch of Buddhism is known as Mahayana.  Mahayana( meaning "greater vehicle") is theistic and emphasizes the bodhisattva as the ideal. Each branch developed its own notions about salvation. 

Theravada Buddhism  
Assumption:  There is no such thing as a permanent self. This is the doctrine of an-atta: the “not self.”  What we perceive to be a unique, enduring self or personality is merely an abstraction of a complex of energies and activities that are constantly changing and “becoming.” 
The Human Problem:  The Buddha stated the human problem in what became known as the Four Noble Truths:
  • Life is suffering (dukkha): “birth is painful, old age is painful, sickness is painful, death is painful, sorrow, lamentation, dejection and despair are painful.”

  • Suffering originates from our desires.  Desire is known as tanha- a selfish-craving for things to stay as they are.  This desire can never be fulfilled, because everything is temporary and transient (anicca).  Even the self/soul is impermanent (the doctrine of anatta.

  • Suffering ceases when desire ceases.  When the illusion of permanence is ended, ultimate reality/nirvana is revealed.

  • Suffering ends by following the Eightfold Path.

In some ways, the Four Noble truths restate the problem of karma-samsara in Hinduism. It assumes a rebirth based on one's karma.  Since life is suffering, rebirth only prolongs suffering.

The Cure:  The Buddha set forth the idea that the cause of  karma lies in selfish craving.  This desire for permanence is at odds with the reality that nothing is permanent; not even what we perceive to the the self is truly permanent.  Selfishness is thus rooted in ignorance of the nature of reality.  

 The cure or solution to suffering is thus to extinguish desire by overcoming ignorance.  This is done by following the Eightfold path. By following this path one is able to see the impermanence of all things, and can thus overcome desire, craving and attachment to ideals, pleasure, wealth or power.  One thus become an enlightened one (a Buddha) and is liberated from birth, death and rebirth. Note that there is both a this world and other world nature to this kind of salvation.  It involves the wholeness by living in the present according to the Eightfold path.  Following this path brings enlightenment which is experienced here and now. One enters Nirvana at death.  Nirvana, however, is extremely difficult to describe.  It is not "heaven" in the Christian or Islamic sense.  The name actually suggests an "extinguishing" of desires.  It is a state of ego-less bliss.

Type of salvation: Theravada Buddhism fits generally into the category of cosmic expansion. Enlightenment and Nirvana are attained when one reaches a higher consciousness that pierces through one's ignorance.