Theravada Path of BuddhismTheravada—literally, the Teachings of the Elders—is an ancient Buddhist tradition that has nurtured practices and teachings of wisdom, love and liberation for over two thousand years. Liberation, the pivotal point around which the tradition revolves, is a deep seeing

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Since the 1960s, the Theravada tradition has slowly but surely found a home in North America. The two major turning points for its establishment here were the found­ing—in 1966 by the Sri Lankan Buddhist community in Washington, D. C.—of the first American Buddhist vi - hara (temple) and, ten years later, the establishment of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts.

Together

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The Buddha encouraged his followers not to believe blindly but to “come and see” for themselves. Conse­quently his teachings emphasize practice rather than doc­trine. In this spirit, Theravada Buddhism promotes awareness “techniques” that are simple in themselves but powerful

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Since it is not easy to end all our clinging in “one fell swoop,” the Buddha devised a gradual approach, which he called “The Noble Eightfold Path.” Here it is:

Panna (Wisdom)

1. Right Understanding

2. Right Intention

Wisdom begins when we see clearly that the Four Noble Truths are not just abstract ideas but refer

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Classically, spiritual training in Theravada Buddhism progresses gradually from the cultivation of generosity, to ethics, to awareness practices, to insight, and finally to liberation. This training model, while ostensibly linear, can also be seen as a description of elements of the spiri­tual path, which different people develop at different times. Particularly in the West, practitioners tend to skip some of the early stages, preferring instead to jump

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Traditional Theravada training begins with the cultiva­tion of generosity (dana). In its highest form, dana prac­tice is motivated neither by moralistic ideas of right and wrong, nor by the anticipation of future reward. Instead, the aim is to strengthen our ability to be sensitive and appropriately generous in all situations.

As generosity develops, it manifests as an inner open­ness that supports the more challenging

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From here, our training moves into the realm of ethics, sometimes described as the cultivation of contentment, since ethical transgressions often arise out of discontent­ment. For a layperson, ethical training means learning to live by the five precepts:

1. To refrain from killing any living being

2. To refrain from stealing or taking what is not given

3. To refrain

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Once a foundation of generosity and ethics has been es­tablished, one begins to cultivate the awareness practices. Theravada Buddhism has a large repertoire of these, in­cluding formal sitting and walking meditation and the development of awareness in daily activities. These awareness practices are divided into two categories: con­centration and mindfulness.

Concentration

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As Mindfulness becomes stronger, it yields insights into what the Buddha called the Three Characteristics of all experience, namely Impermanence, Unsatisfactoriness, and Selflessness.

All things are impermanent, including the way we ex­perience the world. If our experience of ourselves and of the world is ever changing, then self and world are inher­ently unsatisfactory

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While the gradual path of training may end with libera­tion, this is not the end of the spiritual journey. Libera­tion is the gate through which compassion, wisdom, and service to others flow without selfish clinging or identifi­cation. Before sending his first sixty enlightened disciples out into the world to teach the dharma, the Buddha said to them,

My friends, I am free from all human and spiritual

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A key element at every stage of the journey is faith. In Theravada Buddhism, faith does not mean blind belief. Rather, it describes trust or confidence in oneself, in the teachings and practices of liberation, and in the commu­nity of teachers and students, both past and present. It is a faith that inspires us to verify for ourselves the experi­ential possibilities of the spiritual

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Theravada Buddhism distinguishes between the Path of Liberation and the Path of Worldly Well-Being. This cor­responds loosely to the Western distinction between spir­itual and secular concerns. However, in this tradition no absolute separation exists, and teachers vary in the degree of differentiation (or nondifferentiation) they see be­tween

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In a number of suttas popular in Southeast Asia, the Bud­dha speaks about how to live well in the world. The Siga- laka Sutta addresses the responsibilities of our social and familial roles—parent, child, spouse, teacher, student, friend, employer, employee, monastic, and layperson. One of the sutta’s more beautiful and challenging pas­sages deals with earning

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Through the centuries, Theravada Buddhism has had much to say about politics. Many Southeast Asian kings have tried to live up to the ten virtues and duties for political leaders enumerated by the tradition: generosity, ethical conduct, self-sacrifice, honesty, gentleness, lov­ingkindness, nonanger, nonviolence, patience, and con­formity

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Theravada Buddhism teaches that friendship is an in­valuable support for the spiritual life, and spiritual friendships among practitioners, and between students and teachers, are encouraged. Indeed, a common title for a teacher is Kalyana-mitta, or good spiritual friend. Al­though teachers may give instruction,

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The most popular Theravada practice in North America today is Mindfulness. It was introduced by young Ameri­cans who had studied in Southeast Asia and is one of the few Buddhist practices popularized by American as opposed to Asian teachers. Joseph Goldstein, Jack Korn­field, and Sharon Salzberg, to name

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