Theravada Buddhism is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama and is part of the Hinayana Buddhist sect that arose in the first centuries after he died. Siddhartha was born into royalty and eventually married, had children, but at the age of 29, left all that behind to find truth. In order to do this, he retreated to a forest and participated in the Great Renunciation, in which he gave up all possessions and devoted himself to finding truth. This fact that it is based on an actual person and events makes it a founded religion. Theravada is the only Hinayana sect that is currently in existence. It is the path of the elders and is considered the narrow path of Buddhism. Theravada originated in India but later advanced into Sri Lanka and further east. It is said to be based on self-effort and is closest to the life that Buddha lead. Unlike the Mahayana and Vajrayana branches, which were open to new interpretations, the Theravada race to nirvana focuses on monastic orders and lay supporters. The Mahayana is considered the course of the Bodhisattva or the Buddha in the making.

The Mahayana is the “Greater Vehicle” and is based on compassion. The Vajrayana is the “Diamond Vehicle” and is based more on the experience through ritual. The path toward nirvana can be displayed through the experience of a male named Lama in a Buddhist region of Sri Lanka. At around the age of 10 with the urging of his parents, Lama will enter one of the most important events in his life: the ritual of initiation. This is where Lama will become a novice monk and undergo a spiritual transformation.

In honor of him, festivities are held and the family invites friends and relatives for food, song, and dances. After this, the monks arrive and Lama’s head will be shaved and the vows of monastic life are taken. He then spends the night in the monastery and all people, including his parents, bow to him and bring him gifts. After a few days, Lama chooses to return to his family knowing he is spiritually an adult and can reenter the monastery later in his life. Because he returned to his family, he becomes a layperson, or traditional Buddhist. He will dedicate his life to gaining merit for the rebirth, in hopes of one day reaching nirvana.

He can do this by giving food to the monks and listening to them chant. In this aspect of his life he lives by the codes of the religion including the Five Precepts, the Twelve Spoked Wheel, and the noble Eightfold Path. The Five Precepts include the rules to not take life, not steal, not have wrong sexual relations, not use wrong speech, and not to consume drugs and liquor. These are the basis for the actions of a Buddhist layperson.

A monk’s precepts are expanded to ten so monks must abstain from eating after noon, watching shows singing, dancing, using perfumes and ointments, sleeping in a high bed, and handling gold and silver. The wheel is based on the concepts of hatred, delusion, and greed, three of the external driving forces that they must try to repress. Lama must try to control these in order to contain the twelve conditions which include ignorance, volitional actions, consciousness, personal existence, mind and senses, mental and sensorial contact, sensations and feelings, craving, grasping, becoming-forces, rebirth, and aging and dying.

If he can do this, he will stay on track for his ultimate goal of nirvana even though he realizes that it may take several lifetimes for that to occur. Through doing this he will lead his spiritual transformation using the Eightfold Path. This includes right understanding, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration. Lama, by achieving this will free himself of clinging and his ignorance that he knows plagues him throughout his life. He will realize that nothing is permanent and nothing is permanent and absolute. His life isn’t all spent doing these things without recreation though. He will have the opportunity to do sculpture and write poetry.

He can participate in such festivals as the Vassa, or Rain Retreat. This is an important time when monks retreat to the monastery to study and once it ends, the laypeople are blessed by the laity who sprinkle them with wax from a bowl of water to signify the merit they earned during the Vassa. But once Lama reaches the age of 42 years of age, he decides that he wants to return to the monastery and search for his truth. He once again shaves his head and goes through much preparation and training. He then appears in front of a panel of ten monks who he must petition the assembly for admission to the sangha, or assembly of monks.

Once he is fully ordained, also known as upasampada, he will live by the three refuges, the four noble truths, the Eightfold Path, and the ten precepts. Lama’s path as a Buddhist monk leads to a life without attachment and clinging so that the truth can be experienced. The final and last part of Lama’s journey is actual nirvana. Reaching nirvana is the ultimate goal of all Buddhists. Nirvana is the state of unconditioned freedom for a person in which they feel no more desires and cease the cravings that produce bad karma.

This is easily said but sometimes confusing to understand and hard to achieve. Lama realizes this and knows he may not be able to attain enlightenment in this lifetime. Many other Buddhists realize this difficulty; so achieving nirvana has always been reserved for the monks and nuns, which actually constitute a rather small part of the society they live in. But that does not stop them from living a life of compassion towards others and their religion. They can become bodhisvattas, or follow the karmic lifestyle (the practice of a layperson). But whatever the outcome of a path, like life of worship, as long as one lives with compassion, nirvana will eventually come.


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