Theravada, literally “the Teaching of the Elders,” is the oldest surviving school of Buddhism.  It predominates in the Southeast Asian countries of Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar/Burma, and Laos, as well as Sri Lanka.  The Theravada school derives its scriptural basis from the texts of the Pali Canon, or Tipitaka (meaning “three baskets”), which is the earliest surviving record of the Buddha’s teachings.

The Tipitaka is made up of three collections:  the Vinaya Pitaka, a collection of texts concerning the rules of conduct for the monastic community; the Sutta Pitaka, a collection of suttas, or discourses attributed to the Buddha and his closest disciples which contains the central teachings of Theravada Buddhism; and the Abhidhamma Pitaka, “a collection of texts in which the underlying principles presented in the Sutta Pitaka are reworked and reorganized into a systematic framework that can be applied to an investigation into the nature of mind and matter.”[1]

The emphasis of Theravada Buddhism is on meditation, and studying and applying the Buddha’s teachings on the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path as explained in the Pali Canon.  The practitioner is encouraged to explore the teachings for him or herself, not taking anything on “blind faith.”  It is not a set of beliefs to cling on to, but a set of guidelines to explore for the purpose of eliminating suffering in oneself and in others.

With monasteries and lay meditation centers opening up throughout the U.S. and Europe, Theravada Buddhism has begun to “take root” in the West.  In particular, the Bhavana Society, a forest monastery in nearby West Virginia (only about a 3 hour drive from Richmond), provides a wonderful place for our members to visit, take retreats, and learn from the highly skilled monastic teachers there.  In addition, the Insight Meditation Communities of Charlottesville and Washington offer the practitioner ample opportunities to take advantage of the wisdom and experience of the various lay teachers of those 2 nearby communities in the form of day long as well as residential retreats.

[1] From Tipitaka, The Pali Canon, Access to Insight, edition 2005 ©


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