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Theravada (-văda) is one of the major divisions of Buddhism. The name can be translated as either "Teaching of the Elders" or "Ancient Teaching". The tradition recognizes both meanings. The name is first recorded in the Dīpavaṃsa (probably 4th century AD), but seems to have been little used before modern times. As the name suggests, it claims to preserve the Buddha's original teachings. Scholars do not accept this as literally true, though most agree that it is extremely conservative.

Scholarly estimates for the number of Theravādins in the world seem to vary from 100,000,000[1] to 177,400,000,[2] mostly in Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka.

Theravada may be considered a single denomination, not being clearly subdivided. It, however, like other non-Western religious groups, does not fit the Western model of something with a permanent central organization, and it shows, and very likely always did show, a variety in belief and practice.

At least in theory, Theravada is based on the Pali Canon as its scripture, though the contents of editions published in Theravada countries vary somewhat. The Pali language is the normal liturgical language, and some literature continues to be written in it.


  1. Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism (Volume Two), page 837
  2. Johnson & Grim, The World's Religions in Figures, 2013, page 36