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Sthaviravāda (Sanskrit; Chinese 上座部) literally means "Teaching Of The Elders," known today by its Pali name, Theravāda. They were one of the two main movements in early Buddhism that arose from the Great Schism, the other being that of the Mahāsāṅghika. "The Elders" referred to those who had attained to one of the four levels of awakening (namely, Sotapanna, Sakadagami, Anagami and Arahant; the latter signaling final liberation)- and also generally to monks who had been ordained for over ten years - who were naturally the leaders of the community, and whose voice and views carried more weight than more junior monks; some scholars believe that this was the primary cause of the Schism.[1]

The Sthaviravāda were the proponents of an orthodox understanding of the Buddha's teachings which later became known in Pali as the Theravāda. They criticised the Mahāsāṅghika school for adding additional rules to the Patimokkha.

The Schism happened between the second (350 BC) and third (250 BC) Buddhist Council. According to the Mahavamsa, after the Second Council was closed, those taking the side of junior monks monks did not accept the verdict but held an assembly of their own attended by ten thousand calling it a Mahasangiti (Great convocation) from which the school derived its name Mahāsāṅghika.

Another belief on the cause of the Great Schism, were the disagreements in the five theories about an Arahant, put forward by Mahadeva, who later founded Mahāsāṅghika. The rest of the monks who rejected the five theories named themselves as "Sthaviravāda" to differentiate from the Mahāsāṅghika.[1]

The Sthaviravāda doctrine survives today in the Theravāda (Thera and Sthavira being the Pāli and Sanskrit forms of the same word meaning 'elder'). Little evidence exists suggesting doctrinal, practical, or genealogical distinction between the Theravāda and the Sthaviravāda (after all, the only records of the "Sthaviravāda" we have are, in fact, the Theravāda sources, and their counterparts in the Chinese Agamas). One source claims there is no historical evidence that the Theravāda school arose until around two centuries after the Great Schism which occurred at the Council of Pāṭaliputra."[2] However, there are no records of an imagined Sthaviravāda independent of, and other than, Theravāda. The Theravada is often recognized as being a continuation of the Sthaviravada, after the Third Buddhist Council, and, in being such, is the school most representative of early Buddhist doctrine and practice.

See also


  1. ^ a b Dutt (1978).
  2. ^ Keown (2003).


  • Dutt, Nalinaksha (2nd ed., 1978). Buddhist Sects in India. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
  • Keown, Damien (2003). Oxford Dictionary of Buddhism. ISBN 0-19-860560-9.


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