Theravadan Buddhism

One factor that distinguishes Theravada from the other Buddhist schools is the importance it places on the preservation of the original Dharma. From the time of Mahakassapa, the Theravadans have emphasized the importance of preserving the Dharma in its most authentic form possible.


Theravada emphasizes the practice of mindfulness meditation, often called Vipassana meditation (or Insight meditation). Through observing our experience, from moment to moment, in the here and now, without immediately reacting to it or getting absorbed into it, we learn to develop mindfulness and awareness. This clear seeing gets us in touch with our mental, physical and emotional processes. Meditation is a journey of self-discovery and developing a capacity to be realistic, to be in touch with our experience of what is real here and now, and to see the true nature of that reality. Through practising vipassana we learn to relate to the suffering of ourselves and other beings in a more skilful way, not getting overwhelmed by it, nor becoming indifferent to it.

Introduction to Insight Meditation

What Meditation Isn't
Bhante Henepola Gunaratana

What Meditation Is
Bhante Henepola Gunaratana

Mindfulness Meditation as a Buddhist Practice
Gil Fronsdal


Theravada also teaches meditations on love and compassion– metta or lovingkindness meditation. Metta meditation was taught by the Buddha as a way of protecting ourselves from internal and external dangers. Cultivating metta means opening our heart and relearning loveliness, thereby releasing ourselves from the internal chronic critic that often is sabotaging our commitment to waking up. Metta is an antidote to fear, and it helps to overcome anger, hatred and resentment. Practising metta is about befriending ourselves and others in an unconditional way. Through the force of metta we begin to loosen the boundaries we have created around ourselves, and we experience the interconnectedness of all beings. What unites us is our wish to be happy, and in practising metta meditation we give expression to this wish for happiness and well-being, our own and that of other sentient beings.

Facets of Metta
Sharon Salzberg

The Four Noble Truths

All the diverse teachings of Buddhism fit together into a single unifying frame, the teaching of the Four Noble Truths. The Buddha compared the Four Noble Truths to the footprints of an elephant. Just as the footprint of an elephant can contain the footprints of any other animal, the footprints of tigers, lions, dogs, cats, etc. So all the different teachings of the Buddha fit into the single framework of the Four Noble Truths.

The Buddha made it clear that the realization of the Four Noble Truths coincides with the attainment of enlightenment itself. The special purpose of the Dhamma is to make known the Four Noble Truths and the special aim of those treading the path to enlightenment is to see for themselves the Four Noble Truths.

The Four Noble Truths are:
1. The truth of Dukkha
2. The truth of the origin of Dukkha
3. The truth of the cessation of Dukkha
4. The truth of the path, the way to liberation from Dukkha

The word 'Dukkha' has often been translated as suffering, pain and misery. But 'Dukkha' as used by the Buddha has a much wider and a deeper meaning. It suggests a basic unsatisfactoriness pervading all existence, all forms of life, due to the fact that all forms of life are changing, impermanent and without any inner core or substance. The term, dukkha, indicates a lack of perfection, a condition that never measures up to our standards and expectations.

Bhikkhu Bodhi

The Four Noble Truths
Access to Insight

The Four Noble Truths
Ajahn Sumedho

The Nobility of the Truths
Bhikkhu Bodhi

The Eightfold Path

Dukkha, its origin, its cessation, and the way to its cessation—these are the Four Noble Truths, the "elephant's footprint" that contains within itself all the essential teachings of the Buddha. It might be risky to say that any one truth is more important than the others. since they all hang together in a very close integral unit. But if we were to single out one truth as the key to the whole Dhamma it would be the Fourth Noble Truths, the truth of the way, the way to the end of Dukkha. That is the Noble Eightfold Path, the path made up of the following eight factors divided into three larger groups:


1. right view
2. right intention

Moral discipline

3. right speech
4. right action
5. right livelihood


6. right effort
7. right mindfulness
8. right concentration

We say that the path is the most important element in the Buddha's teaching because the path is what makes the Dhamma available to us as a living experience. Without the path the Dhamma would just be a shell, collection of doctrines without inner life. Without the path full deliverance from suffering would become a mere dream.

Bhikkhu Bodhi

The Noble Eightfold Path: The Way to the End of Suffering
Bhikkhu Bodhi

The Noble Eightfold Path
Thanissaro Bhikkhu

The Brahma-Viharas

The four "sublime states"

  • Metta — caring, loving kindness displayed to all you meet.
  • Karuna — compassion or mercy, the special kindness shown to those who suffer.
  • Mudita — sympathetic joy, being happy for others, without a trace of envy.
  • Uppekha (Upeksa) — equanimity or levelness, the ability to accept others as they are.

"They are so important in the practice of Vipassana meditation that they are included in the second step of the Noble Eightfold Path. In fact, no concentration is possible without these sublime states of mind because in their absence the mind would be filled with hatred, rigidity, worry, fear, tension and restlessness." Bhante Henepola Gunaratana

The Four Sublime States: Contemplations on Love, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy and Equanimity
Nyanaponika Thera


 For more on Theravada Buddhism see the Learning Center's Theravadan Study section