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Major form of Buddhism, prevalent in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. It is the only survivor among the Hinayana schools of Buddhism, and it is generally regarded as the oldest, most orthodox, and most conservative form of Buddhism. It is relatively uninfluenced by other indigenous belief systems. It is believed to have survived intact from the 500 Elders, who followed in the tradition of the monks of the first Buddhist sangha. Theravada has no hierarchical authority structure, though seniority is respected in the sangha. It accepts the Pali canon (seeTripitaka) as authoritative scripture. Theravadins revere the historical Buddha but do not recognize the various celestial buddhas and ancillary gods associated with Mahayana Buddhism.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on Theravada, visit Britannica.com.