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What are the various specific traditions in Theravada Buddhism?

If you could please describe, compare, and contrast each of them that would be greatly appreciated.

May you be well.

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People believe that something is true, that it is not true, or that it maybe is and maybe isn't true.

There are major factions like this. These are split as to which texts they assume to be true and worth studying.

To understand the various sections of thravada one has to look into how commentary & culture has been developing since the beginning and how it shaped the current traditions, teachers, translations & the translators.

There has been an tremendous change in how available the texts have become in the last 100 years, beginning with translations & more recently the internet, it is unprecedented.

The teachers who shaped what is now the monastic Sangha like Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw, Ven. Ajahn Chah and many others are now either dead or soon dead.

Therefore the Sangha is rather slowly evolving new methods & understanding.

Many people are now interested in reading the Sutta more so than listening to a particular teacher or a commentator, people have access to the original texts and want to do their own analysis.

This is also rather unprecedented because historically only a few commentators have had access to texts and people had to get information 2nd hand from a teacher.

Ie nowadays the factions are divided as to:

  • Burmese Ven. Mahasi & Non-Mahasi
  • Thai as those who believe that maybe Buddha lives in Nibbana those who don't.
  • Thai who draw from Mahasi
  • In Sri Lanka, those who believe that Ven. Nanavira was Ariya and those who don't.
  • In Sri Lanka, those who draw from Mahasi and those who don't.

Some people analyze controversy by controversy and don't fit well into these broad classifications, ie those who accept some commentary but not all of it. I think this will be the norm in the future.

In regards to Mahasi, he follows commentary, seemingly all of it and then some. It is basically a mainline commentary based tradition and Mahasi Sayadaw produced a lot of commentary work himself.

Other than this it seems like the small monasteries require more conformity and a lot of the monastic division based on vinaya regulation as much as doctrinal differences.

As to Yuttadhammo, he mostly follows Mahasi as he was trained but i don't think he subscribes to everything.

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During the 19th and 20th centuries, various Burmese monks (such Ledi Sayadaw, Webu Sayadaw. Mahasi Sayadaw, etc) and disciple laypersons (such as Sayagyi U Ba Khin, S. N. Goenka, Anagarika Munindra, etc) developed &/or taught various idiosyncratic meditation techniques, which the Thai monk Buddhadasa described as follows:

Organized systems of insight training, which were not taught by the Buddha but were developed by later teachers. This kind of practice is suitable for people at a fairly undeveloped stage, who still cannot perceive the unsatisfactoriness of worldly existence with their own eyes, naturally.

Handbook For Mankind

However, the above Burmese idiosyncratic meditation techniques appear to not delineate specific traditions within Theravada Buddhism because they probably all share the same doctrinal base in respect to the core Buddhist teaching of Dependent Origination/Four Noble Truths.

It appears there are two main and two minor traditions within Theravada Buddhism:

  1. Mahavihara Buddhism, based in the doctrines of the commentator Buddhaghosa, which teach that the Buddha's core doctrine of Dependent Origination should be understood as three-lifetimes. This is the 'orthodox mainstream Theravada' of Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand and those who embrace the ideas of "rebirth" and past & future lives.

  2. Here & now Buddhism, taught by Thailand's Bhikkhu Buddhadasa, which reintroduced here-&-now Dependent Origination as the Buddha taught, which found its way into the Ajahn Chah tradition and its numerous Western monasteries; although not followed by all monks in this tradition. The influence of Bhikkhu Buddhadasa should not be underestimated, as it also pervades many Western lay Buddhist schools.

  3. Solipsism Buddhism, followed by a small group of Western monks and laypeople who follow the doctrines of Sri Lankan monks such as Nanavira and Katukurunde Nyanananda who tried to teach contrary to orthodox Mahavihara Theravada but never quite grasped what the Buddha taught about Dependent Origination, despite their admirable attempts. These Solipsist Buddhists emphasise nama-rupa as the Hindu 'name-form' or 'naming-forms' and hold ideas that 'concepts' create 'reality'; similar to Mahayana ideologies of 'conceptualisation' and 'non-conceptualisation'.

  4. Very recent evangelical traditions, such as Dhammakaya in Thailand, which are said to teach about a "True Self" and claim to have roots in Tantric Theravada.

In summary, the above is my personal impression of the current Theravada traditions.

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