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Theravada is one of the eighteen (or twenty) Nikaya schools that formed early Buddhism. These developed in India during the century subsequent to the passing away of the Buddha. The name of the sect implies the meaning of "those supporting the teachings of the elders" which means that this was a school that had conservative tendencies--an attempt to conserve the original teachings of the Buddha. They are the longest surviving of the original twenty sects, and continue to be active to the present in Southeast Asian countries such as Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia. The Theravāda school is known for its early conflict with the more liberal Mahāsāṃghika school, which had espoused a revisionist approach to the Buddhist doctrine. Later schools of Mahayana Buddhism sometimes categorized the Theravāda and other Nikāya schools as being lesser vehicle, or Hīnayāna.

During the reign of Emperor Asoka in India, the third Council was held in Pataliputta (308 BC). The existing heresies and deviations in the religion were expelled and a volume containing the teachings of the council was compiled. This book ? the Kathavatthu ? contained the "Teachings of the Elders" or Theravada. These books were sent to different parts of India and Sri Lanka.

Theravadin claim to following more closely to the earlier forms of Buddhist practice, with their main goal being the achievement of the state of Arahant (lit. "worthy one", "winner of Nirvana"). In Theravada philosophy, each being is responsible for attaining Nirvana independently, thus allowing himself to guide others efficiently. The discriminative term 'Inferior Vehicle' thus came to be in opposition to Theravada by followers of Mahayana where the popular belief is that bodhisattvas are eternal and should help all sentient beings achieve enlightenment.

Therevada Buddhism focuses on Meditation and understanding. By meditating, a practitioner can gain valuable insight on himself/herself as well as understanding the concepts of Dhamma better. Meditation techniques include:

Historically, it has been dominant in Laos, Myanmar (formerly Burma), Thailand, and Sri Lanka.

Buddha Purnima is the highest religious festival in Theravada.

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