After the Buddha's death, eighteen schools were formed. The Theravada (or doctrine of the ancients) is the only one of the sixteen schools of primitive Buddhism (Hinayana or small vehicle) to have survived without major changes, in Southeast Asia. The other two, that of the Mahasanghika and that of the Sarvastivada, later gave birth, around the 1st century before and after the birth of Christ, to the Mahayana (or great vehicle). It was under the impulse of the monk Mahinda, son of Emperor Ashoka of the Maurya dynasty, the great Buddhist emperor of India, that Theravada began to spread in Sri Lanka in 260 BC, before to reach Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Burma. The Theravada language is Pali, a popular language like Magadhi, the language in which the Buddha spoke to make himself better understood by the people. While that of Mahayana, which teaches the universality of the Buddhist message for all beings, whatever they are, human or animal, is Sanskrit, the religious language of India.
Live like the Venerable
When I made a monastic formation within the Theravada school with the Venerable Gnanissara at the Blanc-Mesnil pagoda, mostly frequented by Vietnamese, the Venerable taught me various meditations, the fundamental principles of Buddhism, the basic texts of original Buddhism and many prayers, of course in Pali, which it is essential to know, especially when one is a monk, during religious services. My stay in this pagoda was a real revelation and imbued with the most intense and moving serenity. During this stay, I lived like the Venerable: waking up at 6 a.m., a religious service around 10 a.m., only one meal a day, but copious, served before noon by pious lay people, a siesta of one hour after the meal, the reception of various lay disciples during the afternoon and several hours of meditation and study throughout the day, much of it in the evening. And practiced to start the basic meditations which are based on the four holy attitudes (Brahma-viharas), which are love (maitri), compassion (karuna), infinite joy (mudita) and equanimity (upeksha).
“My stay in this pagoda was a real revelation and imbued with the most intense and moving serenity. »
Subsequently, I returned to a secular existence, but I recommend that all Westerners who can go to a pagoda to practice with the Asian community for a few days, weeks, months. It is up to everyone to choose the path that is appropriate for them.