Sravaka/sravakayana To Stupa (Buddhism)


A sravaka (Pali, savaka) is, literally, a "hearer." The sravaka appears in Mahayana Buddhism texts as a term of veiled criticism for followers of "Hinayana," or early Buddhist, groups. These early groups were said to have taught that enlightenment was possible only for those who heard the Buddha’s teachings directly from the Buddha—in other words, his original group of followers. This was interpreted as a criticism because the idea of the sravaka indicated later believers in the Buddha’s Dharma had no chance of gaining enlightenment.

Mahayana writers also developed the related term Sravakayana—"sravaka vehicle"—to refer to early Buddhist groups, in other words, "Hinayana."

The sravaka was also compared to the pratyekabuddha and the bodhisattva when Mahayanaists discussed the model of the three vehicles. In this model the sravaka and the pratyekabuddha are the two vehicles of Hinayana practice, and the bod-hisattva is the practitioner of Mahayana ("greater vehicle") Buddhism.

Novice monks (sramanera) seated for the noonday meal, Maha Ganayan monastery, Amarapura, near Mandalay, northern Myanmar (Burma)

Novice monks (sramanera) seated for the noonday meal, Maha Ganayan monastery, Amarapura, near Mandalay, northern Myanmar (Burma)

Sri Lanka, Buddhism in

Sri Lanka has been part of Buddhist history from the earliest days and is today the culture with the longest continuing tradition of Buddhist practice. Accounts from the Buddhist canon tell the story of Mahinda, the Buddhist monk and son of the great Mauryan emperor Asoka. Asoka sent Mahinda to Sri Lanka around 240 b.c.e., a few hundred years after the death of the historical Buddha. Mahinda converted the local king, Devnampiya Tissa (r. 244-207 b.c.e.). The king in turn donated a tract of land for a temple, later known as the Mahavi-hara. A section of the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha was said to have attained enlightenment was planted at Mahavihara. Mahinda’s sister,

Sanghamitta, accompanied her brother on his mission and established Sri Lanka’s first order of Buddhist nuns.

Ethnically Sri Lanka is characterized by two great populations, Singhalese, currently 70 percent of the population, and Tamils, who today are either Hindu or Muslim. The interaction between these two groups began soon after the development of Buddhism there, with invasions of Tamil forces beginning in the last century before the Common Era.

The Pali canon, which is considered by Theravadin Buddhists to be the collection of all the Buddha’s words, was written on palm leaf books during the reign of King Vattagamani (r. 29-17 b.c.e.). The king was concerned the teachings of the Buddha might be lost in his turbulent times. He also founded a monastery at Abhayagiri. The two monastic centers of Mahavihara and Abhaya-giri have been rival centers of Sri Lankan Buddhism throughout Sri Lankan history.


One of the greatest Buddhist scholars of all time, Buddhaghosa, lived in Sri Lanka in the 300-400s c.e. Although he was originally from India he moved to Sri Lanka to study and master the Pali language. He composed the well-known Visud-dhimagga (Path of purification) as a meditation primer for novice monks. This work is still used today.

At about the same time King Mahasena (r. 334-362) built a monastery at Jetavana, which was originally intended for Mahayana monks. This illustrates the continuous cross-currents at play in these times: Tantric and Brahmanic (the Indian priestly class) influences continued to flow into Sri Lanka, though Theravada eventually became the dominant tradition.

Monastic practice in Sri Lanka did not continue smoothly of its own accord. In fact, on two occasions the Sri Lankan sangha requested help from overseas monasteries to reestablish Buddhist lineages. In the first instance, around 1000 c.e., help was requested from Burma, and in the second, during the long period of colonial occupation, help was asked from Thailand. The general weakness in Sri Lankan monastic institutions was related to both internal and external factors.

Internally, the support of the ruling authorities for the Theravadin sangha came and went. The long-reigning king Parakrama Bahu VI (115386), for instance, attempted to rebuild Buddhist institutions. He established monasteries and collected funds. However, this strong state-sangha relationship was weakened under the later Kotte kings, who favored the Brahmans. In contrast, the subsequent kingdom of Kandy under the ruler Senasammata Vikramabahu favored Buddhism once again.

During the 15 th and 16 th centuries two new central monastic institutions appeared, the Vana-vasa and the Gamavasa. Both claimed to follow the ancient school of the Mahavihara and so were ideologically aligned with each other. The Vana-vasi monks attempted to live lives completely cut off from outside society, while the Gamavasi had more contact with laity.

By the end of the 15th century these two institutions had declined in their own turn. The teacher-pupil relationship and various lineages took their place. Such teacher-pupil lineages often specialized. For instance, the Dharmakirti lineage of Palabatgala focused on literary activities. Caste and family background also influenced the composition of the lineages.

Buddhism developed specialized schools called pirivenas in the 15th century. The previous institution, ayatanas, then disappeared from the scene. pirivenas trained all males in general as well as monks, and instruction was free.

Externally, Catholic missionaries arrived with the Portuguese in the 16th century. The ruler Dharmapala converted to Catholicism and as a result several monasteries were transferred to the Catholic Church. Later colonial regimes under the Dutch and British naturally favored their own brands of religious practices. Support for the traditional Buddhist educational system already in place, the pirivenas, decreased, and the monasteries were no longer able to provide broad-based free education.

Throughout this period regional connections were critical to the survival of Sri Lankan Buddhism. Neighboring Theravada cultures maintained close contact with the Kotte kingdom. Even at this relatively late stage in Buddhism’s history in Sri Lanka most outside countries saw Sri Lankan Buddhism as a center of "pure" Thera-vada. Pilgrims arrived there and returned home with scriptures. This resulted in the development of the Sihala Shanga network throughout Southeast Asia, a tightly knit connection that circulated texts and cult veneration practices. For instance, tooth relics veneration—worshipping of the Buddha’s tooth—emerged as a common practice. The maintenance and protection of the relic at Saman-takuta in Sri Lanka were key political tasks of the ruling Polonnaru dynasty.


Colonial rule finally ended in 1948. Buddhism made a comeback with the awakening national consciousness that accompanied the departure of the British. As in other Southeast Asian countries Buddhism became identified as an intrinsic part of the national character. In Sri Lanka’s case, however, this happened in tandem with a rise of intolerance toward non-Buddhist traditions, especially the beliefs of Hindu Tamils. Political leaders in the modern period have generally been pro-Singhalese and have not hesitated to use Buddhism as a symbol of insider status. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, elected in 1956, went so far as to identify Tamils publicly as responsible for the destruction of Sri Lanka’s "golden age." Bandaranaike actively encouraged participation of the sangha and monks in politics. His "Buddhist socialism" combined a belief in democracy with socialism and Buddhist compassion. (Ironically he was later assassinated by a Buddhist monk.)

The results of such extremist ideological views have been evident over the past 20 years, with a bloody civil war between Singhalese and Tamils. That this should happen in a culture so adamantly Buddhist is a sign that no religion, including Buddhism, is able to disengage itself from politics completely.

State Shinto (Kokka Shinto)

State Shinto was the official religion in Japan from the Meiji Restoration (1868) through the end of World War II in 1945. This form of Shinto harked back to the earliest version of state-supported Shinto, which had developed in the seventh century c.e. However, there were many modern innovations.

State Shinto developed during the Meiji period (1868-1912) as an official means to establish a Japanese cult that would support the revival of the emperor’s social standing. In 1871 the government issued an edict, which directed that shrines were to be used for state ritual. Yet no official body was established to oversee Shinto. (The Jingikan, a traditional government office that had been reestablished in 1868, oversaw the kami, or gods, in general, but not Shinto specifically.) The government also did not want to allocate funds for the upkeep of most shrines—only the most famous ones such as Ise received support. The government’s relation to Shinto was vague and conflicted until 1900, when the Jinjakyoku, or Shrine Bureau, was established.

As a unit of the Home Ministry, the establishment of the Jinjakyoku indicated the state would take a stronger role in regard to Shinto. Before its establishment yet another bureau, the Sajikyoku, the Bureau for Shrines and Temples, oversaw both Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. But from 1900, Shinto was managed by its own bureau, and all other religions including Buddhism were overseen by the newly established Shukyokyoku, the Bureau for Religions. State Shinto could now become a separate reality.

In 1906, after the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, the government established a means to ensure Shinto shrines received constant funding. Funds were simply appropriated from all local government budgets. The national government went on to establish further rules for shrines, including such areas as etiquette and ritual (1907), finance (1908), and rites (1914). Garb and Ritual at the imperial Ise Shrine were a special concern, and there were three separate laws promulgated to handle these areas.

During this period the government promoted the concept of the nonreligious function of Shinto shrines. it was seen as every citizen’s civic duty to visit and pay obeisance to the kami and the emperor. This patriotic task was said to transcend religious beliefs, so believers in Christianity and Buddhism were expected to perform such rituals, as well as Shinto believers. it was common for school classes to visit Shinto shrines throughout the school year. Despite the official stance in favor of a "nonreligious" Shinto system, the provincial shrines continued such religious practices as selling charms and performing funerals.

The death of the Meiji emperor in 1912 and the building of a shrine to honor him (the Meiji Jingu, or shrine, was begun in 1915) made shrines important during the Taisho era (1912-26). Nevertheless, most shrines continued to be underfunded and neglected by the government. in fact, the government had an essentially "opportunistic" approach to Shinto shrines: promote their use inasmuch as they helped promote a uniquely Japanese ideology and the imperial family, but do not support their other religious functions. Reverence for the deities was seen as a simple matter of performing rites, not a deeply religious impulse.

At the same time Japanese society in the 1920s underwent significant changes and pressures. The Kanto earthquake of 1923, the advent of socialist thought, the post-World War i recession, and the weakness of the party system put the Diet (Japan’s parliament) under intense pressure. The Diet increasingly saw the management of Shinto shrines and deities as a way to increase social solidarity. The government finally agreed to establish the Commission for Shrine Research in 1929, which would investigate legal status and economic resources, rank the shrines, and review their ritual practices. However, this bureau was still criticized for ignoring issues of true religiosity.

In 1940 the cabinet approved the establishment of yet another new bureau, the Jingiin, or Office of State for Deity Affairs. The charge was not simply to oversee state ritual, but to manage the entire shrine network. The Jingiin was responsible for the ise shrines, all other shrines, all priests and shrine officials, and anything regarding "reverence" paid to deities. This marked the first time the government had actually become directly involved in spreading the ideology of State Shinto as an institution. Henceforth the Home Ministry was involved in maintaining as well as promoting State Shinto.

With Japan’s defeat the Allied occupation forces introduced a new focus on the system of State Shinto. in one decree in 1945 the government was forbidden to support Shinto shrines. More shockingly, the emperor was said to be a mortal person, not a divine entity. With this the increasingly interwoven fate of modern Shinto and the Japanese state came to an end. Most of the shrines simply reorganized and today operate under the umbrella of Shrine Shinto.

Stein, Aurel

(1862-1943) Austrian-British explorer and geographer

The explorer Aurel Stein discovered and obtained what may be the greatest single quantity of Chinese Buddhist art and literature in history. Stein was originally based in India and worked with the British government there as a surveyor and map-maker. He began his first trip into Central Asia in May 1900. For some two years, he attempted to follow the route of the seventh-century Chinese monk/traveler Xuan Zang and identify the Buddhist sites he described. His initial finds alerted the world to the possible treasures and set off a race by Western explorers.

In 1907, Stein set his sight on Lou Lan and Dunhuang (China), and at Dunhuang he made his greatest discovery, a great hoard of documents stored for centuries in the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas. Stein bribed the leader of the monastic group in charge of the caves and took away thousands of manuscripts written in Chinese and other languages used in the region, including the world’s oldest printed document, the Diamond Sutra, dating from 863 c.e. Most of this collection is today in the British Museum.

Sthaviravada school

The Sthaviravada, or "Way of the Elders," was the first and most powerful of the original 18 schools of early Buddhism. This school dominated the Second Council at Vesali, where they debated and expelled another group, the Mahasanghika. The Sthaviravada were also the predecessors of the Theravada.

Stove God (zaojun)

The Stove God is a folk deity known to all Chinese people because of the role he plays in the New Year celebrations. The Stove God is tasked with watching over the family. Thus every household has a Stove God. He is represented, sometimes with his wife, on a piece of paper that is hung over the stove, in the kitchen. But because he "lives" with the family he knows all affairs and misdeeds. His wife, in fact, helps to write down everything said so he can report it. The Stove God is called to heaven by the Jade Emperor every New Year to report on the family’s behavior, on the 23rd day of the 12th (lunar) month. Before this happens families typically hold a short ceremony to show respect for the Stove God and, more to the point, to offer him something in return for making a favorable report. The family often symbolically performs this transaction by smearing sugar or honey over the mouth of the Stove God image, hoping that his words will be "sweet." His image, typically on a piece of paper, is then burned, and a new image placed over the stove for the remainder of the year.

Worship of the Stove God is ancient, going back at least to the Zhou period in Chinese history (1111-249 b.c.e.). One version of the Stove God’s origin relates that a Zhang Lang fell in love with another woman and spurned his wife. When his luck turned bad he became a wandering beggar, blind. Eventually he visited his wife’s ancestral home. There she gave him sight again. But he was so ashamed of his actions he committed suicide by jumping into the stove.

Strauss, Charles T.

(1852-1937) first American convert to Buddhism

Charles T. Strauss was a Swiss-American Jewish businessman (he sold lace curtains) who converted to Buddhism after a public lecture by Angarika Dharmapala in 1893, after the World’s Parliament of Religions meeting in Chicago. Soon afterward he became the first non-Asian North American to take refuge in the Buddha, or formally convert to Buddhism. He never sought ordination but became an active member of the Mahabodhi Society and assisted Dharmapala in building the organization. He wrote one book, The Buddha and His Doctrine (1923), in which he emphasized the nonmystical, ethical nature of Buddhism.


In Buddhist culture, a stupa (in Tibetan, a chor-ten) is a shrine to the dead. Their origin can be traced to prehistoric times, when they were simple mounds where important people were buried. Toward the end of his life, Gautama Buddha requested that after his cremation the remains be placed in a stupa. He also suggested a different interpretation of the stupa. it should, he indicated, be thought of as a symbol of the enlightened mind, as opposed to merely being a place to house the deceased. When he passed away in 483 b.c.e. his lay devotees divided and erected stupas over his cremated remains to honor his memory. Fusing the earthly and transcendent, this ancient sepulchral monument became the signature icon of Buddhism.


Stupa and caitya are nearly equivalent terms, as is the case throughout most of Pali literature. Early (pre-400 c.e.) literature made a distinction, however. in the early literature a caitya was a site with a sacred grove, or a tree. These sites were often used for meditation by the Buddha, and they had names. They were thus also places where wandering monks could stay. They were also often associated with yakkhas, a type of semidivine being. The caitya space may also have been used for funeral rites—the word caitya derives from cita, a "funeral pyre."

In the Mahasanghika school literature a stupa was a structure that contained the Buddha’s remains, while a caitya was simply a memorial that did not contain remains.


Most stupas contain the same basic structural elements, each of which symbolizes something about Buddhism. The stupa often incorporates a stone fence, called a vedika. This indicates the separation of the stupa from the world. The stupa is usually approached by four entrance gates, called torana. These open the stupa to the four quarters of the world and emphasize the universal spirit of the Buddha dharma.

Stupas vary in material, size, and shape, depending on the culture. in Sri Lanka the stupa is round and called a dagoba. In Tibet the chorten, or "Dharma receptable," performs the stupa’s function. in Thailand the term is chedi, the Thai pronunciation of caitya. And in East Asian cultures they are typically eight-sided towers, called pagodas in English, which range from two to 13 stories. In Chinese these structures are called ta, in Japan to, both meaning "tower."

Architecturally, stupas were originally divided into three sections—terrace, dome, and superstructure.

The terraces or bases (mehdi) were probably originally used as altars for such offerings as flowers. In later periods retaining walls and processional paths were often added around the entire stupa.

The hemispherical dome is called the anda, or "egg." This rests on the terrace. There are traditionally six dome shapes used: bell, pot, bubble, "heap of paddy," lotus, and Amalaka. Relics are meant to be placed within the anda.

The superstructures have probably seen the most evolution as the stupa form was transferred to different cultural settings. In Sri Lanka there is a square, boxlike structure on the dome, the tee. In India it was originally called a harmika, "small pavilion." Railings were often set up around the tees as well as around the entire stupa base. Later, spires were added above the tee. And a chattra, or umbrella, was often placed atop the entire structure.

All stupas share the following symbolic characteristics. In addition to the terrace, dome, and superstructurer, there is a yasti, a central shaft. The yasti is nothing less than the axis of the world and allows the various heavens to be separated from the Earth. The base along with the anda are symbolic of Mt. Sumeru, the mythological center of the universe. And the harmika delineates the sacred space atop Mt. Sumeru, where the gods reside.

Taken as a whole, the classic stupa design shows the 37 stages, or wings, in enlightenment, called the bodhipaksa. These are most often symbolized by the different levels of the stupa, from the base through the top spire. In addition Theravada Buddhist cultures also added elements symbolizing the 10 jnanam, or insights, of the arhat. These 10 layers are found above the harmika.

A third symbolic aspect found on many stu-pas are the 13 bhumis, an idea taken from the 10 bhumis, or stages, in the text the Dasabhumika. This topic describes the 10 stages through which a bodhisattva must progress on the path of enlightenment. The final three bhumis are qualities of the Buddha’s mind. These 13 stages are symbolized by 13 separate chattras, or umbrellas, found atop the yasti.

Finally, we should distinguish between the monastery and the stupa. These two architectural forms developed in tandem but performed separate functions. Every monastery normally contains at least one stupa. However, the stupa is fundamentally an object of lay worship. The presence of the monastery with the stupa symbolizes the symbiotic relationship between sangha and laity in Buddhism.


Architectural imagination manipulated the formal elements of the stupa to produce myriad variations. The evolution of the stupa can be determined by examining the Great Stupa at San-chi, the oldest existing example. Dating to the third century b.c.e. and enlarged in the second century b.c.e. to twice its original size, the Great Stupa has a 120-foot-diameter anda. The anda is slightly flattened at the top to accommodate the harmika that encloses the yasti, which supports three evenly spaced flattened chattavali.

Central stupa and western entranceway to Schwed-agon Temple, surrounded by smaller stupas, Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar (Burma)

Central stupa and western entranceway to Schwed-agon Temple, surrounded by smaller stupas, Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar (Burma)

At the base of the anda is the pradakshina-patha, a narrow pathway 16 feet above the ground along which devotees circumambulated, following the path of the sun; the pradakshina-patha is accessible by two flights of stairs, on the east and west meridians, respectively. A second similar pathway at the base is enclosed by the vedika, or stone fence, that demarcates the sacred from the secular world. Access to the sacred site is through four 34-foot monumental torana, or gateways, whose uprights and crossbars are elaborately carved. The gateways open to the four cardinal directions from which the spiritual energy from the anda, meaning "egg," flows throughout the world. When viewed from the top, the right-angled entries attached to the gateways suggest the swastika emblem. Probably derived from the design of farmers’ gates used to keep out cattle, the swastika (sathiya) has no connection to the sinister connotations of modern times.

Rare cloisonne (metal with inlaid enamel) stupa dating from Qing dynasty (1648-1911), China; in the Freer Gallery, Smithsonian Museum, Washington, D.C.

Rare cloisonne (metal with inlaid enamel) stupa dating from Qing dynasty (1648-1911), China; in the Freer Gallery, Smithsonian Museum, Washington, D.C.

In contrast to the austerity at Sanchi, the Great Stupa at Amaravati in present-day Andhra Pradesh was covered with limestone sculptural reliefs that depict seminal events in the Buddha’s life. Founded in the Asokan period (c. 268-321 b.c.e.) and completed in the second century c.e., bas-reliefs reveal the transformation from ani-conic (negative image) to iconic representations of the Buddha.

Meanwhile, northern and western indian architects raised the medhi (circular base), giving the stupa a more cylindrical shape; in the process the anda became proportionally smaller and elevated. Examples of these cylindrical stupas can be seen at communal places of worship (chaitya) at Karle and Ajanta. By the Gupta period (c. 319-550 c.e.), sculptors placed the image of the Buddha on the elongated cylindrical base. In other developments the architects also experimented with square bases, cornices, articulated by pilasters, niches, and arcades, developments that prefigure the East Asian pagoda.

The regions under the direct influence of india experimented with the different configurations of the stupa. The great stupa at Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka gives greater portion to the anda and harmika and enlarges the chattavali. By increasing and crowding the honorific parasols, the stupa is transformed into a slender needlelike spire. The hemispheric anda is placed on a low platform without the torana that set off the sacred site;shrines are set directly into the anda at cardinal points of the compass. To the north, the Nepalese painters adorned the stupa at Kathmandu with half-closed eyes on each side of the prominent harmika. The chorten is the Tibetan version of the stupa, which has a functional interior chapel.

The Burmese, Thai, and Laotian stupas are topped with a distinctive elongated and tapering chattavali that rises from an inverted bell-shaped anda. Burmese architects dispensed with the harmika, creating seamless elongated spiral form. The 12th-century Ananda Stupa in Pagan and the gold covered stupa at Phra Si Ratana Chedi in Bangkok, Thailand, are outstanding examples. That Luang in Vientiane, Laos, has unique undulating and tapering chattavali. In Vietnam and Cambodia small votive stupas are found in temple structures.

At first glance the Far Eastern pagoda exhibits no similarity to its Indian progenitor. But the vertical rectilinear pagoda preserves all of the essential features found at the Great Stupa at Sanchi. The development of the pagoda can be traced in part to developments in Gandhara, present-day Pakistan, and Tajikistan, where architects experimented with a square and multisided and multi-layered bases; the traditional multistoried Chinese watch tower with its overhanging tiled eaves is another source. The early Chinese pagoda is mul-tisided, but it evolved into a four-sided structure. The anda, harmika, and chattavali form a finale placed on the top of the multistoried base.

The largest stupa in the world is Borobodur, an Indonesian temple complex near Yogyakarta, Java, which incorporates many small stupas surrounding a large main stupa at the temple’s highest point. Stupas became especially identified with Tibet. In the last half of the 20th century, Tibetan refugees erected stupas around the world.

In the West, the construction of stupas has taken on new meaning, a sign that an emergent commitment to Buddhism has attained a new level of permanence. The first stupa for many Western believers may be the one erected to contain the relics of the founder of the community to which they belong.

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