Theravada Buddhism among minority groups

Theravada Buddhism, the ‘Doctrine of the Elders’, claims to be the oldest tradition of Buddhist teaching. Also called Hinayana, or the Lesser Vehicle, it is widely dispersed in mainland Southeast Asia, especially Thailand and Burma, but also in parts of Yunnan province. Among its teachings is renunciation of the world. The tradition is that boys and men spend at least part of their lives in temples, and the people are obliged to feed the monks. Several ethnic groups of Yunnan province still practise Theravada Buddhism, most importantly, the Tai (Dai), but also the De’ang, Achang, Blang and Jingpo.
Buddhism suffered persecution during the Cultural Revolution, but has revived since the early 1980s (see religion, recent history of; religious policies of the state). Most Tai still follow Buddhism, and most rural families have house shrines.
However, Buddhism is much stronger among the Shui Dai of Sipsongpanna than in Dehong among the Han Tai. About half of the Sipsongpanna villages still have temples, though not all have resident monks, and most boys go into the temples as ‘little monks’, at least for short periods. In Dehong there were 642 Theravada Buddhist temples in 1998. Though religious activities took place in all of them, only thirty-seven were homes to monks. Less than 1 per cent of boys still entered temples as ‘little monks’, though men often sought the monastic life as they grew older. There are still Theravada Buddhist temples in the villages of the De’ang, who adopted Buddhism from the Tai, and the people still feed the monks.
See also: Tai, culture of
COLIN MACKERRAS

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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