Theravada Buddhism is widely recognized as the classic introduction to the branch of Buddhism found in Sri Lanka and parts of South East Asia. The Buddha preached in north-east India in about the fifth-century BC. He claimed that human beings are responsible for their own salvation, and put forward a new ideal of the holy life, establishing a monastic Order to enable men and women to pursue that ideal. For most of its history the fortunes of Theravada, the most conservative form of Buddhism, have been identified with those of that Order. Under the great Indian emperor, Asoka, himself a Buddhist, Theravada reached Sri Lanka in about 250 BC. There it became the religion of the Sinhala state, and from there it spread, much later, to Burma and Thailand.
Richard Gombrich, the leading authority on Theravada Buddhism, has updated his text and bibliographies to take account of recent research, including the controversies of the date of the Buddha and recent social and political developments in Sri Lanka.. He explores the legacy of the Buddha's predecessors and the social and religious contexts against which Buddhism has developed and changed throughout history. Above all, he shows how it has always influenced and been influenced by its social surroundings in a way which continues to this day.