Death as threat, death as achievement: buddhist perspectives with particular reference to the theravada tradition

by Frank E. Reynolds

Death and afterlife; ed by H Obayashi





According to a tradition that I believe to be correct (though I have not been able to locate the text), the European philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once noted that death is not an event in life. In so doing he suggested that death is a reality that cannot be dealt with through the kind of categories we ordinarily use to conceptualize, make sense of, and grapple with various aspects of our daily existence. Death, from this point of view, confronts us as a limit that exposes the boundaries and confinements of life as we ordinarily experience it.1

For a historian of religions, Wittgenstein's remark has a certain resonance. Many of the religious traditions that we study affirm¡Xat a certain level¡Xnotions that are similar to his. But in such cases the otherness of death presents itself in a way that is not as benign as it appears to be in the rather epigrammatic formulation provided by the modem philosopher. In most religious traditions the otherness of death is an otherness that is integrated¡Xat another level¡Xinto a larger reality within which¡Xaccording to the tradition concerned¡Xthe limits of death (and in some cases the limits of both life and death) can be overcome or transcended.

Buddhism is one of those religions in which this basic pattern is most evident.2 Consider, for example, the story that Buddhists recount concerning the future Buddha's first encounter with death, and of the events that followed immediately thereafter. According to the story, the future Buddha had lived his early life in the protected environment of his father's palace. In this context he had experienced all of the various pleasures that life could bring, including those associated with wealth, marriage, and parenthood. One day he ventured





Outside the palace (or, in some versions, was transported there in a vision) and successively encountered a sick person, an aged person, a corpse, and, finally, a monk who had severed his societal connections and become an ascetic. Soon thereafter the future Buddha himself renounced the pleasures of his own palace life, left his wife and young son. and. like the monk he had seen, took up the life of a wandering mendicant.

The point is clear. Through his venture outside the palace the future Buddha confronted the fundamental facts of life that had previously been hidden from his view. He came face to face with the harsh realities of sickness, of old age, and. most especially, of death. As he did so he recognized, in an immediate and existential way, the inexorable threat that these realities posed to the permanence (and hence to the meaningfulness and value) of the life he had previously been living, and of the pleasures and satisfactions he had previously enjoyed. Thus. through the shock occasioned by the first three sights, the future Buddha was prepared to respond in a positive way to the appearance of the monk. And so he did. Soon after his return to the palace he made his decision to enter the mendicant way. and in that context he began his quest for insight into a larger reality within which the problematics of sickness, old age, and death might be encompassed and resolved.

A similar occurrence is recounted in a famous story reported in the Buddhist scriptures and expanded in the commentaries. In this instance the protagonist is a woman, Kisa Gotami by name. who eventually became an arhat (a fully perfected saint). Driven to distraction by the death of her only child, Kisa carried the dead boy on her hip. seeking everywhere for some kind of medicine that would revive him. Finally an old man. recognizing the spiritual character of her malaise, recommended that she visit the Buddha. Following the old man's advice, Kisa approached the Buddha and told him her story. The Buddha's response was to instruct her to go into the village and to bring him a mustard seed from a house in which no death had yet occurred. As she carried on her fruitless search the truth concerning the inexorable universality of death suddenly dawned on her. Shocked by her recognition of the harsh limitations that death imposed on all worldly life. she gave up her hope for finding a medicine that would revive her son. She then went on to renounce her household existence, to enter the Buddhist Order, and to seek, under the Buddha's tutelage, an insight into a larger reality within which the power of death could be domesticated and defeated.


According to Buddhist accounts, both the Buddha himself and his disciples such as Kisa Gotami did in fact discover the kind of larger reality that they sought. In the short space of this chapter I cannot hope to describe that larger reality in any full or comprehensive manner. It will be useful, however, to single out several ways in which death appears at this more advanced level of



Buddhist imagery and teaching. It will be especially helpful to look closely at the way Buddhists have come to understand the relationship between death and desire.

Buddhists, in their teachings concerning death, have never relinquished the notion that death is an existential reality that frustrates the desire that drives human beings to grasp after the pleasures and satisfactions of this-worldly life. In their larger vision of reality Buddhists have, however, recognized that the relationship between death and desire is far more complex than this first-level perception would suggest. Probed more deeply, the relationship between death and desire that seemed at first glance to be one of simple opposition, turns out at another, more profound level to be one of intimate association, complimentarity. and interdependence.

Certain crucial aspects of the deep-level affinity between death and desire are made evident in the stories that recount the events through which the future Buddha, following his great renunciation, attained enlightenment. Most colorful in this regard is the report of the great battle that is said to have taken place just before the Enlightenment itself¡Xa battle that pitted the future Buddha against Mara, a god whose name itself signifies death. This battle occurred just after the Buddha had taken his seat on the Enlightenment throne situated under the Bo tree at Bodh Gaya. At that crucial point death, embodied in the figure of Mara, sought, through the attraction provided by his beautiful daughters, to arouse in the future Buddha the desire and the grasping that would bring about his defeat and keep him in bondage. But the future Buddha, in a spectacularly successful response, "called the earth to witness." And what were the events to which the earth bore witness? These events were the great deeds that the future Buddha had performed in his previous lives, deeds of awesome self-denial and self-sacrifice through which his capacity to resist desire had been ¡Xboth demonstrated and perfected. Clearly in this episode, which is one of the best known and most often depicted episodes in all of Buddhist mythology, there is a powerful affirmation of a deep-level alliance between death and desire. on the one hand, and between the victory over death and the victory over desire, on the other.

This deep-level interlocking of death and desire is even more explicitly affirmed in the most crucial insight that Buddhists associate with the Enlighten­ment itself. According to the accounts, the future Buddha, after his success in routing the forces of Mara. entered into a meditational state in which his actual Enlightenment was accomplished. In the first of the three stages of his attainment he recalled to mind all of his own previous lives. In the second-stage of his attainment he envisioned the circulation of all beings in a cosmic round of birth, death, rebirth, and redeath, Finally, in the third stage, which coincided with the coming of the dawn. he achieved a penetrating insight into the central Buddhist truth concerning the codependent origination of all existing realities.

In the early Buddhist scriptures the explicit formulation of this culminating insight concerning the codependent origination of the components that consti-




tute phenomenal reality varies from text to text, and interpretations have differed through the course of Buddhist history. But one of the constant characteristics of this teaching is that along with ignorance, desire and death always appear among the set of basic phenomenal elements that are held to arise co-dependently. What is explicitly stated is the notion that when ignorance and desire arise, then death inevitably arises with them. But at the same time there is a correlated implication that has always played a central role in Buddhist soteriology. The correlated implication is that when ignorance is overcome and desire is quenched, then (the causes having been removed) the demise of death cannot be far behind.


Within the larger reality that the Buddha and his followers have discerned, this new recognition of a profound affinity between death and desire has been supplemented by a new perception of the way that death functions as a limit or boundary to the extension and meaningful ness of this-worldly existence. From the mythic stories that have already been recounted it can be seen that death in the Buddhist world is no longer understood simply as the end of a single life span that is once-for-all and final. In the story of the future Buddha's encounter with Mara. for example, his act of "calling the earth to witness" vividly demonstrates that he takes his life-at-the-lime to be an extension of a series of continuing lives, deaths, and rebirths that stretches far back into the past. In the account of the Buddha's Enlightenment the conception of death as part of an ongoing process of life, death, rebirth, and redeath is made even more explicit and is applied more generally. In the first phase of the Enlightenment process the Buddha remembers his own previous lives. In the second phase he envisions a grand cosmic scenario within which he sees all sentient beings as they proceed through the ongoing series of lives and deaths that constitutes their existence. In the third phase he achieves the culminating insight into the truth of co-dependent origination, and thus he sees, in its essential structure, the process in and through which birth and death, along with ignorance and desire, are continuously being produced and reproduced in a series that¡Xpotentially at least¡Xis infinite.

Within this continuing process of birth, death, rebirth, and redeath death continues to function as a limit that calls into question the value of all of the satisfactions and pleasures that can be realized within this-worldly existence. But in the specifically Buddhist context it does so as a transition that poses a limit by virtue of its continuing recurrence rather than by its absolute finality in any given case.

For those who truly understand and appropriate the painful implications of death's continuing recurrence in the ongoing process of life, death, rebirth, and



redeath, the only appropriate response is quite obviously the response of the Buddha himself and of the Buddhist saints who follow in his footsteps. In the case of such Noble Beings the impermanent, death-infected, suffering-filled character of phenomenal reality is recognized; as a result, desire is snuffed out, and thus Nibbana (release from the power of death) is attained. When death actually comes to such Noble Beings it simply provides an occasion for culminating and celebrating the triumph over desire and death that has, in principle, already been achieved.3

For those who are spiritually less mature (and this includes the great majority of human beings, the great majority of Buddhists, and the great majority of Buddhist monks), any kind of final release from the ongoing process of life, death, rebirth, and redeath is out of the question. In their situations, since at least some remnants of desire and ignorance remain, the continuation of the cycle of death and rebirth is inevitable. Nonetheless, according to Buddhist teaching, such people can, by means of their intentions and actions, determine the character of their future lives. Thus they, too, have the possibility of living a life¡Xand dying a death¡Xthat has a significant religious meaning.

Within the larger reality that Buddhists have discerned there are some modes of this-worldly existence that, despite their confinement within the limits imposed by the continuing recurrence of death, are relatively advantageous. They are advantageous both in terms of the pleasures and satisfactions that they offer and in terms of the opportunities for further spiritual development that they make available. It is quite possible, for example, to be reborn either in a heavenly realm or in a more privileged position in the human world. On the other hand, there are other, very different modes of this-worldly existence that involve great pain and suffering, and provide little or no possibility for achieving spiritual progress. As a result, it also is quite possible to be reborn in one of any number of Buddhist hells, or in a radically disadvantaged position within human society.

For ordinary Buddhists who face such positive and negative alternatives, the appropriate response obviously is to act in such a way that a better rebirth will be assured. According to Buddhist teaching, this means moderating, as much as possible, the desire that fuels and regulates the process of life. death, rebirth, and redeath. For¡Xso the teaching goes¡Xthe more that those who are involved in this process control and moderate their desire, the higher they will rise in the cosmological hierarchy and the closer they will come to attaining the goal of Nibbanic release; the more that they allow their desire to boil and intensify. the lower they will fall in the cosmic hierarchy and the further they will depart from the path that leads to salvation. Expressed in the phrase that Buddhists themselves most often use, those who "make merit"¡Xthose who demonstrate and achieve the moderation of their desire by listening to the Buddha's teaching, by adhering to the precepts he laid down, and by giving appropriate gifts¡X will necessarily be rewarded with a favorable rebirth. Those who engage in




immoral activity and fail to make merit will, on the other hand, find themselves reborn in horrible situations in which physical suffering and spiritual hopelessness prevail.4


Next to the story of the Buddha's Enlightenment, the most important biographical narrative that has been preserved by the Buddhist tradition is the one that recounts his death or (to use the Buddhist term) his Parinibbana. The Buddha's death and the important events that immediately preceded and followed it are described in a widely known and much-quoted text called the Mahaparinibbana Sutta. The importance of several of the most crucial episodes re­counted in this text has been both underscored and enhanced through their portrayal in various forms of Buddhist architecture and art.

In discussing the Buddha's Parinibbana the first point that needs to be emphasized is that. for the Theravadins at least, the Buddha's death was very real. Despite the Buddha's prodigious spiritual accomplishments, the basic law of existence¡Xthe law that all composite entities are subject to decay and dispersion¡Xcould not be abrogated. Quite to the contrary, the coalescence of skandhas that had constituted the "person" of the Buddha (a coalescence¡Xa product of past activity driven by ignorance and desire) remained fully subject to the ravages of old age. sickness, and death. Hence, at the age of eighty, the Buddha suffered an attack of food poisoning, and soon thereafter he breathed his last.

But because the Buddha had previously won his victory over Mara. and because he had attained the goal of Enlightenment, death had lost its sting. Through the Buddha's previous efforts he had achieved the Nibbana or release that comes with the elimination of desire and extinction of the defilements (kilesas); thus he was able. with the assistance of his disciples, to direct his dying and death so that it became an occasion for a distinctive kind of achievement. both for himself and for them.

At the persona! level the mythic account highlights the Buddha's complete equanimity, his complete acceptance of his own demise. According to a fascinating episode that is included in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta. he had it within his power to postpone his death until the end of the present cosmic age. But¡X so the story goes¡Xhis favorite disciple failed to ask him to exercise that option;  as a result, he refrained from doing so. Thus he intentionally allowed the pro­cess of dying and death to proceed.5

According to the story that is told in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta. the Buddha quite self-consciously chose the time and the place of his death. When the proper time had come and he had arrived at the place he had selected he lay down on his right side; he entered into a process of desireless meditation, and then, in a state of complete lucidity and composure, he breathed his last. Thus




the Buddha allowed the skandhas (the component elements whose coalescence had constituted his identity as a "person") to be dispersed and finally extinguished. In so doing he achieved the ultimate Buddhist goal¡Xthe goal of Parinibbana or "Fully Completed Release."6

The traditional accounts of the Buddha's Parinibbana also indicate that his death had, in addition to its personal dimension, an important communal dimension. These accounts highlight the belief that the Buddha's death was achieved in a way that was efficacious not only for his own salvation, but also for the maintenance and spiritual well-being of the community he had founded. The stories directly highlight the point that the more communal aspect of the total situation was taken seriously by the Buddha himself. The accounts report, for example, that the Buddha urged his disciples not to be driven to despair by his death, but to recognize that it served as a confirmation of his teaching concerning the impermanence of all composite phenomena. These stories also recount that during the Buddha's last days, he took great care to instruct his followers concerning the way they should act in the new situation that would pertain once his death had occurred.

The Mahaparinibbana narrative also reports that Buddha's disciples, both monastic and lay. were actively involved in the events that surrounded his death. The monks assumed important responsibilities in organizing and presiding at a new kind of funeral that highlighted the purity that the Buddha had achieved and the victory over death that he had won. In playing out their role as monks they both demonstrated and advanced their own practice of the Buddhist Path. The laity, for their pan, took charge of his relics; they built stupas to house them, and they initiated rituals of remembrance and veneration. Thus they made their own distinctive contribution to the preservation of continuity in the life of the community, and at the same time, they acquired a supply of merit that enhanced their own soteriological status.

From the perspective of the Buddhist tradition the Parinibbana of the Buddha was distinctive. As the Buddha of the present age. his spiritual achievements, both during his lifetime and at the time of his death, are. in principle, unique within the age. Buddhists also have recognized, however, that in the course of Buddhist history, there do appear figures whose status or attainments closely resemble the status or the attainments of the Founder. These include great Buddhist kings whose exercise of sovereignty leads to a near-identification with the figure of the Buddha. And they include Buddhist saints (arhats) whose spiritual attainments are thought to include a similar realization of Nibbanic release. In such cases the deaths (including the events that have immediately preceded and followed them) often have been self-consciously modeled on particular aspects of the Parinibbana of the Buddha. In this regard one need only think of the accounts of the scenarios in which many Buddhist kings and saints are reported to have died.7 Or of the great cremations and funerary rituals performed for many Buddhist kings and monks.8 Or of the distribution of relics or relic equivalents that often have followed the deaths of Buddhist saints.9





For most Buddhists the kind of dying and death that is associated with the Parinibbana of the Buddha is totally out of the question. From the Buddhist perspective, the vast majority of the members of the Buddhist community, including both monks and laypeople, remain entrapped in the ongoing process of life. death, rebirth, and redeath. But it remains the case that according to Buddhist teaching, even ordinary Buddhists who have no pretensions to royal status or sainthood can negotiate death in such a way that it becomes a meaningful soteriological achievement. Consider, in this regard, the process of dying and death as it occurs in communities of ordinary Buddhist practitioners in northern Thailand.10

At the personal level serious Buddhists in northern Thailand recognize that, ideally at least, the activities in which they engage throughout their lives should constitute a preparation for the kind of death that will lead them on to a more favorable rebirth. This Buddhist sense of the relationship between all life-activities and the achievement of a good death provides, from the outset, a strong motivation to adhere to Buddhist morality, to become involved in meditative practice, and. most important, to participate in various kinds of merit-making activity. But with the onset of old age these preparations for dying and death become more intense and more focused.11

These more intense and focused preparations involve elderly Buddhists in a calculated kind of psychological withdrawal from socially motivated interpersonal involvements, a withdrawal that is expressed and fostered by an increase in meditative and discipline-oriented activity, on the one hand. and by increased merit-making activity, on the other. These preparations do not  involve¡Xas the preparation for death commonly does in the West¡Xa process of achieving, through memory and confession, a kind of personal "integrity" that has about it the ring of summation and fanality12 On the contrary, Buddhists in northern Thailand prepare for death by undertaking present-oriented activities that are aimed at achieving psychic detachment from the life they have lived in the past. and at intensifying the practice of the religious path that will lead to the attainment of a more favorable rebirth in their next life and beyond.13

In the Buddhist context in northern Thailand members of the surrounding community also play a crucial role in the process of dying and death. The monks who reside at the local temple provide the person facing death with a source of knowledge and supportive guidance, particularly when the actual death crisis arrives; they also serve as proper recipients for the gifts that an elderly person may give to generate merit intended to assure a more favorable rebirth. For their part relatives and friends engage in activities that generate additional merit that is specifically intended to accrue to the benefit of the one who is dying or deceased. Ideally, the process begins quite early in the life cycle when




the younger generation performs various activities (such as spending a rainy season in the monastic order) that earn merit that is transferred to members of the older generation. This process of making merit and transferring its benefits to parents and elders continues right up to the time when death finally arrives. At the funeral the rites that are performed by relatives and friends generate merit, and that merit is dedicated to the cause of the one who has died. In the years that follow still other rituals are performed for the purpose of generating and transferring still more merit in the hope that the rebirth prospects of the deceased will be even further enhanced.14

When the death of an ordinary Buddhist is properly achieved the soteriological benefits are not limited to the person who has died. That person has, to be sure, been assured of a favorable rebirth. But, in addition, the other members of the community who have properly participated in the process have accumulated important soteriological gains as well. All of those who were involved have once again confronted, in a direct and vivid way, the basic Buddhist truth concerning the impermanence of all composite realities and the ephemeral character of all purely this-worldly values and pleasures. Thus their soteriological consciousness has been sharpened, In addition, all of the participants have engaged in a merit-making process that has borne soteriological fruit not only for the deceased to whom the merit has been transferred, but also for the participants themselves. For within the Buddhist perspective acts of transferring merit to others (and especially transferring merit to a parent or elder) are, in themselves. acts of selfless giving, and as such they are taken to be acts that generate even more merit (and hence better deaths and better rebirths) for those who perform them.15


As we have seen, the achievements associated with the Parinibbana of the Buddha and the deaths of great kings and saints who have followed in his footsteps are one thing. And the achievements associated with the deaths of ordinary Buddhists are quite another. But this having been said we should note, in conclusion, that both of these distinctively Buddhist kinds of death-related achievement share at least three aspects in common.

First, both of these Buddhist ways of achieving a good death involve the realization of soteriological progress by the person who undergoes the death. In the case of the Buddha, among others, this is accomplished through the realization of the highest Buddhist goal of fully completed release. In the case of ordinary Buddhists it is accomplished through the more modest attainment of a more favorable rebirth.

Second, both of these Buddhist ways of achieving a good death involve the participation and the maintenance of the surrounding community. In the case of a Buddha or similar figures the community celebrates the Great Attainment. and at the same time the community reclaims the Buddha's legacy, or the




legacy of the king or saint, in a new and more lasting way. In the case of the deaths of ordinary Buddhists the community adds its own contribution to the well-being of the deceased and, at the same time, reaffirms the basic structures that undergird its own existence.

Third, both of these ways of achieving a good death create a situation that enables the individual members of the community, by performing the proper roles and rituals that are assigned to them, to attain significant soteriological benefits for themselves.

For Buddhists the bottom line is that within the larger reality they have discerned, death has been encompassed; and that satisfying strategies for overcoming it have been devised for religious virtuosi, on the one hand, and for ordinary Buddhist practitioners, on the other hand. What is more, these strategies have involved the participation of the entire community in ways that¡Xfrom the Buddhist perspective at least¡Xhave redounded to the benefit of all concerned.


1. I am appreciative of criticisms and suggestions made by Charles Hallisey, several of which have been incorporated into the text that follows.

2. Given the inexhaustible richness and variety of Buddhist notions and practices related to dying and death. I have chosen to focus my attention on the Theravada tradition. This ancient Buddhist tradition developed in India and spread to Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand. Cambodia, and Laos, where it continues to hold sway today. Many of the points I will make apply to other forms of Buddhism as well, but the Theravada tradition will provide my primary point of reference.

3. In some Buddhist traditions the quenching of desire is itself referred to as a kind of death. For example, it has been reported that a Zen Master once said, "Die while alive, and be completely dead, then do whatever you will, all is good." See Thomas Kaulis, Zen Action, Zen Person (Honolulu: University of Hawaii, 1981), 114.

4. What is involved here is the Buddhist teaching concerning kamma (ethically relevant action) and its effects.

5. According to some strands of Buddhist mythology, a number of Buddhist saints (arhats), including the Buddha's great disciple Mahakassapa, have taken the option to postpone their deaths until the end of the cosmic age. For a discussion of this theme and its relationship to Buddhist mysticism and eschatology in contemporary Burma see Juliana Schober. Cosmology and Religious Domains in the Theravada Buddhist Tradition of Upper Burma (Ph.D. diss., University of Illinois, 1988).

6. Within the Buddhist tradition .the question of the continued "existence" of the Buddha or of fully realized Buddhist saints after their final death is a vexed one. Generally speaking, the tendency has been (following a teaching attributed to the Buddha himself) to avoid the question on the basis that an answer to it is neither necessary nor helpful for those involved in the practice of the Path.

7. In this regard consider, for example, the description of the last days of King Mongkut. the great Buddhist king who ruled Thailand in the mid-nineteenth century, in Abbot Low Moffat. Mongkut: King of Siam (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1961), 169-84, and the description of the last days of Acan Man, a twentieth-century




Buddhist saint, provided by Charles Keyes in his excellent paper titled "Death of Two Buddhist Saints in Thailand," in Michael A. Williams, ed., Charisma and Sacred Biography (Journal of the American Academy of Religion Thematic Studies 48, nos. 3 and 4, American Academy of Religion, 1982), 149-80.

8. For an informative work that deals quite explicitly with this subject see Adhemard Leclere, Les cremations et les rites funeraires au Cambodge (Hanoi: F. H. Schneider. 1907), 154.

9. In addition to the Keyes article (op. cit.) see Stanley J. Tambiah's discussion in The Buddhist Saints of the Forest and the Cult of the Amulets. Cambridge Studies in Anthropology, no. 49 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984). esp. 200-205.

10. I have chosen to focus the discussion on Buddhist communities in northern Thailand both because this is the area of my own field experience and because of the existence of two relevant studies by other scholars. In the discussion that follows I have depended heavily on the research and interpretations of William Delaney. "Socio-Cultural Aspects of Aging in Buddhist Northern Thailand" (Ph.D. diss., University of Illinois, 1977), and Charles Keyes, "From Death to Birth: Ritual Process and Buddhist Meanings in Northern Thailand." Folk (Copenhagen) 29 (1987):181~206.

11. In this chapter I attend only to situations in which the death that occurs is what we might call a "natural death." Early or violent deaths (including especially the deaths of mothers in childbirth) are treated as aberrations. In such cases adequate preparation has not occurred, and as a result, the death is considered to be fraught with danger. both for the person who dies and for the community as a whole.

12. I have borrowed the notion of achieving "integrity" from Erik Erickson, a well-known ego psychologist, who has used it to characterize the developmental task that he associates with the imminence of death in the West.

13 According to a view that is widespread in northern Thailand, the deceased (i.e., the duang winnan. which serves as the link between the person who dies and the person who is reborn) journeys first of ail to a local sacred mountain, and from there is later reborn¡Xin a more or less favorable condition¡Xin a future generation of the same lineage.

14. According to some interpretations, the transfer of merit cannot be reconciled with orthodox Theravada doctrine concerning the role of individuals in generating, through their own deeds, their own kammic fate. From canonical times to the present rituals of merit-transference have in fact been performed in Theravada circles, and they play a crucial role in the religiosocial structure of every Theravada society that we know. On this issue see Jean-Michel Agasse. "Le transfert de merite dans Ie Bouddhisme Pali classique." Journal Asiatique 266 (1978):311-22.

15. In the northern Thai case a more mundane benefit also is gained by the community. since the favorable rebirth of the deceased is expected to occur within the lineage group that is performing the rites (see note 13), This is a distinctive aspect of the Buddhist tradition in northern Thailand and is not necessarily characteristic of Theravada traditions in other areas.