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Examine the rites of passage in the Theravada tradition of Buddhism, their meanings and how they are practiced

Rites of passage are celebrations or rituals, marking out stages of the lives of a person's social, religious and sexual status throughout their lives. Birth, puberty, marriage and death are the most commonly celebrated stages, but there are many others involved within different religious traditions; this essay will focus on the rites of passage celebrated by the Theravada Buddhist tradition, what they mean and how they are practiced.

Van Gennep was one of the first anthropologists to study rites of passage as a social function and found that they are universally experienced throughout the world and it is only the finer details that change from culture to culture. He analysed two most common forms of rite of passage: initiation and funeral rites. These happened also to be the two main rites of passage celebrated in the Theravada Buddhist religious community.

Some time after the death a period of almsgiving will take place, this ritual places merit onto the deceased and enriches the karma of those donating money, food and materials to the Bhikhus. This ritual act of dana, thoughtful donation, is practiced throughout the year to support the monastic community.

This essay has highlighted some of the most significant rites of passage observed by the Theravada Buddhist community. Death and adolescence are the most important aspects of life for any Buddhist and are commemorated in a way that relates these life experiences directly to the Buddha and to the sangha.

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