What is Theravada Buddhism?
The Buddha — or "Awakened One" — called the teaching revealed the Dharma-Vinaya, "the Doctrine and Discipline" leading to awakening or enlightenment and complete liberation (nirvana).
But it is often treated as such because it is closer to them than the very Hindu-influenced syncretism that is Mahayana, which amounts to a kind of Asian Catholicism, Christianity, or Krishna-centric Hinduism hybrid.
The language of the canonical Theravada texts is Pali (Magadhan, lit., "text"), which is based on a dialect of Magadhi, a Middle Indo-Aryan likely spoken in what was to become central India during the Buddha's time .
2. This estimate is based on faulty data appearing in CIA World Factbook 2004. South Asia's largest Theravada Buddhist populations are found in Thailand (61 million Theravadans), Burma (38 million), Sri Lanka (13 million), and Cambodia (12 million). [Over 1 billion Buddhists are left uncounted in officially communist China.]
3. Buddhist Religions, p. 46.
4. Mahayana today includes Zen, Ch'an, Nichiren, Tendai, and Pure Land Buddhism [and Vajrayana traditions of Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, Siberia, Mongolia].
5. Guide Through the Abhidhamma Pitaka by Ven. Nyanatiloka Mahathera (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1971), pp. 60ff.
6. A third major branch of Buddhism emerged much later (ca. 8th century CE) in India: Vajrayana, the "Diamond Vehicle." Vajrayana's elaborate system of esoteric initiations, tantric rituals, and mantra recitations eventually spread north into Central and East Asia, leaving a particularly strong imprint on Tibetan Buddhism. See Buddhist Religions, pp. 124ff. and chapter 11.
7. Modern scholarship suggests that Pali was probably never spoken by the Buddha. [Because he moved to the kingdom of Magadha, he would have certainly spoken Magadhan or Magadhi Prakrit, a form of Pali.] In the centuries after the Buddha's passing, as Buddhism spread across India into regions using different dialects, Buddhist monastics increasingly depended on a common tongue for their Dharma discussions and recitations of memorized texts. It was out of this necessity that the language now known as Pali emerged. See Bhikkhu Bodhi's introduction in Numerical Discourses of the Buddha (Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press, 1999), pp. 1ff, and n. 1 (p. 275) and "The Pali Language and Literature" by the Pali Text Society (palitext.com/subpages/lan_lite.htm, 15 April 2002).
8. Great Disciples of the Buddha by Ven. Nyanaponika Thera and Hellmuth Hecker (Somerville: Wisdom Publications, 1997), pp. 140, 150.
9. Buddhist Religions, p. 48.
10. Brahmanism's Vedas, for example, predate the Buddha by at least a millennium (Buddhist Religions, p. 2). [They became the basis of later Hinduism or Indus-ism.]