上座部佛教是佛教的主要派別，有別於大乘佛教。信奉不同派別是個人的選擇，就正如有人很喜歡吃中餐或西餐一樣。Bhikkhu Bodhi在The Vision of Dhamma: Buddhist Writings of Nyanaponika Thera談到上座部佛教和佛陀的一些特徵。
Theravāda Buddhism, the “Doctrine of the Elders,” is the oldest continuous Buddhist tradition and the one which has preserved most carefully the original teachings of the historical Buddha. Prevalent today with a striking uniformity of observance in Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand, the Theravāda is distinguished from other schools of its Northern and Far Eastern counterpart, Mahāyāna Buddhism, by its conservative doctrinal stand, realistic world view, anti-speculative empiricism and consistent stress on individual responsibility. But though from one angle the Theravāda may be considered only one school of Buddhism among others, as the preserver of the Buddha’s original teachings it may also be regarded as the fountainhead of the entire Buddhist heritage from which all other forms of Buddhism emerged.
In its conception of the Buddha the salient feature of the Theravāda is its emphasis on his humanity and full historicity. For the Theravādin, the Buddha who lived and taught in northern India in the fifth century BC was not a god, divine incarnation or cosmic principle made manifest in flesh. He was first and foremost a man who found he way to release from suffering, and his attainment of Enlightenment beneath the Bidhi Tree was a human attainment accomplished by his own exertion, rigorous self-discipline and probing intellectual analysis. In relation to the world his function is not that of a savior but of a teacher. Out of compassion for others he makes know the path that leads to the end of suffering, and its is left to each individual who seeks that goal to walk the path himself, in reliance upon his own strength and wisdom and, of course, the guidance given by the Buddha.