A Nice Summary from Piya Tan: "EARLY BUDDHISM AS COMMON SENSE"

Piya Tan, who works on the Sutta Discovery Project, and teaches them, was a former Theravada monk for 20 years. Today he is a full time lay Dharma teacher specializing in early Buddhism.

SOURCE: “The Oral Tradition of Early Buddhism”
SD 58.1 (5.4.6 )


The Pali canon or Tipiṭaka in India became the nucleus for what we today call early Buddhism. Historically, it is not correct to say that Theravāda, that arose in Sri Lanka, is the oldest school, or even has the oldest scripture. Indeed, the term thera,vāda originally meant the “doctrine or school of the elders,” that is, the arhats who convened the 1st council, or better, the “elders” (thera) comprising the Buddha and the early arhats, whose awakening are identical, as attested in the Sambuddha Sutta (S 22.58).

However, the earliest teachings of the Buddha still extant are more fully preserved in the Pali canon than in another other Buddhist canon today. Since Buddhism is not a book-based religion, it does not really matter even if we are unable to produce ancient manuscripts with Pali teachings. The discoveries of early manuscripts of the ancient texts of ancient schools in Afghanistan or Central Asia do not debunk the fact that the earliest teachings of the Buddha preserved in the Pali canon…


Even if the Pali suttas, as we have them today, are not the earliest texts, the earliest teachings are embedded in them and easily retrievable from them, unlike the canons or scriptures of other schools extant or extinct. The test is in the pudding itself. The teachings of the Pali suttas show the least influence, importation or modification from external and extraneous sources.

Even when the Buddha is recorded as buddhicizing elements from the Vedas or Upanishads, there is always a consistency and unity in his methods and teachings that, for example, reflect the 7 sets [***]. If we are to remove or reject the 7 sets or revise them in a manner that is foreign, even antagonistic, to the “Pali drift,” the spirit of the Pali canon, such as claiming that the Buddha or an arhat is still not enlightened (like a Bodhisattva), then, we have lost our vision of the Buddha and the path…


Even if we are unable to prove “early Buddhism” as a historical reality, we can still live it as a spiritual life. The notion of early Buddhism, the wisdom of one fully awakened, the Buddha, invites us to examine what makes an ideal religion, a truly viable spiritual path that humanizes us so that we are able to attain divinity here and now, and envision the highest good and head that way…


These 3 “essential qualities” define this common-sense “ideal spirituality”:.

(1) Impermanence

Everything changes: we may deny God or goodness but not impermanence. This is the true reality that is the basis of all other realities. Understanding this frees us from ignorance and suffering. There is no doubt here: only faith or wisdom. This is true reality.

The Buddha arises in history as the embodiment of impermanence like the sun that lights up the skies; he passes away, like the setting sun, as the final proof of the true reality that is his teaching.


(2) Suffering

Suffering is when we look for solutions outside for issues that are really within. As we think so we are. A ritual is a vain pursuit for succour or a saviour outside. Salvation and awakening are within.

The Buddha awakens and through his teaching, we awaken as arhats; hence, this awakening is the same, just as freedom is immeasurable, like the open space we breathe and move in…

(3) Non-self

We do, we are, we have, but we can never identify with any of it. Early Buddhism is the path that does not identify with itself. The journey is our breath: we take it in, we must give it back; even our life is not ours.

Every step we take, we leave behind our views of self. For, the path is not out there: it is an inner journey only we can take ourself, just as the Buddha himself has done, to arrive in nirvana.

These are the 3 characteristics of true reality; they are also the 3 fetters breaking which we reach the path or awakening. These are the practical essence of early Buddhism.


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