Alex Wynne on the Two Early Buddhist Traditions

The new co-editor of the Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, Alex Wynne, has ignored the embargo period and posted a copy of his recent article on As such non-subscribers may get an early look at it, though I think Wynne has expressed similar ideas elsewhere.

Sariputta or Kaccāna? A preliminary study of two early Buddhist philosophies of mind and meditation.

I haven’t read it yet, but I find the title and introduction intriguing because it ties in very well with my developing impression of Prajñāpāramitāvāda as a conservative movement which had Kaccāna as an important figure - the 8000 line text cites the Kaccānagotta Sutta (SN 12:15) in the first Chapter. Also there is a focus on arūpa-ayatana meditations (cf. MN 121).

So I look forward to seeing what Wynne has made of this.


Wynne indeed presents here a host of radical re-interpretations – including the notion of sort-of bare awareness as an earlier root in Buddha teachings then the Theravada “calm-insight” (samadhi-vipassana?) tradition.

Quite likely to stimulate interest here.


I think some of these ideas are presented in his recent lecture series at the Oxford Center of Buddhist Studies. The audio is available at the OCBS website.

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Here is the link, which gives access to the audio files from the lecture, along with a pdf of the PowerPoint presentation: Early Buddhist Meditation: A Philosophical Investigation | Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies


Thanks for that. From a quick read, it seems that he is arguing that the earliest approach was a kind of “bare insight”, but not in the later Commentarial sense, but perhaps more along the lines of Bhikkhu Ñāṇananda’s analysis.

We have seen that there are two fundamentally distinct understandings of ‘conciousness’ or ‘mind’, and two related soteriologies, in the early Buddhist discourses. It is difficult to see how they could be reconciled, for both suggest different outcomes towards the end of the Buddhist path. According to our reading of Kaccana, liberation requires mindfulness in the sense of bare cognition; but according to our reading or Sariputta, liberation is attained by minimising experience to its most refined state, which confers the ability to see ideas clearly, or to comprehend the refined contents of this state, or else to jump into a state of non-experience.


Vedana is an experience (feeling) with a desire to know more ['note that this desire will make the ensuing dhamma a dhatu)] - Sanna is the inquiry about that experience, and the assumptions made of it - and vinnana is the final knowledge made of these assumptions (might it be erroneous or not).
When a dhamma (or a desired dhamma=dhatu, ) that comes from namarupa nidana, is experienced in salayatana nidana, there is or not “bare awareness”.
If there is mindfulness and restraint of the indriya, it is not really “bare awareness”.
What is “bare” is that this dhamma is “not ours”, and that we haven’t yet appropriated it (or not) through contact.
As long as there is no transfer of property (phasso), it is “bare”.
If one does follow the nimitta, then it remains “bare”. And that is bad news.

This is what MahaKaccāna meant.

Additional note:
Wynne is so fuzzy about mind as mano or citta, that it is pretty painful.

Having read the paper and listened twice to his lectures at the OCBS, I think Wynne exagerates a bit the distinction of this ‘bare awareness’. The idea of ‘simplified cognition’ feels more adequate.

True, if there is restraint of the senses, then it follows there is some discerning quality. I feel this is compatible with Kaccāna’s instructions. Perhaps ‘non-reactive’ awareness (non-proliferating) might be better than ‘bare’?

Also, I’m looking forward to the next papers. In the OCBS lectures he did accept that such practice lead to a natural absorption, just not so much single-object-dependent; and as such he was reinterpreting the jhānas rather than taking them out of the picture. Interesting to see what all this investigation opens up.

To have proliferation is to have already contacted/phasso (transfer of property of the external dhamma’s ayatana, to the internal ayatana). Then to have experienced (vedana) this dhamma, then to inquire and have assumption (sanna) about that dhamma, then to think (vitakka) and proliferate (papanca) about it.
see here.

What they call “bare” awareness (or should call “bare”,) is in fact, just the knowledge (vinnana) of the dhamma’s external ayatana, by the internal ayatana.
And there will be no phasso and vedana, if there is mindfulness and restraint of the indriya. What Buddhism is all about.

I like “non reactive”. A knowledge (vinnana) without further experience (vedana) .
“Bare awareness” is just the mere acknowledgement of an external dhamma (that we should consider as not ours).
This is the real meaning of anicca (or at least its other meaning that applies here) ; viz. “not one’s owness” (foreign).

It is not the dhamma or the khandhas of which it is made, that arises and fall. It is the nidanas.

There has arisen in me a pleasant feeling. Now that is dependent, not independent. Dependent on what? Dependent on just this contact.
SN 36.8

What one is supposed to understand is the foreign nature of the khandhas, that produce a (foreign) dhamma.
That dhamma should be seen “bare”, with no phasso and vedana.