Bhikkhu Anālayo on Respecting the Different Buddhist Traditions

Video interview conducted at Barre Center for Buddhist Studies


Dear @Linda thank you so much for posting this video. I find Bhante Analayo’s perspective sound and inspiring, pointing to a desirable synergy between intellectual clarity and a wholesome heart. Which is very different from a slightly patronizing attitude in which I am convinced to be in the right but I ‘allow’ others their views. The aneddote of the Buddha rupa with, or without, the traditional ‘protuberance’ striked me as a simple and effective way to get his point across. It makes me reflect on how crucial it is understanding and skilfully handling saññā (perception, or as I prefer to think of it, ‘felt meanings’) in our approach to the teachings, as opposed to grasping blindly to or dismiss our mental constructs. I also found this complements his interview on the role of feeling tones in the formation of views.


I enjoyed this interview, good questions, good responses, and enjoyed the quality of the video and the clarity of Ven. Analayo’s perspectives.

I have deep respect for Ven. Analayo’s scholarship and devotion to practice and teaching. He’s one of the Bhikkhus (among others, including our Bhantes and Ayyas on this site) that inspire and keep western monasticism vibrant and highly relevant. I have no standing to offer comment, perhaps, but I suggest that I’m not just ready to embrace an expansive acceptance of later traditions, or a kind of ecumenicism that sees an unquestioned relevance in all of the Buddhist traditions that developed, for example, in the CE.

The quandary that I have is that it is exactly this kind of overbroad ecumenism that has caused so many in the west to miss or bypass the Dhamma, and to embrace traditions where the Dhamma and Vinaya have been largely rejected, or ignored. Part of the great value of scholars like Vens. Sujato, Brahmali, Brahm, Analayo, Bodhi, Thanissaro, Khema, et al., is the practice of illuminating the EBTs and the Dhamma/Vinaya in a Buddhist community that has very little understanding or appreciation of what the Buddha taught, and the context in which he taught his Dhamma.

My point is that it seems too early to advocate this expansive kind of ecumenical approach to the Buddha and his Dhamma, at least until there is a wider reconciliation and acceptance in Buddhism of the Buddha’s teachings from the Canon and the Agamas. I am all for a rainbow coalition of Buddhists, but not at the expense of the Dhamma. I also very much agree that there should be no denigration, or disparaging feelings toward other traditions; in fact, a general ecumenism that is supportive, non-denigrating, and collaborative is a much needed approach in modern Buddhism. There is certainly more that we hold in common than separates us from other Buddhist traditions.

My comment is on review perhaps unfounded, esp. as it is Ven. Analayo himself who has done so much to illuminate the early Buddhist teachings. Perhaps as he is far wiser, more experienced, and more equanimous than I, and by a mile, his perspective is a right view. Yet, I am still of the mind, every time that I read a copy of Tricycle or Lion’s Roar, that so much work needs to be done to reaquaint the west to what the Buddha taught, and I’m just not ready to accept a rainbow of flowers on my altar.

As for the topknotectomy,…bravo! A teaching moment, perhaps, for the Sri Lankan monks. How wonderful it might be to remind the monks that when a visitor came to the Sangha, he could not pick out the shaven and robed Tathagata from the other monks.


Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu! :blush:

I found really enlightening his side point on the concept of heart and solar plexus. It may be one of the reasons in Thai language what in English we sometimes call the mind and sometimes heart is usually rendered in the compound ‘chit-jai’ (จิตใจ) which is literally “mind-heart”.

Moreover, it is interesting to learn that this is something that comes from the commentaries of the Abhidhamma.

If I am not wrong, at least in the Dhammayut side of the Thai Forest Tradition, a beginner is always instructed to bring his repetition of the mantra bud-dho down from his/her head, or mind, to his heart, around the solar plexus:

For example, in concentration we knew that it was centered in the middle of the chest. Our awareness was pronounced right there. The stillness was pronounced right there. The brightness, the radiance of the mind was pronounced right there. We could see it clearly without having to ask anyone. All those whose minds have centered into the foundation of concentration find that the center of ‘what knows’ is really pronounced right here in the middle of the chest. They won’t argue that it’s in the brain or whatever, as those who have never experienced the practice of concentration are always saying.

Source: Straight from the Heart - Talks on Meditation by Ajahn Maha Boowa

The brain, for instance, is a lump of matter. The brain is merely an instrument that human consciousness uses. When the citta enters into a deep state of calm and concentration, the conscious awareness that is normally diffused throughout the body simultaneously converges from all areas of the body into one central point of focus at the middle of the chest.

The knowing quality manifests itself prominently at that point. It does not emanate from the brain. Although the faculties of memorization and learning arise in association with the brain, direct knowledge of the truth does not.

Step by step, beginning with the initial stages of samadhi practice, progress in meditation is experienced and understood in the heart—and only in the heart. This is where the truth lies, and the meditator who practices correctly knows this each step of the way. When it comes to understanding the true nature of all phenomena, the brain is not a factor—it is not useful at all.

The citta’s serene and radiant qualities are experienced at the heart. They emanate conspicuously from that point. All of the citta’s myriad aspects, from the grossest to the most subtle, are experienced clearly from this central spot. And when all defiling influences are finally eliminated from the citta, it is there that they all cease.

Source: The Path to Arahantship, by Ajahn Maha Boowa

Again, this understanding and mode of practice may have been influenced by the understanding the the connection between mind and body (nama & rupa) takes place in that part of our bodies, according to what Bhante Analayo says in this video.

I didn’t think he was advocating that. He was saying, I think, that an EBT-analytical approach, an Abhidhamma-based approach, or various Mahayana approaches, are about, as he puts it “different Buddhas”. If you try to just mix them up, you’ll have a mess. The EBT Buddha didn’t teach Abhidhamma to his mother in Tāvatiṃsa heaven, and Sāriputta during meal breaks. The Buddha of many Asian teachers did. The EBT Buddha didn’t have his Mayahana sutras hidden by nāgas, and so on…

As Ven Analayo says, telling those teachers, “Bhante, according to my textual analysis your teaching is based on ahistorical fallacies” is unlikely to be a particularly useful approach. Recognising that they are different approaches, with different assumptions, might be more helpful.

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Sure, they are based on different assumptions. This is true of anyone who has an idea: atheists, Xians, Theravadans, Mahayana folk, Mormons, racists, anti-vaxxers - everyone. But leaving assumptions unexamined & unassessed for the sake of social lubrication seems, to me, to be rather hideous.

Sure, we can say that a given idea is not the only truth & all else worthless. But a goal & concomitant methods were indeed defined by the historical Buddha. To have the same goal & yet different methods attached to ahistorical information obscures the Dhamma.

The phrase “that is very likely not an actual set of ideas from the historical person” is not subject to placative ecumenism. It is subject to the greatest historical likelihood, given wide reflective equilibrium - and, a sense of timing for when one tells people.


When people say “well, it works for me”, that’s something to appreciate with sympathy and compassion - it is not the time for an impromptu college lecture. But it is never helpful to agree with someone who believes inaccuracies.


Hi Dave,

My key point is that Ven Analayo did not seem to be advocating “overbroad ecumenism” where one mixes up bits one likes from different traditions. He seemed to be saying that each tradition needs to be understood in its own terms. I think we generally agree on that.

The rest of your post seems to hinge on the assumption that historical analysis will yield the only effective, or most effective, approach to awakening. I don’t see how historical analysis has any way of proving that the Buddha’s claims to awakening are even correct, let alone decide between competing approaches. As the Buddha stated, until we are awakened ourselves, we are going to be taking his claims on faith.

Putting aside the historicity of the Abhidhamma, the Theravada, and other sects based on the Nikayas, developed detailed systems of analysis and detailed instructions on practice. Perhaps those instructions developed because they were found to be more effective, not because of a degradation of the Dhamma. Perhaps the same is true of Mahayana and Vajrayana developments.

I do think that historical analysis is an extremely important tool, and I’m attracted to the idea of practices based on early sources. Clearly so is Ven Analayo. However, I think he’s cautioning us not to overstate what historical analysis can show about the effectiveness of these different traditions.


False. It is the most effective means for gaining access to what the historical Buddha taught. This can be held alongside competing approaches, and contradictions & other issues should be seen for what they are.

If you’re going to say that we take things on faith, you’re side-stepping the point: it isn’t that we have no proof, it’s that when it comes to the historical Buddha’s teachings we have a set of approaches that render stronger likelihoods than other approaches: ahistorical, mystical, & otherwise. Argue against this position at your leisure.

It isn’t a matter of using historical methods to assess effectiveness, it’s a matter of assessing the sources of various claims, texts, etc. What you call effectiveness is what I see manifest when people say “it works for me”. Hmm… isn’t this odd? Doesn’t this let mere personal preference have a freer hand?

Hi Dave,

That’s exactly my point. Historical analysis can get us something close to what the historical Buddha taught, but doesn’t guarantee that what he taught worked.

And it’s not clear to me why subsequent developments by supposedly adept practitioners should necessarily result in something that works less well.

Of course not.

Who said anything about this?

Hi Dave,

I’m sorry, I thought you were implying it with posts like this:

However, perhaps with careful reading you’re not making any assumptions about the effectiveness of later practices, simply objecting to claims of their historicity.

Well, I respect bhikkhu Analayo for his broad mindedness and equanimity. He neither rejects nor accept all traditions but respects them for their uniqueness. He uses the different kinds of approaches in order to construct a more accurate vision for all Buddhists.


Discussions about effectiveness were exactly what I was attempting to trim off. :heart:

Much thanks @Linda!

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