Current debate between Analayo and Wynne on "two paths" to liberation


yes, sure. I didn’t said that because the same jhana stage but regarding the cited supposition about some buddhist group pursuing the cessation of feeling & perception instead nibbana.

It’s not possible to go above the 4th formless attainment normally and insight is required to go beyond into nibbana.

it was my sense too. An stone abide in the cessation of feeling and perception, and maybe exist in some place a similar biological state for some living beings. Who knows. You writes inside the frame of the cultivation of jhanas, in where there is an active consciousness in some degree.


I believe inside the Suttas there is no a so clear systematization of the cultivation of wisdom until nibbana like we can read about the cultivation of jhanas. However, it doesn’t mean this different way or path doesnt’ exist. The idiosyncrasy of the panna cultivation privileges the arising of discernment over a grasping of mind states. Frequently in a sudden way, and then probably one cannot expect to find a detailed step-by-step guide as happens with the instructions we can find in some jhana Suttas.

However, there are some examples of a similar stepwise style for some purposes, in where one can check these are born from the cultivation of wisdom instead jhanas. In example MN 121

In MN 121, the Buddha is in a village with people, noise, etc… (“He was staying among the Sakyans in a Sakyan town named Nagaraka”). The teaching starts when the the Buddha says: “I now remain fully in a dwelling of emptiness”. And Ananda was a little surprised or perhaps puzzled, and he wished to confirm what the Buddha said.

Then the Buddha explain a progression by discernment, wisdom, in order to abide in anatta among the noisy world. A different approach. Here it is based in considering the disturbances of the world and also the absence of disturbances.

Suttas like the MN 111 shows a path of progress starting from rapture born from seclusion (1st jhana), and from here there is a teaching going stepwise, starting each new in this way:

*“Furthermore, with the stilling…” *
“Furthermore, with the fading…”.

because there is a leaving after the realization of some stage, with the subsequent understanding after each stage/experience. And at every stage there is a knowledge of qualities which are identified being this or that.

The MN 121 shows a different thing by direct discernment (wisdom, panna). And the Buddha starts every step in a different way:

“He discern…”,
“He discern…”.

because first there is arising of discernment, and then there is a subsequent experience with qualities. It shows an inverse attitude towards insight. Here insight is not seen like a ready mature fruit which should fall but like a tree that should be moved. Also, different than MN 111, here the subsequent qualities of the experience are no important to be identified in detail but quickly are dismissed to go for a next and deeper discernment.

If one review the MN 121, the progress on wisdom also appears clearly systematized in its steps:

  • attending to the singleness based on the perception of wilderness
  • attending to the singleness based on the perception of earth
  • attending to the singleness based on the perception of the dimension of the infinitude of space
  • attends to the singleness based on the perception of the dimension of nothingness
  • attends to the singleness based on the theme-less concentration of awareness

Somebody know any modern teaching reflecting such practice?. Some contemporary people who knows and practice such thing?. I’ve never hear or seen this.

Suttas contains quite ways of progress which have not been developed historically, or without receiving the same attention.

Wynne comments can be speculative but the Analayo position is too much restricted. Seems like if he believes the contemporary Theravada views and preferences of practice were the only existent from always. This sounds like a very restricted view on Suttas, and by derivation also on the Buddha himself. Because inside the Suttas one can appreciate how the Buddha had mastery to teach in all possible ways, with episodes of difficult understanding (as those showing a direct awakening just with a short dialogue, etc). About the Buddha teaching styles or different ways to teach, we ignore more of what we know. Although that wisdom path of progress is quite present as to ignore it


Ahhhhhhhh. Thanks for this. I think the “should be moved” may also apply to MN111:

And he distinguished the phenomena…

It is also interesting to note that MN111 stops with infinite consciousness whereas MN121 continues with focus:

focuses on the oneness…

Therefore distinguishing phenomena is limited in approach, but focusing on oneness can be applied all the way through the signless immersion of the heart:

focuses on the oneness dependent on the signless immersion of the heart.


I would like to use this opportunity to re-introduce a scholarly article I brought up a while ago by Tse-Fu Kuan, called
The Pavāraṇā Sutta and “liberation in both ways” as against “liberation by wisdom”. He makes a strong (imho) case that the The Pavāraṇā Sutta (SN 8.7) is corrupt. Apparently there are discrepancies between the Pali and the various Agama versions…including the part involving the attainments of the various monks present. Apparently the EA version says that the monks present weren’t necessarily arhats, but at least stream winners.

Tse-Fu Kuan also makes a case that other lists that involve “liberated by wisdom” vs. “liberated both ways” are later additions, pointing out discrepancies between the Suttas and Agamas.


These misunderstandings happen when people only read a couple of suttas out of context. There are 10k pages of suttas in total and they are perfectly consistent even in most minor of details. It’s hard to get something as big as this wrong if one actually bothered to read what the historical Buddha had to say and not what others had to say about what he had to say.

There are hundreds of cases of people attaining stream entry in the suttas. All did it the same way, none did it differently. But first, let’s put things in perspective:

  1. On one hand you have the ladder of renounciacion. One person might be high in renounciacion, another one might not. People from all kind of religions can be high in this department, but they can not reach enlightenment no matter how high they get. Buddha reached the top in this department and still did not get enlightened. He only got enlightened when he did a whole different thing, described in SN 12.2 if I am not mistaken. Before he didn’t do that, he was not enlightened.

  2. On the other hand, you have the important insight about patticasamupada, no self, etc. of the Buddha that he got through intelectual contemplation on the night of his enlightenment. If a normal person intelectualy understands this “higher dhamma”, he will become just a stream enterer. But if a person high in renunciacion is exposed to this dhamma, he will become a non-returner or an arahant on the spot. This is why Buddha got enlightened directly, without passing through the sotapanna, once-returner, etc. stages.

How hard is it to do? Most people in the suttas did it in just a couple of days, some even a couple of hours. Even a serial criminal did it in just a couple of hours cause he was smart. Probably the longest time it took somebody to do it was 1 month, and that was in the case of a rather stupid warrior.

Some believe one has to first get enlightened, and only then can he become a sotapanna. But there are no moral requirement for becoming a sotapanna, that’s why even a serial criminal could do it and in just a couple of hours. Buddha said all it takes is getting explosed to the higher dhamma. He also explicitly said the IQ requirements are low, possibly below average judging by his description.

Today, it takes a longer time to do because it’s more difficult to do it by reading from a book than by having a skilled teacher explaining it to you in person. The big problem here is that, in lack of a teacher, people don’t know where to start from and what exactly is this “higher dhamma” part.

When Buddha explained this to his 5 ascetic friends, he did it in a particular order. On the first day he taught conditionality, then the 5 aggregates, then he showed things from the angle of sense bases and, only at the end, he delivered the difficult discourses about no-self. This is what Buddha did when he re-met his 5 ascetic friends. He didn’t tell them to continue to meditate or something.

SN - the most important of the 4 nikayas, is build in exactly this order in which the Buddha explained the higher dhamma to people when he was alive. That’s the goal of the chapter 2, 3 and 4 of that volume.

A stream enterer also means very little, it’s just the first step of the noble 8thfold path. From the point of view of the Buddha, this was a guy that just popped up the door, was instructed about this higher dhamma part, contemplated like 3-5 days and got it, and only now he is starting the long and difficult path towards enlightenment.

Today, due to disinterest in reading the nikayas, especially reading them in order like you would with any book - from page 1 to the last - many people got things upside-down, thinking that you need to start the 8th-fold path with the 8th step. This is what can be called an amateurish approach that leads to insuccess, frustration, and years of stagnation or progress at snail speed.


Some good points there. MN121 is quite interesting alright. I suppose a lot of the Buddha’s teachings in the suttas are short and quite terse. Maybe that actually was his teaching style. Though, I suppose back then, senior disciples would have been available who could have expanded on things if necessary (that’s another common pattern in the suttas). As an example, the description of the kasinas in the suttas is bordering on cryptic. Later works like the Visuddhimagga give a lot more details. However, the teaching approaches that weren’t taken up and expanded in later works often do seem a little mysterious and opaque.


That’s a nice article. Tse-Fu Kuan makes some good points. I’m not entirely convinced by his argument that the EA version was earlier (could as easily flip around his arguments) but I suppose it does raise doubts. He does make a good case, drawing on Gombrich, that “freed from passions” and “freed from ignorance” were terms that usually occurred together and were synonymous, and that perhaps later were separated out and turned into technical terms. He also points out that many suttas only talk about enlightenment in terms of the four jhanas (no mention of formless attainments). He contrasts two accounts of the Buddha’s enlightenment, one with just the four jhanas and the other involving formless states also, arguing that maybe the formless account is therefore later. Or I guess perhaps in the later decades of the Buddha’s teaching with more disciplines around with greater concentration abilities, the Buddha’s teaching naturally developed to take account of this.


Yeah, it’s hard to say whether the EA version is earlier or later. The EA as a whole seems to be a bit later than the other collections, which doesn’t help Tse-Fu Kuan’s case. And Tse-Fu Kuan acknowledges that the EA version does have some embellishments regarding Ananda. Much stronger imho was Tse-Fu Kuan’s observations/conclusions about how the list of the “7 types of disciple” (which includes the “liberated vs wisdom” vs. “liberated both ways” distinction) appears inconsistently throughout the various versions – i.e., when the pali version has it, at least one of the agama parallels lack it, or vice versa. And it doesn’t appear at all in the EA. This is indeed quite suspicious.

I also like your observation in an earlier post about the inconsistency between AN 9.43-45 and MN 70. Seems like a genuine contradiction in the Nikayas. DN 15 is consistent with AN 9.43-45 -> it says that people “liberated both ways” and those “liberated by wisdom” both go through the formless attainments, though the descriptions are different (“7 stations of consciousness” vs. “8 liberations”).


Thank you @dxm_dxm for the crisp insights and fiery passion. :fire: :smile:


According to suttacentral, AN9.43-45 don’t seem to have any parallels. I have actually just gone and looked up volume 1 of Analayo’s A Comparative Study
of the Majjhima-nikaya
. For the entry on MN70 (from p. 405 in the PDF or p. 379 in the actual page numbering) he spends several pages discussing this very issue (and mentions the above AN suttas also). MN 70 does indeed seem to have several parallels, which largely agree on this point (one more minor difference being talk of the eight liberations rather than the immaterial attainments). There is a fair bit of detail on this and related issues. MN 70 does seem to be more reliable.

And then I had a look at the DN15 reference (thanks for that, hadn’t spotted this sutta). To me this is actually somewhat intermediate in feel to the MN and AN suttas. The section on “freed by wisdom” talks about the seven planes of consciousness and two dimensions. The section on “freed both ways” talks about the eight liberations. There seems to be a lot of similarity between both schemes. Later steps in both seem to be related to the immaterial jhanas and the cessation of feeling and perception. In both, earlier steps seem very loosely to be related to similar territory to the first four jhanas (I think). Though I suppose the difference is that while freed boths ways requires real mastery of the eight liberations:

When a mendicant enters into and withdraws from these eight liberations—in forward order, in reverse order, and in forward and reverse order—wherever they wish, whenever they wish, and for as long as they wish; and when they realize the undefiled freedom of heart and freedom by wisdom in this very life, and live having realized it with their own insight due to the ending of defilements, they’re called a mendicant who is freed both ways.

whereas the “freedom by wisdom” section says about the seven planes of consciousness and two dimensions:

“When a mendicant, having truly understood the origin, ending, gratification, drawback, and escape regarding these seven planes of consciousness and these two dimensions, is freed by not grasping, they’re called a mendicant who is freed by wisdom.

This seems a vaguer and weaker condition. I suppose mastery of these states is not implied. Is even experiencing these states necessarily implied, or might some general realization about all possible states of being be enough? Anyway, DN15 seems almost intermediate between the MN and AN suttas on this topic.


Thanks for looking this up! Well, if it is actually about 8 liberations rather than immaterial attainments, that would be more consistent with DN 15 (and even AN 9.43-45) — someone “freed by wisdom” does have some experience of the formless attainments, but not as in depth as someone “freed both ways.” And maybe this is even true with the first 4 jhanas as well, which might explain why there are all these “Jhana wars” about how deep Jhana needs to be to properly be considered a Jhana (and if Jhana is necessary, if nimitta is necessary, etc.). But I digress…


Thank you so much to all who took the time to address the issues I brought up. I was on vacation for a few weeks, and had limited access. It was quite a pleasant surprise to return and see so many thoughtful posts. I will take time looking them over and will reply, if appropriate. Thanks again.