Dhammawiki's article on Theravada Buddhism

Theravada Buddhism has taken four distinctive forms in the West and around the world, in modern times:

A. The Secular Buddhist Society Model. This is concerned with the intense study of the Dhamma in its original formulation as given in the Pali Canon, the development of norms of living in substantial conformity of the requirements of the Dhamma, and the encouragement of the observance of the Dhamma generally.

B. The Original London Vihara Model. This model encompasses the objectives of the secular societies, but places greater emphasis on the necessity to accommodate ordained monks to expound the Dhamma. In its interpretation of the Canon it tends to place greater emphasis on Buddhaghosa’s exegesis whereas the secular societies tend to go the original Canon itself.

C. The Lankarama Model. This is the ethnic Buddhist Model par excellence. Its main objective appears to be to cater to the spiritual needs of expatriate groups using the particular national models of Buddhism as practiced in their home countries without any consideration of its relevance to the universality of the Buddha’s teaching or the external conditions in the host country.

D. The Meditation Centre Model. Here the Buddhist Institution is transformed into a centre for “meditation” under the guidance of a self-proclaimed “teacher”. The meditation practiced is a simplified form of the first foundation of satipatthana ignoring all the preconditions which the Buddha was careful to lay down for the correct practice of this technique of mindfulness.

Dr. Gunasekara argues that models A and B are appropriate modes in following the teachings of Buddha whereas models C and D are departures from the teachings[1].

Variations A and sometimes B and D tends to be a Modern Theravada which focuses on the Pali Canon and acknowledges that some of the suttas are not meant to be taken too literally. Variation B and sometimes C are a Classical Theravada which tends to use the literal word of the writings in the Pali Canon and the Commentaries.



What exactly is non-sense from that ? I think it’s quite a good description of how theravada developed in the west. That is how buddhism always develops when introduced in society where atheism is the main view. Just like it happened in Japan or China.

I would break that into just 3 points since point B is not necessarily something distinct from point C. Monastics in western countries, no matter if they are westerners or asians, are sustained 99% with asian money. So we have:

1) Secular buddhism and existentialist buddhism that appeared as a combination of buddhism with the main views present in those societies. (atheism and postmodernism)

2) Traditional monastic buddhism sustained by asian immigrants.

3) Meditation center buddhism witch is a form of zentrification of theravada and many of the people going there are atheist not buddhist.

In the past, Zen used to be the main variation of buddhism present in the west because of been much more compatible with an atheist society than theravada buddhism. But the Mahasi and other Zen-style meditation techniques developed in the 19th century and got exported to the west where they pretty much replaced Zen. They are Theravada-affiliated so I consider them a good thing because some of these people eventually decided to read the 10.000pag sutta pitaka.

The article you’ve posted seems to suggest that secular buddhism is better than real buddhism or that it has some form of basis in the canon while the real buddhism is simply a cultural development. The owner of the site does not believe in such things and a simple check of the page about rebirth clarifies that: https://dhammawiki.com/index.php?title=Rebirth

PS: The meditation practiced in “meditation center buddhism” is exactly what the article writes it is. I can detail that if you want. I am quite impressed that the article had the courage to admit that despite the risk of causing some waves.

For a context of how mindfulness should be practiced check MN 39, MN 107, MN 125. And yes, it is simplified version of the first foundation of mindfulness and has little to do with the anapanasanti meditation recommended by the Buddha witch has 16 steps.

1 Like

Theravada, or Early Buddhism is what it is: The words of the Buddha, the Pali Canon, nothing more, nothing less.
And that is the only form it should take. And that form I don’t see mentioned here.

1 Like

I perfectly agree with that.

And that is the only form it should take. And that form I don’t see mentioned here.

Because it doesn’t exist in the west. And it doesn’t exist in asia either. There are just some random people here and there that became “sutta followers”. It took me 7 years of been a buddhist and it took changing my main buddhist views 2 times (mahasi then existentialist then sutta follower) to eventually become one. And after that, I found myself pretty much alone on top of the mountain.

It was never popular and never will be popular again. Only in the pre-sectarian period it was mainstream. The more years that pass, the more dhamma people add on top of the original dhamma (commentaries, abbhidhama, books by contemporary bhikkhus, etc.) and people get entangles into these views. When a person reads a book, he becomes attached to that book. If he reads abbhidhamma, he becomes attached to abbhidhamma. If he read Mahasi Sayadaw he becomes attached to Mahasi Sayadaw. If he reads existentialist triple N’s he becomes attached to existentialist.

Few people start by reading the 10.000 page sutta pitaka. I did not start like that either. Most people do not want to read such a long book and do not understand the importance of doing that. So they read ancient or modern abbhidhamas with 300 pag that promise to explain what is written in those 10.000pag. And never reading the 10.000pag, they can not judge if what is written in these ancient or modern abbhidhammas is the real dhamma or not. They assume it is because they are written by famous people.

Buddha said his teachings are well expounded, clear, complete. But people still keep adding layers after layers of new dhamma on top of the original one. And the more time that passes, the more far away we get from Buddha original teachings:

“A counterfeit of true dhamma” sutta:

"It’s not the earth property that makes the true Dhamma disappear. It’s not the water property… the fire property… the wind property that makes the true Dhamma disappear.[2] It’s worthless people who arise right here [within the Sangha] who make the true Dhamma disappear. The true Dhamma doesn’t disappear the way a boat sinks all at once.

SN 16.13

PS: The person who wrote that article is a sutta follower too. But that doesn’t mean sutta followers exist. They don’t. Only what you see in that article exists.

1 Like

Having a (liberal) Catholic background, I have always been wary of useless rituals and that alone already made me exclude some “Buddhisms”. I wanted the real Buddhism, the words the Buddha said himself.
A very good site is: https://readingfaithfully.org/

Of course, words are only words and we also need practice. So I choose fine teachers like for example Ayya Khema (and who knows, maybe soon Ayya @Vimala :wink: and those of the Forest Sangha tradition.

That, for me is Theravada Buddhism.

Oh, they forgot to include a form of Western Buddhism:
“the I-think-I-am-a-Budhist-and-I-put-a-Buddha-statue-in-my-garden”



You mean the ones believing in a “true self” and eternal consciousness in nibbana type of sutta followers ?

Now you see how little sutta followers actually are out there ? There is no such thing as a tradition for sutta folowers. There are just random people scattered around that actually don’t like any tradition. And that’s how things have been for something like 2300 years

Sure, some might claim they are sutta followers because they reject abbhidhama. But that doesn’t make them sutta followers if they believe in a true self and eternal consciousness in nibbana.

Did Ajahn Chah, does Ajahn Brahm believe in a “true self” ? Does bhante @sujato ?

I did not study Abidhamma. However, I think it is what it is: a part of the Pali Canon, an analytical doctrine. And as such it can be used I guess.

Ajhan Chan never really spoke about his understanding of buddhism in detail. He had a kinda “zen -style” way of speaking, saying little. That’s why he became popular in the west where people will always love zen.

About the other 2, they are not part of the forest tradition. Their monastery has even been excommunicated from that tradition. And even if they would be, that would say nothing about the thai forest tadition in general witch does believe in a true self and eternal consciousness.

As I said, there is no tradition of sutta followers. There are just random people here and there that actually don’t like all these traditions because people get attached to traditions, feeling like “this is my tradition” and then get all these wrong ideas that those traditions promote.

I wouldn’t say he said little :slight_smile: But he was very practical.

You forget that Ajahn Brahm was a disciple of Ajahn Chah, and Ajahn Sujato a disciple of Ajahn Brahm. So I consider them part of the forest tradition.

“The purpose of practice in the tradition is to the ultimate end of experiencing the Deathless (Pali: amata-dhamma): an absolute, unconditioned dimension of the mind free of inconstancy, suffering, or a sense of self.”

source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thai_Forest_Tradition

The problem with this nonsense by dhammawiki is that it suggests to inexperienced new-comers that Western Buddhists have 4 forms to choose from, leaving out the bare and true Buddhism as it is, that of the Pali Canon.

1 Like

There are no newcomers with an empty mind coming to buddhism. There are no people thinking like “I will become a buddhist tomorrow. What kind of buddhist should I be ?” No, most people start by been atheist, get interested in meditation and then maybe become buddhist. That is why I think the article is great for pointing out “meditation center buddhism” flaws and inconsistencies with the suttas.

And I would add another flaw: 130$ price per day. Same as JW Marriot from the center of Bucharest: JW Marriot Bucharest

And that is the supposedly the “break even” price. The recommanded price is 220$. Way more than JW Marriot. But compassionate people should be able to pay. The owner of IMS, Eckhart Tolle, also promices to make you a stream enterer in just 3 months for just 12.500$ - 22.000$ (depending on your compassion level), through a method not found in the suttas and despite the fact that suttas claim not even Kassapa could not know for sure who was a stream enterer or not. And some think those guys at JW Marriot are a rip-off…

1 Like

i’d think, it pretty much is covered, to the exclusion of monasticism, by the 1st of these types

in my opinion Theravada is not the Early Buddhism, it’s another permutation of the Dhamma, which stroke root in a certain geographical region, whereas surviving remnants of other early sects drifted northwards and mutated into the extant Mahayana schools

Theravada may be closer to the Early Buddhism in that it has Tripitaka as its focus, although mostly through the lens of the commentarial tradition, and in that the Vinaya is still practised, whereas Mahayana has created a whole corpus of makeshift sutras which has come to form their doctrinal mainstay, not to speak of the Vinaya observance, but neither Theravada is homogenous and differs depending on the country it’s been traditional for

BTW, Leon, i’m not sure you’re aware, but Ven Sujato said he didn’t identify himself as a Theravadin


As I understand it, Theravada Buddhism is a religious tradition - or, one might say, a family of very similar religious traditions. Religions are certainly not words. They are social constructions consisting in communities, institutions and practices built out of habits of thought, speech and behavior. The preservation, recitation and reading of certain words might be among these religious practices, but they are never the whole religion.

Also, a canon of words can never interpret itself. It might contain passages that prescribe certain ways of interpreting other passages in the canon, but then that prescriptive passage itself has to be interpreted, etc., etc.

The dhamma isn’t words. Words are just guides or pointers. The dhamma is something that is dwelt in silently:


1 Like

i’ve been ruminating that one just cannot have the Early Buddhism, the Dhamma like any teaching after demise of its originator, who’s no longer available for counsel, will always be subject to interpretation, if not by ancient commentators, then by the modern teachers

the closest one can get to the original unadulterated Teaching is having it retaught by an arahant, but where are they?

1 Like

We should not get too harsh on Theravada. No matter their flaws, they had preserved the Pali Canon in a very conservative manner to this day. They are the guardians of the dhamma. They might not read it, but sure enough they worship and continue to preserve it. Without them and their ultra-conservative orthodox attitude, the teachings would have been lost.

Also, most of them have resisted idealist tendencies so far due to their conservative orthodox attitude. For me, it is a wonder that there are some out there who have not ended up like Mahayana.

There are only 4 Theravada countries remaining. Hopefully the teachings will remain preserved for another 2,500 years as predicted.

Whoever is following the suttas today is a therevadian. Who ever is following the teachings of the historical Buddha is a theravadian.

1 Like

Just as one example, traditional Theravada practice includes pujas performed with a Buddharupa. But it is pretty hard to find any such ceremony in the Canon. The ceremony is a ritual, memorial reenactment of actual offerings made to the actual Buddha and other living worthies. That doesn’t make it a bad practice. I think it is an excellent practice. But it is an organic development from, and addition to, the earliest “Buddhism” in the time of the Buddha.

Don’t think so:

“Secular Buddhism takes a pragmatic approach to explaining and applying Buddhist teachings and is based on humanist values. I practice/teach Secular Buddhism because it makes the most sense to me. I have a deep love for Buddhist wisdom and I respect all Buddhist traditions.”


Contrary to what the dhammawiki article wants us to believe, “secular buddhism” is a kind of take-what-you-like “buddhism” stripped of all “supernatural” things in the suttas the mondern mind can’t grasp. That’s very far from Theravada.

No, I was not particularly aware of that, but I think Ajahn Brahm has the same policy.
But what someone identifies him/herself with is his/her business, as it is my business to consider someone belonging to Theravada :slight_smile:
I don’t know venerable Sujato very well so I can’t judge with regard to him but in my opinion Ajahn Brahm comes very close to the original teachings.

That is correct, but it is a religious tradition that comes closest to the Buddha’s own practice - at least that is my opinion.

The rest you said I totally agree with.

Right, but the practice isn’t the texts.

1 Like

my opinion is based on the description of the type rather than its title, and there’s a mismatch between them


the development of norms of living in substantial conformity of the requirements of the Dhamma, and the encouragement of the observance of the Dhamma generally.

doesn’t look like an accurate description of the cherry-picking approach secular Buddhism is known for