Did The Buddha Only Teach Dukkha and Its Cessation?

Or, perhaps we should compare with the parallel version from Chinese Agamas and Sanskrit texts (if any) :thinking:

From Bhante Analayo’s comparative study of MN and his translation of SA, it turns out that the Chinese Agama parallel in MA 200 and SA 106 doesn’t contain the statement. So, we can only rely on linguistic construction…


That is interesting. I wonder if they did so based on the Pali, the comm, or on the English? We’ll probably never know!

Ven Bodhi doesn’t really give much of a linguistic argument in his essay, but I’m pretty sure he’s right. The … ceva … ca construction is used very commonly, and it doesn’t seem to ever have an exclusive sense. But as usual, there’s probably an exception somewhere!


Most probably on the commentary. Their official policy is to translate according to the commentary’s glosses and most of the revisions in the new Mahachula edition seem to consist in correcting the earlier translators’ oversights in this matter.

Indeed. When one is composing a Pali sentence of the form:

“subject + verb + only + direct object-1 and direct object-2”

using c’eva … ca seems to be a very uncommon way of doing it, but it is occasionally instantiated in the texts. For example, the Asilakkhaṇa Jātaka has:

Bārāṇasirañño pana putto n’atthi, ekā dhītā c’eva bhāgineyyo ca ahesuṃ.
But the King of Benares had no son; he had only a daughter and a nephew.

Slightly more common is to use eva with saha:

Api c’āhaṃ, bhikkhave, sahā’va sukhena, sahā’va somanassena catunnaṃ ariyasaccānaṃ abhisamayaṃ vadāmi.
But rather, bhikkhus, I declare that the breakthrough to the four noble truths is accompanied only by happiness and only by joy.

But commonest of all seems to be eva without any coordinating conjunction:

Yā janikāmātu mātā yāva sattamā mātumātāmahayugā brāhmaṇaṃ’y’eva agamāsi, no abrāhmaṇaṃ.
Your mother’s mothers back to the seventh generation of mothers of mothers went only with brahmins and never with non-brahmins.

Atha kho s’v’eva amanusso kilamathassa vighātassa bhāgī assa.
Then that non-human would be a partaker only in weariness and vexation.

I suspect c’eva … ca is out of favour for this purpose precisely because of the ambiguity it will sometimes give rise to. However, since it is at least a grammatically possible construal of “dukkhañc’eva … dukkhassa ca nirodhaṃ” Ven. Bodhi’s self-critique of his earlier rendering seems a little overstated to me.


If you do not mind me asking, how does Theravāda commentarial literature and early literature interpret and treat the bodhimanda? I am only familiar with discourse concerning it coming from the Mahāyāna direction.

This is from a Gāndhārī Prajñāpāramitāsūtra fragment, seemingly polemicizing against Mahāyāna’s prevalent docetism (I am speaking of, for instance, when Venerable Guanding speaks of Shākyamunibuddha “casting of his Mahāvairocana robe” and donning a Shākyamuni robe when leaving the bodhimanda to descend to earth):

I’m afraid this isn’t something that I’ve ever looked into with any thoroughness, so I don’t really know much more than what’s given in the entry for Bodhisatta in the Dictionary of Pali Proper Names:

On the day the Bodhisatta attains to Buddhahood, he receives a meal of milk-rice (pāyāsa) from a woman and a gift of kusa grass, generally from an Ājīvīka, which he spreads under the Bodhi-tree ²⁰ for his seat. The size of this seat varies; the seats of Dīpaṅkara, Revata, Piyadassī, Atthadassī, Dhammadassī, and Vipassī were fifty-three hands in length; those of Koṇḍañña, Maṅgala, Nārada, and Sumedha fifty-seven hands; that of Sumaṇa sixty hands; those of Sobhita, Anomadassī, Paduma, Padumuttara, and Phussa thirty-eight; of Sujāta thirty-two; of Kakusandha twenty-six; of Koṇāgamana twenty; of Kassapa fifteen; of Gotama fourteen.²¹

and the Nidānakatha, the introductory part of the Jātaka Atthakathā. See pages 188-196 for the account of Gotama’s construction and placing of the seat, along with Māra’s attempt to challenge his right to it.

And for a comparison of all this with earlier sources, see Ananda Guruge’s The Buddha’s Encounters with Mara the Tempter.

Isn’t it in Mahayana, the Buddha is said to set forth Dhamma wheel three times? The first is teaching Four Noble Truths to five ascetics (this is for teaching the sravakas), second is teaching Prajnaparamita to the Bodhisattvas, and third is teaching Tantras to advanced practitioners. Perhaps, the Pali commentary give the word “only” to deny the possibility of other Dhamma wheel rolling than Four Noble Truths…

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That is a Yogācāra theory, yes. Different sects will have different stances on how to reconcile the fact that their scriptures are older. The Tiāntāi school has a similar scheme without the triyāna, and without tantra/vajrayāna, because it wasn’t around yet.

For instance, in the parallel Tiāntāi framework, take out tantrayāna as the highest teaching to the most advanced practitioners, and substitute the Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra, particularly as interpreted through two commentaries, 法華玄義 & 法華文句, for the same thing. Each school always seems very sure they have it right.

Probably because their prominence and ability to promulgate their texts and teachings often depended upon patronage from an emperor.


I think the commentators would likely have construed the passage in the way they do even if the Mahāyāna had never existed.

The interpretive principle that any sutta, gāthā or vyākaraṇa taught by the Buddha is (in some way or other, howsoever contrived) an exposition of the four noble truths predates the commentaries by several centuries. It may or may not have been a pre-sectarian idea, but in Indian scholastic Buddhism it was certainly a trans-sectarian one. In the case of the Theravāda we first encounter it in explicit form in the Peṭakopadesa’s exposition of otaraṇa (‘ways of entry’), the twelfth of the sixteen modes of conveying.


It is a good acedemic discussion.
Blut end of the day what else Buddha teach in addition to the Dukkha and the cessation of the Dukkha?
I think all his teachings are revolving around these two.
So I have no problem using that Buddha teach only the Dukkha and the cessaton of Dukkha.
I just wonder whether Bhiikhu Bodi had some political motivation for the backflip hence he has the tendancy to side with Mahayana as Seniya mentioned.

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I don’t think so…

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I just want to raise some questions that you don’t have to give me an answer, but rather, you may ask and know it yourself :smiley:

  • What of the Awakened One’s teachings do you care about?
  • Why do you care about those teachings?
  • What drove you into searching and coming to the Awakened One’s teachings? What happened before that?

For some people, the answer to these questions is dissatisfaction (stress, sufferings, discontentment), they are aware of the dissatisfaction they themselves or other people experience (such as losing a family member), and they seek a way out, release from such dissatisfaction (stress, sufferings, discontentment) in life (pointed out in DN 22 - Thanissaro “Birth is stressful, aging is stressful, death is stressful; sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair are stressful; association with the unbeloved is stressful; separation from the loved is stressful; not getting what is wanted is stressful. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are stressful.”)

If what claims to be the Awakened One’s teachings doesn’t help you solve the problems, end dissastisfaction in your life, will you care? Why? What does it bring to you? Is it what you really want?

What I care throughout the nikayas is the four noble truths and their detailed expansion (a part of them or entirely) such as the noble eightfold path, dependent origination, five clinging-aggregates, six sense bases, four establishings of mindfulness, seven factors for awakening, impermanent - dissatisfactory - not-self. I think the Awakened One’s statement in MN 22 (Thanissaro) stated that: “Both formerly and now, monks, I (the Awakened One) declare only stress and the cessation of stress” means a concise version of the four noble truths (the first and third noble truths as the result, implied that the second and fourth noble truths as corresponding causes).

To sum up, the big question is what do you really want (in your life) and why.

For more information:

Cheers :smiley:


I take it to mean that everything the Buddha taught was related ( directly or indirectly ) to dukkha and it’s cessation, ie that the ultimate purpose of his various teachings was cessation of dukkha.


What we have to investigate the motivation of the BB to reverse his decession. I think it is just more than the correction of the translation considering the fact that his translations are not word to word but to convey the meaning.
What is the possible misunderstanding of the Sutta if the word “only” not used?

This seems to be the key question. Did the Buddha in fact teach anything other than these two? Are there any teachings that are neither suffering nor the cessation of suffering?

May I suggest that the wieldings of various forms of psychic power are not clearly in either category?

I am doctrinally very unsure about this, but if the Buddha taught people (for example) to read the hearts of others through meditative attainments, this skill seems to fit neither of them terribly well. It’s not necessary for Awakening, and it’s not necessarily the basis of suffering either.


There are three types of Dukkha.
Dkukkha Dukkha, Viparinama Dukkha, Sankara Dukka.
Suffering has many levels.
Buddha’s teachig covers all the levels not like other religions.
Buddha did not teach all what he knew.

To my understanding, BB’s article fits in with his stance of engaged Buddhism. Especially (but not exclusively) in Theravada, there is a trend to focus on our own practice and not say much about politics or the world. This is all well and good, but some who espouse this style of Buddhism make the further claim that the Buddha himself never taught anything about the greater good and only taught individuals.

Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote a book (The Buddha’s Teachings on Social and Communal Harmony) and, I assume, this article in order to refute that stance and point out that the Buddha also taught how we can address suffering in our society and communities. Whether social and communal advice counts as “teaching Dukkha and the end of Dukkha” I will leave to the reader.


When Buddha taught the path to cessation of Dukkha it is naturally extend to yourself and others,
So socially engaged Buddhism also part of the cessation of Dhuklhs In mundane level.

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There is lots of other stuff in the EBTs, but I think we can say that the Buddha taught it all with the purpose of ending suffering.


IMO there is no difference. You can spin the passage with or without the “only.” That’s the nature of spin.