Difference between the Buddha's path and what is taught to others?

To clarify, I wasn’t seeing this as a problem. I just wanted to make that clear, since tone is impossible to capture on a forum. I was just surprised, and the more I thought about it, the more surprised I became.

Excellent point!

It makes perfect sense to me that the Buddha, in all his wisdom, was able to create practices for others that suited their current state of mind. It also makes sense that the Buddha himself didn’t need to engage in those exact practices. We can see that pre-enlightenment he already had some combination of sati, sampajanna, yoniso manasikara, and samadhi, as well as intense renunciation. We can infer from his mastering of his early teachers’ meditation techniques, and his childhoold jhana experience, that he didn’t have too many problems with the five hinderances, either. However, I guess I had previously assumed that the techniques he taught were ones that he had practiced before. I hadn’t ever thought that the Four Noble Truths, D.O., anatta, etc., were known to him before enlightenment. But I also hadn’t thought that so many of the practices we find him teaching were created after his enlightenment. It just came as a bit of a surprise to me.

Thank you, Ajahn!

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This is not different to what happens in the realm of science like Maths and Physics.

I am sure that, for example, the way Einstein came to conceive his theory of relativity was somewhat different to the way and format he had to phrase and formalize it to the broader scientific community.

To him, apparently, it came up rather intuitively and as result of a very unique and personal ideation.

He and others then took years to formulate and even find the right way to make mathematical sense of what he was hitting at.

So, analogously, the Buddha took most of his spiritual career find different ways to teach and present to his audience the overall principles and aspects of the teaching with the only goal of helping them realizing for themselves the end of suffering.

By the end of his life, it seems as per DN16, the 37 principles of awakening have had become a standard curriculum for teaching those coming to him. But who knows how early in his teaching career had he come up with that standard set?



The Buddha’s Path was more-or-less the same as the standard noble eightfold path, with the one exception being that for us right view comes first, and for him it came last.

  1. He set out with right intention, renouncing the household life in search of deathless happiness
  2. He practiced right speech
  3. He practiced right action
  4. He practiced right livelihood, as a mendicant living on alms
  5. He practiced right effort, even to the extent of mastering other teachings and striving to develop even greater skillful qualities than anyone alive had attained
  6. He practiced right mindfulness
  7. He practiced right concentration
  8. He attained right view

He never attained enlightenment after receiving a teaching, because there was no-one alive teaching rightly. And there are others in the suttas who seem to “skip” stages, such as Bahiya the bark-cloth acetic, who was so developed in other ways he had psychic powers and thought he was an independent arahant, and so when he went to see the Buddha he became an Arahant after just one teaching of right view (combined with a lifetime of practice). This means that going straight from unenlightened to enlightened isn’t unique to the Buddha or all that strange.

As for meditation “objects”, we never get a blow-by-blow history of what the bodhisattva was instructed in as he gradually reduced his unskillful qualities and developed his skillful qualities. We know that at one time he mostly practiced emptiness meditation. But the silence is not that strange, since overall it’s not the meditation “objects” that seem to be the special part of the dharma. He attained right view, knowledge of the four noble truths, etc. with literally all of samsara as his object of contemplation. The reason he doesn’t teach this as the only way is obvious - because it’s really really hard. Even some arahants aren’t triple-knowledge arahants with sufficient clairvoyance to see all of samsara like that. And the teachings are evident in the here-and-now anyway. It seems you can become an Arahant only ever contemplating the yellow kasina or never contemplating the yellow kasina. So he taught the same path that he walked in it’s essential details, but just with the additional benefit of letting us know ahead of time what we will discover.

Concentration by mindfulness of breathing was both taught and practiced by the Buddha Himself. It’s also one of the few (if not the only?) meditation practices that is explicitly said to be able to take one all the way to full enlightenment: see SN 54.13.

Ok I am not 100% sure that I remember/ understood this correctly but I am 99,9% sure: I think that once a monk said in conversation that his teacher thinks that the Buddha was probably a non returner when he was born into his last life.
Anyway I hope I didn’t misunderstand this but it would be consistent with the fact that he easily entered a jhana as child.
For me the puzzle is why didn’t he remember this early experience for example during his search for enlightenment and wasted 7 years before realizing that the jhanas were the way to enlightenment.

Um…non-returners do not return to this world. So no, the Buddha could not have been a non-returner in his previous life.


By “last life” I think he meant the life in which he became the Buddha.

But that would be inconsistent with how his final extinction took place, as recorded in DN16 wouldnt it? :thinking:

36. The Full Extinguishment

Then the Buddha entered the first absorption.
Emerging from that, he entered the second absorption.
Emerging from that, he successively entered into and emerged from the third absorption, the fourth absorption, the dimension of infinite space, the dimension of infinite consciousness, the dimension of nothingness, and the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception.
Then he entered the cessation of perception and feeling.

Then Venerable Ānanda said to Venerable Anuruddha, “Venerable Anuruddha, has the Buddha become fully extinguished?”

“No, Reverend Ānanda. He has entered the cessation of perception and feeling.”

Then the Buddha emerged from the cessation of perception and feeling and entered the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception.
Emerging from that, he successively entered into and emerged from the dimension of nothingness, the dimension of infinite consciousness, the dimension of infinite space, the fourth absorption, the third absorption, the second absorption, and the first absorption.
Emerging from that, he successively entered into and emerged from the second absorption and the third absorption.
Then he entered the fourth absorption. Emerging from that the Buddha immediately became fully extinguished.

DN 16: Mahāparinibbānasutta—Bhikkhu Sujato (suttacentral.net)


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Sorry I made a mess in my previous message, it was late at night! I meant that the hypothesis was that he was already a once returner when he was born in his last life (in which he then went on to become a Buddha). Of course a non returner would have been impossible since he would not have been reborn as a human.
I think the argument is that this would make it also consistent with the idea of non-self: i.e. by assuming that the Buddha practised and attained a level of enlightenment under a previous Buddha it’s easy to see where these teachings come from. And also it explains his early experience of a jhana as a child.
Anyway I hope I have not misunderstood the person who told me about this interpretation.


There is no sutta support for that idea, it also demotes the Buddha to a learner of the path rather than a discoverer of the path.

“The Tathagata, bhikkhus, the Arahant, the Perfectly Enlightened One, is the originator of the path unarisen before, the producer of the path unproduced before, the declarer of the path undeclared before. He is the knower of the path, the discoverer of the path, the one skilled in the path. And his disciples now dwell following that path and become possessed of it afterwards.

“This, bhikkhus, is the distinction, the disparity, the difference between the Tathagata, the Arahant, the Perfectly Enlightened One, and a bhikkhu liberated by wisdom.” - SuttaCentral

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I agree with the first point of course - that’s why I said it was a hypothesis.
As I said I am also not 100% sure that I understood correctly the person who said his teacher suggested that. However, concerning the idea of ‘demoting’

of course it sounds logical, but isn’t that an argument based on the idea of self? My understanding of non self is that since we are totally conditioned beings, everything we do, understand etc is the fruit of all the past interactions and events that made us the way we are now. A bit like in Ajahn Brahm’s story of when he gave a talk in front of a huge crowd, and he reminded himself that what he was going to say was really only due to how he had been conditioned by Ajahn Chah and the Buddha.

But then again yes the passage you quote says that he discovered the path himself so I am not really sure of the argument based on non-self… :thinking: :anguished: Still perhaps it could mean that he rediscovered the path himself, but thanks to the high attainments in previous lives. Otherwise how do we explain the jhana he experienced as a child? Was it just by chance, or as they say did he just ‘fluke it’?

Our Buddha (Gautama) was a Bhikkhu under the previous Kassapa Buddha though. In MN81 we get …

Then Ghaṭīkāra and Jotipāla went to the Buddha Kassapa, bowed and sat down to one side. Ghaṭīkāra said to the Buddha Kassapa, ‘Sir, this is my dear friend Jotipāla, a brahmin student. Please give him the going forth.’ And Jotipāla the brahmin student received the going forth, the ordination in the Buddha’s presence.

and later in the same sutta Gautama Buddha says…

Ānanda, you might think: ‘Surely the brahmin student Jotipāla must have been someone else at that time?’ But you should not see it like this. I myself was the student Jotipāla at that time.”


Not necessarily.

We know the Buddha met two other Buddhas and ordained under one. Becoming a sotapanna is also not something you choose to do, either it happens at the time of hearing the true dhamma or it doesn’t.

The odds of someone meeting a Buddha and ordaining and not becoming ariya is low or zero even, it only happened to people who killed their parents like prince ajatasattu or devadatta who harmed the Buddha, but even these people will become future Buddhas after they use up their karma in hell according to the commentaries.

So anyone who hears the true dhamma and attains faith in dhamma either becomes an Ariya right then and there by becoming a faith follower or dhamma follower, OR, if they have bad karma, they’ll go to hell and then become a Buddha afterwards.

So I would say the Buddha already became a sotapanna when he was Sumedha under Dipankara, and a once returner as Jotpala under Kassapa



I believe there are a number of suttas that contradict this notion. I may look for them and post links in a future post.

You might also be interested in this article by Ven Anālayo:

The Bodhisattva and Kassapa Buddha – A Study Based on the Madhyama-ågama Parallel to the Gha†¥kåra-sutta


I guess there’s also suttas such as sn15.14-19 where it seems to be hard to find a being who was not your parent, child or sibling. Likewise, due to no discernable first point, we’ve probably all been around a Buddha at some point, but being hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving we carry on roaming and transmigrating.

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Like I said, usually if a monk ordains under the Buddha, and actually has faith in the triple gem, then he is an Ariya. If he has faith in the triple gem but killed his parents or harmed a Buddha, then the commentaries usually say that he will go to hell and after hell he will become a Buddha.

On this point, I’m not so sure.

The suttas show that Samma Sambuddhas are exceptionally rare time wise, as 99% of Buddhas are pacceka Buddhas, it’s extremely rare for a Buddha to become a Samma Sambuddha.

Also, if you look at the list of Gotamas past life, they’re all in the indus valley region. So it seems like all Buddhas are from the Indus Valley region. So if someone is constantly reborn outside of that region, there’s even a less chance of the already extremely rare chance to meet a Samma Sambuddha.

The Buddha uses the simile of a blind turtle putting its head through a hole in a log as a metaphor to illustrate how exceptionally rare it is to be human and meet a samma sambuddha.

Monks, suppose that this great earth were totally covered with water, and a man were to toss a yoke with a single hole there. A wind from the east would push it west, a wind from the west would push it east. A wind from the north would push it south, a wind from the south would push it north. And suppose a blind sea-turtle were there. It would come to the surface once every one hundred years. Now what do you think: would that blind sea-turtle, coming to the surface once every one hundred years, stick his neck into the yoke with a single hole?"

“It would be a sheer coincidence, lord, that the blind sea-turtle, coming to the surface once every one hundred years, would stick his neck into the yoke with a single hole.”

"It’s likewise a sheer coincidence that one obtains the human state. It’s likewise a sheer coincidence that a Tathagata, worthy & rightly self-awakened, arises in the world. It’s likewise a sheer coincidence that a doctrine & discipline expounded by a Tathagata appears in the world. Now, this human state has been obtained. A Tathagata, worthy & rightly self-awakened, has arisen in the world. A doctrine & discipline expounded by a Tathagata appears in the world.

“Therefore your duty is the contemplation, ‘This is stress… This is the origination of stress… This is the cessation of stress.’ Your duty is the contemplation, ‘This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress.’”

So for someone to ordain under a samma Sambuddha and not become an ariya, or at least go to hell and become a buddha later if their karma-vipaka is really bad, I think is probably zero. I don’t think a Samma Sambuddha would even allow monks under him to not become an ariya, I don’t think it’s even possible technically, as that would imply the weakness of a Samma Sambuddha

Well yes. But time has ‘no discernable beginning’ (at least, according to the Buddha), so there’s an awful lot of time available. One might suggest an infinity of time with an infinity of Buddhas if even the Buddha can’t see the beginning?

There’s a big discussion on finite and infinite number of beings here. I must say it all got quite confusing for me … (In)finite number of beings

1% of infinity is a very large number too.

I don’t know. He’s got quite a loud voice :wink:

Then you have the concept of multiple world (or solar) systems in mn115, which can have different Buddhas at the same time. And communication between those systems in dn1 where the other systems shake at the exposition.

I don’t know if this was addressed to me, but I haven’t actually disputed that, although I might.

If you are an ariya, you can’t go to hell, right? And if you haven’t entered the stream then nothing is guaranteed in your future?

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  1. The sutta on the multiple galaxies says that there can be many simultaneous sakkas and Brahmas, but it doesn’t say that there are simultaneous samma Sambuddhas, because a single samma sambuddha can visit all these “supergalactic clusters”. I think that sutta illustrates even more so how rare samma Sambuddhas are. Also I believe no other Buddha can exist when a samma Sambuddha exists, according to the suttas.

  2. Ariyas can’t go to hell, but according to the commentaries, those who have faith in the triple gem but have bad kamma vipaka from killing their parents or harming an arahant, are reborn in hell and then after become Buddhas. For example King Ajatasattu who killed his father Bimbisara but in DN 2 he attains faith in the triple gem and the Buddha says if he had not killed his father, he would have attained Arahantship right then and there after the dhamma talk.

As for the infinite logic, here’s a paradox that will boggle your mind.

  1. If according to you, on an infinite timeline, all that can happen will happen, then according to that logic, we shouldn’t be existing since we should all be Arahants, yet here we are. Therefore the premise that we’ve all met a Buddha at some point can’t hold true, since if we’ve all met a Buddha at some point, then why not we’ve all attained Arahantship at some point, since on an infinite timeline all that can happen will happen.

How can we know this though? It seems like an a priori law (what Kant would call an analytic a priori judgement) whereas I understand that the Buddha got his knowledge through experience. How can one arrive as such a priori knowledge in buddhism?
I mean an empirical statement would be that the Buddha knew that this was not the case during his time because of his psychic powers, but how can one one exclude this in principle from ever happening?