Do followers of early Buddhism use the Pali canon as well but with out the abhidamna?

Thank You all for your help I’m learning a great deal. But the bad news now I’m going to be more annoying.
So let me start with the Pali canon. I understand that the Theravada tradition recognizes the Pali can including the abhidamna. So do followers of early Buddhism use the Pali canon as well but with out the abhidamna ???

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Early Buddhism movement as in the modern movement here does look to the suttas more. Since there’s some contradiction of it to Abhidhamma.

Early Buddhist schools as in the historical schools most likely has roughly the same sutta, which we can find out via parallel studies with the agamas. Each school is likely separated via different Abhidhammas, or even not acknowledging Abhidhamma.

Hi @JoeL,

Please check out Bhikkhu Sujato’s guide to the Abhidhamma Pitaka here:

Be aware that the word “abhidhamma” is sometimes used to mean the books of the Abhidhamma Pitaka and sometimes as a shorthand for “abhidhamma and commentaries”. As Bhikkhu Sujato notes in his Introduction:

While they introduced a number of new terms and methods, the canonical Abhidhamma texts are doctrinally conservative. Many of the concepts familiar from later Abhidhamma [i.e. Commentaries - Mike] are not found—ultimate vs. conventional truth, mind moments, kalāpas , the idea that each phenomena is defined by its sabhāva or indvidual essence. While some new terms are found, for the most part they seem to have been introduced in order to clarify and disambiguate the terminology, and weren’t intended to convey specific new concepts. That is not to say that there are no new ideas, just that they play a fairly minor role overall.


Your guys are great… thank u my friends in the dhamma

We focus more of the Suttas, but IMHO we should see all the Buddhist traditions as a valuable record of the response of people to the Dhamma in different times and places. To do that, we have to see things in their historical context.

Put it this way: if we treat the Abhidhamma as the voice of the Buddha (which it isn’t), then we are not listening to the voices of the people who actually created it. Why? Because we assume that they didn’t have anything interesting to say?


AFAIK, early Buddhism is not a religion or sect within Buddhism, but it is a historical period before the formation of Buddhist sects. It spans from the Buddha taught first time to the five first disciples until roughly 200-300 years later. There was no Pali canon yet then, no Abhidhamma/Abhidharma, even no Nikaya/Agama because they come into their current forms in sectarian period…

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I would count myself as a follower of early Buddhism. What that means for me is that I would call myself a Buddhist and that I would definitely not call myself a Therevada or a Mahayana Buddhist.

Both of those traditions are fine, it’s just that in their traditional forms they have expectations of their followers that I cannot meet. First and foremost a tendency to demand (usually tacitly) that followers believe that very large swathes of canonical literature are literally the words the Buddha spoke. Therevadan followers agree with me that the Buddha could not have spoken the Mahayana sutras that are attributed to him, for fairly obvious text-historical reasons. Therevadans disagree with me in applying those same text-historical considerations to their own texts, but the same critiques very much apply.

Basically in the contemporary world you have a choice, you can embrace a non-critical tradition and just take things that are almost certainly false as true (the Buddha spoke the Abhidhamma to his dead mother in a heaven and that’s word for word what we have now) or you can approach your Buddhism critically and attempt to discern what is true and useful from what is platitudinous and false.

Buddhist literature has been produced continuously for thousands of years. The Pali canon and it’s parallels are the earliest examples of that literature we have, some of it is obviously earlier than other parts of it - specifically the 4 Nikayas and the first 6 books of the 5th as mentioned elsewhere.

Even this “core” of the literature is believed by many, especially by many non-monastic academics to show clear signs of stratification and development, with many (again usually non-monastic) academics accepting the assertion that the atthakavagga and parayanavagga are earlier than the suttas and that the short “formulas” of prose that are found repeated over and over in the 4 Nikayas are also earlier than the finished suttas.

If you aim to try and get a sense of what the continuities and divergences are in the mainline Buddhist traditions then studying the above “core of the core” can help provide a good grounding IMO.

All that said I think that the Abhidhamma and Mahayana and even Tantra and even, heaven forbid, contemporary Buddhist literature can be useful, relevant, enlightening and valuable, it’s really just a matter of what floats your boat, or raft, if you’d rather.



I’m never clear what people mean by “early Buddhism”. I’ve come across a school of thought which argues that commentaries like the Abhidhamma and Visuddhimagga somehow corrupted the Pali suttas, or at least over-embellished the original sutta teachings.

I think different people mean different things by it.

I just mean that the 4 Nikayas and the first 6 books of the 5th are from an earlier historical period than the bulk of the Vinaya or Abhidhamma (and certainly earlier than the Visshudimagga) and reflect a “style” of understanding Buddhism that is a little more “earthy” and “direct” and a little less “abstract” and “formal” than that later literature.

And I prefer that.

In fact I wouldn’t really call myself an “early Buddhist” just a Buddhist, but it is those texts that I rely on and study.


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I really appreciate the time and input, I’m more or less thinking along the same lines as you. I used to study all major schools of Buddhism before I realized the Pali traditions were closest to the truth, but I have held on to a few nuggets of truth Sanskrit traditions offer (A VERY FEW)

Sometimes when I need help understanding a topic I look to Abhidhamma, be it the Abhidhamma of Theravada or from one of the now dead schools. I even look to Mahayana Abhidharma from time to time (Yogacara). When I have done so I’ve found something useful there which has helped clarify something for me. Abhidhamma then can be very useful IMO, but I think of it as the explanations of the Dhamma by learned monks (and possibly nuns) of the past. Can it be wrong? Sure, sometimes. It can also be correct IMO too just like with explanations by modern monks and nuns.

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