Early Buddhism still doesn't exist in American Buddhist academia

Well, I agree with you! But some might say I’m biased.


Perhaps you could establish a proper pseudonym, one that would make you appear to be part of the laity. It seems westerners trust the words, or at least give more value to the ideologies put forth by lay scholars. Perhaps years of exposure to the Abrahamic clergy has undermined their trust in the words of the ordained. Or maybe it’s the celibacy aspect! As Ajahn Brahm would say, celibacy is the most deviant sexual behavior in modern society! :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: Either way, I suppose it would violate the Vinaya in some way, so maybe you could disrobe, establish a flourishing literary career and a large following, bringing the EBT’s to the forefront, and then ordain again. All for the greater good, but holy cow, Batman, that’s a lot of work! :cry:


OUCH, I know what it’s like to hold and event/talk and no one to show up, rough! although in general in Buddhism, buddhist studies, whatever, there seems to be little care/emphasis on the 4 nikayas in general, let alone study of early buddhism. It’s like your the one kid who actually DID follow your moms advice and didn’t jump off the bridge because your friends were doing it lol.

Are there Buddhist academic conferences? or just these “religious” ones? would you find more traction there?


To add salt to the wound, this was just following the great bhikkhuni kerfluffle. This had been, in the Buddhist world, the biggest news for years. So there I was, one of the key players, talking about the issues, and putting it in the context of the Vinaya. So it’s not as if it was pure text criticism or anything: it was living sociology!

What it made clear for me was how much of an insider’s game it is. It’s about meeting and networking, seeing who’s who and what’s what.

Not to say I had a bad time: it was fun, and I learned a lot, just not from the Buddhist stuff.

Well, outside the US, sure. There was a recent one in Taiwan on early Buddhism; Rod went to that.

But it is a shame, since in many ways the US has the most influential Buddhist culture in the world. I suspect that change will be driven by students, who should demand to get a proper grounding in early Buddhism.

In my view this should be a required foundation for all Buddhist studies. No-one would think of studying Christianity without knowing the Bible, or Islam without knowing the Koran. So how on earth can anyone imagine they can study Buddhism without knowing the suttas?

Meanwhile, at least you have Marcus.


I wonder if the actual words and life of the Buddha, through the EBTs, can be elevated in the US generally in the way that, for example, climate change became a subject on the front burner once people became mindful of it and people outside of climate science began to talk about it. Perhaps some of us in the US (and of course outside of it) could brainstorm over the next year about ways to get the Buddha’s Dhamma (and Sutta Central) into the hearts and minds of people who can elevate the importance of the Dhamma and Vinaya. I wrote recently (via Facebook connection) to a tech notable in the US and he responded excitedly and favorably about SC…perhaps there’s a way to create some momentum…I don’t mean to sound presumptuous, but SC really is a “better mousetrap” and more people inside and outside of Buddhism should know about it. Maybe there are folks here who are savvy about a means to elevate this important Dhamma in the US.

However, if Trump is elected I am moving to Thailand, and living in a cave for four years, and that’s that. :slight_smile:


That would be fantastic. FYI, when my translation is finished, I am planning to visit the States; I’ve been invited by Ayya T. One of my purposes on that trip will be to promote the new translation; I’m hoping to have a printed edition ready as well.

See you there.


It would be great to market your visit (to Dhammadharini?) and printed edition to folks on the West Coast (like our tech friend) and the Berkeley community, Silicon Valley types, and even folks at the UCSD and Stanford mindfulness centers. Maybe this sounds crazy, but it seems to me that if people in these communities can take to heart what SC has available on its platfrom, there will be more people, in and outside of Buddhism , that take note of what you are pioneering. Maybe it’s worth a shot.


Definitely, I’d love that. It will be some time, of course, but it doesn’t hurt to start brainstorming.


He only lives an hour from where I use to live in lay life! had a scholar close to me and didn’t even know it.

and yes bhante @sujato keep us informed of your grand American tour, I know you’d be welcome to stay here at Bhavana if you needed a stop over or wanted to visit with Bhante G.


None of this surprises me one bit. The Buddha said that what he was teaching was hard to see. Even while the Buddha himself was teaching, his monks would be excoriated by him for getting it wrong. And he constantly warned against what he knew was going to happen: established principals and beliefs would creep in and poison the purity of his message. Most of the mainstream “Buddhism” that we have today is the result of studying the commentaries and later schools rather than on the early discourses themselves.

“All experience is preceded by mind, led by mind, made by mind.” We are deeply conditioned and no matter how much we want to follow the path and instructions laid out by the Buddha in the early discourses, no matter how much we want to turn away from our God centered proclivities, we still tend to satisfy our understanding of the dharma in line with notions such as God, Pure Consciousness and Ultimate/Conventional truth. When those kinds of defilements are embraced, the entire point of what the Buddha taught is corrupted and the compass point is off, putting the fruits frustratingly out of reach.

For me personally, so much of “Buddhism” that is taken for granted is religious burden obfuscating the important core teachings. So when I see this list of topics for the conference, I feel compassion for those who really seek liberation from dukkha and are bogged down with tradition.

@Adutiya , great post. I’m interested, what do you feel is a solution, or approach, to remedying this condition? I read the current issue of Tricycle today, and just using that as a barometer, there is just nearly zero Dhamma in one if the west’s mainstream publications. It has some nice stuff, sometimes strong articles (fewer with the very interesting Rita Gross’ passing), and a lot of what is now passing as western Buddhism. What do you think can turn this cruise ship around and get it heading back in the direction of what the Buddha thought and taught?

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I’m a hermit of sorts and I’m not sure that directing the great cruise ship of 21st century Buddhism is within my wheelhouse. For me, the dharma begins and encompasses my personal practice and the people I touch. I don’t have a role as a teacher and I’m not sure how to go about eliciting change on a global scale other than my present situation. Yet, every moment I pay attention, every thing I say and every action that I take has repercussions and that is my current contribution to the cause!


What difference is there between attaining Nirvana and becoming one with the Tao? What if Lao Tzu and the Buddha had the same enlightenment experience, and explained it differently in different historical contexts?

As a living being you are equivalent to a wave, a separate entity that is moving swiftly to the shore. Eventually, however, the wave will crash into the beach and the water that was “you” returns back to the ocean. You always were water and you simply return to it, never to be formed again in that manner.

All of Tao is about impermanence and returning. The same will happen to you. This entity that is “you” is impermanent, temporary, even fleeting. And eventually you will be returned to the Tao, the energy that comprises and flows within everything.

I’m currently reading K.R. Norman’s “A History of Indian Literature - Pāli Literature: Including the Canonical Literature in Prakrit and Sanskrit of All of the Hīnāyana Schools of Buddhism”, ISBN 3-447-02285-X.

I feel this is a great book to explain the development and spread of the texts of Early Buddhism in a very academic way. The material is sometimes quite dry (and I start skimming when that happens), however it provides a lot of context outside the Suttas and Vinaya themselves. Several parts are quite juicy as they shake up any notion that the Suttas are this precise, iron-clad thing (which would be a Fundamentalist’s perspective), when actually there was considerable re-ordering and tweaking and translating and adding and elaborating that went on amongst the various sects.

I think K.R. Norman deserves more appreciation and a wider readership in Western Buddhist circles, to get a much deeper sense of how Buddhism all fits together historically. I think his philological skills are quite rare, making them highly valuable to the Buddhist community as a whole.


I was shocked too to find out most buddhist in USA are mahayana. From what I understood by asking people around, it’s because 1) many buddhist in USA are born into that religion and mahayana is more numerous and 2) new agey people will of course go to mahayana, or at least go there first.

I thought the mahasi and secular mindfulness hype was drawing huge crowds of people to theravada but appearently that is not the case. Statistics say there are more mahayana.

What I feel should be done is one simple thing: Emphasising the fact that this religion has a founder. This is the only real powerful way to get people towards theravada. The fact that “buddhism” comes from “the Buddha” has to be emphasised more.

When I converted to Buddhism at 17yo, I did it cause christianity didn’t make sense anymore and I could not contradict buddhism despite trying despretately to do it for 3 months. I didn’t even read the wiki page about mahayana. It was a non-topic for me. I only checked at the start what’s the difference between mahayana and theravada and was only interested in what the Buddha had to say of course. It’s only natural to try and hear what the founder of the religion had to say. For me, mahayana got labeled as “guys that have nothing to do with buddhism” from simply reading a phrase about the difference between the 2 and they stayed a non-subject for me ever since. Maybe it was my christian background that made me go straight to the founder of the religion. Other guys that came after were for me just like priests are in christianity: totally unimportant, people I could not care less about.

This is why what I feel needs to be done is to emphasise that this religion is not some vague thing about meditation but a religion just like Christianity, a religion with a founder.

By the way, I’m the guy who coined the phrase “western folk buddhism” - maybe it should be used more. Buzzwords are extremely powerful.


Also, I am not at all as pesimistic as B.Sujato about western buddhism. Sutta reading is only a thing in western buddhism, not in asian buddhism. Everybody on theravada buddhist forums takes the suttas to be the supreme authority and not other books. Even though some might in reality take abbhidhamma or vissudimaga to be the supreme authority, they still accept at least in theory that the suttas are more authoritative.

It is only in western buddhism that even regular people read the suttas at least partially. In asian countries, not even monks do that. So in all respects western buddhism is doing very good not very bad.

A thing I feel should be done is at one point assemble Suttacentral into a book just like B.Bodhi translation is and make it avaliable for free. And of course also do a huge deal about it, promote the event in a big way.

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Greek Buddha was published in America, by Princeton’s Department of Religion.

Ameican Buddhological studies is still unfortunately often in the stages of “Guys, what if everything that these silly primitives preserved was obviously incompetently kept, and the Buddha was actually Lǎozǐ all along?! :scream_cat: Whose scriptures, incidentally, were also incompetently preserved?! :scream_cat: Because rather than teaching anchoritic spirituality in the Chinese cultural milieu, he actually taught Greek philosophy?! :scream_cat:

The Scream Cat :scream_cat: being the academic emoticon for “I think this is sufficiently radical and innovative to get me published.” It is a bad state when narrative-overturning is valued for its own sake alone, the more radical/implausible the overturning, the better. Especially if you can blame the narrative you are overturning on the misconceptions of past academics concerning the subject material, then you can argue that the subject material argued your “radical” interpretation all along.

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I have been trying to share the Buddha’s teachings in a spiritual group I am a part of on facebook and it’s a ghost on my posts. No one seems interested in the true teachings, but if you share something fluffy by the Dalai Lama or some Zen quote that is more new age than Buddhist, everyone likes it.

I hope to make an impact in spreading the Dhamma, but I see that the masses are just not ready for the teachings. Television is poisoning the minds of the masses here in the West. I am in Canada and yet we need the Buddha’s wisdom more now than ever. In Canada, we are pretty lucky we have Bhanta Saranpala sharing some things and getting a bit of attention trying to make Canada the most mindful and kindest country in the world.


I listened to a Dhamma talk or read something and it said that it’s a good idea to practice Metta because at least that will be a cause for a birth in the Deva realms and those lives are typically much longer. The reasoning was that it’s not going to a good place to live, here on Earth, for a long long time as the world descends into more and more depravity.

So, how do we best instigate a spiritual revolution? Perhaps this deserves it’s own topic. How best do lay people spread the Dhamma to try to help a world that is so misguided.

On the home front, I have begun a 5 minute nightly meditation with my girlfriends kids and they are doing okay (3 and 6 years old). We are about a week in and they are now able to sit mostly still for the 5 minutes which is a miracle compared to last week.

Where else aside from Universities could we have a big impact on culture and what do the monastics recommend?

There is so much of my mind that just wants to completely give up on this world because no one seems to want to learn about or practice the Dhamma for theirs or anyone else’s well being.

If I was able to do 1 meal a day I would probably be with you all in Australia, but my body has problems with adrenal weakness and needs 3 meals a day to survive or it gets weak and anxiety.

So, how can we create a true spiritual revolution.

Any ideas?

A great idea!

“For the first time EVER the Buddha’s teachings are available for FREE to save the world!” :smiley:

Sad but true! This problem infects all academia, unfortunately, but it is particularly bad in Buddhist studies. It’s basically low-key clickbait.

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