How Early Buddhism differs from Theravada: a checklist

Thank you so much Banthe for that. Let’s focus on abandoning the five hindrances instead of trying to achieve something in meditation.


Sadhu! :pray: :dharmawheel: :pray:


No worries!

But just to continue the dragging a little more, I just checked another detail this morning.

In his essay, Analayo notes two places where the Pali defines right samādhi as the four jhānas, but the Chinese parallels defines it differently. He takes that as his starting point to develop an argument that we don’t need jhānas for stream-entry.

Fun fact, in neither of those two places (SA 784 and MA 31, which we can now read on SC thanks to Charles Patton!) is right mindfulness defined as the four satipatthanas. So are we now to develop a whole argument that we don’t need satipatthana to get enlightened?


Added sections on “bare minimum” and “pattidana”. Another on “monastics and money”.


Typo… “series of negations

The definition of Early Buddhism and EBTs is not entirely the same as Ven. Yinshun:

All extant EBTs are sectarian. However, their essential form (structure) and content, recognised in common by all schools of Sectarian Buddhism, were certainly established in the period of Early Buddhism.

Early Buddhism contains both the first and second councils (before the first schism of the Sangha into two main branches, Mahasanghika and Sthavira).

The Sutra (teachings) collections of Early Buddhism include SA/SN (originated at the first council) and MA/MN, DA/DN, and EA/AN (originated at the second council, one hundred years after the death of the Buddha).

SA/SN represents the situation with regard to the compilation of the Buddhist teachings shortly after the death of the Buddha.

MA/MN, DA/DN, and EA/AN represent the Buddhism of the period just before that second council.

For the studies in Early Buddhism/EBTs, it will be better to see clearly and respect the differences and similarities between the divergent, non-identical texts and traditions, particularly between SA/SN and other versions of literature in Buddhist history.

The SA/SN collection itself also contains three different classifications/angas. Ven. Yinshun sees the gradual formation of SA/SN as corresponding to the three angas formed in sequence (the sutra-anga portion was the earliest of the three).

According to Ven. Yinshun, SA/SN was not at first being termed as nikāya or āgama ‘collection’, but generally named the ‘Connected Discourses’ 相應教 Saṃyukta-kathā . About the term Saṃyukta-kathā, see p. 899, note 21 in the paper 2020 by Choong Mun-keat.
Calling the Saṃyukta/Saṃyutta as āgama/nikāya ‘collection’ was until when the other three nikāyas/āgamas (MN/MA, DN/DA, AN/EA) were gradually developed and expanded from it (相應教 Saṃyukta-kathā). Cf. pp. 10-11 in Choong Mun-keat’s Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism (2000). Ven. Yinshun: Samyutta/Samyukta Buddhism

(pp. 3-6, 10-11 in Choong Mun-keat’s Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism)
Pages 2-7 from The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism Choong Mun-keat 2000.pdf (440.2 KB)
Pages 7-11 from The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism Choong Mun-keat 2000.pdf (605.1 KB)


I intended to stop (my heart is no longer particularly in this) and I’m not going to argue this much more, but to answer your question: yes, I would feel that such an argument should be developed and explored if the description of right mindfulness as the four satipatthanas was confined to a handful of occurrences in the canon, particularly if the corresponding parallels didn’t match that well. Otherwise, probably not.


Perhaps the essay above should mention the often-overlooked-by-Theravada commentary in the Vinaya (Vin-a 1.45), upon which authority of the Commentaries and Abhidhamma are held in check (by the EBTs, the 4 great Standards/References):

Credit for those translations above belongs to Bhante Aggacitta of Malaysia. Here’s a summarizing chart I drew, for these “Dhamma Collators”:

I further discussed this material at length in an interview with Bhante Ariyadhammika of Sasanarakka here:


I think the historical terms and their contents, Original Buddhism , Early Buddhism , Sectarian Buddhism, indicated in p. 5 a figure on The First Five Centuries of Buddhism in the book Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism by Choong Mun-keat, provide clearer historical phrases for ‘Studies in Early Buddhism/EBTs’. The terms are mainly according to Ven. Yinshun. The Chinese terms are: 根本佛教 (Original Buddhism), 原始佛教 (Early Buddhism), 部派佛教 (Sectarian Buddhism). See pp. 1-2, Chapter One, in Ven. Yinshun, The Formation of Early Buddhist Texts (原始佛教聖典之集成) CBETA 線上閱讀 :candle: :reading:

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Omg, I hadn’t heard about this before:


Thanks, fascinating quote.

I’m unclear of the distinction between ācariyavāda as “the commentaries made at the Councils” and “personal opinion” also being what is in the commentaries according to the “theravāda”?

Judging from the usage later, it would seem that this passage is using “theravada” in the sense of the “tradition of teachers”, as is discussed lower down under Ācariyaparamparā.

So whatever is in the commentaries from the time of the first council is the “Teacher’s doctrine” while whatever is added later is “personal opinion”? Am I understanding this correctly? If so, how do the commentaries define these things? Do they have a set list of portions of the commentaries that are held to have been there since the beginning? I wasn’t aware that the commentaries made this kind of distinction.


In Mn26, this was mentioned as his motivation.

The Search for Enlightenment

“Bhikkhus, before my enlightenment, while I was still only an unenlightened Bodhisatta, I too, being myself subject to birth, sought what was also subject to birth; being myself subject to ageing, sickness, death, sorrow, and defilement, I sought what was also subject to ageing, sickness, death, sorrow, and defilement. Then I considered thus: ‘Why, being myself subject to birth, do I seek what is also subject to birth? Why, being myself subject to ageing, sickness, death, sorrow, and defilement, do I seek what is also subject to ageing, sickness, death, sorrow, and defilement?

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The takeaways I saw, based on my understanding, go like this:

  • Any time you can employ the 4 great standards/references, drawing upon the EBT portion of the Vinaya, you always get to smack down whatever any Vinaya commentary says, period. It seems (and I employ the 4 great standards here) all commentaries therefore have less authority than what you can use the 4 great references to prove.
  • In order for any historical commentarial layer (wether commentary to the Suttas, Vinaya, or Abhidhamma) to be taken any more seriously than “Personal Opinion”, it needs to have been historically recited at the first council. And even then, it doesn’t rise above the 4 great standards.

What’s so unique and super juicy here is that these “Dhamma collators” are internal to the Pali Canon itself. Virtually all scholarly criticism of the Abhidhamma, etc (by Western academics, historians, archeologists, linguists, scientists, philosophers, logicians, people posessing common sense, etc), no matter how well logically founded it is, is not liable to gain much traction with staunch conservative Ethnic Asian Theravada monks, because they need to hear arguments couched within the Pali Canon’s own internal logic, as the Pali Canon’s contents contain the only logic which they feel they have any recourse to. Well, these Dhamma Collators are just such “internal logic”, which they will be powerless to turn aside, with a blithe, obstinate dismissal.

Good monks to offer further opinions on this are Bhante Ariyadhammika of SBS, Taiping, Malaysia, and Bhante Aggacitta, of Malaysia. Their scholarly powers of Pali study exceed mine.


In my experience so far in Thailand, monks without any logic still have an impressive supply of bluster :rofl: At the end of the day it’s about power, not logic.

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What do you mean with “completed” here?
If you mean “completed all eight factors” is the same as “perfected in all eight factor”, then such a person who has completed all eight factors must be an arahant.

A Sotapanna can be said has all eight factors up to certain achievement, but not yet perfected/completed.

It is clear in some other Suttas that a Sotapanna is perfected in morality, but only mediocre in samadhi and pañña. An Anagami is already perfected in morality and samadhi, but mediocre in pañña. Only an arahant is already perfected ini morality, samadhi and pañña, i.e. eight noble factors.

Indeed in EBT that is non indication that a Sotapanna has a capacity in Jhana (see about Mahanama, Nandya, Sarakhani… etc.)

… a series of nagations…


Yes, I should probably put that in there too. (edit: done!)

Don’t you mean, “within the Theravada tradition’s own internal logic”? There are plenty of things in the Suttas that speak to the priority of the Suttas over other opinions, including commentaries.

But I still don’t see why the Theravada tradition would see some commentaries as created at the Council, and others later?

Well yes, but one might imagine a subset of monks who are convinced by the logic that they know, i.e. the commentaries.

One of the problems is that in such matters, logic is usually employed to reconcile new facts with existing views. It takes a critical mass to precipitate a new perspective, and such things rarely happen outside of a broader existential crisis. Reason works, but only for those who are ready to hear.

Mediocre doesn’t mean “entirely lacking”. A stream-enterer cannot be “entirely lacking” in the four jhanas (samādhi) any more than they can be entirely lacking in the 4 noble truths (paññā). They must have these things to at least some degree.

Once again, I can only recommend my book A Swift Pair of Messengers where I look at all these cases and many more.


Dear Bhante, the original sutta was beings subject to birth and not rebirth:

This may seems trivial especially many Buddhist believe in rebirth. However, as a motivation to renounce, it may be better to stick to the original words.

Birth is something that the Bodhisattva can comprehend whereas rebirth would require beliefs until he gained psychic power. As the starting point of Bodhisattva’s journey, it seems to me that the real world experiences was what caused samvega to arise in him rather than beliefs. Thus, I strongly recommend birth rather than rebirth.

Jāti always means “rebirth” in the EBTs.


Bhante if jati is rebirth. How can one can achieve non returner and arahant (perfected) at this current life?

How can one know where they are going or not going if they don’t have psychic power? As we know most of the arahant, especially Panna Vimutti (free by wisdom) doesn’t have any psychic power and most non returner also don’t have psychic power to see future.

Also how can a non returner know that they won’t return to this world anymore such as Citta the householder? The EBT described on SN 41.9 and many more such as Hatthaka of Alavi etc.

If I pass away before the Buddha, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Buddha declares of me:

”The householder Citta is bound by no fetter that might return him to this world.’”