How Early Buddhism differs from Theravada: a checklist

Ven. Sujato is not Theravadin. We must respect his Buddhist identity:

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Isn’t volition a conditined phenomenon?
Appreciate your thoughts since I think volition too is a condtioned phenomenon.
With Metta

Good question but I really wouldn’t know enough to make an informed response.

Just to be clear, the exerpt you’ve quoted is not mine, it is an exerpt from Ven. Sujato that I also quoted above.
Appreciatively, Jonathan

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I also wonder about how early Buddhism differs, if at all, from Theravada regarding the notion of the Buddha sasana (dispensation or teaching).

There seems to be a belief in Myanmar (maybe elsewhere?) that the sasana occurs in cycles, that in 500 year periods from the time of the Buddha, the dispensation will decline starting first with fewer arahants and the availability of wisdom practices; then the occurance of beings who have attained the 8 jhana concentration practices and can teach them; then the preponderance of people keeping their sila precepts; then the decline of Dana culture; then the availability of the scriptures and pariyatti until the 2,500 year mark, when the sasana will experience a resurgence and the teachings will spread around the world, growing until the arising of Mateyya Buddha. In some circles in Myanmar, the 2500th year is considered around the time of 1954-1956, when the Sixth Synod Council convened.

For 30 years I was involved with a tradition whose lay teacher leader insinuated that he was the harbinger of the second cycle of this resurgent cycle of the Buddha sasana by virtue of the fact that he started meditating under his Dhamma teacher at that time and then in the late sixties, early seventies was responsible for popularizing Dhamma teachings in India and, via international students, subsequently around the world.

My first question is, how widespread is this notion of resurgent cycles of the sasana in Myanmar among other traditions in that country and is it shared by other Theravada countries like Thailand, Sri Lanka, Cambodia etc.?

I’ve heard, since leaving this tradition, that at least one other Myanmar tradition believes that the sasana is in decline and is continuing that decline by virtue of how few fully attained arahants, anagamis, sakadagamis and sotapannas there are present now in the world.

That the commercialization, secularization and even popularization of the teachings as well as proliferation of 10-day retreats compromised for modern life is a demonstration of this decline.

How does this notion of sasana cycles square with early Buddhism? Would this be a useful topic/clarification to include in the checklist? :pray:t2:


Having read your questions, I think one may consider about the notion of Samyutta/Samyukta Buddhism. It is based on Early Buddhism but differs from Theravada Buddhism. Cf.:

It’s based on the commentaries. The underlying ideas can be found in the suttas, especially the DN and AN, but the commentaries give a greatly expanded and graphic elaboration of them. For example, where the suttas warn of a time in the future when bhikkhus will prefer to recite the words of poets and will neglect the Buddha’s discourses connected with emptiness, the commentaries expand this into a detailed account of how the scriptural dispensation (pariyatti-sāsanā) will gradually disappear from the world, with the contents of the Tipitaka mysteriously (and implausibly) vanishing, one sutta at a time. The commentators even stipulate the precise order in which the books will disappear.

As to how widely such ideas are accepted, I expect they’ll be found among any Theravādins:

  1. who are familiar with them, and…
  2. who hold the commentaries to be an unimpeachable source of authority, and…
  3. who are committed to taking them literally.

But it’s difficult to say how many Theravādins would meet all three criteria. For example, one meets with many who are committed in principle to #2 and #3 but who are not actually very well read in the commentaries and may not yet have encountered the Manorathapūraṇī’s account of the Sāsanā’s disappearance.


Good point, this should probably be added.

I don’t have much to add to Ven Dhammanando’s answer, except that it seems that the folks in the Buddha’s lifetime were generally not really thinking about establishing a sasana that would last thousands of years. This is not really anything definitive, and clearly they were interested to establish something that would last. But there’s no hint that anyone expected there would be anything even on the scale of, say, the trans-Indian Buddhist empire of Ashoka, let along the kind of Buddhism we experience today.

Note that I said “generally”, of course there are a few contexts that suggest otherwise, but I think these are exceptions.


More like, get away from. “Handful of leaves” can be read to this end, and a contemporary (notable :smirk:) Burmese scholar refered to the avoidance of the lower realms (intense suffering) as motivation for seekers to ‘at a minimum’ lock-in at stream entry and consequences follow.

I see it as a symptom of fear rather than sloth.

You rhetorically ask the important question that needs a good answer. (Not saying I have given one)

Thank you for such great attention to detail in your posts. I am having trouble, due to my partial knowledge I’m sure, about your comment above (expressed twice in this thread). What do sitting down and having a meal have to do, or not, with “mind-moments”? :pray:

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I’m not 100% sure, but I believe the standard refutation of the path moment idea is MN 142 Dakkhiṇāvibhaṅga where the different types of individual recipients are listed…

One gives a gift to a perfected one. This is the third religious donation to an individual. One gives a gift to someone practicing to realize the fruit of perfection. This is the fourth religious donation to an individual. One gives a gift to a non-returner. This is the fifth religious donation to an individual. One gives a gift to someone practicing to realize the fruit of non-return. This is the sixth religious donation to an individual. One gives a gift to a once-returner. This is the seventh religious donation to an individual. One gives a gift to someone practicing to realize the fruit of once-return. This is the eighth religious donation to an individual.

According to the Abhidhamma, the “Path” (of “Path and Fruit”) lasts only a fraction of a second. In the suttas, it seems Path (but not yet Fruit) attainers can walk around and do stuff (implying that that stage may last longer than one mind-moment)

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Say no more. :joy: :pray:


Accordingly, there were two phases in Early Buddhism: 1. ‘Samyutta/Samyukta Buddhism’ based on saṃyukta-kathā 相應教, and 2. ‘Nikaya/Agama Buddhism’ based on the four principal Nikayas/Agamas (according to Ven. YinShun’s The Formation of Early Buddhist Texts ).

However, the extant Nikayas/Agamas are sectarian texts. One can seek an understanding of early Buddhist teachings by studying them comparatively.

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Thank you for this eye-opener. I am a Sri Lankan Buddhist. I always had issues with believing Abhidamma & the so-called No-self dogma. Although I had cleared most of my doubts by listening to Ven. Ajahn Brahm, now I have a better understanding thanks to this clear comparison.