How Early Buddhism differs from Theravada: a checklist

Thank you, Bhante. I’ve added “grasp at the middle” to Voice examples. It’s quite an interesting example since the full phrase teaches “don’t grasp at the middle”, which is quite subtle and quite important. Buddhism is often taught as the…middle way. :laughing:

Erm. Ahhh. :thinking: …but…

The term “contact” can be understood as an atomic perception, literally a time-stamped, aggregatable mind moment. It is literally what I would program as a core concept in any recognition software. In physics, one might call it the collapse of the wave equation out of superposition into observation. Time-stamped contacts are aggregatable as a perceptual stream of time. And change itself is simply the perceived delta of time-stamped contacts.

For Voice I’m currently looking at the math of discrete time and it is pretty mind-blowingingly simple and elegant. The math of discrete time is the math of contacts, the math of mind moments. Speech is sampled as contacts (i.e. mind moments) which are transmitted and aggregated by the ear/mind into a perception of intelligible speech. And the fascinating thing about these contacts, these mind moments, is that the mathematics is true regardless of scale. We can sample time at 22050 Hz or at 1Hz. Both are equally valid. The stitching of contacts into the perception of time can span lightning strikes or eons.

A key concept about discrete time is the unit impulse. The unit impulse is basically a non-zero contact, a “mind moment”. And it is indeed a fraction of a flash of lightning. A contact occurs in the timespan of a single sample. With discrete time, what happens between contacts or mind moments is a meaningless question. There is nothing but the linear aggregation of contacts or mind moments. And that linear aggregation can happen at any scale, from eons to lightning storms.

Electronic systems are characterized by their “impulse response”, which in Buddhist terms is literally their response to a single contact or mind moment. The perception of a drum hit with a stick or of a tree struck by lightning are both examples of unit impulses, of contacts, of mind moments. The behavior of any system is its conditioned response to unit impulses (aka contacts or mind moments).

So perhaps there may be less difference between EBTs and Theravada here regarding contacts and time moments?

It’s not the woman’s body. It’s the “male gaze”. That is the only way I’ve been able to understand and tolerate some of the misogynous EBTs. And that male gaze is definitely a vile serpent of insidious grasping perception.

Bhante, thank you very much for putting together this list. I’ve been a bit confused about these issues for years. The EBTs have brought me peace and have provided a secure and coherent foundation for navigating the vast sea of Buddhist waves spreading out from that long ago earthquake of the Buddha’s awakening.


About 31 planes of existence.

In the Divyavadana, the list given has 33 planes. The difference is in rupa Brahma, there are 2 more.

Because Divyavadana is a text from mulasarvastivada, I believe this must be from Sarvastivada Abhidharma.

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  1. Kalapas are conglomerates of matter separated by space. The fact that space as an element is very well represented in our body is supported by the fact that we do not consist of a mega-strong, thick material that cannot be punched or broken. Kalapas, in turn, are composed of basic matter - four elements.
  2. There are no details in the suttas about how to develop this state of metta. Tradition explains the initial stages. Or do you think it is not possible to experience mettă with one particular person? Or is it impossible to develop it by first directing it to one person? this is a strange statement. Regarding the spread of metta in all directions, you are wrong. The Visudhimagga describes this method of spreading metta.

“Also, Vsm claimed that metta meditation cant cause jhana.”
Visudhimagga says that through metta meditation one cannot attain the 4th jhana. this however does not apply to other brahmaviharas.

  1. Тhe tradition is based on practice, and the texts of the suttanta, where it is clearly stated that the monk focuses mindfulness at the mouth. The gatekeeper does not run after the guests into the city and does not chase them outside, but is always at the entrance, seeing what caravans and carts pass and leave: rich, poor, long, short.
    This practice has proven to be effective. Those who criticize have hardly attained jhanas and have hardly ever seen what their mind and body are made of.

  2. Later tradition was not mistaken on this point, the Buddha often briefly described the aggregates as Nama and Rupa. Rupa is the four material elements, nama is contact, attention, feeling, perception, volition. In turn, contact includes an object, a sensory door, and consciousness. Or rather, consciousness involved in the process of cognizing an object. That is, consciousness is included in the group nama in the form of an active process of cognition - i. e. contact. Thus, nama-rupa is the universal division of the elements into material and mental. In this regard, tradition has not made any mistake, when it reduced all the elements to mental, calling them Nama and material, calling them Rupa.

The underlying theme and motivating question of Analayo’s article seems to be the relationship between jhana and stream-entry. From the final part, it seems that his own belief is that jhana is not necessary for this. Most of the paper is an effort to weaken what I think he feels would be a very strong evidence point against this overall contention. I wouldn’t really call this a straw man. Maybe it’s just that Analayo himself believes this data point would otherwise seriously weaken his own conclusion and so feels the need to undermine this potential evidence. You make a good point on SA 784 and MA 31, though I think he still largely succeeds on weakening this data point. “Denying the antecedent” seems a stretch. I just think Analayo feels that other evidence against his viewpoint does not amount to much and cursorily dismisses it. I think you would very much take issue with that, of course! Likely Analayo should have looked at all that in his paper.

Samadhi and enlightment do involve levels and degrees, levels of enlightenment and degrees of samadhi. For example, in the SN, we have suttas ranking followers in degree of accomplishment the five faculties (including the faculty samadhi), starting from faith followers and Dhamma followers, going all the way up. I don’t think anyone is arguing that samma samadhi = jhana is not very largely true. The integral nature of jhana to the Buddha’s path is, I think, very very clear in the suttas. However, stream entry is at the margins of enlightenment. When something has levels 1, 2, 3, 4 etc. doesn’t necessarily mean 0.5 isn’t in the same category, e.g., take the four stages of enlightenment. If that was the only scheme, then we might say that anything before stream-entry was not enlightenment (doesn’t meet the minimum bar). However, then there is also the scheme of the 8 types of noble person in the suttas (path and fruit), and the person on the path to stream-entry (kind of at level 0.5 in the first scheme! :slight_smile: ). My point is things on the boundaries are not always so clear-cut and Analayo seems to be mostly looking at the fringes of the jhana and samma samadhi overlap here.

One thing I’d generally fault with Analayo’s reasoning is that he tends to be a bit too confident in his conclusions at times; I can think of examples where I’d both tend to agree and tend to disagree with his conclusions and where I still think the underlying evidence is a bit thin and he is being a bit too confident in his conclusions. I think there’s a lot to be said for, at times, just coming to the conclusion that something is just not clear from what evidence there is. Many things seem very clear in the suttas, but some things just seem not at all clear-cut (at least to me - though I’ve still a lot to learn :slight_smile: ).

The relationship between jhana and stream-entry doesn’t seem very clear to me in the suttas. To expand further in terms of SN55.5, I’m sure SN55.5 is fulfilled at the moment of the opening of the Dhamma eye. Suppabuddha was mentioned earlier, which is one of the many descriptions of this happening when someone is listening to a discourse of the Buddha:

When the Buddha knew that Suppabuddha’s mind was ready, supple, without hindrances, elated, and confident, he revealed the teaching unique to the Buddhas: suffering, its origin, its cessation, and the path. Just as a clean cloth rid of stains would properly absorb dye, in that very seat the stainless, immaculate vision of the Dhamma in Suppabuddha: “Everything that has a beginning has an end.

However, what exactly is the relationship between this moment and jhana? This breakthrough to the Dhamma must be an absolutely extraordinary moment, lokuttara samādhi as you mentioned. Surely, this lokuttara samādhi must be samma samadhi and therefore SN55.5 is fulfilled and all factors of the path are present and now in the possession of the person (including samma samadhi).

However, my question then is whether this lokuttara samādhi is also jhana? This may not necessarily be the case. This lokuttara samādhi moment is extraordinary and so is jhana. Two extraordinary things, though, do not necessarily have to be the one and the same thing.

If this lokuttara samādhi moment is jhana, SN55.5 is fulfilled in a very simple and direct way, but are we sure that it is, though? If not, the relationship between jhana and this opening of the Dhamma eye is more complex and less straightforward.

Is the case, then, that there must have been prior or supporting experience of jhana for this breakthrough to the Dhamma to be possible? Is there sutta evidence for this? Passages like this above could have made this clearer if it this was the case. Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence, but still.

Or perhaps jhana immediately and inevitably follows this breakthrough? That would essentially fulfill SN55.5 also in another way. Of course, it will inevitably come later in the path, but does it necessarily follow straight after stream-entry?

A fourth possibility is that jhana may come later and that this lokuttara samādhi is when samma samadhi arrives and it is this ennobling of the disciple that may allow samadhi to subsequently be called “right” even maybe when it is not yet jhana.

I’m posing questions I don’t have answers to. They don’t seem clear-cut to me at this point.

Anyway, I really must read A Swift Pair of Messengers again and reexamine your holistic bigger picture Ven Nyanaponika- type treatment of these questions. I very much enjoyed it last time. Maybe I’ll come around to your viewpoint on this or maybe I won’t (or maybe I’ll sit on the fence :wink: )!


When you write that all consciousness is suffering, would you be willing to comment on Ajahn Maha Boowa’s teachings that the pure citta is undying and simply knows?
Also, if there is no awareness at all in Nibbana, how did the Buddha and arahants report and teach about it? If some awareness/knowing is not present in Nibbana – sorry to use words like this – how is there any appreciation of it and on what are the pointers to it – unmade, unconditioned, sublime, peace, etc – based?
If conditioned consciousness is said to be conscious of Nibbana, how can impermanent consciousness , arising in dependence on other conditions, be conscious of the unconditional?

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I’ve read a Thai article a few decades ago (translation = I can’t find the original text) that said that metta meditation can’t cause ‘psychic powers’, except nibbana.

they are basically found in the suttas, but presented more systematically later on. Maybe could be included, but I’m not sure if the difference is compelling enough. there are lots of things like this!

Indeed. One might of course argue that they were a later addition to the EBTs, but that’s not the purpose of this list. That would be another list!

That’s getting pretty obscure!

Hmm, interesting.

Also interesting. Let me think about these.

What do you mean in favor? Everyone develops an Abhidhamma; heck, this very list is basically an Abhidhamma. All the schools attempted to systematize the teachings. It doesn’t mean that they’re right or wrong, but it does mean that we should understand how they went about it.

As I indicated in the introduction, it’s not my job to tell you how “cautious” to be, merely to highlight certain facts. What you make of them is up to you.

Yeah, it seems like it’s a subtle distinction. I think I might leave this one out, as the difference isn’t really clear-cut, except for emphasis. It’s a huge deal in modern Theravada, and a couple of passages in the EBTs.

Maybe! I honestly don’t think most people think about it all that much. It’s just what you do.

You can develop a theory of momentariness and use it to apply to the EBTs, as did the Abhidhamma. But the theory is not found there.

It’s an interesting issue. There are certainly domains, like the one you discuss, where an atomic approach to time (or being) is useful and effective. But there are also domains where it doesn’t work.

I suspect this relates to the quantum wave/particle ambiguity: we can use the ideas of wave and particle and they are useful in certain contexts, but they are ultimately just metaphors derived from our experience that we use to help us understand something that is distinctly weirder and less knowable. The problem doesn’t lie in using the metaphors, but in assuming that the language that makes sense to us in our realm of experience is somehow going to be equally applicable in very different domains.

Right! The subject is projected outwards. It’s like when modern “religious” people get so very obsessed with policing other people’s sexuality. I’m like, “Are you trying to tell us something?”

Hey no worries Karl, I am glad it’s useful.

I don’t think that’s right. The Metta Sutta gives quite a lot of details. But it’s certainly true that the Vism expands on it a lot.

Ahh right, yes, I’d forgotten. Well, it makes sense, metta always has sukha.

Not even the Vibhanga—the earliest source to specify this—says “at the mouth”. It says “at the tip of the nose” (nāsikagge).

The meaning of parimukhaṁ is hardly “clear”, it is obscure and contested. Cone’s Dictionary of Pali says:

round the face, before the face, near, present (to serve)

*citation required.

Interesting argument, but “includes” is doing a lot of work here. The suttas say the conjunction (saṅgati) of the three is contact. That doesn’t mean that they’re included: the conjunction of three roads is an intersection, but the intersection doesn’t “include” the three roads. Rather, “intersection” is simply a word that we use to describe what happens when three roads come together.

IIRC, the commentaries gloss saṅgati with saṅgatiyāfrom the conjunction of the three is contact”. And throughout the commentaries, contact is treated as separate from consciousness; contact is cetasikā, consciousness is citta. For example, from the Visuddhimagga:

eye-contact is derived from the eye base, from the visible-data base, from the mind base reckoned as eye-consciousness, and from the mental-datum base consisting of the remaining associated states

“Derived from” doesn’t mean “includes”.

Well, that’s obviously not what the suttas say.

With difficulty! These are subtle matters, perhaps better raise in a separate thread.


I think mudita of brahmavihara in EBTs is a different kind of meditatif experience (generated from oneself), but mudita citta in this case is a feeling of rejoicing because what others are doing for us.

But because it’s not big deal according to bhante Sujato, we can just leave the topic for other time :grin:

But the paper doesn’t talk about what “he feels”. It’s an academic paper, I can only respond to what he puts on the page. What he says is “such discussions” without giving any examples. I don’t think there are any serious examples. Give me some, and I’ll retract the straw-man criticism. (But he still should have specified them.)

But that’s precisely what I’m saying. He dismisses one piece of evidence (without even attempting to give any examples of people making that argument), doesn’t consider the possibility of other arguments, and then says the conclusion doesn’t hold. It’s textbook denying the antecedent.

There is a possible article that his evidence would have supported. It would have been titled, “Some textual variations in the specification of right samādhi”. And it would have concluded that such variations should be considered when discussing the role of samādhi in the eightfold path. Fine and useful, though much less exciting. But that’s not the paper he wrote.

The whole concept is Abhidhammic, and according to them, yes. This is one of the theoretical foundations of the modern vipassanavada.

These passages should never be used to determine the nature and function of the path. They are not the word of the Buddha. They vary a lot between versions. They were remarks made by redactors at one time or other, based on rumors or hearsay about people’s attainments.

The purpose of such passages is not to redefine what the path is, but to tell an inspiring story. It’s meant to make you want to practice the path as it was taught by the Buddha, not to explain it away.

I discuss all this in A Swift Pair of Messengers.

Honestly, I find the constant bringing up of this issue so spiritually decadent. When did we start treating jhanas as a problem? When did we start defining our spiritual path by what we can get away with instead of what we can aspire to? It’s not just a passage or a citation, it’s the whole way of thinking about spiritual practice that’s just upside-down. The Buddha was always calling us to aspire to let go of more, to reach higher. Instead we’ve been trained to approach Dhamma practice like a lazy schoolkid, doing the absolute minimum to avoid an F in the exam.

Jhanas are not an obstacle to get around. They are what happens when obstacles vanish. If the five hindrances have gone and you can’t get into jhana: why not? What is hindering you if not, you know, the hindrances? If you can’t get into jhanas, your problem is not “can I get enlightened without jhanas”, it’s “why am I not letting go of the hindrances?”

Ironically perhaps, the Jhanavibhanga of the Abhidhamma represents this much better than many modern commentators. It places jhana, not just as a set of mental phenomena, a list of criteria to be checked off, but as the outcome of a life of letting go.


What do the nagas have to do with Nibbana? :rofl:


Thank you for that! :anjal: Anyway, I’m dragging the thread in an off-topic direction with this. I’m not sure what prompted me to head off in this direction in the first place, particularly when it’s not as if there isn’t reams upon reams of threads on this site on the topic already. Anyway, I’ll stop now!!

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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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