How Early Buddhism differs from Theravada: a checklist

I believe what the list is trying to do is not set Abhidhamma against the EBTs, but rather “Theravada tradition” against what can be found in the EBTs. And I think it is widely accepted that the “Theravada tradition” puts a strong if not primary importance of the deathbed consciousness. Perhaps, as you seem to indicate, more emphasis than can be found in Abhidhamma texts.

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Incidents that show the important role of karma before death are shown in many suttas; For example, people who attain arahatship at the time of death due to hard work at the time of death.

Can you show the abhidhamma text about the importance of the position of karma before death?

I mean here, the important position of karma before death is the reality of dhamma. There are many examples also in the sutta-pitaka, not something typical of the abhidhamma. But how people explain, how people make it their favorite topic, is another matter.

Should one not seek experiential wisdom? After all, the Dhamma that Buddha gave us leads to Suthamaya Panna and Chinthamaya Panna, wisdom from heard and contemplated, thus is of another, of Buddha. Bhavanamaya Panna is your own. Only that will take you to the ultimate end, that of non-illustrated consciousness where nama-Rupa, the four great elements, long short, big small, good bad too are prevented.

One thing about Visuddhimagga, the stanza used as I understand was the first of three stanzas that Buddha told the god who came up with the question, “beings are tied inside, and outside…”

But as I have heard, in Visuddhimagga the antho jata and bahi jata is referred to as one’s own things and those of others. Is that correct? The correct is antho jata means nama-rupa and bahi jata means nama-rupa & vinnana.

Yes, very much so. I agree that in this case, the Abhidhamma, and those who know it, understand these things perfectly well in line with the Suttas. But here I’m talking about popular Theravada culture. Perhaps I should be more specific about that, so I’ll add a qualifier.

I have to say Ven. Sujato does not define Early Buddhism correctly.

He fails to see and state clearly all extant EBTs (including Pali texts of Theravada) are in fact sectarian, not Early Buddhism.

Early Buddhism is not entirely the teachings of the extant EBTs.

That is, the extant all canonical discourses in Pali, Chinese, Tibetan, and Sanskrit were not entirely codified in the Buddha’s lifetime or shortly thereafter. :pray:

This essay is awesome!

Perhaps there should be a section addressing soteriology: which metaphysics underlie how to absolutely minimistically achieve a rebirth in heaven in the EBTs, vs. the later commentaries, or Abhidhamma?

I get the sense that in the EBTs, the minimum you’d need to do to go to heaven is fulfill morality/sila, but in the commentaries, shortcuts that dodge around the difficulty of living morally, gain much more prominence, like thaumaturgical ceremony, or generosity towards inanimate objects (or “āmisa pūjā”, the worship of material objects/material worship, which was harshly [rebuked in the commentary to DN16, at the point where the heavenly petals were floating down on the Buddha, and Ananda remarked how the heavens were honouring the Buddha](Digital Pāli Reader https://tipitaka.app/?a=fb2-249-ro)).

Here’s the Pali there:

Bhagavā pana yamakasālānaṃ antarā dakkhiṇena passena nipannoyeva pathavītalato yāva cakkavāḷamukhavaṭṭiyā, cakkavāḷamukhavaṭṭito ca yāva brahmalokā sannipatitāya parisāya mahantaṃ ussāhaṃ disvā āyasmato ānandassa ārocesi. Tena vuttaṃ – “Atha kho bhagavā āyasmantaṃ ānandaṃ…pe… tathāgatassa pūjāyā”ti. Evaṃ mahāsakkāraṃ dassetvā tenāpi attano asakkatabhāvameva dassanto na kho, ānanda, ettāvatātiādimāha.

Idaṃ vuttaṃ hoti – “Ānanda, mayā dīpaṅkarapādamūle nipannena aṭṭha dhamme samodhānetvā abhinīhāraṃ karontena ¶ na mālāgandhatūriyasaṅgītānaṃ atthāya abhinīhāro kato, na etadatthāya pāramiyo pūritā. Tasmā na kho ahaṃ etāya pūjāya pūjito nāma homī”ti.
Kasmā ¶ pana bhagavā aññattha ekaṃ umāpupphamattampi gahetvā buddhaguṇe āvajjetvā katāya pūjāya buddhañāṇenāpi aparicchinnaṃ vipākaṃ vaṇṇetvā idha evaṃ mahantaṃ pūjaṃ paṭikkhipatīti? Parisānuggahena ceva sāsanassa ca ciraṭṭhitikāmatāya. Sace hi bhagavā evaṃ na paṭikkhipeyya, anāgate sīlassa āgataṭṭhāne sīlaṃ na paripūressanti, samādhissa āgataṭṭhāne samādhiṃ na paripūressanti, vipassanāya āgataṭṭhāne vipassanāgabbhaṃ na gāhāpessanti. Upaṭṭhāke samādapetvā pūjaṃyeva kārentā viharissanti. Āmisapūjā ca nāmesā sāsanaṃ ekadivasampi ekayāgupānakālamattampi sandhāretuṃ na sakkoti. Mahāvihārasadisañhi vihārasahassaṃ mahācetiyasadisañca cetiyasahassampi sāsanaṃ dhāretuṃ na sakkonti. Yena kammaṃ kataṃ, tasseva hoti. Sammāpaṭipatti pana tathāgatassa anucchavikā pūjā. Sā hi tena patthitā ceva, sakkoti sāsanañca sandhāretuṃ, tasmā taṃ dassento yo kho ānandātiādimāha.

And here’s a translation of that into English (from here):
buddhagosa_comy_to_mahaparinibbana_sutta_wrt_puja_1

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“Early Buddhism” is not the same thing as “pre-sectarian Buddhism”. You might want to define things differently, but this is the simplest practical definition that is useful for most people.

Maybe we can frame in terms of the difference between Thera/therigatha and Thera/theri-apadana? The soteriological difference is almost shocking. One is all about mindfulness, renunciation, and meditation, the other all about performing devotional acts.

Added new section on devotion vs. meditation.

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Thanks! I loved the way you stated it. I would add as a minor side note that the Vimanavatthu has all sorts of “mercenary” (ruthless focus on short-term personal profit, never mind morality) shortcuts to heaven in it as well.

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I’m not familiar, can you give an example?

Most of the Vimanavatthu suttas center around how generosity to Buddhist monks leads to heaven. It can come across as really self-serving, to the monks who teach it. That strong emphasis on giving to the very monks teaching these suttas can make the monks look too eager to receive offerings.

I got the word “mercenary” from (I’m pretty sure) the introduction to I.B. Horner’s translation of the Vimanavatthu (see "Minor Anthologies (Vol IV) — Vimanavatthu: Stories of the Mansions, and Petavatthu, I.B. Horner).

Edit: it’s not quite as “ruthless” as I recall it being, when I take a second look. But definitely strongly weighted to generosity to monks, over, say, developing sila. I don’t want to discourage generosity to the Sangha, BTW! It’s just that the shift in weightiness is interesting, the later the texts get.

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This is kind of a side topic, but I will disagree. A common theme is that even the slightest offering to the sangha provides emense results. I’m thinking of the needle offering and the burnt rice crust offering. So the idea is not that you should offer huge amounts of things but that the offering should be placed in the sangha, which is the canonical definition of the supreme field of merit. I have only ever heard this “self serving” argument from westerners. In practice these suttas are frequently taught as a part of the meal anumodana when it is fully appropriate to remind people that the action they just did will have great results.

Unless, of course, a monk is for some reason particularly greedy for the burnt rice on the bottom of the cooking pot. :wink:

If we look at the flip side where we assume that the cannon is correct when it tells us of the importance of gifts to the sangha, then a monk who did not teach this would be shirking his responsibilities.

Of course monks can teach the Dhamma in a self serving way. But that is not limited to these suttas.

And regarding the amisa puja thing, does anyone see a place where the Buddha told people to not make these kinds of offerings? I’m looking for something explicit, not simply the passage quoted above where someone could infer things that aren’t in the text. It is indeed explicit that things like meditation and right view are far more fruitful than material offerings. But material offerings as good karma are quite frequently mentioned in the EBTs. So to somehow say that it is a later/Theravada thing… that’s what I’m not seeing.

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You’re right, my quotation above would be Buddhagosa speaking, condemning “Amisa puja”.

I think “Amisa puja” there refers to making merit by worshipping material objects which are not living, breathing people, like monks and nuns. So worshipping stupas, statues, etc. With respect to worshipping those inanimate objects, Buddhagosa says “The deed done belongs to the doer alone”. So (my understanding is that) there is some merit in the act of amisa puja, but when there is no living, breathing recipient of the gift, then there is no “merit amplification bonus”, as it were, like when the recipient “purifies the gift” (owing to their right view, good sila, and good meditation practice). So merit-making is always more fruitful when giving to a living person (to get the “merit amplification bonus”), rather than an inanimate object, which cannot “purify the gift”.

Can I back up these views from the EBTs? I have a couple of EBT references for you:

In MN 142, there are 7 kinds of offerings made to the Sangha (see verse 7).

  1. “There are seven kinds of offerings made to the Sangha, Ānanda.
    One gives a gift to a Sangha of both [bhikkhus and bhikkhunīs] headed by the Buddha; this is the first kind of offering made to the Sangha.
    One gives a gift to a Sangha of both [bhikkhus and bhikkhunīs] after the Tathāgata has attained final Nibbāna; this is the second kind of offering made to the Sangha.
    One gives a gift to a Sangha of bhikkhus; this is the third kind of offering made to the Sangha. One gives a gift to a Sangha of bhikkhunīs; this is the fourth kind of offering made to the Sangha.
    One gives a gift, saying: ‘Appoint so many bhikkhus and bhikkhunīs for me from the Sangha’; this is the fifth kind of offering made to the Sangha.
    One gives a gift, saying: ‘Appoint so many bhikkhus for me from the Sangha’; this is the sixth kind of offering made to the Sangha.
    One gives a gift, saying: ‘Appoint so many bhikkhunīs for me from the Sangha’; this is the seventh kind of offering made to the Sangha.

Note how once the Buddha parinibbanas, he drops out of appearing anywhere the list of recipients, in a straightforward manner. The Buddha says nothing like “keep making offerings to me (in statue format or not), once I’m dead and gone”. It’s the remaining living recipients in the Sangha who keep being the recipients he refers to.

Also note (same sutta, verse 9-12) that in order for an offering to be purified (beyond the deed done/merit belonging just to the doer), there needs to be a living, breathing recipient each time (who is a being, who is an existing person of some sort, as opposed to an inanimate object):

  1. “There are, Ānanda, four kinds of purification of offering. What four? There is the offering that is purified by the giver, not by the receiver. There is the offering that is purified by the receiver, not by the giver. There is the offering that is purified neither by the giver nor by the receiver. There is the offering that is purified both by the giver and by the receiver.

  2. “And how is the offering purified by the giver, not by the receiver? Here the giver is virtuous, of good character, and the receiver is immoral, of evil character. Thus the offering is purified by the giver, not by the receiver.

  3. “And how is the offering purified by the receiver, not by the giver? Here the giver is immoral, of evil character, and the receiver is virtuous, of good character. Thus the offering is purified by the receiver, not by the giver.

  4. “And how is the offering purified neither by the giver nor by the receiver? Here the giver is immoral, of evil character, and the receiver is immoral, of evil character. Thus the offering is purified neither by the giver nor by the receiver.

Amisa puja doesn’t warrant mention anywhere in these lists!

I think Westerners have a cultural common sense that they would far rather bestow generosity on living beings, not inanimate objects. Meticulous metaphysics about how inanimate objects don’t make all that good of a recipient of a gift, sort of goes without saying, for Westerners.

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You refer to “Early Buddhism is the teachings of the “early Buddhist texts” (EBTs), that is, the canonical discourses in Pali, Chinese, Tibetan, and Sanskrit that were codified in the Buddha’s lifetime or shortly thereafter.”

That “shortly thereafter” could refer to the first council, if according to Ven. Yinshun:

The Sutra 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.

I have to say, Bhante S., I was a bit thrown by that line. Would it be more correct to say

the canonical discourses in Pali, Chinese, Tibetan, and Sanskrit whose original texts were codified in the Buddha’s lifetime or shortly thereafter.

I’m not trying to debate things. But were any of the Tibetan texts codified shortly after the Buddha’s lifetime?

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is deliberately vague. I’m not propounding any particular theory of the formation of the texts, merely specifying that I am talking about the canonical texts.

This is too categorical, and I personally disagree with the historical framing. Yes, SN probably represents the earliest structural form of the canon, but it’s not like everything else simply didn’t exist. It’s just a process of organizing things. Sure, there are occasional phrases suggestive of sectarian influence in the various agamas, but there are in SN/SA too. All these texts are primarily pre-sectarian, and sectarian influence is secondary and usually readily identified.

Let me rephrase. I’m trying to be as non-specific as possible.

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Would “origin” or “root” texts be better than “original”? Original can have many meanings, like “before something was revised” whereas I think root text is what you are talking about.

See my rephrasing, I have avoided this issue.

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Yes, all the four nikāyas/āgamas are indeed primarily pre-sectarian.

According to Ven. Yinshun, SN/SA was not at first being termed as nikāya or āgama ‘collection’, but generally named the ‘Connected Discourses’ 相應教 Saṃyukta-kathā , based on the Sarvastivada tradition of the Vastusangrahani of the Yogacarabhumi.
Calling the SN/SA as nikāyas/āgamas 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).

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Added sections:

  • buddha images
  • relics
  • jatakas
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