How Early Buddhism differs from Theravada: a checklist

Perhaps this one should be looked into a little more deeply first. SĀ 298, the parallel to SN 12.2, gives


basically: “Viññāṇapaccayā nāmarūpaṃ. Katamaṃ nāmaṃ? Cattāro arūpakhandhā: vedanākkhandho, saññākkhandho, saṅkhārakkhandho, viññāṇakkhandho.”

This is a discrepancy between the Āgamas and Nikāyas.

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Oh even weirder is that Buddha statues are said to travel of their own free will. The Emerald Buddha wasn’t stolen from Laos! It decided to come to Thailand all on its own.


Yes, that’s true, I should acknowledge that. I think it’s one of the few instances of genuine divergence in an important doctrine.

There’s so many stories! I like the one about the big Buddha image that would speak to people, especially giving soldiers rousing speeches before going off the war. Funny thing is, there was a hatch in the back, big enough for a small monk to hide …


Thank you bhante for this excellent essay :anjal:

It’s suprising how much I learnt when I first started learning & practicing Buddhism is part of the Theravada doctrine and not from the EBT. Thank you for clarifying these things, I’m very grateful.

I was quite struck by the section on ‘reductionist not-self’. I think you’ve spoken about this before in some of your talks from the past but it’s only now when I’ve read it a couple of times that I understood what you mean, at least on an intellectual level.

Do you think this is why some people don’t progess on the path? Because the teaching is wrongly grasped? Like grasping a snake by it’s tail and not holding on to the head so you don’t get bitten?

Thanks again bhante :anjal:


I’m honestly not sure. Obviously it’s best to have the clearest idea of what the Dhamma is, but at the same time, progress in Dhamma is affected by a myriad of factors, and theoretical understanding is only one of them.

In this case, the Theravadin understanding is not wrong per se, it’s just one-sided. I tend to be more worried about when things become overly dogmatic and rigid. So long as we recognize that our theories are frameworks that serve to support us in the right direction, we should be good. Our understanding will deepen as our progress goes.


Typo in Jataka section ^ “coiuple”

PS: I posted about this essay in Reddit, consider upvoting:

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Yea, and it’s already being accused of being white washed pseudo-Protestant analysis.


In the Suddhodana as king section:

… idea of an absolute …

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Thank you, Bhante, for once more coming through with a solid bit of clear thinking that cuts through to the essential!


Bhante, this is great. A little too long for me to read on screen though…

I was thinking this would make a nice little free distribution booklet… and it does :slight_smile: (freely distributed in the Dhammasara library anyway)

I have only spent a few hours typesetting this at this stage. However, if people are interested, then I am happy to collaborate.

At the moment the document is 40pp self covering - A5 (20 x A4 pages) as a pdf (setup in Indesign CS6)
ebt_v_thera.pdf (406.5 KB)
(last updated 6 Feb 2022)

I also made a ePub for ebook nerds.
bu_sujato_ebt_v_thera.epub (156.0 KB)

My feedback is that the US spelling hurts my eyes :stuck_out_tongue:


Wow, Ayya thanks for doing this! I am off to Thailand again this next week and will print out and distribute…this is wonderful that you took the time and effort to do this!



The following is the quotation, in Chapter 10, Section 4, from the book The Formation of Early Buddhist Texts by Ven Yinshun:

第四節 結說


Awesome, thanks Ayya!

I have thought of doing something similar, maybe wait a little until it matures. I’ve recently been using pandoc, you can convert to PDF via LuaLaTeX and also to EPUB, super easy!

Oh, also, best take off the SuttaCentral branding, this is just my personal opinion!


Can you translate what the quotation said? Because I believe most of users here can’t read Chinese, including me :grin:

The Chinese text, as stated previously, is about the formation of early Buddhist texts, from SN/SA (or 相應教 Saṃyukta-kathā) gradually developed and expanded to MN/MA, DN/DA, AN/EA. The SN/SA has three portions (Sutra, Geya, and Vyakarana angas); the Sutra-anga portion was the earliest of the three. The Sutra collections of Early Buddhism include SN/SA (originated at the first council) and MN/MA, DN/DA, and AN/EA (originated at the second council, one hundred years after the death of the Buddha). SN/SA represents the situation with regard to the compilation of the Buddhist teachings shortly after the death of the Buddha. MN/MA, DN/DA, and AN/EA represent the Buddhism of the period just before that second council. SN/SA was thus the foundation of the four nikayas/agamas, based on the Sarvastivada tradition of the Vastusangrahani of the Yogacarabhumi , according to Ven. Yinshun.

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I’ve updated the files to not have SuttaCentral branding. Happy to work on this further when the time is right.
I’ll keep in mind Pandoc. It won’t be long until my 10 year old macbook air will not be supported by the world and I will then MacBunto it. However, that seems like way too much ‘letting go’ for me right now!


see pandoc’d version above! Thanks for the inspiration. :pray:


I may be being a little thick here, but does this imply that the formless attainments were not included in the EBTs?

It’s not at all a thick question, and there are indeed those who would argue that the formless attainments are not included in the earliest teachings. To be clear, they are found, very widely, in the EBTs, and I disagree with the arguments that they are a later addition. Still, there is no doubt that the four jhanas are the central aspect of samadhi in the EBTs.

In the case, however, the distinction was made with lokuttara samādhi, which is quite different from the formless attainments.

The lokuttara jhanas are not really described as such in the EBTs, although there are a number of passages and references on which they are based. It seems that originally the idea was simple, and was established to distinguish between Buddhist and non-Buddhist practitioners of jhana.

Someone practicing jhana without right view (from the Buddhist perspective) has an experience of bliss and freedom, and after death will likely abide in a dimension of corresponding bliss. However this is not permanent and after some time they will return to this world or even to lower realms. This kind of samādhi is therefore regarded as lokiya “worldly” or “mundane”, but what it really means is “bound to the world”, i.e. “subject to rebirth”.

In contrast, one who, grounded on right view, realizes that same state of mind that we call jhana, will, due to the combined power of their samadhi and wisdom, break free of the chains of rebirth and find freedom. This is called lokuttara “beyond the world” or “transcendent” samādhi.

Over time, this distinction became more tightly constrained, as is the wont of the Abhidhamma, and the lokuttara samādhi was felt to be confined to, not just any jhana practiced by one of right view, but certain specific “mind moments” that occur on the occasion of realizing the noble paths and fruits. The path moments occur only once, as their function is to destroy the fetters, but the fruition moments may be re-entered in meditation by a practitioner. Certain descriptions of mysterious states of samādhi in the Suttas are said to be about such fruition attainments, especially for the arahant.


This sounds a lot like:

The end of the world can never
be reached by traveling.
But without reaching the end of the world,
there’s no release from suffering.

Is the fourth jhana reaching the end of the world? The world we construct in our heads, that is.