How Early Buddhism differs from Theravada: a checklist

The world is our six senses.

End of the world is when one is at peace regardless of what one sees, hears, smells, tastes, contacts and thinks.

It is reached through calmness and wisdom.

Thank you, Venerable Sujato. This list is quite helpful!

This is the sad reality not only of Theravada, but also of other buddhis traditions. Many times I thought: “okay, the Buddha said it is okay to question whatever he taught, but the message now is that it is okay to question as long as I reach the same conclusions and accept what is in the scripture or what has been said by the teacher as true.”

At the same time, I think our way of exploring Buddhism is quite influenced by our modern culture, such as the values of protestantism (individual direct connection with God, understanding the scriptures for oneself individually, etc.) and I wonder what the Buddha would have to say about that.

In my quote,

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.

“reaching the end of the world” is not the same as a “release from suffering”. There is an implication that “reaching the end of the world” is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for a “release from suffering”. The rest of the eightfold path is also required for a “release from suffering”. I think this is similar to what Bhante @Sujato is saying. In the context of our conversation, “reaching the end of the world” is the fourth jhana. A necessary, but not sufficient condition for “release from suffering”.

I think that what you are describing is life after the “release from suffering”, command of the entire eightfold path.

I think there are sutta that says first Jhana is a sufficient condition for release of suffering. Entering the proper first Jhana means one has the wisdom to go beyond clinging onto sensuality. Based on the same principle, one can transcend self views, conceit etc to reach the end of dukkha.

Of course this topic is very controversial but that is my reasoning.

It is on AN 9.36,

The first jhana is a basis for ending the defilements.’ That’s what I said, but why did I say it?

Take a mendicant who, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, enters and remains in the first jhana. They aware the experience there—included in form, feeling, perception, choices, and consciousness—as impermanent, as suffering, as diseased, as an abscess, as a dart, as misery, as an affliction, as alien, as falling apart, as empty, as not-self.

They turn their mind away from those experiences, and apply it to the deathless: ‘This is peaceful; this is sublime—that is, the stilling of all activities, the letting go of all attachments, the ending of craving, fading away, cessation, extinguishment.’

Abiding in that they attain the ending of defilements.
If they don’t attain the ending of defilements, with the ending of the five lower fetters they’re reborn spontaneously, because of their passion and love for that experience. They are extinguished there, and are not liable to return from that world.

But remember to turn away your mind from that 1st jhana experience and focus your mind to deathless (stilling of all activities). Otherwise it is just a 1st jhana experience.

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The conversation with @sujato was about EBTs. In that he said:

In the EBTs the samādhi that is essential for the path is always defined as the four jhānas. Samādhi in the EBTs is a profound unification of mind that is the result of a dedicated process of letting go and spiritual development. Occasionally, it is true, samādhi is found in a slightly broader sense, but these cases are never central to the path.

I suspect your quote is later tradition. I am interested only in the EBTs here. So the fourth jhana is essential in the Bhante’s words. It is also the most likely state to qualify as “reaching the end of the world” which must be an extremely profound state.

We as sentient beings construct an inner self centered world with things in it that we crave and where unsatisfied craving is suffering. I think that in my quote reaching the end of the world is the realization by direct experience of the destruction of that inner world. I believe this would be the most profound insight imaginable.

There are 3 additional suttas that described the same things.

  • AN 11.16 Aṭṭhakanāgara Sutta
  • MN 52 Aṭṭhakanāgara Sutta
  • MN 64 Mahāmālukya Sutta

I think one needs to at least study and practice in daily life before trying to analyze what is late or early. The 4 Nikayas have been consistent in Buddha teaching. They are mostly related to 4 noble truths.

Penetrating the teaching is important, only by practice one can start investigate whether it is an addition or original.

Also, First step is right view. Without it, one can’t even investigate.

Sorry, I wasn’t clear and didn’t mean to imply this. There are, as has been quoted, a number of passages that show that the first jhana may serve as basis for even arahantship. I discussed this in A Swift Pair of Messengers.

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Thanks, Bhante. :pray: This essay was an eyeopener. So many things I’ve taken for granted about the Buddha’s teachings aren’t even a thing.


This might be one of the most clarifying post I’ve come across. It has definitely cleared up some misunderstands and shed light on many things I hadn’t seen before. Thank you.


In the pdf file, at the end of ‘jataka stories’ section there is a repetition of the word they:

There are many tell-tale signs of their ahistoricity; for example, they they almost always presuppose a level of culture, language, politics, and technology that pertained for only a couple of centuries prior to the Buddha’s birth.

Thank you for writing the book. It’s really nice :slight_smile:

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Okay thanks, I’ll update it.

I am in agreement. I appreciate all the work and the input.

See for yourself:


I was not aware of this distinctions. So, theravada is not an early buddhist school?

Is the total Pali Canon not seen as early buddhism or parts of it?

@Green Theravada is a living tradition that has been transforming for more than 2 millennia. From the Pali Canon, some parts are early and some are later additions. There is this nice text on the origins of the suttas that might clarify the issue a bit.

quite a fascinating description of meditation! thanks!! I wonder, is it a bit contiguous with the root of all things? “perceiving the earth in earth” etc? like, having understood earth to its end is to have understood it as conditioned, dependently arisen, impermanent, not self, so the mediator who is awake is not meditating perceiving earth, they have in a sense gone beyond perceptions of this mundane sort, and consequently are meditating “unconditionally”? loving this thread btw


It depends how you define it. Theravada is a school that draws strongly from the teachings of early Buddhism, and which understands itself as being the early and original teaching. So it’s not not early Buddhism; there’s just more to it than that. Theravada has early and late aspects, as do all Buddhist schools.

In terms of the historical evolution, Theravada is regarded as being one of the so-called “18” early schools that emerged in the centuries following king Ashoka. And in this sense too it may be regarded as the only surviving example of an early school.

But the teachings and practices of Theravada are not identical with those of the early texts. So if we think of “early Buddhism” as that which pertained in the Buddha’s lifetime and a century or so afterwards, then no, it’s exactly the same.

The early portions of the Pali canon are, and always will be, our primary source texts for understanding the Buddha’s teachings. The Tipitaka was, however, open for additions for some centuries after the Buddha’s death. This is not mere modern speculation: the Pali commentaries themselves quite openly discuss several texts that were added later.

The fact that they were added later, of course, doesn’t mean that they are wrong or bad, it just means that they should be understood in their context.


Thanks @Luis , i will start reading that.

Thanks Bhante @sujato. I will take some time to study this. I find it useful information. It is nice to see things in perspective and have more context.