On reading the work of Ven Anālayo

Another route is to not try to keep up with all his scholarship. If you track and read all his journal articles in the last couple of years, for example, you will find a lot of repetition and overlap. IMO it is far better and more fruitful to diversify one’s reading. There are scholars who publish less but to me appear to have thought more deeply about the content. In some senses, Analayo is basically a great compiler, a sort of modern-day Buddhaghosa.

I’m not sure ‘size’ is that relevant :joy:

Hi @Bernat , just wondering who was on your mind that you feel thinks more deeply than Anālayo about the content of the dhamma but publishes less. I can of course think of a number of less prolific but deep thinkers (Rupert Gethin being one), but I’d be hard pressed to say Anālayo thought about the material less deeply than them. At any rate I’d be very interested in your take, or some articles you were thinking of.


I appreciate Analayo’s approach and work for several reasons:

  • During the writing of “Satipatthana: The Direct Path to Realization” he became aware of parallels to the Pali suttas and wanted to compare them.
  • He learned those languages and has compared them to the Pali in the spirit of finding what they have in common and what might not fit in order to perhaps get closer to what the Buddha’s teachings may have been.
  • He spends the majority of his time in meditation, 4-5 days per week.
  • Being a Theravada monk, he’s not beholden to Theravada doctrine per se. If he feels that tradition or transmission errors have diluted doctrine, he’s not afraid to say so.

I agree that he’s not perfect and is often repetitive and sometimes I might think he’s missed the mark. Not having a personality to latch on to one person or view, I try to be very careful to keep my dharma sense acute.

Of course I never meant to criticise his scholarship or say he doesn’t think about his stuff. But @Gillian expressed my points well, in that some of his work seems a list of canonical references threaded by his prose. This is why I said he’s very much a ‘compiler’. It’s a style. And probably this is dur to his being so prolific.

Well everyone publishes less than Analayo lol. Yes I’d include Rupert Gethin but also George Dreyfus, Alexander Wynne, or Robert Sharf. This is independently of whether I agree with their positions.


Gethin’s work is wonderful, it would be great if he would publish more. I’m familiar with his work and Wynne’s of course. But do Dreyfus and Sharf publish much on the EBTs? I’d thought they worked more on later material.

1 Like

Yes. You also have David McMahan, which is also not specifically a scholar of early Buddhism, and Padmasiri de Silva.
Gethin has been writing a book on Abhidharma for quite some time. Let’s see when it’s finished!

1 Like

I respectfully disagree with both propositions. :anjal: (Or more precisely: though I do acknowledge some overlap and repetition is present in Anālayo’s work, I don’t think reflects negatively on the originality of the majority of his individual articles; also, I’d like to indicate some differences I see between (i) Buddhaghosa’s work, (ii) that of a compiler, and (iii) that of Anālayo.)

The strongest argument in favor of the first proposition seems to be that Anālayo’s articles in the journal Mindfulness are repetitive and overlapping. But I doubt if this assertion is warranted on closer investigation. Below I have randomly selected five of Anālayo’s articles published in Mindfulness to evaluate their originality relative to his other research output:

  1. “Mindfulness-Based Interventions and the Four satipaṭṭhānas”, Mindfulness, 2019, 10.4: 611–615. Doi: 10.1007/s12671-019-1097-2
  2. “Remembering with Wisdom Is Not Intrinsic to All Forms of Mindfulness”, Mindfulness, 2018, 9.6: 1987–1990.
  3. “Ancient Indian Education and Mindfulness”, Mindfulness, 2019, 10.5: 964–969.
  4. “Open Monitoring and Mindfulness”, Mindfulness, 2019, 10 (forthcoming).
  5. “Early Buddhist Mindfulness and Memory, the Body, and Pain”, Mindfulness, 2016, vol. 7 no. 6pp. 1271–1280. (PDF)

The first sentence of the abstract of (1) reads “This article explores to what degree mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) can be considered to fulfill the cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness, satipaṭṭhāna/smṛtyupasthāna, in the way these are described in early Buddhist discourse”. Though the author’s analysis of the four satipaṭṭhānas/smṛtyupasthānas stems from previous work, especially from A Comparative Study of the Majjhima-Nikāya (2011), the comparison with mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) is novel (he discussed MBIs also in “Overeating and Mindfulness in Ancient India”, but there the context is quite different).

In agreement with its title, (2) defends a single thesis against its antithesis (which, having been argued for by Bryan Levman, is NOT a strawman): wisdom is not intrinsic to all forms of mindfulness. Though (2) does overlap with Anālayo’s earlier work, it is not strictly a journal article; (2) is a letter to the editor

“Ancient Indian Education and Mindfulness” (3) relates the bare awareness modality of mindfulness to (i) rote memorization in Ancient India and to (ii) the potential of bare awareness to overcome addictive behaviors such as smoking. It thereby gives a previously unexplored angle on bare awareness.

The fourth paper provides valuable insights into the focused attention/open monitoring distinction and on what side the EBTs fall. I found the distinction it draws between directed and undirected forms of meditation particularly elucidating (the section which introduces this distinction seems original rather than explored in earlier work: the only self-reference in this section is to a 2003 encyclopedia article on nimitta).

The last article is the only one that does seem to significantly overlap with previous publications such as Satipaṭṭhāna, the direct path to realization (2003) and Perspectives on Satipaṭṭhāna (2013) without deriving novel insights.

In conclusion, though there is definitely some overlap with previous work (which may or may not be a result of (i) having a prolific research output (ii) focused research centering especially on mindfulness), I don’t think it’s fair to characterize his recent articles as highly repetitive and/or overlapping with previous work: most articles seem to make novel contributions to their subject matter.

Regarding the comparison between Anālayo and Buddhaghosa, the latter is credited with two achievements:

  • Composing the Visuddhimagga (arguably a compilation)
  • Writing commentaries on the major books of the Pali Canon (NOT compilations)

In contrast, Anālayo’s academic research interests seem to cluster around and focus on (a) a comparative text-critical study of the major Chinese EBTs, (b) early Buddhist meditation (and how it compares to later forms of meditation), (c ) women in Buddhism, and (d) mindfulness/sati (and how it compares to the modern “mindfulness movement”)—not so much on compiling a ‘21st century visuddhimagga’ or on writing EBT commentaries in line with the EBT commentarial tradition.

Though the act of compiling in sense I.1 and I.2a of the OED (“to collect and put together (materials), so as to form a treatise; to collect into a volume” and “to make, compose, or construct (a written or printed work) by arrangement of materials collected from various sources” respectively) is required for comparative work, the central aim is text-critical comparison, not compilation. Therefore, I’d say Anālayo’s work is more properly understood as text-critical and historical-critical and in some cases perhaps as historical (e.g. The Genesis of the Bodhisattva Ideal).

I do agree with the importance of diversifying one’s reading. Of course it needn’t be either/or. :smile: