On the commentaries

I’ve come across teachers who say this and that is wrong with the commentaries and to only follow the suttas. So realizing a teacher on YouTube in 2022 is just giving a commentary about these same suttas why would one listen to them? Perhaps that could also be applied to the abhidharna because isn’t that just monks giving their take on the Dhamma. Right or wrong in either case. Doesn’t it all boil down to simply a bunch a people commenting on their specific understanding of the suttas?


It’s often said that those who criticize the Commentaries end up making their own commentaries.

All dhamma discussion is , in a sense, commentary.


I think the distinction is whether you view traditional commentaries as just someone’s opinion on what a sutta means vs. the way of understanding it.


I think it would be worth unpacking this a bit. Which teachers? Are they talking about specific commentaries? Which ones? Are they saying these commentaries aren’t helpful at all or are overemphasized in a particular tradition?
Note: I’m not suggesting you need to answer all these questions in this thread. :slightly_smiling_face: I just mean it is sometimes helpful to unpack a generalization like that.

Personally, I can’t imagine approaching the suttas without commentary - whether traditional or contemporary. The gulf of time and worldview between my background beliefs and background beliefs of the Buddha and his audience are too great to “just read the suttas.” I need intermediaries to explain that worldview to even begin to understand what the suttas meant at the time they were spoken and then recorded and compiled.


Yes. When you take refuge in the Dhamma, you actually take refuge in verifying the Teachings for yourself. For example, of the stream-enterer, the Suttas say:

He went beyond doubt, got rid of indecision, and became self-assured and independent of others regarding the Teacher’s instructions.

MN 56

This is rarely emphasized in Buddhism. The Dhamma refuge is:

Svākkhāto bhagavatā dhammo sandiṭṭhiko akāliko ehipassiko opaneyyiko paccattaṁ veditabbo viññūhīti

The Dhamma is well expounded by the Blessed One, directly visible, immediate, inviting one to come and see, applicable, to be personally experienced by the wise.

While you can certainly consider &/or take advice from others, ultimately, the onus of understanding falls upon yourself. :saluting_face:

I wonder how necessary it is to read the commentaries to practice the dhamma, not just to satisfy curiosity.

Crawling slowly through the suttas I’ve had the thought that it isn’t necessary. The essential information can be boiled down to a thick pamphlet or 1 book.

I wonder if the commentaries will tell anyone with a strong interest in practicing the dhamma much that is new or much that isn’t said by contemporary teachers in more easily accessible language.

Perhaps it is safe to assume that there are no universal answers to the questions you raise. While some will get lost in the richness of the tradition and read too many Dharma books instead of practicing, others will find something there that sustain and enrich their practice. What is not necessary to one will be at least very useful to someone else. And while perhaps clarity and simplicity is gained between the commentaries and modern exegesis, perhaps something can also get lost that would be useful to somebody. At any rate, in the (western) philosophy that I teach, I often find in old complicated commentaries things of value which I simply could not find or find so easily in modern literature.

In general, and not answering you specifically here but the general gist of some earlier comments, while I agree that the Dhamma must be validated by our own experience and that we cannot help finding things useful or not based on who we currently happen to be, I would also be skeptical that simply following our (defiled) cittas to the texts which seem useful to them will always be the best thing to do. It can also be useful to read things which shock or disorient us in our current state, and I guess this is also why we need teachers and spiritual friends who are farther along the path (or at least some aspect of the path) to help us see another perspective besides the one we currently happen to have.

Then again, perhaps my defilements are trying to justify reading too many Dharma books. :smiley:

This is true in a way. But I definitely think it matters WHO you listen to. It helps to listen to people whose views are more in line with the EBTs IMHO. :anjal:


This is a good point.

I recall Charles Hallisey saying he based his translation of Therigatha on the Dhammapāla Commentary, because surely the Venerable knew more about it than he did.


This is why we have to test teachings in the terms the Buddha stated in the sutta to the Kalamas. Surely both ancient and modern commentators wrote/write with the intention of helping us… I find it best to check against the original texts and to discuss with teachers I believe I can trust.


Great advice Gillian :anjal:

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