Regarding the belief of academics that the Buddha taught Mahayana sutras etc

I have come across at least one well studied Mahayana person, which has also read a fair amount of scholarship. And yet he believes the Buddha taught bodhisattvayana - the Mahayana sutras etc. I was shocked - he seemed intelligent and fairly well read.

So, I would be interested to know, are there any scholars of early Buddhism who believe that? Or is it a total consensus?

And, what about non-EB specialists - do the (or some of the) academics of general Buddhism, or Mahayana Buddhism/Tibetan Buddhism/Japanese Buddhism etc. actually believe the Buddha taught it? If so, how on earth do they end up with such a view? The only reason I can see for such a view is blind faith. But I did not think that blind faith was valid for academic reasoning.

I don’t well understand how anyone who is intelligent and well read, can hold onto this belief since we have such a mountain of evidence to disprove it. I can understand regarding religious people, since, even for Buddhists, blind faith is pretty standard, even in communities where they believe they do not have blind faith. But in academia?

Anyway I would be really interested to know what kind of consensuses there are regarding this in the different Buddhist academic fields, if anyone has info or experience with that!


There is no special reason that some Buddhist teachings should not have continued to be passed on orally and remained outside the Theravāda Canon for centuries - especially outside the Ganges Valley (and Mahāyana is assumed to have started in Gandhāra and South India). We have hardly any reliable information about early (pre-Canonical) sects, but it’s clear from the Pāli suttas that Buddhism was already highly diversified by the time the suttas were composed.

If you want an up-to-date summary and critique of academic research on the origins of Mahāyāna then I heartily recommend some recent articles by David Drewes.

I doubt any non-religious academics believe that any Buddhist texts were literally taught by the Buddha. Most of us now see the Buddha as a purely legendary figure for whom there is no historical evidence. For which also see Drewes:

As you say, blind faith (despite the rhetoric) is pretty standard.

Another point to remember is that many academic Buddhism Studies departments are now thoroughly infiltrated by Buddhist monks. While across Asia we have universities funded, taught, and attended only by religious Buddhists. Hence we have seen many passionately argued apologetics from monks in recent years in favour of the authenticity of the scriptures, the reality of rebirth, and so on. The assumption that academics are not also religious is unlikely to hold in Buddhism Studies (and full disclosure: I’m also a religious scholar, though not affiliated with any university).


Right, and we do have evidence of that - the Āgamas etc. And, from comparative analysis, we can see that they are extremely close to the Pāli presentation of the Buddha’s teachings, even down to the details of many individual suttas! And we have that evidence from a number of different sects who split off from each other long before any of the teachings were written down, right? So isn’t the critical point that this gives us a good picture of the teachings from before they split, through comparative analysis?

And since these different sources all give a picture which is totally contradicted by the Mahayana sources, is that not one of the main (among many other) point that refutes this idea that hey were passed down orally all that time? Of course another huge point is that the Mahayana sutras’ style is clearly written, not oral.

Great, thank you!

How bizarre! I have never believed any of the suttas were taught like that word for word of course. But is it not entirely plausable that a religious leader living in a place where there was a well established oral tradition of transmission, would have had his students memorise his teachings? I am a music teacher (shakuhachi, a flute from a Japanese Buddhist sect, Fuke Shū) and I make my students memorise the music!

What about you, do you think he was only legendary?
Seeing blind faith in Mahayana, and intelligent and kind lamas teaching history which is totally false, actually makes me sad. Why trick your followers? Or if you are tricked yourselves, why? Why keep to disproven views? It is hard for me to make sense of.

I am having a little look. He wrote:

The idea of the bodhisattva is found in early Buddhists texts, and dates as far back in Buddhist history as we can see, but early texts provide little information about bodhi-sattvas besides depicting them as heroic strivers for what Nattier (2003) calls ‘the highest achievement that the Buddhist repertoire had to offer.’

Is he talking about the jatakas there? I had thought that they were not from the earliest layer but later additions - am I wrong? I thought that there was actually no mention whatsoever of bodhisattvas in the early texts, just ‘bodhisatta’, only in reference to the Buddha during the stage of his life in between leaving his family home, and attaining enlightenment. And in that context it seems to me that it is extremely unlikely that ‘bodhisattva’ was meant - rather, ‘bodhisakta’. So I am a little skeptical about this guy’s idea. Am I wrong to be?

He also wrote:

For people who sought arhatship and pratyekabuddhahood, the claim was that sutras for bodhisattvas were especially powerful and could propel them toward these goals more quickly than more traditional sutras.

Is there any evidence that anyone has ever sought to be a pratyekabuddha? I have read that it was only ever a hypothetical category, and that no-one has ever claimed to follow that supposed path, only occasionally people accusing someone they don’t like of following it! It would seem to make no sense whatsoever for any Buddhist to choose to follow that path, so, again I am confused by this person’s writing. But, I’ll carry on reading when I get time…

I can’t quote the sources right now (I guess it’s Allon or Salomon), but it seems that the earliest found manuscripts in Gandhara containted both Pali-type and early Mahayana suttas, and that they were stored together. Monasteries in the past (1st century CE) seemed to care less about the distinction than we do :slight_smile:

It would surprise me if there was such an academic consensus - is there a research on this, a questionnaire or so? I personally enjoy reading Drewes even though I don’t follow him in some points. My guess is it’s still easier to assume that there was an historical Buddha rather than assuming that there was a group of ‘creative poets’ making up texts and teachings for fun.

Let people have their faith, why bother? Theravada has its flaws too, and even the Pali texts are incoherent at times. No Buddhism is pure in tradition.

I don’t know what Drewes refers to here, but of course there is the bodhisatta in the suttas. It’s a term for Gotama before his enlightenment.

I don’t know, but why not? The concept was very hip in certain times in history. Imagine a Kassapa-type of austere monastic who doesn’t like to talk, or even lives in a cave for decades. I can imagine personality types who’d like the idea of it.


Hello Justin,

I guess you probably want to look at this from a slightly different angle.

They are kind and intelligent lamas and from your position you cannot reconcile what you understand of buddhism and what they do :smiley: but does it matter so much?

Some of the stories may be off putting, or plain wrong from your view, however I tend to try to keep in mind that some of those stories are a mean to an end.

So long as the end goal aligns with the Buddha’s teaching, and are beneficial for dispassion, for detachment from greed, for cessation of suffering, for tranquility, for realization of the truth, for attainment of awakening, for the attainment of Nibbana, then who am I to judge the means that have come out thru history and the dissimination of the Buddha sasana around the world?

I like very much the books from Bhikkhu Cintita and how he approaches this in A culture of awakening for example:

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This is not a surprise to me, and does not contradict what I said. And you will also find plenty of Mahayana texts on my own shelves! I practice Mahayana. I just don’t have any blind faith in the errors it teaches :slight_smile:

I know Prof Gombrich for one (who is not a Buddhist by the way), is sure the Buddha existed, and that the EBT are a good reflection of what the Buddha taught. He and Anālayo are probbaly my favourite academics of Buddhism.

It’s not their faith which bothers me. It is that they teach well educated Europeans a whole mass of superstitious nonsense. Like telling them that the statue of the Buddha at Bodhgaya is actually a true likeness of the Buddha, for example. And that the Buddha taught the Mahayana sutras, so, arahants really are selfish, and the path of the arahant is a bad one which we should all avoid at all costs, for example. And so many other things…

The Buddha’s Buddhism is so so so much better than that. I do feel that there have been some excellant additions, such as Mahamudra and Dzogchen. Fantastic! Possibly even better than the Buddha’s methods (I don’t know, but I admit this possibility).

But I really feel that the disproved fiction is dragging Buddhism down and hindering Buddhism’s future. It goes totally against the Western ideal of rejecting what is false. And Mahayana Buddhists even tend to claim that their religion is scientific, and rejects what is false. So if they are really to be taken seriously, rather than quaint old men full of unfounded superstition, I think they should update their belief system in light of the evidence. It would make their religion far far more likely to survive, thrive, and benefit in the modern world, in my opinion.

So I am saying it makes me sad, because seeing men in power convince large groups of Westerners who have great respect for them, to take on disproven superstitions and blatantly false information, makes me sad. I don’t like to see people getting conned into false belief.

Yes, I did explain that. However I have seen no support for Drewes’ view, unless the jātakas are considered to be from the earliest layer - are they? If not, his view appears to be wrong, unless there are other ‘past life tales’ that are considered as from the earliest layer?

Ok how about you. Imagine you are training in a religion which deeply values compassion and loving kindness, and has a strong emphasis on not harming others, and helping others (Buddhism). Now, you have two choices:

  1. Become totally free from dukkha, so you are perfectly content, and don’t help anyone else to attain that. Or…
  2. Become totally free from dukkha, so you are perfectly content, and help others to attain that.

Which are you giong to choose?

When? And could you provide any references? Thanks!

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I appreciate this point, and I do consider it. But I feel that is more relevant for uneducated people. I think this becomes quite different, when you are asking educated Westerners, some of whom may have done degrees in science and so on, to blindly believe total nonsense. Asking them and expecting them to discard evidence. Do you see what I mean? It can create a lot of problems, and massive cognitive dissonance.

I honestly feel that the mind training methods of Mahayana would be better off in the West if they were stripped of their false dogma. As it is, Buddhist groups can be quite culty, and many many people can be put off of engaging in genuinely beneficial mind training methods, because of being asked and expected to believe ridiculous superstition.

And of course there are the sectarian problems it brings. Pretty much the whole of Suttacentral should be discarded by Mahayana practitioners, since it focuses on the goal of arahantship. Now, all the evidence indicates that the Buddha taught this as the highest goal. But since the Mahayana teaches that that is a selfish goal, and the ones who follow that path are too dumb to know any better, too dumb to understand Mahayana (that is basically what they teach), and that the path itself is ‘vile’ and ‘deficient’ (hīna), then it is no wonder that most of them have absolutely no interest in the teachings here. Who would want to study the ‘vile vehicle’ and its stupid and selfish arahants?

So, the sectarian issue of Mahayana teachers sustaining the Mahayana myths of autheitic authorship and so on, do, in my opinion, have huge sectarian consequences.

And besides, if the aim is to see things as they are, how can that be taken seriously when blind faith in disproven fictions is made so central to the religion?

Thanks. Another for my reading list!


Richard, who I also respect greatly, is very much in the minority on this question. Anālayo is a Theravāda monk.


Right. But his reasoning for his position seems rather good, don’t you think?

Yes, but also an academic, right? And he also seems to be very logical and well reasoning. I have not seen him displaying much blind faith - he seems to take an evidence-based approach. Even if it means going against Theravada dogma, as a Theravada monk.


I don’t actually understand on what basis people would think the Buddha was fictional anyway. Is that what you think? I of course do not mind at all if it is!

It seems that we have a fairly clear picture of what Buddhism was teaching about 100 years after the Buddha died, right (comparative analysis of the early schools’ EBTs)? So that gets us pretty close to the Buddha’s tie already. And then things like the archeological remains of where we believe the BUddha’s home village was, and also the place that moved, across the Indian border, dring the BUddha’s lifetime. I know that is not ‘evidence’ as such, but it does support the story! Why would they not think ‘he possibly existed’, rather than ‘he was fictional’?

Then there’s things like the time when the Buddha got enlightened, and the first guy he met, he told him ‘I am an arahant!’

And the dude said something like, “Oh yeah? Cool, who’s your guru?”

And he said “I don’t have one, I did it all by myself.”

And the dude said “Yeah, right…” And walked off.

What tradition which makes up their own ficitonal founder, would make up a story like that? You wouldn’t find such a story in Mahayana sutras! The first guy he met after enlightenment :rofl:

It’s one of my favourite stories :slight_smile:


No. We don’t have a good picture at all. We have a highly biased and partial picture, with no external confirmation whatever. For all we know we have only a very small fraction of the texts. Given the huge variations within Pāḷi sources, let alone the massive variations found in the Āgamas, we probably lost vast amounts of information and variation in the standardisation process. And on top of that a lot was simply made up, including most of what passes for the life story of the Buddha (and that was made up to appeal to Brahmins). We have to assume that we know next to nothing about the world of Buddhism before Asoka. Just a bare outline and that highly distorted by a powerful normative group who we resources by Asoka. And they created the stories that legitimised their suppression of heterodoxy.

The very fact that the language of the texts is standardised tells us a lot. Because Buddhists were unlikely to use a church language until it was imposed on them. Just as in Europe, each city and town had their own dialect (we get a few glimpses of this from Pāli). The new sects that emerged into view used local Prakrits, not Pāli. They avoided the standardisation that was forced on Buddhism, probably by Emperor Asoka.

Is that picture “totally contradicted by the Mahāyāna sources”? Certainly, by say 50 years after Asoka (or whoever) had stopped suppressing heterodox sects, we became aware of seemingly new sects with ideas different from those found in the normative canon. But who is to say that their roots are not as deep as the hegemonic and normative Buddhism portrayed in the texts?

Why do we assume that the normative texts are representative rather than normative? Because the monks who preserved the normative texts tell us that they are representative. And their credibility rested on being guardians of the true teaching, so they were highly motivated to promote this story.

Meanwhile the other Buddhist sects were still mainly focussed on meditation and liberation and were not really participating in the literary/normative culture of the large monasteries that could really only exist with royal patronage (they sucked up vast amounts of resources remember). Thousands of non-productive men, eating rice even if only once a day require huge numbers of peasant farmers to support them! In Tibet, 75% of the population slaved away at subsistence farming on land owned by monks, to keep the monks fed.

You have to remember that most of our records of the Āgamas are Chinese translations from around the 5th Century (dating is uncertain). They are texts from that era. And there are very often major differences. Also what we see from Chinese sources is that texts continued to evolve independently of the Canonisation program under Asoka.

Remember also the lesson of Greg Schopen - that where we have evidence from archaeology, it almost always contradicts the normative accounts of monastic Buddhism found in the texts.

The trouble is that we are taught to think one way and only one way about our own literature. Those assumptions become axioms. When ones proceeds deductively from a set of axioms, one can only ever reproduce the axioms. Your starting assumptions determine your deductive conclusion. My view is that we have to dig deeper and question why we do not question these assumptions.

When people talk about the unity of the texts I just laugh nowadays. The disunity and incoherence is there to see if one looks. But axioms blind us to the point where even if we looked (and most people do not) we cannot see. It took me about 15 years to begin to throw off those blindfolds. And another 10 to really experience some independent thought about our various traditions. And you start to see where the power lies in Buddhist; where the narratives support that power; and who benefits from keeping those stories alive.


When we scholars refer to an existing consensus, it usually has emerged from reading widely about the subject (and knowing the people involved) and finding that most experts agree and in particular noticing trends over time (convergence on a view).

If one wants to see what the current academic consensus on some aspect of early Mahāyāna is, then one would have to read widely from amongst David Drewes, Paul Harrison, Jan Nattier, Seishi Karashima, Stefano Zacchetti, Tilman Vetter, Ulrich Pagel, Collette Cox, Jonathan Silk, Greg Shopen, Lewis Lancaster, Harry Falk, Mark Allon, Richard Salomon, Ingo Strauch, Matt Orsborn, and many others.

I think Drewes’ recent articles on the early Mahāyāna draw together the threads in an elegant and revealing way.

That said, it is only my opinion that such a consensus exists and whether you believe me or not is dependent on how reliable you think I am as a source. The only way to know is to read what I have read and see if you agree. It might take you a few years.

This is not quite right. Nothing to do with Pāli. They do find individual non-Mahāyana texts and Mahāyāna texts in the same monasteries, but then we already knew (from Chinese pilgrims) that so-called “Mahāyāna” monks followed the same Vinaya as their more conservative peers and often lived in the same monasteries. Similarly for the early monks and texts arriving in China - a mix that belies the kind of strict separation that we see a few centuries later after normative Mahāyana becomes the mainstream and starts to purge heterodox Buddhists sects. Although in Sri Lanka the Theravādins got the upper hand and kicked the Mahāyanists out.

Mahāyāna did not coalesce into a separate movement with it’s own identity until quite late (around the 4th Century CE). In the early years the “bodhisatvas” were just a bunch of hardcore meditators living alongside less committed monks. So this is no surprise and doesn’t change the picture.

Anyway, Mahāyāna is a term that emerged relatively late and Seishi Karashima has made a good case for it being a wrong Sanskritisation of the Prakrit mahājāna meaning “great knowledge”, i.e. mahājñāna, another synonym of prajñāpāramitā and sarvajñā.

In the Lotus Sutra we find this line amongst others

ekaṁ hi kāryaṁ dvitiyaṁ na vidyate
na hīnayānena nayanti buddhāḥ ||2.55||

There is only one method, not a second,
The Buddhas do not lead by a defective way.

The different schools from which we have EBT split off within 100 years of the Buddha’s death, right? So can we not learn a lot from their commonalities? And are you surely saying that that material which they share in common, is “Just a bare outline”? It seems to me to be already a vast collection of teachings that they share in common, with far far more than a mere outline. There are extensive teachings, and they seem actually very consistent to me. A large system of teachings and practices, with extensive explanations, examples, similes and so on. I am lost as to why you would call this “Just a bare outline”.

But the different early schools did preserve their teachings in different dialects, no? Surely not all the Āgamas were translated from Pāli, were they? So does that not counter your point?

Has it not been shown that there are some peculiar words and expressions in Pāli, which seem likely to have been the words, or closer to the words, which the Buddha actually used? Thus the importance of those special technical words naturally survived even as the rest of the language changed as the oral tradition moved through time and space?

But then, of course it is not surprising that the language was eventually standardised in the various schools, because since it was transmitted orally in groups, the group acts as a stablilizer to linguistic change, the group chanting them together from memory, over and over again. It is not likely that such a chant changes easily over the time the dialect changes, due to this communal chanting, no? Thus the language naturally becomes fixed, a religious language, as Latin also did, and the language of the Vedas. I cannot see how this makes the teachings look any less authentic in terms of origin.

Perhaps I covered this above. But, to be thorough… was it not that new sects emerged, or can we perhaps rather say, the original sangha split up to become several schools, and, they all used local Prakrits. And, one of these schools, reciting their canon in their local Prakrit (or perhaps more likely, several Prakrits, due to both geography and membership), naturally evolved from that/those Prakrits, the Pāli language.

And presumably, the other schools also evolved their Prakrit-based religious languages, which had evolved presumably through their recitation, and perhaps later in writing. Such as BHS.

Well, all of those EBT, which all agree with each other that the arahant ideal is the ideal taught by the Buddha, and show that this was taught within 100 years of the Buddha’s death, are a very key point, in my opinion. Then, we have the early Mahāyāna sūtras which also acknowledge that the Buddha taught that, but they say there is a special path only for the few, the top people. The bodhisattva path.

So this already shows that the arahant path was at least normative. But then there’s more… the later Mahāyāna texts say the arahant path is basically for losers, and the bodhisattva path is for everyone. And the Buddha said so. So, this seems to make it quite clear that the Buddha did not teach that, since all the earlier texts disagree, even the Mahāyāna texts.

And then there is the point that the early Mahāyāna texts themselves show that monks at the time these sūtras were composed, thought that they were fake. And then later texts even make up punishments for people who say they are fake, and make bonuses for people who teach them.

This is exactly what we would expect if the tradition were newly created. And we even see it evolving through time, as the Mahāyāna evolves. And we can see that by dating the texts, such as when they were first translated into Chinese; when they started to be referenced in scholarly works or in other sūtras, and so on. So, it seems totally clear that the later ones were created later than the earlier ones, which already shows us that they were not taught by the Buddha. And, the earlier ones still show what we would expect if they were inauthentic. And, we can see they were composed as written texts, impossible until long after the Buddha’s death. And so on…

I like the idea of underground sects having a resurgence. But it does not seem to fit as an explanation for the authenticity of Mahāyāna texts. Their roots? Maybe… but, have we not already established that it evolved as a pan-nikāya movement? Even then, perhaps some kind of roots in the underground could be possible, but… we seem to have no evidence for that idea that I have encountered.

And the bodhisattva idea coming from the Buddha seems to me entirely unlikely, since if that was the case, the examples of the use of the term bodhisatta in the EBT should be about bodhisattva, but this simply does not seem to make sense if you look at the passages. It really does seem to be bodhisakta, in my opinion. I know that the Theravāda also misunderstood this, but I would assume this misunderstanding to have occured before the creation of the Mahāyāna, and quite possibly the or one of the initial seeds which led to the formation of the Mahāyāna.

Because they agree across all traditions we have evidence for from that time.

Who is it that makes ‘representative’ of the Buddhist tradition? The sangha! Who had the resources to maintain that oral tradition? The sangha! If they had those resources, evidently they were very significant. If those are the teachings that they preserved, why on earth would we not assume that those are the teachings that they taught, and the views that they held?

We are talking about ‘representative’ in terms of what Buddhism was teaching within 100 years of the Buddha’s death, right?

Meanwhile meaning within 100 years of the Buddha’s death? Do you have any evidence for that?

And also, why would we assume that some of the sangha who were involved in chanting the canon, were not meditating? And also that some of the those same communities may have not been chanting or chanting much, been meditating, but still members of the same community? We do see both of those happening today, so, why not then also?

I do understand that meditation became way less popular in Sri Lanka later. And even at the time of the Buddha there were lazy monks, say the sources, and also natural reasoning. But a tradition having a large oral tradition (traditionally not all recited by the same people, but different groups chanting different sections) does not tell us that their community did not have meditators, or that the chanters were not meditators. And remember also that the texts themselves are largely about meditation!

And also worth remembering that the Mahāyāna seem to have totally abandoned the Buddha’s own meditation practice, jhāna. And even often teach against jhāna practice. Even though they themselves have their texts telling them that that is what he practiced and taught.

The texts - but they came from traditions which had been separate from the Pāli tradition since the schools split off, right? So we know roughly when they seemed to have split off, but we don’t know what changed since. But, we can look! We can compare the parallels. And they are very often very very very similar. I was lucky to do some comparative study of a number of suttas with the Pāli and the Chiense parallels with Bhikkhu Anālayo. It was very interesting indeed. And that is regarding the extreme similarity of specific suttas, let alone the overall character of the teachings. And I had thought that it was accepted that this comparative analysis allows us to have a picture more accurate than with either tradition - an even clearer picture of the past.

I also do such comparative analysis with the Japanese Buddhist music on the shakuhachi, and have really found that I can look back into the past, and even restore old pieces which have been damaged through transmission. It is very interesting. Takes a lot of time and very strict logic, but is very rewarding.

Yes this is a very good point. But I was talking about what they were teaching, not how they were behaving. Even now, there is a big differences in what Tibetan teachers teach, and what they do, for example. And yet, the texts they produce are a very good representation of what they teach. And that is what I was concerned with here in this conversation. I have no doubt that plenty of people didn’t follow the teachings!

Of course that does not mean that I am not skeptical of Council details, disputes, presentation of other schools, and so on. But those are later materials, and even regarding those, I think we can learn a fair amount by comparing the different versions of the stories from the differnt sects. Where the ‘bad’ group left no evidence, of course I would hesitate to assume to know much about them - rival schools’ doctrines are generally not fairly described, and the winner writes history! But, we were talking about earlier material anyway.

I usually question whatever I am taught. (Otherwise I would believe the Mahāyāna texts are authentic! I’m a Mahāyāna practitioner after all) And I try to see things from different angles. Hence having this conversation to learn more.

I am not sure I started with one. But I have certainly changed my views along the way as I have encountered evidence!

Is there any disunity in the EBT about the goal of arahant being the goal which the Buddha taught as the highest goal? Or that jhāna is the practice which the Buddha did as his path to enlightenment, and that he taught that? Those two things seem to permeate the Pāli, the Āgamas, and the EBT of other languages. But if you think otherwise, I would be very interested to hear it.


I’m pretty sure Bronkhorst, Skilling, Gethin, Wynne, the late Lance Cousins, Frauwallner and many, many other scholars of early Buddhism too numerous to mention are or were convinced of the basic fact of the existence of the historical Buddha, although opinions vary on the degree and quality of accurate information we possess about his life and teachings. Even Vetter, whom you cite, thought we could discern within the Pali texts stages in the Buddha’s teaching career - an interpretation that would hardly make sense if there were no Buddha who had such a teaching career.

So there is no such consensus as you imagine. Your reading seems selectively oriented toward some scholars of Mahayana. There definitely is a pronounced tendency (and incentive) in modernist Mahayana scholarship to cast doubt on the existence of the Buddha. Not so with older, more traditional Mahayana, because those folks were content to defend the value and authenticity of their teachings by appealing to stories about secret manuscripts being squirreled away in caves for centuries, or dictated by deities. But contemporary Mahayanists and Vajrayanists, uncomfortable with such seemingly tall tales, have mounted campaigns against the very reality of the historical Buddha, to avoid the uncomfortable and embarrassing possibility that we might actually possess authentic extant teachings from their tradition’s founder.


“We can know very little of the historical Buddha with any degree of certainty. Yet within the bounds of reasonable historical probability we can form quite a clear picture of the kind of person the Buddha was and the main events of his life.”

-The Foundations of Buddhism


“In earlier publications I was not quite certain about this issue, and had a tendency to speak about early or earliest Buddhism, rather than about the historical Buddha. But closer reflection suggests that this attempt to express oneself carefully may really have the opposite effect. The texts on which we base our conclusions — primarily the sutras — claim to present the teachings of the Buddha. They may be right or wrong in this, and probably they are partly right and partly wrong, but they do not even pretend to inform us, except perhaps in passing, about the beliefs and practices of the early Buddhists.”

-“Did the Buddha Believe in Karma and Rebirth”


Naomi Appleton, a researcher specialized in Jataka comes to the conclusion

The overall text of the JA as we have it now can be dated to the fifth or sixth centuries CE. (Jātaka Stories in Theravāda Buddhism, p.8)

Some stories are much older, with evidence back to 1st century BCE, and as you know there are ‘jātakas’ also in the 4nikayas. They always have been very popular, as with the Jains.

Hi , I don’t understand ?
Would you mind elaborate what are the whole mass of superstitious nonsense ? Don’t they also teaches four noble truth , eight right path and interdependent origination ?

Your claim that all these academics did not believe in a historical Buddha is off…

And this is hardly surprising, for the historical Buddha appears to have described such reflections as “not conducive to liberation” (Nattier, Once Upon a Future Time, p.9)

When the Buddha died at Kuśinagara (Pali kusinārā, modern Kasiā; 26°44′21.19″N 83°53′26.24″E) his body was burned on the spot. (Falk, Ashes of the Buddha)

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You are just assuming that this is a meaningful statement. I’m trying to get you to see that there are a raft of assumptions that underpin it that are not backed up by any evidence. It’s just a story that we tell. And we know that the story no longer holds up.

Even within the view of history that you subscribe to Devadatta story points to factionalism within the Buddha’s lifetime. As others have pointed out, he is called an Arahant in some texts and only later becomes a homicidal maniac in an obvious attempt at character assassination.

Of course they do. So look at the various suttas that describe kamma and those that describe paṭiccasamuppāda and, without reference to the Abhidhamma, explain to me how they are compatible on their own terms. One says that cetanā will result in su/dug-gati or vedanā after death, and one says that when a condition ceases the effect for it ceases.

Of course we have a range of different Abhidhamma explanations for this discrepancy (about half a dozen major different versions) but explain it in sutta terms. I don’t believe it is possible. So why do we not talk about this major example of incoherence in the suttas. The men who composed the Abhidhamma were very obviously aware of the problem and proposed solutions to it. And even argued about which solution was the best. But in the modern world we look at the suttas and proclaim that they look “consistent”.

How many nidānas are their? 8? 10? 12? Another number? You find many different versions in Pāli suttas. How is that consistent?

If you expect to see consistency, and inconsistency is not a possible conclusion, then of course you see consistency. And there are so many people all committed to this false consistency (a lot of them have given up property and sex on the basis of it). So you have no reason to doubt it.

But when you actually get into the details of the Buddhist doctrines there are inconsistencies everywhere. Absolutely everywhere.

You are citing what evidence for this? We have Pāḷi texts and Gāndhārī texts. The narratives suggest many different schools. Where are their texts? In about the 4th or 5th Century (around the same time as the Gāndhārī texts were translated into Chinese) some of the texts were translated into Sanskrit. Of the texts I have compared, the Sanskrit seem very like the Chinese texts and unlike the Pāḷi.

Other than that we have no evidence for Buddhist texts other dialects.

No. Because we don’t know what language the Buddha used. And there is no way to find out. Again you are making huge assumptions here that are simply not backed by any evidence. They are just articles of faith.

One finds some odd case endings in the Suttanipāta which are assumed to come from Magadhī. But we don’t know for sure. The Buddha, in the stories, wasn’t from Magadha, he was from a small tribe on the Northern Borders of Kosala (100s of miles from Magadha). The only historical person who almost certainly spoke Magdhī was Asoka.

And so it goes on. You keep asserting things as facts, but there is no evidence. And there never was any evidence.


That wasn’t what I claimed. I did claim that one had to read all of these authors, and many others, and to know them and talk to them to understand the consensus or lack of it in academia.

Citing sentences out of context is not sufficient to undermine the idea of a consensus existing in academia. That was my point.

I also said it was my opinion, based on my reading and interacting with these people in various ways over the last decade. I also admitted that there were dissenting voices, such as Richard Gombrich, but suggested that they were in a very small minority.

That Article by Falk is interesting mainly for being so entirely credulous about an inscription that was never reliably dated.

What might be interesting is to ask David Drewes what he makes the Falk article. I will do so and report back if I get a response.