Sources of the dhamma

I read a topic where someone said that Pāli Buddhism is very obviously a badly put together composite of many different religious ideas, attitudes, and practices; and it incorporates a load of material from other religions: Brahmanism, Jainism, Sāṃkhya, as well as what seem to be chthonic, almost shamanic, traditions. And that it doesn’t form a unified whole except under the narrowest of filters.

Is that a view that many people have? I thought the pāli suttas content comes from the buddha and he was the first to find that stuff out?

All the best

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The view is not that important, the question is what solid research can provide. I myself research the connections with Brahmanism (following people like Gombrich and Shults). The connections with Jainism deserve much more attention (as well as critical editions of early Jain texts in general), the links with Samkhya I assume will remain hypothetical, Bryan Levman researched remnants of local cultures within the suttas.

Just to mention two important topics where early Buddhism is heavily based on Brahmanism: Cosmology (see Marasinghe) and the discourse of religious giving (see James Egge).

Dispassion and asceticism are surely older than Buddhism, but some important elements are with good certainty originally Buddhist: Noble Truths, Dependent Origination, Jhana-Samadhi, non-nihilistic not-self, khandhas, probably ayatanas too, maybe some sets of indriyas.

Just a short spontaneous answer, by no means exhaustive.


You will find a lot of answers in a relatively short book of Bhikkhu Sujato and Bhikkhu Brahmali “Authenticity of Early Buddhist Texts”.

In the book authors strongly argument that early suttas indeed stem from the Buddha. It is a great read with lot of strong arguments. You can grab a printed copy from some online store, or you can download it for free online. Since it is free anyway, I could as well share the book in a direct file:

authenticity.pdf (1.4 MB)

As to the fact that there are some brahmanical, jainic, samkhya, shamanic traditions motives in Pali Canon, my interpretation is such: a lot of religions had glimpses at the Truth and all explored realms of the mind in some way. So it is natural that a lot of stuff overlaps in different religions, cause they all study the “mind” and its secrets. Since Buddha was living in times where various religious/philosophical beliefs and practices were present, and he spoken in language of his times, it is even more natural that a lot of content overlaps each other.

There was no reason to “re-invent the wheel” so to speak. Buddha redefined some older terms that were useful, like kamma or samadhi giving them specific buddhist meanings, and invented new ones, like…

What was most importaint invention of Buddha was Four Noble Truths and perception of all deep samadhi, jhanic states in light of tilakkhana - anicca, dukkha, anatta - especially anatta. It is the essence of Buddhism. Some things overlap in more or less loose way with various traditions contemporary to Buddha’s lifetime. But it is by no means “the same” or “badly put together composite of many different religious ideas”. :exploding_head:

Of course, a lot of scholars have different views on this issue. But when it wasn’t like that in humanistic studies, especially those dealing with ancient history? :wink:

Hope this helps.
With Metta :heart:


That’s clearly a strong value judgment. I obviously do not believe this.

Maybe some people hold this view, but obviously not many here in this forum.

I for one, think that the key ideas in Pali Nikayas are the work of a genius (the Buddha).


“ Richard Gombrich says that the main preachings of the Buddha (as in the Vinaya and Sutta Pitaka) are coherent and cogent, and must be the work of a single person: the Buddha himself, not a committee of followers after his death.” —‘Theravada Buddhism’ 2006

“The internal unity of the Dhamma is guaranteed by the fact that the last of the Four Noble Truths, the truth of the way, is the Noble Eightfold Path, while the first factor of the Noble Eightfold Path, right view, is the understanding of the Four Noble Truths.”—-‘The Noble Eightfold Path,’ Bikkhu Bodhi.

"In the same way, monks, those things that I have known with direct knowledge but have not taught are far more numerous [than what I have taught]. And why haven’t I taught them? Because they are not connected with the goal, do not relate to the rudiments of the holy life, and do not lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding. That is why I have not taught them.

"And what have I taught? ‘This is stress… This is the origination of stress… This is the cessation of stress… This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress’: This is what I have taught. And why have I taught these things? Because they are connected with the goal, relate to the rudiments of the holy life, and lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding. This is why I have taught them.”—-SN 56.31

The suttas are an extension of the four noble truths and noble eightfold path, however experience in practice is necessary to personally understand that beautiful logically connected network. I am continually appalled by people’s willingness to expound their own lesser views on the dhamma without relating it to the structure inherent in the suttas, thereby denying its primacy through ignorance.