Sutta vs Visuddhimagga by Bhante Vimalaramsi

I found this very interesting. Bhante Vimalaramsi’s confusion about Visuddhi magga and why it’s important to follow the suttas.

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That’s possibly a good way of putting it:

Thanks for the link. Since I come from Sri Lanka I think this could be one of the reason there are self proclaimed arahants in my country. It’s interesting to know the perspective of a monk who has practiced and studied Visuddhi magga for 2 decades. I’m sure he doesn’t deliberately lie to mislead us. It’s his understanding and it could be right or wrong (like Buddhagosha’s theories). But I totally agree on following the suttas before anything else.

My goodness, there’s so much wrongness here it’s hard to wade through it all.

Apart from the many good points made in the comment linked by @mikenz66, I would like to add a little more about Buddhaghosa.

The facts about Buddhaghosa have been well-presented by Bhikkhu Nyanamoli in the introduction to his translation of the Visuddhimagga, The Path of Purification. Anyone who is interested should start there: it is an extremely well-known and widely available text, and there is really no excuse for not being familiar with basic details.

The idea that Buddhaghosa was a Vedic scholar is nonsense. It stems from a late hagiography. One of the standard features of later Buddhist hagiography was to claim that any teacher was a former brahmin who became converted to Buddhism after being disillusioned with brahmanism; see Moggaliputtatissa et al.. This doesn’t mean that none of them were brahmins; brahmins were around, and some of them no doubt did convert. But it means that a claim in a book written centuries after someone lived has zero credibility, unless it can be independently corroborated.

Normally any such claim would require support in the genuine contemporary texts, and in this case the only real witness is the work of Buddhaghosa himself. Now, given that he gives thousands of pages of detailed commentary on doctrinal and linguistic matters, it should be pretty easy to see whether he is smuggling in any kind of hidden Vedism or brahmanism.

But no actual scholar has ever made such a claim. Rather, everyone agrees that Buddhaghosa was exactly what he claimed to be: an editor and translator who compiled the ancient Sinhalese commentaries into a more consistent and modern form, while making only very occasional and minor suggestions himself. Anyone claiming that Buddhaghosa introduced any major doctrinal innovations flies in the face of all the scholarship in the field.

This means that, unless there is evidence to the contrary, anything found in the commentaries should be assumed to have been apart of the ancient Sinhalese commentaries. That doesn’t mean it is right, it just means that it should be seen within the context of the development of Theravada Buddhism in Sri Lanka. And there is no evidence that there was a pro-brahmanical trend, or indeed even much awareness of the brahmanical texts at all.

On the contrary, the PTS dictionary—published nearly a century ago, and one of the best-known and most important source works in the field—pointed out that the commentaries explain the Pali term vissa incorrectly. Vissa is the Pali form of the Sanskrit viśva. In Sanskrit, there are two words for “all”, viśva and sarva, both of which are very common. For some reason, only sarva is found in Pali, in the form sabba. But occasionally we see the form vissa. Now, anyone with an elementary knowledge of Sanskrit would immediately know this word. But the commentaries explain it incorrectly. It’s inconceivable that any kind of brahmanical scholar would make such a mistake.

This is far from the only example. In my studies, one of the most persistent kinds of flaw I have noticed in the commentaries—a flaw that persists in modern scholarship—is the lack of knowledge and awareness of the brahmanical context. Almost always, things that are responding to brahmanical teachings are explained with a purely Buddhist context, so that a dialectical response becomes an absolute statement. The real problem with the commentaries is that they had insufficient knowledge and understanding of the brahmanical context to which the Buddha was responding.

I might add as a further point that in modern Buddhist studies, we lack good critical scholarship of the commentaries. Most of us focus on the suttas, which is of course important. But that leaves the commentaries mostly to those who identify with the Theravada school, and see them as identical with the suttas. This allows criticisms of them to gain traction, even done as crudely as we see here. Of course, there are plenty of things to legitimately criticize about the commentaries. But no serious scholar indulges in this kind of dismissive and conspiratorial thinking. I have some knowledge of the commentaries, but not much. It would be nice to see more serious work done in this area, since the commentaries inform much of the practice of contemporary Theravada.


It certainly would. It’s useful to have serious critics, such as the late Bhikkhu K. Ñāṇananda, who have actually read them. And, as for the Visuddhimagga itself, there is an interesting blend of quite theoretical stuff, and extremely practical stuff. Even down to the level of where to live relative to your supporting village so that the sun doesn’t get in your eyes going to or from alms round. I think of this almost every day, because my house is west of my work… Should have read the VM before I bought it… :sunglasses:


Is digging up an old thread from dhammawheel the best use of anyone’s time and energy?

When I read that forum it was a vortex of hair splitting and bickering.

Very little of that content ever aided Right Effort, getting and staying in good mental states.

I don’t think their “stuff” should be imported here. Probably no point in writing this, but no “disrespect” meant.

Instead of getting sucked into the hair splitting I’m actually going to go meditate.

Great Sunday and Monday to all.


What is the link in DW?
I think it is not a bad idea to repeat DW post in SC.

Buddhaghosa brought the theory of momentariness to Theravada:

As for the Theravadins, it was argued before (§ I.A.2.1) that the refutation in the Kv (Khanikakatha) of the doctrine that all conditioned entities have the duration of a single mental event (ekacittakkhanika) indicates that the early Theravadins had not yet espoused the theory of momentariness. As argued below (§ II.A.2.5), the refutation in the same text (Cittatthitikatha) of the position that there are mental states which are not momentary, points to the doctrine that all mental entities are invariably momentary. It may thus be gathered that, like the Vatsiputriyas-Sammatiyas (see below), the early Theravadins regarded mental entities as momentary while they held material entities to endure for a stretch of time.58

In their post-canonical literature, by contrast, the duration of material entities, too, is drastically reduced. Unlike the Sarvastivadins and Sautrantikas, however, the Theravadins did not give up the old conception that mental entities are briefer than material ones. They advanced the peculiar doctrine that material entities last seventeen times as long as mental entities do.59 My cursory examination of some of the pertinent sources suggests that, despite this reduction of their duration, the material entities were not regarded as momentary, or at any rate not referred to as such (i.e. as khanika). All the same, this teaching presupposes that material entities are extremely brief and that they form series which constitute the temporally extended units which we experience in ordinary life. As such, their teaching may be considered as a peculiar form of the theory of momentariness.

This raises the question whether this teaching originated within the Theravada school, or whether it resulted from the adoption of the theory of momentariness from some other Buddhist school on the Indian mainland. Given that momentariness is on the whole dealt with as a marginal issue of little consequence, I am inclined to believe that the theory of momentariness was adopted from outside and was possibly even introduced by Buddhaghosa himself.60

60 This is also suggested by Kv-a XXII.7 where the stance that all phenomena are momentary (sabbe dhamma khanika) is ascribed to Uttarapathakas, that is, to people from Northern India, from where Buddhaghosa himself hailed.

Alexander von Rospatt

The Buddhist Doctrine of Momentariness - A Survey of the Origins and Early Phase of this Doctrine up to Vasubandhu

See also: Vimuttimagga and Visuddhimagga - A comparative Study by P.V. Bapat

This argument is rather falsified by the evidence brought forward by the author himself: momentariness is in fact affirmed in the Kathāvatthu. The statement denying momentariness is denying that all things last for a single moment of consciousness (Ekacittakkhaṇikā sabbe dhammā), which as the author again points out, from the Theravada perspective does not include matter.

But the doctrine of the “single mind moment” does not just appear here, it also appears in several other texts of the late canonical period, such as the Milinda and the Niddesa.

Thus the doctrine of momentariness clearly precedes Buddhaghosa as a standard part of Theravadin theory by at least 500 years.

The fact that the details have evolved by the time of the commentaries is hardly surprising: see above re 500 years.

The argument from Buddhaghosa’s birthplace, again highly uncertain, is tiresome and desperate.

Nothing in this attests to Buddhaghoas’s personal views being added to the commentaries. He was, by all available evidence, a careful and cautious scholar, who did not step beyond the bounds of his sources. If only more were like him!


The whole Buddhaghosa hate train in some quarters of modern Theravada is quite a distasteful thing, and ends up obscuring the good that is present in his work.

There seems to be little nuance among some quarters, either the Abhidhamma and Theravada commentaries is the word of the Buddha, holy and perfect, or the whole thing is worthless rubbish.

I myself prefer to carve out a space for some in between view, but there seem to be some highly opinionated people out there who are invested in leaving no room for that. It’s quite weird, what did the Buddha say about not clinging to views again?


The link you gave leads to the statement:

Ekacittakkhaṇiko samādhīti? Āmantā.

Does samadhi last for a single mind-moment? Yes.

There’s no theory of momentariness here. It’s just usual statements in line with Assutava sutta.

There’s no momentariness doctrine on the links you gave. Just the statements in line with Bhaddekaratta sutta.

Well, scholarly discussion requires some discipline and the ability to step out of emotions. Then, instead of black-and-white, villain-or-hero picture, one becomes able to see the dramatic ambivalence of Ven. Buddhaghosa’s works.

Each of these passages uses the term ekacittakkhaṇika, which means precisely “single moment of consciousness”. This, or any similar term, appears nowhere in the early texts. It is an Abhidhamma term that assumes the theory of momentariness, in one form or another. There’s nothing ambiguous or even controversial here.

There is no theory of momentariness in the suttas, but in the late canonical phase of the Abhidhamma, the theory started to appear. It is described in full detail in later commentaries, including those of Buddhaghosa.


Of course the Kathavatthu compilers used that term, - this doesn’t imply in any way that Theravada had a theory of momentariness at that time. On the contrary, Kathavatthu authors refuted this theory, as explained by Alexander von Rospatt in the quote above.

As for Milindapanha, it clearly doesn’t represent canonical Theravadin views. Besides, the term used there is a bit different, and there’s not a trace of momentariness theory.

There is no theory of momentariness in the suttas, but in the late canonical phase of the Abhidhamma, the theory started to appear. It is described in full detail in later commentaries, including those of Buddhaghosa.

Theory of momentariness first appeared in Theravada in the works of Ven. Buddhaghosa, as Alexander von Rospatt describes in his book.

Hi Miken66 do you have a page number for that reference in the visuddhimagga…

Vism IV 37

    1. An alms-resort village lying to the north or south of the lodging, not too far, within one kosa and a half, and where alms food is easily obtained, is suitable. The opposite kind is unsuitable.

Footnote: North or south to avoid facing the rising sun in coming or going.
Kosa is not in PED; “one and a half kosa = 3,000 bows” (Vism-mhþ 123).

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Is the point regarding the sun int the same chapter?

I’m not admin but… some decorum when addressing monastics is always nice to keep māna and dosa away, Also making comments about being emotional are inapropriate too and lacking in ‘samvara’ so when we are conversing with monastics try to keep the samīci’gihī’vinaya patipada thing going…that is unless you really hate us.

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Venerable, could you explain what does this Pali expression mean?

Hi yaso, gihi-house(holder), samici- proper course, patipada-practice, it’s term that occurs in the sigalovada discourse, is that good enough?

Ok thank you very much Venerable.

I could not find it in DN 31. But it does not matter, I just wanted to know the meaning of the Pali words.