Suttas & Agamas, aren't strictly historical?

“If you don’t agree with my reformation, it’s because you are clinging” isn’t the best argument. Protestant Buddhism leaves a lot to be desired.

How much time has elapsed since Buddha Gotama vs how much time left till the next Buddha?

That would be fantastic. We need more (real) Arahants in the modern times who could explain the Dhamma using information-age lingo rather than agrarian based lingo.

Maybe even attempt to remove the ancient context in some respects to make the texts more relatable to people today, but keep the basic teachings preserved as well as possible.

There is Patisambhidamagga, Abhidhamma and Vimuttimagga.

I will chime in here with my 2 cents worth, firstly to commend @Jayarava on their excellent contributions to this thread, and secondly to cast my vote heavily in favor of both.

The main reason for this is that there is often much to be gained by comparing the agama versions of a sutta with the pali. A simple and direct example is DN14 where there is an oddity in the pali where the previous buddha Vipassi is described as achieving awakening by contemplation of the five aggregates but in responding to Brahma states that they achieved awakening by contemplating dependent origination.

This problem can be resolved by comparing the sutta with it’s agama parallel, which omits the aggregates pericope and therby restores the sense of the text.

There are plenty of other examples.

The main thing that results is that people who read all the parallels before deciding on the meaning of the text are much less attached to one particular schools interpretation, and this is of course very healthy.

To nail my flag to the mast, it appears to me that the narrative suttas where composed and compiled over several centuries, in roughly the order of their presentation, that is the first vagga of DN, followed by the second, followed by the third, followed by the middle length discourses, followed by the connected discourses, with the numerical discourses a sort of free floating index probably having the indexical suttas in DN as their starting point and remaining open for the longest period.

In general it seems to me that the pali is often the most coherent and well organized, but also often has the most pious emendations and additions, hence my stratagem would be to use the pali as my “base” and the agama and other parallels as a “corrective” to over-reading Therevadan sectarian positions into the original material.


I think the sticking point would be what gets included and what exactly is meant by it. In other words, what are the basic teachings. To me the core of Buddhism is liberation in this life. The rest is commentary at best and a distraction at worst.

If everyone here were to limit themselves to 500 words to capture the core of the Buddha dharma, everyone here would pick very different points and interpret what is in common differently. I put the following together for my daughter who was interested in what exactly it was in Buddhism that drew me to it. This is what I selected and how I interpret it. The point being to illustrate how divergent opinions are on what the core of Buddhism is.

I have thought about including something about basic ethics, but I think those come along for the ride to a great extent. That and I wanted it to fit on one page printed.

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We now clearly know that this view is not correct historically in the formation of EBTs.

Strawman arguments never go out of fashion here.


This is a political view, not a religious view. In many ways it’s the very definition of political conservatism: an idealisation of the past combined with a view that change is largely degenerate. Yours is perhaps the most extreme example of conservative politics that I’ve recently encountered recently outside of encounters with neo-fascists (who seem to be everywhere at the moment).

The proposition that “Buddha is the peak of Dhamma” is a very clear example of clinging to the past.

There are probably more awakened people walking around today than at any time in history. Which means that buddhadhamma is thriving. It’s just not dressed up as and pretending to be a prehistoric Indian anymore. Buddhadhamma is a living thing. Many of us are living it, to the best of our ability, and the best of us are realising it every bit as deeply as people in the past did.

On the contrary–and Buddhist mythology notwithstanding–the “glass” is always full because it is constantly being refilled by awakened Buddhists.

Say what now?

There are just two formal collections of Buddhist texts outside of India: Chinese and Tibetan. They both attained their current structure before the collapse of Buddhism in India. For example, the present day Chinese Tripṭaka is based on the Kāiyuán shìjiào lù «開元釋教錄» (T 2154), a catalogue of Buddhist texts in translation first published in 730 CE. I think most scholars equate the end of Indian Buddhism with the fall of the Pala Dynasty in the 12th century.

That said, every new edition of the Chinese Tripiṭaka adds a load of new texts. The Taishō shinshū daizōkyō «大正新修大藏經» (aka “Taishō Edition”) produced in Japan (1912-1926), included a vast number of new texts, for example, many of which were composed after Buddhism collapsed in India. The CBETA electronic version includes even more new texts. The Chinese “canon” has never been formally “closed”.

Nor do East Asian Buddhists “fetishise texts”. Indeed, it was East Asia Buddhists who were the first to abandon the Vinaya in favour of “Bodhisatva precepts” (Saichō in 9th century Japan). It was also East Asian Buddhists who first began to deny the authority of texts per se and insist on person to person transmission (e.g. Dogen, in the 13th century).

Your characterisation of East Asian Buddhism and their collections of texts is simply false. Any inferences you draw from this false proposition are, ipso facto, also false.

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That wasn’t a straw man.

Umm. Yes, yes it was.

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The paraphrase wasn’t a misrepresentation, and I made no argument myself.

The paraphrase was a misrepresentation, Jayarava had not posited that his particular ideas of understanding the texts where what should be adopted, in fact he went out of his way to describe many other approaches, he also didn’t, as far as I can tell, make the argument that it was the rejection of modern approaches that was the problem in the first place, rather the people bemoaning the loss of the golden age of buddhism and our collective ‘decline’, regardless of any scholarly question at all, finally he said nothing at all about “Protestant” Buddhism.

So you mischarecterised his point, tarred him with a prejoritive and innaplicable term, and set up a false dichotomy, all of which is what is called “strawmanning”.

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He wrote:

"The world is changing. Buddhists who cling to the old ways, are rapidly becoming irrelevant. This is a choice they make. Buddhists in traditional countries are choosing not to adapt and choosing not to change. And this means that they are choosing extinction ."

If you accept traditional Buddhism, and so reject reformist trends, its because you are “clinging”. His post was to compare the foolish people of traditional Buddhism with the wise ones of more modern approaches. Underlying this is the notion that traditional Buddhists are under the influence of negative mental traits, whilst modernists are not. So, no straw man.

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Fair enough, thank you for elaborating.

I appreciate @josephzizys stepping in to say something about @Ceisiwr’s mean-spirited comments. Mostly other Buddhists are content to stand by and watch these scenes play out over and over or to join in. Unpacking this nonsense is a tedious business… the latest installment goes…

Here @Ceisiwr is still grossly misrepresenting what I said here. My contribution was a not “a post”, it was a reply to a comment on a post. Which means that it exists in a context that @Ceisiwr deliberately obscures. Let us review the context, starting with the comment that I was replying to, followed by my reply, and then @Ceisiwr’s strawman (using representative extracts).

I never say “If you don’t agree with my reformation, it’s because you are clinging”. Only @Ceisiwr says this. But these words are attributed to me. This is a textbook strawman argument. QED.

What is the definition of “traditional”? According to the Cambridge Dictionary:

Traditional: following or belonging to the customs or ways of behaving that have continued in a group of people or society for a long time without changing. (emphasis added).

So I’m not wrong about traditions involving clinging to the past. It is explicit in the term “traditional”.

Note also that @Ceisiwr has misrepresented the start point of the discussion. The starting point is @Citta’s assertion that traditional Buddhism is dying in traditional Buddhist countries. @Citta believes that when traditional Theravāda dies, the Dharma dies with it; the Buddha’s sāsana will have ended. I’m commenting on these assertions by @Citta, not on traditional Buddhism per se.

I take @Citta’s first premise at face value. I certainly don’t know any different and it is consistent with the global decline in religious observance. I don’t accept their second premise, since other forms of Buddhism exist (including more reformist Theravāda movements) and they proudly carry on the Buddha’s sāsana without clinging to the past.

My response to @Citta goes on:

I’m not advocating for any specific Buddhist reform here, I’m saying that refusing to change or clinging to the past, is fatal. Buddhism, including Theravāda Buddhism, has always changed. Even the most superficial knowledge of Buddhist history confirms this. Think of the reinvention of the forest traditions in Burma and Thailand in the 19th century, for example. The ordination of women by Brahmali et al, is another example adapting to the changing world. It’s not that Theravāda cannot change, and even change radically, it’s that traditionalists refuse the change. This is their choice.

As I said yesterday for example:

I was trying to say that I’m optimistic about the Dharma in contrast to @Citta’s pessimism. And that I think that kind of pessimism is rooted in parochialism and traditionalism. And these are optional. If we choose not to change, we can’t be surprised when our organisations start to die. And if we want to prevent this, our famous maxim–everything changes–has to be more than mere words.

For reasons I don’t begin to understand, this optimistic view has prompted @Ceisiwr to tell and then repeat petty and malicious lies. And apparently this kind of deliberate offensiveness rings no bells at all for the moderators of this forum.


Hi all,
If users have an issue with a post, please flag it to bring it to our attention so we can then have a closer look (moderators do not always have the time to keep track of all of the ins and outs of every debate on this forum).

Would all posters please keep the debate constructive and friendly going forward (or we may need to take further action in this thread).

Q22 Yes, I understand Right Speech. But what if I deeply disagree with what someone has posted? Surely I should be able to let them know that what they are saying is wrong?

A : It’s fine if you do wish to respond to something by disagreeing with it: the Buddha said we should praise what should be praised, and criticize what should be criticized. But remember the advice of the Araṇavibhaṅga Sutta (MN 139 ): Criticize ideas, not people. Directing criticism at another poster’s character or motivations (an Ad hominem in modern parlance), their personality traits, their attitude, their way of life, choice of teachers, texts, method and place of worship, their personal approach to Buddhism or the type of practice they choose to follow is not permitted. Instead, try to analyze the issue logically and state your reasons calmly, preferably using references in support.

Q23 What should I do if debate turns into disagreement? How can I avoid getting into an online quarrel?

A : Rigorous debate can be an important part of Dhamma inquiry and many debates are recorded in the Early Buddhist Texts. However, it’s even more important to recognize the difference between a debate and a quarrel. Be respectful of the topics and the people discussing them, even if you disagree with what is being said. Step away from discussions that become combative. In general, if you have replied twice to another poster and they haven’t got your point, they likely won’t! It is better to let such discussions go. Agreeing to disagree or simply disagreeing silently and moving on are mature methods of handling such an impasse.


3.2 Please do not:


suaimhneas (on behalf of the moderators)


It seems you can read Buddhist Chinese. If so, for answering your essential question, you may read Ven. YinShun’s The Formation of Early Buddhist Texts 原始佛教聖典之集成 (1971) (including also Combined Edition of Sūtra and Śāstra of Saṃyukta-āgama 雜阿含經論會編 1983).

If you need some helps in English work, you may read Choong Mun-keat’s
Ācāriya Buddhaghosa and Master Yinshun 印順 on the Three-aṅga Structure of Early Buddhist Texts ”, Research on the Saṃyukta-āgama (Dharma Drum Institute of Liberal Arts, Research Series 8; edited by Dhammadinnā), Taiwan: Dharma Drum Corporation, August 2020, pp. 883-932.
The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism: A Comparative Study Based on the Sūtrāṅga portion of the Pāli Saṃyutta-Nikāya and the Chinese Saṃyuktāgama (Series: Beitrage zur Indologie Band 32; Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, 2000).

  1. In the beginning of Buddha’s dispensation there were more people getting Arahatship.
    Now, there are less.

“Venerable sir, what is the reason, what is the cause, why formerly there were fewer training rules but more bhikkhus were established in final knowledge, while now there are more training rules but fewer bhikkhus are established in final knowledge?”

“That’s the way it is, Kassapa. When beings are declining and the true Dhamma is disappearing there are more training rules but fewer bhikkhus are established in final knowledge.- SN16.13 Bhikkhu Bodhi translation

After Buddha’s parinibbana, ven. Ananda has said:

  1. … With our benevolent friend gone,
    It seems as if all is darkness.

  2. For one whose friend has passed away,
    One whose teacher is gone for good,
    There is no friend that can compare
    > With mindfulness of the body.

  3. The old ones have all passed away;
    > I do not fit in with the new.
    And so today I muse alone
    Like a bird who has gone to roost.
    Ananda Thera: Ananda Alone

  1. There was one Teaching until sangha became split (Sthaviravada vs Mahasanghika, and later even more schisms).

  2. There was bhikkhuni ordination before, during the Buddha’s time. Later on, it got lost for many centuries . Recent development in bhikkhuni ordination isn’t so much “a progress” over the original Teaching but trying to come back to to what was before the degradation that the current progress is trying to fix.

  3. The fact of of reformist Buddhist movements, especially EBT/Back-to-the-suttas (it is great!) shows that Buddha’s Dispensation has declined some time after Buddha’s parinibbana.

Yes. Comparing Agama parallels to Pali suttas is helpful and helps to avoid falling into rigid sectarianism .

Actually in this case the doctrinal teaching isn’t that far off. Rise & Fall of the 5 aggregates is a different way that describes dependent origination. Dependent Origination happens “through” 5 aggregates.

When it comes to contradictory stories (especially of practice for awakening) , that is more serious IMHO.

No, I can’t read Chinese. I was reading English translations of them. There are more and more available (all or most of MA & DA, some SA).

Thank you for the names of English works.