Text-critical History is not Exegesis by Alexander Wynne

Recently i happen upon Text-critical History is not Exegesis by Alexander Wynne, the article is well-written and easily followed, and the article argues that Two Path Theory (TPT) can be found in EBT.

Quote from article
We therefore understand the TPT as a characterisation of certain trends in early Buddhist soteriology. It does not offer a general theory of early Buddhist meditation, covering the entire path of spiritual development from start to finish; it is concerned neither with the preliminary levels of calm, nor with entry-level ‘insight’ contemplations. It is, rather, concerned with the specifics of what happens at the higher reaches of the path, as imagined in certain early Buddhist texts. The question is this: are there, in the early texts, rival versions of the trifold Buddhist way of sīla, samādhi and paññā, which ultimately focus on either samādhi or paññā at the expense of the other? Keeping this question in mind, we will now consider the key texts.

However i found some flawed/shaky argument in the article consideration of key text

AN 6.46

On It 51

Quote from article
With regard to the meditators, a couple of verses from the Itivuttaka (It 51) equate the attainment of cessation (nirodha) with touching the ‘deathless dimension’ through the body:

Understanding the realm of form,
but not abiding in the formless [realms],
released (vimuccanti) in cessation (nirodhe),
those people abandon death.

Touching the deathless dimension (amataṃ dhātuṃ),
which lacks material substratum, with the body,
Witnessing the relinquishing of material attachment,
being without defilements,
The Fully Awakened One teaches the state devoid of grief and defilement

In It 51 equate attainment of cessation not only “touching the ‘deathless dimension’ through the body”, but also “being without defilements (asava)”, avijja (ignorance) is regarded as source of asava in AN 6.63, and avijja is given up with panna in AN 2.31. So It 51 do not support a meditator-only soteriology.

Equating atthapadam as synonym of nibbana

Quote from article
But apart from this, the term only occurs in the definition of the Dhamma devotees at AN 6.46, and in one other sutta, AN 4.192, which mentions the wise bhikkhu who expounds the atthapadaṃ which is ‘calm, supreme, beyond the scope of logic, subtle, to be known by the wise’. There can be little doubt that atthapadaṃ, here, is a synonym for Nirvana, and means something like ‘spiritual purpose’. In this sense atthapadaṃ seems more or less equivalent to amatapadaṃ.

the term ‘calm, supreme, beyond the scope of logic, subtle, to be known by the wise’ is not only used to refer to Nirvana, but also Dhamma as in SN 6.1, MN 95. In this light, atthapadam can also refer to “Saying related to the goal”, rather than “Place of goal” or Nirvana or “amatapadam”.

If this being the case, the next argument rest on shaky ground and is not definitive.

Quote from article
This parallel suggests that those ‘working out the doctrine’ were not merely doctrinal experts, but rather liberated Arahants.

SN 12.68

Asserting Musila’s silent as ageement

Quote from article
so when saviṭṭha asks if Musīla sees that ‘Nirvana is the cessation of becoming’, and Musīla affirms that he does, saviṭṭha concludes that he is an arahant. By staying silent at this point, Musīla indicates his agreement with saviṭṭha’s conclusion.

While staying silent can mean agreement, such as in silent when a monk is invited, it can also mean refusing to answer question, like Buddha’s silent in SN 44.10, or unable to answer question, like Arittha’s silent in MN 22.

Musila’s silent is more likely to be “unable to answer question”, considering:

  1. Savittha praise Narada at the end of SN 12.68, but not Musila, which imply that Savittha do not regard Musila as well-spoken. This parallel Buddha’s praising Sariputta or other disciple at the end of sutta when they have well-spoken.

  2. Savittha is contemporary to Sariputta in AN 3.21, in which Savittha, Sariputta, and Mahakothitta speak on their differing view on which kind of monk is the best, and the Buddha rebuke all of their view. This imply Savittha is contemporary to Sariputta before awakened, and thus is a relatively senior monk.

So from these a narrative can be constructed, in which Savittha as a mentor questions Musila & Narada as junior monks, Musila unable to answer when asked if he is arahant, while Narada able to answer, thus earned praise from Savittha.

If this being the case, SN 12.68 actually affirm the calm-insight soteriology, rather than divide it.

Metaphor of thirsty man

Quote from article
Nārada must be speaking metaphorically, and since the notion of ‘touching with the body’ is associated above all with the formless states (ye te santā āruppā) or the eight ‘releases’ (vimokkhas), Nārada must surely be referring to these. The metaphor of a thirsty man suggests that Nārada’s ‘spiritual thirst’ is due to not attaining the formless spheres and their goal, cessation.

Considering only five of eight release related to formless states in AN 8.66, the metaphor of a thirsty man can also suggest that Narada has yet to achieve any of eight liberation, some of which is not related to formless states.

SN 12.70

Argument from silence

Quote from article
Although the text does not mention the four jhānas, it seems that the insight-liberated bhikkhus did not follow the way of jhāna, as the canonical texts normally present it.

Considering in SN 12.70 the Buddha do not ask Susima whether or not he achieve jhana, but only whether or not “experience peaceful liberation that are formless, transcending form” / “Api pana tvaṃ, susima, evaṃ jānanto evaṃ passanto ye te santā vimokkhā atikkamma rūpe āruppā, te kāyena phusitvā viharasī”. The argument from silence can also be made for supporting Pannavimutta require jhana/ “peaceful liberation that are in form”, due to only five of eight vimokkha related to formless state.


Thanks for the thoughtful response. I wanted to say a few things about this essay myself, but so far haven’t found the time.

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