The Philosophical Suttas

Recently a few threads have come up with some pretty philosophical themes, and it got me thinking, ALL of Buddhism can have a quite “philosophical” flavour, but some Suttas seem to be “really” philosophical, that is their main subject is philosophy, they engage with other philosophical positions and are concerned to situate Buddhism in relation to other philosophical schools.

The ones I am most familiar with are

Describes 64 possible philosophical views and the Buddhas trancendence of such views by the ending of craving.

Describes 6 contemporary schools to the Buddha and their positions

Describes the Buddhist philsophy of perception.

Describes all the things that should not be regarded as self.

similar to DN1, describing possible views on life after death and the past of the universe.

I am wondering what other Suttas in the 4 Nikayas fit this bill?

What I am after are philosophical arguments, not descriptions of the path, or moral exhortations or cosmologies but philosophy proper, as near as we can get it.

So please reply with your favourite “deep” philosophical sutta and a short blurb about what it’s about and I will try to put together an Essay post from the results!



My favorites is almost all in suttanipata

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Years ago, Bhikkhu Bodhi came up with this list of suttas from the Majjhimā Nikaya covering what he felt were the essentials of Buddhist Philosophy.


Oh, I forgot a coupe of obvious ones!

With Vacchagotta on Fire

With Vacchagotta

I think there are other suttas with Vacchagotta too, if anyone has links post them!

Oh and one more, the sutta with the simile of the raft:


Can define philosophy?

4 Noble truths are philosophy? Kamma, rebirth? Kalama sutta?

Dictionaries will give you definitions of philosophy, I am just a humble servant of the dhamma. But I suppose what I want to explore is the relationship between Buddhism and other philosophical positions, both in the Buddhas own time and now. So my interest is not so much in any specific doctrine, like kamma, but in suttas where the Buddhas position about that doctrine is contrasted or compared to other teachers positions, or where it sheds light on the difference between the Buddhas position and contemporary styles of philosophy.


right view as conditionality opposed to “existence” and “nonexistence”

Skepticism about skepticism

MN 76: Sandakasutta—Bhikkhu Sujato (

Why views of other sects (religions) negate the holy life, or is self inconsistent.

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There’s several suttas where the Buddha resorts to a pascal-wager-esque type thinking, where he covers both sides of a situation like “If god exists, then I am good because I haven’t harmed anyone, and If god doesn’t exist, my life is still good”.

He does the same thing even with rebirth, in mn79 he basically tells Udayi that believing in rebirth is irrelevant and what’s important is seeing dependent origination so you can live well here and now.

Which I think is good because it shows the Buddha is very pragmatic and that he only really cares about living well here and now by stopping suffering, and all the other metaphysical debates like rebirth and such aren’t as important as living well here and now.

There is a sutta from Sarvastivada Samyukta Agama which doesn’t have a parallel in Pali Canon, i.e. SA 105 which discusses about three kinds of teacher (teacher who has annihilationist view, teacher who has eternalist view, and teacher who doesn’t have both views, which is no other than the Buddha himself). This three kinds of teacher is referenced in the first chapter of Kathavatthu here.

The sutta then continues with question and answer about not-self (“Is rupa permanent or impermant?” etc., like one in the second discourse on characteristic of not-self [Anattalakkhana Sutta]) and about the nature of the Tathagata which should not be regarded as the same with five aggregates, distinct from the aggregates, in the aggregates, nor without the aggregates. This question and answer is also used in SN 22.85 and SN 22.86 (= SN 44.2) to deny any speculative view on the Tathagata after death.

Beside its reference in the Pali Abhidhamma text, the importance of philosophical doctrine in SA 105 is also indicated in Prajnaparamita Ratnagunasamcaya Gatha (the verse summary of Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita Sutra). This early Mahayana Prajnaparamita text refers the central character of this sutta (i.e the wanderer Seniya or Srenika) as a role model of how a Bodhisattva who understands dharmas doesn’t take hold on Nirvana and dwells in wisdom.


Oh wow @seniya that is fascinating- I will definitely check it out!!

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Maybe this only means: the nature of the Tathagata, just like our own nature, is beyond conceiving. Ideas about it are never accurate. We always try to get some grip of something, some understanding of it, while conceiving, and this itself a kind of attachment. In that way i also think that this need for intellectual understanding becomes a kind of obstacle to really understand.

I do not think it means that the nature of the Tathagata cannot be known, but it will always remain unknown for a conceiving mind, a mind who wants to know via grip and concepts/ideas.

I think Nibbana and attachment are mutually exclusive.

The realisation of Nibbana means the ending of craving. One cannot really take hold on Nibbana. Only the idea of Nibbana one can be grasped which is, again, in the domain of conceiving.

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I always appreciate discussion around this issue. I hope it isn’t straying too far from your theme to quote Bhikkhu Bodhi’s reference, in at least one of his online lessons on Abhidhamma, to the so-called Vibhanga Suttas which he claims may have been the source of the Vibhanga, the Book of Analysis, the second of the seven treatises of the Abhidhamma. The several suttas he mentions are SN 12.2; and SN22, 35, 14, 56.
Abhidhamma is a source of study for me and I stress I am no authority, but the link between the EBTs and the later development of the Abhidhamma (surely the pillar of Dhamma philosophy) is a profoundly important area of focus.

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Thanks @trevor these are great, SN22.60 for example compares Purana Kassapa acausalism with the Buddha’s conditionality while also clarifying that there are pleasures as well as pains in this world.