The Suttas in Theravada & Mahayana

Dear Kalyanamitta,

Do we have Maha-Satipatthana, Satipatthana, Anapanasati or any other Sutta in Mahayana? Or, it just belong to the Theravada? Do we have a different Tipitaka between Mahayana & Theravada?

With Metta,

These topics are covered in Mahayana Sutras, Abhidharma, and commentaries, but they also relied on the Tripitakas of other Buddhist traditions like the Sarvâstivāda or Dharmaguptaka, which were like the Theravada but don’t exist today as living traditions. So, if they wanted to read the Satipatthana Sutra, they’d find it in the Tripitaka of the tradition in their locality, which was often the Sarvâstivādin canon in India.

So, to be clear, in ancient times, Mahayana wasn’t considered a separate tradition but rather a kind of loose philosophical movement. It’s not really right to think, “There’s the Theravada tradition and the Mahyana tradition.” It was more like, “There were Mahayana Sarvastivadins and Mahayana Dharmaguptakas, and Mahayana Theravadins (probably in ancient times).” They would ordain in these vinaya traditions, live with them in the same monasteries, and study their Tripitakas, but also write Mahayana sutras and philosophical texts.

Today, Mahayana Buddhism is like a separate tradition because they stopped studying the traditional Tripitakas after Buddhism disappeared from India. However, in modern times, there has been a return to the Agamas and Nikayas. In East Asia, at least, many Mahayana teachers are studying those texts as well as the Mahayana sutras because they’ve realized that the traditional Tripitaka was the basis for much of what’s taught in Mahayana Buddhism.


You can read about other versions of Satipatthana Sutta from non-Theravada tradition (including a version found in Mahayana sutras) in Bhante Sujato’s book A History of Mindfulness


You might be interested in Reading about An Shigao and the Dhyana Sutras he is credited with bringing to China. Anapanasati was part of the meditation teachings contained in the Dhyana Sutras.

Whether or not An Shigao actually translated those particular texts, just reading about him and the confusion surrounding whether or not he was Mahayana reinforces cdpatton’s point about how nebulous the distinction was between Mahayana and non-Mahayana Buddhism originally.


Indeed, though I wish this were more the case in Mainland China: the Taiwanese and the Malaysians seem to be the leaders in this respect (Yinshun’s and SE Asian influence, respectively, no doubt). There are some in the Mainland; however, I find the bias that “Disciple Vehicle” teachings are less profound still hard for most to overcome.

K.L. Dhammajoti’s lectures are really phenomenal with respect to drawing out the lines of evolution.

A personal anecdote: I lived in China for many years, reading all sorts of “Bodhisattva Vehicle” scriptures, but they never made as much sense to me as they did once I became familiar with EBT (and a bit of Abhidhammic) doctrines.