Theorists vs. Practitioners - who is better?

Sounds like the degree of authenticity of the Abhidhamma is a very ancient debate.


Bhante in Buddhism probably like Christianity new traditions about certain doctrines are always attributed to the the founder.

As we see in the sutta of chanting together. It was Sariputta who made the sort of 1 till 10 detailed explanation of Buddha’s teaching. And at the end Buddha approved.

And like I said Buddha says in sutta that Sariputta gives more detailed discourse than himself. All the hint are in the suttas

Buddhism is like Christianity. Whatever was passed down as tradition stays tradition. But the reality have to be searched for.

For me. The info I got from suttas is indicating that Abhidharma was probably the way Sariputta taught. I mean the early basic ones. This I got from the suttas. That indicate that Sariputta had a wisdom focused group. And that is actually the tradition of Abhidharma.

Because his way of teaching is supposed to someone attain the first Path

That’s why some Abhidharma style commmentary has a way to make immediate illumination.

But the second book of Sarvastivada is the earliest of them and it actually already focus on that Chanting Together teaching style. So I understand from there started all Abhidharma texts. From something Sariputta organized infront Buddha.

We have in Theravada supposed earliest text but seeing Indian text is what shows what happened.

Saṃgīti-paryāya-śāstra, by Mahākauṣṭhila / Śāriputra

The ‘recitation together’, composed by Mahākauṣṭhila – according to the Sanskrit and Tibetan, or Śāriputra – according to the Chinese sources. The Chinese recension was translated by Xuanzang: T26, No. 1536, 阿毘達磨集異門足論, 尊者舍利子說, 三 藏法師玄奘奉 詔譯, in 20 fascicles.

Structurally, the Saṃgīti-paryāya is similar to the Dharma-skandha, though earlier, as the latter is mentioned in the former. It is basically a mātṛkā on the early teachings, arranged in groups of dharmas by number, similar to the Ekottarikāgama.

This text, as the name implies, is essentially a commentary on the Saṃgīti-sūtra (T 9, Digha-nikāya no. 33). This also indicates that the contents are more a gathering together and assemblage of the Buddha’s Dharma, than any new theory or discussion. The background to the first recital of the Saṃgīti-sūtra, as the Jainas fell into disarray after the death of the Mahāvīra, and the Buddhist Saṃgha gathered together to recite the core teachings of the Dharma to prevent such a split in their own religion, perhaps indicates the fear of present or impending schism arising in the Saṃgha on the part of those who compiled this Abhidharma work, some time later.

So my point is like happened to a prophet living in desert in getting illumination happened before to Buddhism.

To that you to know history
There was a time in India the tradition was persecuted probably that when real tradition is lost and the new generation have to create new belief.

And another way to see it easy is because all sources don’t agree.

And there is tradition also that Indians attribute a work to the person who inspired the writing of the text. But it doesn’t actually mean he wrote it or created it. It’s weird

Hello Venerable sir. I haven’t spoken to you yet. Thank you for being a part of the monastic community and sharing the Dhamma. May you reach Nibbana.

Unfortunately when one starts a thread with a such a provocative title, it will likely result in a conversation filled with attachment and clinging to ideas and beliefs and degrade into a unwholesome and or rude conversation. I don’t have an opinion on the actual debate except for what I say below. But just wanted to share that context of maybe why this conversation has gone a little sideways.

This is just me speaking in general and about this thread now Bhante and not to you directly:

I am not speaking from a high ground or any authority. But I have noticed a lot of unwholesome feelings arise from this thread for me and others. So, here it is. For me this thread has been a great reminder to work on treating all people with loving kindness no matter what they believe, do or say. A reminder that clinging to views and attachments causes suffering for ourselves and others. This is all per the Suttas and commentaries of course.

Let none deceive another,
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings;
Radiating kindness over the entire world:
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outwards and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.
Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down
Free from drowsiness,
One should sustain this recollection.
This is said to be the sublime abiding.
By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense desires,
Is not born again into this world.>

SN 1.8


This is not true. What is true is that, as Frauwallner has shown, there is a core of material that is shared by the Theravada Abhidhamma and the northern Abhidharmas. See more here: Abhidharma - Wikipedia

Not really. There is continuity of course, but the Abhidhamma system is a later development. The best evidence for this is the very fact that while the early suttas of the different schools are often more or less identical, the Abhidharma texts differ considerably. This shows they developed after the suttas and thus are not from the time of the Buddha. For more info I would say read Frauwallner’s study of Abhidharma or this essay by Noa Ronkin:

The evidence is in the works of modern scholars who have studied Abhidharma like Frauwallner. Of course as I have pointed out above, the best argument for the lateness of the Abhidhamma is the differences among the abhidharmas of the different schools.

I do not think they are necessary to understand the Dhamma, no. That does not mean I think they are totally useless or wrong however. Though I do think they contain ideas that were not taught by the Buddha, for example, the theory of momentariness or the theory of the “heart base”. So it can certainly confuse people.

I think I mainly agree with Sujato’s position here. The commentaries are very useful, especially for translators and scholars, but they are not the word of the Buddha and must be read critically. That doesn’t mean however they they can’t help illuminate and understand certain passages, so I wouldn’t say people shouldn’t study them.


Abhidhamma, the Commentaries, are in fact not from the 1st council. Also, all EBTs are not the word of the Buddha. They are just texts, some early compiled, some later.

The earliest text contained in the Pali Canon, in terms of the formation of early Buddhist texts, not just languages, is found in SN/SA, particularly the so-called sutta/sutra-anga portion of SN/SA. This finding is according to the scholar-monk, Yin Shun. See pp. 7-11, and 2-7 in Choong Mun-keat, The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism: A Comparative Study Based on the Sutra-anga portion of the Pali Samyutta-Nikaya and the Chinese Samyukta-agama . Series: Beitrage zur Indologie Band 32; Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, 2000.


But this is still just a theory, an attempt to find a fault with Abhidhamma.

Why don’t you look at it from the other side and try to find reasons why Abhidhamma is the original teachings?

In my understanding loving-kindness is not just loving everybody, but also helping everybody to be happy in their life. In Anguttara Nikaya Ones he Buddha has said that He saw nothing worse in the world than Wrong View and that there is nothing more dangerous than Wrong View.

By various means we are trying to get the other person on right view. Although all speech may not be always pleasant, there is a reason for it and that is genuine love and care. As the Buddha said in Majjhima Nikaya Aranavibhanga Sutta -
“But when one knows overt sharp speech to be true, correct, and beneficial, one may utter it, knowing the time to do so.” (BB MN p.1084)



This could be written in a more exact way. The way you wrote it seems to be biased and prejudiced. Although Abhidhamma, Commentaries, and the text in most ancient Tipitaka has been edited by time, the added portions have been well mentioned by the Commentaries, hence we know what is original or not. For example, Majjhima Nikaya’s Bakula Sutta is specifically mentioned in the Commentaries as “added by the Second Buddhist Council.” However, what Commentaries do not mention as added by a later council is to be accepted as originally from the Buddha’s time or, if you wish, keep your theories and doubts as a non-member of the Theravada Buddhist community.


How do you know that they were fully-enlightened?
Did you directly understand their minds with your own mind?

I am still not seeing how this is valid reasoning for why Abhidhamma should be considered “original scripture” that was taught by the Buddha. The reasoning seems specious.

This doesn’t seem to be evidence that the Buddha taught the Abhidhamma.
Can you explain why you think this is an “example” or “evidence” for why the Buddha taught the Abhidhamma? How is “Ledi Sayadaw” considered “evidence” for the relationship between “Buddha” and “Abhidhamma”?

You drew a connection between “Ledi Sayadaw and His influential writings” and “the great boom of meditation retreats and centers.”
I can see how that may be the case. But I was not asking about this.

I was asking about how is “Buddha” related to “Abhidhamma”?

May you be happy, Venerable.

Something that is false and wrong cannot lead one to enlightenment. That would be impossible.

Where is the evidence that there are “countless Enlightened people in this very tradition”?
Where is the evidence that the “countless enlightened people in this very tradition” got enlightened by “Abhidhamma and Commentaries”?
How do you know that the “countless enlightened people in this very tradition” didn’t get enlightened only by the parts of the Theravada tradition that were actually taught by the Buddha, and not by or to the contrary, hindered by those parts that were not taught by the Buddha (such as the Abhidhamma and Commentaries)?

How about, “achieve Nibbana and I will believe your jhana is correct?”

So you have read the whole book?

The sections about Abhidhamma, doctrinal features, and denialist rhetoric comes to mind in relation to many of the claims that you made.

Chapter 4: Character of Early Buddhist Texts (pg 66 - 98)
Sub-Chapter 7.4: Denialist Buddhism (pg 145-150)

To be honest, I used to argue that the Theravada sect was closer to the actual teachings of the Buddha than Mahayana and Vajrayana.
My investigations have shown me that Theravada is much further away from the actual teachings of the Buddha than I had previous thought.

Therefore, I try to reject Vajrayana, Mahayana, Theravada, and even “Early Buddhism” to the degree that they do not accord with what the Buddha actually taught, and accept them to the degree that they do (which is a gradual learning process).

I have been considering ordaining for a while now, but something seems to have held me back.

Thank you for informing me about the realities of the Theravada sect, because I do not think the Theravada sect would be suitable for me to ordain into, if I was so fortunate enough to be able to do so.

Based on what you said, I think if I were able to ordain, I would want to do so in a sect that is even closer to the actual teachings of the Buddha than Theravada is.

I am not sure if there are any sects like that in existence.

My confession to you is that I sometimes wonder if I had heard the Dhamma being taught to me directly from the Buddha in a previous lifetime…and I think it is to some degree different from what the Theravada sect teaches today…as you can imagine, I am not pleased nor happy with this discrepancy because my primary loyalty lies with the Dhamma, and by extension to the Buddha and Sangha - whereas your loyalty seems to lie with the Theravada sect.

I find this to be the fundamental disagreement between you and I.

What do you think?

This thread seems to have strayed far away from the question: Theorists vs. Practitioners - who is better?

From my understanding, SuttaCentral wishes keep posts in a thread relevant to the topic so that it can easily be searched and referenced later on, thereby serving as like a repository of knowledge organized by topic.

So I created a new thread for the topic of just how different and similar Theravada and Early Buddhism is in relation to each other here:


Bhante it’s a theory because we don’t know the real tradition. I like Abhidharma. Commentaries. Matter a fact I read already read more Indian commentaries before. So maybe my scope of understanding the tradition seems to be the fact it’s the same in these commentaries. I’m not looking for excuse. For me it’s about searching the obvious tradition valid and visible already in the suttas. And for me Sāriputta started explaining Buddha’s teaching in this detailed form. All what I say just give Ceasar what belongs to Ceasar. I truly appreciate that you brought this forth about commentaries. Right now suddenly I have a lot in the library. I didn’t know there is so much. Some are later. But reading commentaries is like listening discourses straight from the masters. I find it strange. Our understanding. Commentaries is like listening to monks on YouTube. But ancient :joy: I like reading all . Lastly I did read a lot of the Indian sources. There is obvious disagreement in tradition.

For I take the example of Jatakas. Indian sources say there was some schools didn’t accept them as Buddhavacana. In that it has been studied that the obvious reasons because mostly is just those Indian stories that has actually predating religion. But I see the phase. It started with inspiration from vinaya. When Buddha gave stories of people that lived in the past.

Another thing I noticed now The treatise on Paramis by Dhammapala extracted from one of his commentaries he quoted Buddha preaching the Paramis for Buddhahood. Such things in commentaries can be anything that is really not Buddha words. But in that time making commentaries it’s normal using Indian influence.

For me Buddhaghosa and Dhammapala is coming from a tradition of Sthavira in India but it’s actually a tradition more open already. And they hoping already to see the future Buddha. It was common in that time. Buddhaghosa for example wished see Metteyya Buddha and attain Arahantship. And Dhammapāla probably is into the same . Because this parami teaching exposes who he was. He clearly has the tradition with the tradition of needing to be in front a Buddha for the aspiration to come true.

Another thing I noticed in commentaries in 4-5 CE in India they don’t use Brahma Sahampati, they use Mahabrahma.

Why I say this because the after schism maybe made every new sect made their own views in commentaries and sometimes we have to see another angle. I realize in other Indian commentaries that the doctrines varied a lot. Even sutras there was more. If you see the ones quoted in debates. You like what is that? Buddha said that? This was common after schism

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This is not true. What is true is that, as Frauwallner has shown, there is a core of material that is shared by the Theravada Abhidhamma and the northern Abhidharmas.

That is essentially what I said. The material of the Dhammasaṅganī and the Vibhaṅga can be found in other schools, thus they represent the earliest form of Abhidhamma. The matikas are nothing but an expansion of the various lists we see in the suttas. Nothing suggests that said matikas are from a very late period and they likely go back to the time of the Buddha himself.

Not really. There is continuity of course, but the Abhidhamma system is a later development. The best evidence for this is the very fact that while the early suttas of the different schools are often more or less identical, the Abhidharma texts differ considerably. This shows they developed after the suttas and thus are not from the time of the Buddha.

It would help if you clarified what you mean. Are you referring to the Abhidhammic texts themselves or the commentary on those texts? If its the commentary and ideas such as sabhāva, momentariness and the like then yes these are later elaborations as they come from the commentarial tradition and are not found in the Abhidhamma texts themselves. Even orthodox Theravada recognises that. I see no reason to reject the commenterial explanations of the Dhamma (in this case through the Abhidhamma) in favour of more modern and highly idiosyncratic ones. When we look at the commentarial material there is nothing in there which contradicts the Abhidhamma nor the suttas. When we look at the other schools we see much that does. This returns us to my earlier point that the Theravadin Abhidhamma is likely an older and more conservative version, which isn’t unlikely given the nature of the tradition, with a commentarial tradition that did not deviate from the suttas nor Abhidhamma and so what the Buddha taught. It is pure Dhamma in the sense of its great depth and analysis in the abstract, removed from any context or personalised teachings of the Dhamma like what we see in the suttas.

So, the core of the 1st two primary texts of the Abhidhamma are old and likely go back to the time of the Buddha. Even if we say it comes from after the parinibbana its not much later than that, from when we can be sure that arahants were still around to check things over. Following from this a commentarial tradition developed which gave further explanations of these teachings from which we get ideas such as own-nature, momentariness etc.

Out of interest, have you read much of the Abhidhamma or the commentaries?

How does that follow?

That isn’t true. The passage in question from the Visuddhimagga wasn’t written by Ven. Buddhaghosa.

It was added because they believed he was the future Buddha?

Besides that there is another proof really mysterious

According to Dhammaruwan’s memories, he learned the Pāli chants in a former lifetime in India, where he had been born as the son of a brahmin and trained in memorization of the Vedas. He had gone forth as a Buddhist monk and become a student of the eminent monk Buddhaghosa at Nālandā. After being trained as a reciter, together with other monks who had similarly been trained he was chosen to accompany Buddhaghosa from India to Sri Lanka. Having come to Sri Lanka, he stayed with Buddhaghosa at the Mahāvihāra in Anurādhapura.

I believe Dhammapala was the exact Dharmapala from Nālandā University also.

It’s said by Chinese source that he was taught in all 18 schools.

Buddhaghosa maybe was the same

Why we don’t have information where they exactly came from? I don’t think Theravada is going to say that.

They are scholars. Scholars of India in that time is mostly of Nālandā tradition. Buddhaghosa might be from that tradition before they made the big building.

A time where Chinese saw only the Sāriputta stupa there. But maybe there was a school somewhere else.

I’m not personally in that camp that rejects the Abhidhamma traditions outright. I think perhaps Abhidhamma became a bit overwrought, but it’s certainly a valuable part of the Buddhist tradition. It’s also valuable that the Theravada tradition has preserved such an extensive commentarial literature. It gives us a window into the past. The Agamas unfortunately lack that level of exegesis, so there are passages that are just mysterious today.

I also don’t think that the variations that I see as I translate Agamas from Chinese rise to the level that invalidates one Buddhist tradition or the other. It’s fascinating to me in the literary sense to see the different versions of traditional stories, but it’s not as though the differences would stop Buddhists from achieving arhattva if they practiced with one canon or the other. It’s really just a matter of history to me.


In what way to you see it as a valuable part? In other words, what value do you see in it?

Personally, I can see how the Kathavatthu is valuable to reconstruct the history of early Buddhist schools and how the analyses according to the suttas of the Vibhanga can sometimes help with the meaning of some words found in the suttas (‘parimukkham’ as an example). But I didn’t find any use of the rest of the books (yet). I’d be interested to know how some people are using this abhidhammic content and what value they see in it (like for example, notion X in this abhidhamma book helped me understand sutta Y).

To me, it’s not because it has been held in high esteem by a tradition over centuries that it is necessarily valuable.

Questioning the authenticity or value of the Abhidhamma is seen as being disrespectful, or ‘not appropriate’ by traditional Theravadins, as seen in this thread or on Dhammawheel for example, and I really don’t understand this reaction. If someone knows something for sure, or have an unshakable belief in it, then usually that person does not care if someone else criticizes or questions this belief. On the contrary when someone reacts to criticisms of a belief or invoke notions of ‘disrespect’ etc, it is usually because, IMHO, they themselves have some doubts about their beliefs.

This I came to see it that way as well. I do value the commentaries as a great help for understanding some of the Pali vocabulary and the history of Buddhism also. But the parts of the commentaries that interpret the suttas in an abhidhammic framework or that add explanatory stories seems to me more a detrimental hindrance than a valuable addition.


Sorry if I misunderstood. What do you mean by “I think it’s fair to say no one really knows”?
No one really knows what?

Thank you Dukkha for these words.

Catching up on this thread was confusing: a mix of genuinely interesting positions with hotly-defended positions. All contributors, I believe, follow the same Dhamma. It’s inevitable that in thousands of years a mix of opinions about those things we hold dear has arisen. As followers of the N8fP, surely using Right Speech, gently and respectfully is what everyone aspires to do.

There’s space for all relevant opinions to be tabled, along with appropriate support. Please take time before you write more to pause for a moment, hold your readers with metta and remember that they, like yourselves, are also seeking an end to suffering. Let’s try to make all words respectful, and to write all views with gentleness.

I look forward to learning more from your posts.


Well, there’s different angles to an open question like this. Value can be in terms of utility to a practitioner, historical perspective, philosophical creativity, and so on. I don’t see how the Abhidhamma tradition can be simply discarded, but on the other hand I can see that an individual practitioner can do without for the most part.

The original context of Abhidhamma texts before writing became a common practice among Buddhists also makes some of the texts difficult to read or find useful. Today we have translations like those by Bhikkhu Bodhi with indices at the end of them that serve similar purposes as the Abhidhamma matrices had. In an oral tradition, there’s the added difficulty in finding and remember the threads scattered throughout the suttas, and early Abhidhamma was an attempt to make the jumble of stories and ideas more coherent. Later Abhidhamma texts became more focused on creating coherent philosophical understandings. We don’t have to completely agree with any of this to understand its value to understanding the Buddhist tradition over time.

These issues aren’t related to Abhidhamma to me so much as they are to sectarianism and politics. It’s unfortunate and distressing to me that these trends of thought have invaded Buddhist communities as much as they have other parts of modern life. Ideological attitudes lead people down the road to personal conflict and adherence to views that blots out our ability to think creatively and appreciate the ideas and thoughts of others, whether they are people who we communicate with on internet forums or people who recited Abhidhamma texts a couple thousand years ago.


You think this is a modern phenomenon? The Buddhist traditions have always been sectarian. Buddha himself could also have been labelled as being sectarian given how much he criticises other religious/philosophical sects at the time. Even EBT folk are sectarian :wink:

I’ve been interacting with western Buddhists for about 3o years now. It wasn’t like this in the 1990s. The English speaking world has had its ideological obsessions for a long time, of course, but they hadn’t penetrated the Buddhist community to this extent. So, yes, there is a trend that is more recent that I see.

Sectarianism on the whole was frowned upon by EBT Buddhists. They rejected philosophical positions based on whether they threatened the entire spiritual project, not based on small differences of opinion. Adherence to views and sectarianism as a threat to the spiritual life can be seen discussed in EBTs usually using Brahmins as the examples of these problematic mentalities.


I’ve been interacting with western Buddhists for about 3o years now. It wasn’t like this in the 1990s. The English speaking world has had its ideological obsessions for a long time, of course, but they hadn’t penetrated the Buddhist community to this extent. So, yes, there is a trend that is more recent that I see.

You really see no sectarianism in Buddhism prior to 30 years ago? Nothing in the whole history of Buddhism?

Sectarianism on the whole was frowned upon by EBT Buddhists. They rejected philosophical positions based on whether they threatened the entire spiritual project, not based on small differences of opinion. Adherence to views and sectarianism as a threat to the spiritual life can be seen discussed in EBTs usually using Brahmins as the examples of these problematic mentalities.

Clinging to views yes. Asserting Buddhist ideas, no. The Buddha and his followers certainly asserted that the Dhamma and the NEFP is the only way to reach nibbana, with not so very kind words for the other sects. This shows that asserting doctrine is not necessarily the result of clinging to views, although it can still be labelled as being “sectarian” by those outside. We should also bear in mind that taking an “open”, sceptical or universalist position can be as much a position of clinging as any other.

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