Theorists vs. Practitioners - who is better?

Can you please provide evidence in support of this claim? Thank you in advance.

How can the the Commentaries the one key? Why the one?
Isn’t the “one key to enlightenment” the Dhamma-Vinaya?

Perhaps commentaries should be carefully evaluated to gauge to what degree they are contrary to (and thus rejected) and in accordance with (and thus accepted) the Dhamma-Vinaya?

Theorists vs. Practitioners - who is better?

I think maybe the purpose of the discourse that you shared was to resolve this dilemma and answer this question.

Maybe neither are inherently better nor worse than the other.

An Arahant theorist and Arahant meditator might both be “equal” so to speak.

I’m reminded here of the uproar caused in Burma by Ledi Sayadaw’s Paramattadīpanī (1901) - his commentary on a 12th century Abhidhamma manual. One writer likened him to “an enemy with alien concepts”.
A quite readable summary is given in chapter 2 of Erik Braun’s book The Birth of Insight. Meditation, Modern Buddhism & The Burmese Monk Ledi Sayadaw (University of Chicago: 2013).

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I talked about Mingun Sayadaw with a monk in Australia and he said that when Mingun Sayadaw came to their monastery they asked him to recite any sutta from Khuddaka or Majjhima or anything else and he simply sat down and recited it from memory.

Truth is that Mingun Sayadaw really has a different title than the other Tipitaka Dharas and I know this from a monk who is Dvepitaka Dhara (two pitakas memorized). Mingun Sayadaw is, according to a notice in his monatery in Sagaing, also in Guiness Book of records for having memorized the largest amount of text in the world. (Never searched that in Google though).

In 1985, the Guinness Book of Records recorded the sayadaw as a record holder in the Human memory category. The exact entry was Human memory: Bhandanta Vicitsara (sic) recited 16,000 pages of Buddhist canonical text in Rangoon, Burma in May 1954. Rare instances of eidetic memory – the ability to project and hence “visually” recall material-- are known to science . Mingun Sayadaw - Wikipedia

It is said that Mingun Sayadaw’s great achievement in memorizing is not mentioned in the article you read. But I think maybe the author wrote this as a disappointment when he found out about this great secret. It is secret that the official exam includes only 50 percent of the Tipitaka, but it is not a secret that Mingun Sayadaw was the first to memorize all of the Tipitaka and it was this particular achievement that reportedly allowed the Sixth Buddhist Council.

Regarding memorizing, it is a mark of humbleness when we can accept that somebody’s wording, syntax, grammar, expressions are to be accepted while ours are not that relevant. In other words, when we memorize word by word, we accept the grammar and expressions of another person and abandon ours (for the time of reciting what we memorized). You may not feel this if you memorize a short poem as a homework for school, but if you have to memorize 500 pages, or 1000, or more, you’d feel how humbling it is.

“Why should I memorize all these things? Wouldn’t it be enough if I just read it and can correctly represent what’s there in my own words?” This is perfectly correct, but the conceit is not subdued. When I memorize I “enter” the mouth of the speaker of the words and feel them as they were spoken. It’s maybe my personal feeling, but it gives a lot of inspiration and support on the path. Then, when I discuss Dhamma or meditate, these words sometimes come into my mind and I know that this is exactly what was said, that this is exactly what the other monks heard and succeeded on their Path.


No, they do. Burmese monks do criticize Commentaries.

But only particular portions, never as a whole. Commentaries are always closely followed when translating suttas and teaching Dhamma, so e.g., translating dhammayoga would always be translated as reciters of Dhamma, never as the principles thing…

Abhidhamma is never disputed. I have never seen any elder or younger, educated or not-educated monk in Myanmar to dispute that Abhidhamma was directly from the Buddha. It is the same as if you said that suttas were not from the Buddha. There’s no reason to claim such extreme things. I found out interesting that ven. Sujato would like to clear this forum from extremists (which is good!) but himself holds a view that is understood as extremist in the Buddhist country of Myanmar. (Just wondering, no intention here.)


Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi already provided evidence that Commentaries were already approved portion of some Suttas, although we do not classify them as Commentaries because they are included in the main scriptures. I can provide “evidence” only from the Buddha’s Teachings, where the Buddha says that discussing Dhamma with monks is essential for progress in meditation -

And how does a mendicant know the ford?
Kathañca, bhikkhave, bhikkhu titthaṃ jānāti?
It’s when from time to time a mendicant goes up to those mendicants who are very learned—knowledgeable in the scriptures, who have memorized the teachings, the texts on monastic training, and the outlines—and asks them questions:
Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu ye te bhikkhū bahussutā āgatāgamā dhammadharā vinayadharā mātikādharā te kālena kālaṃ upasaṅkamitvā paripucchati, paripañhati:
‘Why, sir, does it say this?
‘idaṃ, bhante, kathaṃ?
What does that mean?’
Imassa ko attho’ti?
Those venerables clarify what is unclear, reveal what is obscure, and dispel doubt regarding the many doubtful matters.
Tassa te āyasmanto avivaṭañceva vivaranti, anuttānīkatañca uttānīkaronti, anekavihitesu ca kaṅkhāṭhānīyesu dhammesu kaṅkhaṃ paṭivinodenti. SuttaCentral

How can the the Commentaries the one key? Why the one ?
Isn’t the “one key to enlightenment” the Dhamma-Vinaya?
Perhaps commentaries should be carefully evaluated to gauge to what degree they are contrary to (and thus rejected) and in accordance with (and thus accepted) the Dhamma-Vinaya?

The Commentaries are the One Key because they were so important and helpful to the great elders who attained Enlightenment in the past. Theravada is the teachings of the Great Elders during the first, second, and third Buddhist Council, as we learn from the Commentaries. Theravada monks need to build their Sima (ordination hall etc.) according to the Commentaries, otherwise they are not considered real monks. Commentaries are thus followed from the very first moment of becoming a Theravada monk. As soon as Commentaries are not followed, there is no Theravada monkhood, so then what to say about preserving of the Buddha’s Teachings.

It is the “one key” to Enlightenment because it is the explanation of Vibhajjavada. The fact that Vibhajjavada is the only right school (and here we might be breaching rules of this forum) was decided by the elders of the Third Budhist Council, organized by the great king Asoka. (I won’t dispute Dharmaguptika etc. here, because I know pure blank nothing about them. But according to the great monks of the Third Buddhist Council, Vibhajjavada is the only source of the Buddha’s true teachings.)

Maybe neither are inherently better nor worse than the other.
An Arahant theorist and Arahant meditator might both be “equal” so to speak.

No no. Theorist means somebody who doesn’t meditate. Here theorists are those who only follow sutamaya panna (wisdom from hearing, learning) and cintamaya panna (wisdom from thinking). Theorists are those who dedicate themselves only to these two although they need to dedicate themselved to bhavanamaya panna (wisdom from meditation) in order to become Enlightened. (People who just hear Dhamma and become Enlightened are not included in this group. Real Dhammakathika in the context of comparing them to Jhayi, is not able to attain Enlightenment because he doesn’t try for it. The problem of not meditating by Dhammakathikas is illustrated by their “conflict” with the monks who did meditate in the Anguttara Nikaya Commentary which I quoted before, in the first post of this discussion.)

@Leon Ledi Sayadaw did not criticize Commentaries. He criticized commentaries. So, to explain, Commentaries are the texts from the great elders, based on the understanding of the Arahants from the First Buddhist Council. Ledi Sayadaw extensively uses Commentaries (and even Sub-Commentaries) to prove his points. (I read his book in Burmese and cannot imagine his explanations without his references to Commentaries…) But Ledi Sayadaw criticized the other commentaries, such as the subcommentary to Abhidhammattha Sangaha. Abhidhammattha Sangaha is a non-canonical handbook in verse. It has its subcommentary which Ledi Sayadaw didn’t like.

Ledi Sayadaw memorized all Abhidhamma and recited it in front of the king of Myanmar, from beginning till end. It is possible that the author of the Abhidhammattha Sangaha Tika did not memorize Abhidhamma, hence their understanding was different.

And therefore… :blush: please, memorize, then analyze. :sun_with_face:

Oh… the suggestion that we ourselves compare it with the Buddha’s Dhamma Vinaya… here is the problem with humbleness. There are monks who have memorized the Sutta and Vinaya and already compared the Commentaries to the Sutta and Vinaya and handed them down for us in their teachings. I don’t think that I am capable of comparing Commentaries to Dhamma-Vinaya better than those great elders.

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My friend,

Of course Sayadaws memorize all the books main suttas to teach their students. To see an example is Sayadaw Pa Auk on YouTube. He is just reciting each time suttas from different nikayas.

I think with memorizing all nikayas truly means most important suttas in all nikayas.

Bhante can you start a project to translate commentaries? :joy: I know it’s a big project. I know probably you have a lot contacts that can help. :bulb:

Do you directly understand the minds of “those great elders”? If not, how can you compare your own mind to theirs?
In any case, no need to compare.
You can still do your own evaluation.

As a monk, it seems suitable for you to learn the Dhamma-Vinaya and to use the Dhamma-Vinaya as the standard and criterion by which to measure up everything and everyone, including the commentaries, including me, and including yourself too.

It helps to remember that the Buddha did not teach the Commentaries; the Buddha taught the Dhamma-Vinaya.


Your translation from the commentaries is wrong:

Dhammakathikanam doens’t mean “theorist” or “reciters”. Read these words from Mahasi Sayadaw, he was the official questioner at the Sixth Council, a true ariya and therefore able to manage both Suttas and Commentaries without falling in wrong views:

“To the very profound questions posed by the merchant Visakha, Bhikkhuni Dhammadinna gave clear-cut answers. The dialogue between Visakha and Dhammadinna is recorded as the Culavedalla Sutta of the Majjhimanikaya. Her exposition of some points of the Dhamma was so illuminating that the Buddha conferred on her the honour of the best bhikkhuni at teaching (Dhammakathikanam).”

Mahasi Sayadaw - A Discourse on the Sallekha Sutta
A Discourse on the Sallekha Sutta

you can check how you are in contradiction with these words from Mahasi Sayadaw about the real meaning of dhammakathikanam.

Aso you can find dhammakathikanam was applied to Dhammadinna like “the best teacher” inside AN 1.14, AN I 25,21, EA 5.2 and Therigata II. She was depicted also like “the best to discriminate the meaning and on divisions and parts of the teaching.”

There are more examples showing the word dhammakathikanam meas “expert in teaching” instead a worldly “theorist” or “scholar” as you wrongly believes. In example:

AN I 26,5 : Citta is declared the chief male disciple among speakers of the Dhamma (dhammakathikanam)

AN. 1.196 : Purina Mantaniputta "… among those who speak on the Dhamma(path) is Purina Mantaniputta. " (Dhammakathikanam yadidam punn mantaniputto.)

Purina Mantaniputta was another arhant instead a worldly “theorizer”, “scholar” or “reciter”. Inside MN 24, we read his conversation with Sariputta. Among other things, in that conversation we can check how inside the Buddha Sangha existed different groups of disciples. Because we can read:

"When this was said, Ven. Sariputta said to Ven. Punna Mantaniputta: “What is your name, friend, and how do your companions in the holy life know you?”
“My name is Punna, friend, and my companions in the holy life know me as Mantaniputta.”
"When this was said, Ven. Punna said to Ven. Sariputta: “And what is your name, friend, and how do your companions in the holy life know you?”
“My name is Upatissa, friend, and my companions in the holy life know me as Sariputta.”

here we can check how they did not know each other, and also they stayed with their own groups. Those Buddha disciples stayed in different groups, in different places, and also under different approaches and practices for nibbana.

Those dhammayoga monks followed a path of wisdom for the arising of insight by wisdom (pañña). They were named dhammakathikanam because they were experts in the teaching, “able to discriminate the meaning and on divisions and parts of the teaching” as previously quoted directly from the Suttas.

What one should avoid according the Sutta:

“they’re not acting for the welfare and happiness of the people, for the benefit, welfare, and happiness of gods and humans.”

The tranlastion of ven.Sujato is enough good. I don’t understand why you are focused in this issue instead in some things which really could improve some ven.Sutajo translations, as in example the use of the word “transmigration” instead “rebirth” in some Suttas.


I imagine we misunderstand them still. It’s seems to me most people believe they didn’t meditate. Isn’t it that they are masters of insight meditation? It’s more that they use deep dhamma teaching to find insight in meditation.

They probably was not so much into samadhi. But it’s because kamma. Since there is monks that where said by Buddha to be good in Samadhi while others in Insight.

it means they were arhants and ariyas, and so accurate in explaining Dhamma to others and to clarify doubts that panna arose quickly in the disciples hearing their teachings, and they attained stream entry after a talk or discussion.

Punna was one of those dhammakathikanam. He taught Ananda, who after hearing his talk attained stream entry. This episode is narrated by Ananda inside SN 22.83 :

“Friends, Ven. Punna Mantaniputta was very helpful to us when we were newly ordained. He exhorted us with this exhortation. And when I had heard this Dhamma-explanation from Ven. Punna Mantaniputta, I broke through to the Dhamma.”

But I mean those persons that heard their Dhamma did meditation before. That’s probably when something like that happens. Or like said in Visuddhimagga of the Elder monk of Sri Lanka that attained Arahantship after seeing foulness in the teeths of girl. He saw only bones. For example such possibility of attainments is possible training formerly in meditation. Seeing skeletons etc.

For instances we think that there was a group going to these Elders in the hope of just hearing the words of wisdom and getting attainments without a prepractice in meditation we wish to believe that.

One day I was listening to the Dhamma talk by Ajahn Brahmali on YouTube about Impermanence.

I don’t know Bhante personally but it was possible to have felt the deepness of Dhamma talk because I already am a meditator. It can bring a moment of mental joy which is nothing special but it shows probably what would have happened to those meditators listening to these Elders wisdom.

Even MahaKassapa took some days after being accepted by Buddha as a disciple to be a disciple to have attained Nibbāna.

All the monks start their daily meditation routine together with the other monks when ordained. So when exactly was it that these attainments on spot happens is probably way after ordination. So for example they where newly ordained but the sutta doesn’t specifically say after 1 month, I heard his Dhamma talk and attained sotapanna.

It’s not always detailed in that way.

In the time of Buddha the Elder disciples probably gives a extensive training in meditation and the students learn to quietly attain Samadhi. Being trained in that in just 3 days probably then after when they hear a Dhamma talk from their preceptor their attain the necessary breakthrough by hearing Dhamma. That’s the beauty of being born in such times. :heart_eyes:

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@Upasaka_Dhammasara Yes, we are now preparing the Burmese translation of the Commentaries into electronic form and I (or anybody else) can use it for comprehensible, excellent translation into English. Whenever I translate from Pali I follow also the Burmese translation, because these translations are coming from centuries ago, by great elders who understood Pali and practiced the Buddha’s Teachings for much longer time than me. The advantage of Burmese translation over PTS dictionary etc. is that they are explicit, they explain difficult places and are always clear to understand. With Sinhalese translation, for example, it is difficult, because they just transcribe the Pali with Sinhalese endings, without translating it. PTS dictionary is nice, but it gives translations in general, not for specific passages (hence misunderstanding may occur). I already translate Commentaries time to time, but only short passages wherever I need for Dhamma teaching/discussion with others.

@SeriousFun136 I certainly can understand teachings of Commentaries better than the original teachings of the Buddha, just like monks in the Buddha’s time could understand explanations of ven. Ananda, ven. Sariputta better than they understood the Buddha’s first teaching. But here you are little bit misunderstanding me, I didn’t mean that Commentaries “alone” are the correct Teachings. Commentaries together with the Buddha’s original teachings are the most powerful support on the Path. That’s what I mean and always meant. Because Commentaries may not be clear at some points, we have Sub-Commentaries. Because Sub-Commentaries may not be clear at some points, we have Sub-Sub-Commentaries. Don’t worry. If you can humble yourself, there is always a teacher who can explain you Dhamma. Humbleness, that’s the basic requirement to learn. :sun_with_face:

@Puerh The discussion is getting dangerously off-topic.

In this context dhammakathikas are those who do not meditate, who do not teach meditation, and who are not Enlightened.

There were of course many dhammakathikas who meditated, who taught meditation, and who were Enlightened, but that’s not the meaning of the word dhammayoga/dhammakathika vs. jhayi here, because they are shown in contrast to each other.

So, I think you may like to read the first post in this discussion (again) to understand the topic. :sun_with_face:

@Puerh I don’t think that my translation was “wrong.” Dhamma is the Buddha’s teaching and kathika is somebody who speaks it. But please, remember the context. In the context of an Arahant, “dhammakathika” has a slightly different hue than in the context of conflict with meditating persons. So, I’d say that you are splitting hairs (wrongly) here. :sun_with_face: Glad to discuss translations with you, but first please be careful about the context.

Please, think about the context of those who criticized dhammakathikas and were meditators, especially related to the conflict which I have mentioned in the first post. I have mentioned it in Pali. If you don’t understand something, kindly ask me for translation. I have however given a summary in English which should be sufficient to understand the problem.

I am focused on this problem because, as I can see, none of you are aware of the conflict between dhammakathikas and jhayis, and even try to suggest that my translation is wrong (without reading the Pali citation which I have duely presented.)

@Upasaka_Dhammasara The problem of dhammakathikas vs. jhayis is present until today, in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and possibly in the other countries where I didn’t practice meditation and learn the scriptures. If you read the word dhammayoga as dhammakathika in the context I have just explained, the Buddha’s Teachings becomes lucid, clear, easy to understand, easy to relate to, and immensely practical even for today situation.

@Puerh It is little bit dangerous to consider all dhammakathikas as Arahants. Although some of them were Arahants, in this context we talk about those who were not Enlightened at all - and that’s why they were criticized by jhayis. Jhayis, those who meditate, would never dare to criticize Enlightened ones, because Enlightened ones are always inspiration for jhayis, never otherwise. Again, I’d like to refer you to the Anguttara Nikaya Commentary, which I have quoted in my first post in this discussion.


I thoroughly agree with you Bhante. What better way to understand the Dhamma than to look at commentaries by those who lived closest in time to him? Commentaries from wise and sincere monks from that time are invaluable and clear up much confusion IMO. I had these arrive 2 days ago. Very interesting so far. I also have The Expositor and The Dispeller of Delusion. Sadly, as I can’t currently read Pali, I can’t access the main bulk of the sutta commentaries. Hopefully these will be translated in the future.


Btw Bhante in that HKU there is two commentaries to suttas that supposedly was never translated before in English

The Bhayabheravasuttavaṇṇanā of the Majjhima-nikāya: An annotated translation and study


An Annotated Translation and A Critical Study

Bhante Sarana the sutta you made a discussion about. They are talking about the Jhana states. I think these that focus on Dhamma probably just do casual meditations.

I don’t imagine that Buddha was a teacher not disciplining his students

As brooming the floor was expected from a newly ordained, meditation was probably also expected.

To imagine that don’t they meditate I consider wrong. And something not to be expected from the time of Buddha.

That’s why I say it can be that we have the development of what happened after Buddha’s death. In that I imagine that can happen. But during Buddha’s time there must have been like now daily routines to follow. Even gathering for meditation.

I don’t picture a Sangha in time of Buddha with this problem.

This is excellent news! Is there any time frame on when these will be available and from where?

Thank so much for mentioning that. I was unaware. Never heard it. :heart_eyes:

I recommend that and The Expositor, although it might not be to the taste of the members of this forum as in its opening introduction Ven. Buddhaghosa states:

And tradition has it that those bhikkhus only who know Abhidhamma are true preachers of the Dhamma; the rest, though they speak on the Dhamma, are not preachers thereof. And why? They, in speaking on the Dhamma, confuse the different kinds of Kamma and of its results, the distinction between mind and matter, and the different kinds of states. The students of Abhidhamma do not thus get confused; hence a bhikkhu who knows Abhidhamma, whether he preaches the Dhamma or not, will be able to answer questions whenever asked. He alone, therefore, is a true preacher of the Dhamma

The Expositor (Atthasalini). Commentary On The Dhammasangani The First Book Of The Abhidhamma Pitaka. Translated by Pe Maung Tin. pp. 35-38.

Which is highly sectarian to say the least :smile:


The Dispeller of delusion part 1 is only available in :open_book:?

It would be nice if you can also provide link for download or link for purchase (my donors would be happy to donate if necessary). :sun_with_face:

I searched them, but Bhayabherava Comy seems to be not finished yet and Sampasadaniya Sutta seems to be unpublished properly. Anyway, if you have links, let me know. :sun_with_face: