"Theravada Buddhism" and "Early Buddhism"

Thank you for the reply. I was hoping for something more substantial. But I want persue it any further.

I am afraid, this is not an accurate representation.


Please refer to this book for more accurate answers to your inquiry:

The definition of early Buddhist texts is provided on page 9-10.

Bhante Sujato’s response earlier on this thread can help shed some light on “Theravada Buddhism” and “Early Buddhism.”

You can direct your inquiries to him as he seems far more knowledgeable about the topic of the questions that you asked me than I am. Perhaps he can answer to your satisfaction.

It makes sense!
My concern is that many who are not familiar enough with the field (myself included) seem unable to accurately discern between the two - hence this thread.
It was only within the past two years that I even realized that Early Buddhism was distinct from Theravada Buddhism - I don’t think I even knew of the term “Early Buddhism” prior to this.


In my journey in Buddhism. What attracted me always is those earliest strata texts. Like Suttanipāta, Udāna etc. Because that was probably the only teaching used until Agamas and Nikāyas.

I wish to read the commentaries of them. Maha Niddesa etc

I like already the ones found at Ghandhara of the same texts.

How/were did you find these? Thanks in advance.

I think generally speaking it’s easier to identify texts that seem to be later works than it is to define exactly which texts are early. Some sutras sound like Abhidharma in the way they are written with series of technical terms or lists of dharmas (eg DN 34). Some texts are clearly well-thought out literary works (eg DN 16). Some texts seem like early exegetical texts (eg MN 141). Sometimes just the style of how a text is written makes it seem later. I can think of MN 119 in this case, which gives a long list of benefits to following its teaching. It reminds me of later Mahayana sutras in that regard. In Agamas, some sutras go so far as name themselves, which is also something Mahayana sutras do.


Not exactly the same. But similar.

I bought a Ghandhara book there is a few pages of one they found.It’s really cool.

Before that I read this one. Which is way longer. And it’s free. It’s from fragments. So it’s corrected

A Gāndhārī Commentary on Early Buddhist Verses: British Library Kharoṣṭhī fragments 7, 9, 13 and 18

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Hum. that’s interesting. I’ve never had the chance to study the chinese agamas extensively. Which sutra there discusses dharmas existing in the 3 times?

You’ll have to forgive me but I cannot locate it. I’ve tried a few searches but come up empty. Perhaps someone else can point into the right direction.

Do you guys know what Bikkhu Bodhi says about this issue of EBT and Theravada? If I remember well a text I’ve read from him, Bikkhu Bodhi says that Abhidhamma is commentarial rather than buddhavacana.

In the introduction to the Abhidhammattha sangaha he puts forward a view that the basic architecture and vision of the Abhidhamma comes from the Buddha but this was worked out in greater detail by subsequent disciples.

-proposing a bhavanga-citta.

I believe tradition equates this with the luminous mind.

proposing a heart-basis.

This is an explanation of the idea found in the suttas of mind and matter depending on each other.

Your right. I wish I was you. I wish you translated the Early Abhidhamma texts the Chinese translated. The earliest style would be interesting to read the nature of that early beginnings

But I have noticed what you mean. Like in nikayas that sutta where Ānanda is saying he heard the words from Buddha’s own lips repeatedly. It’s like reading that is already telling me this sound a late text. Trying to convince me that it must be then truth. :joy:

If you see the parallel Ānanda is more lax.

Based on what?

There is definitely some contradiction.

Do name these contradictions?

I don’t think early Buddhism “canonizes” nor “authorizes” commentaries or sub-commentaries.

A commentary is simply a more detailed explanation of a sutta. I’m sure this was happening from the earliest of times.

Furthermore, the following are considered not to be spoken by the Buddha and thus not considered “authentic” according to Early Buddhism

A lot of what you have on your list aren’t considered to be the word of the Buddha even by orthodox Theravadin standards. I’m not sure why that makes them inauthentic though? Why are the Petakopadesa, Nettippakarana or the Patisambhidamagga inauthentic texts?

It seems that every Buddhist sect considers all of their texts to have been spoken directly by the Buddha and thus early.

This isn’t true.

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My friend I never read Agamas saying that. If it is because it was made by Sarvāstivāda. Which teaching is found a lot about the times in Abhidhamma texts. But here I give you just a snippet of the book of a Ghandhara debate text about it they found.

An Abhidharma Treatise on Time and Existence

It is not the case that everything exists, nor is it the case that everything does not exist. A past [factor] exists without efficacy; [for example,] an arhat may have had desire, anger, and delusion in the past. The past should be referred to as nothing but the past. The future should be referred to as nothing but the future. The present should be referred to as nothing but the present. Just as the essential nature of the past is established as having existence in order to determine the past, so too the essential nature of futureness is established as having existence in order to determine the past; and so too, the essential nature of presentness is established as having existence in order to determine the past. This [principle] is to be applied similarly to the future and so on, down to the unconditioned [factors].

Please buy The Buddhist Literature of Ancient Gandhāra By Richard Solomon to read the rest. Interesting debate text.

I have to agree. Read Satyasiddhisastra. It’s a confusing time. But only in the beginning when there was few sects they had similar teaching. Then after there came probably came more and more sects than each made discourses. Now where are we? :joy:

Because what if we also claimed to be like the Elders had it. But its not true? :thinking:.

Better? @Ceisiwr

Because I was responding to you to read that book

Could you edit your post. You are attributing a quote to me there that I did not say.

What are you asking here?

Look at the disagreements section of the OP.

How are you so sure about this?
Who gave monastics the authority to write commentaries?
I don’t remember the Buddha ever authorizing monastics to do such a thing. :thinking:

I literally copied and pasted the books of the Pali Canon.
Which books of the Pali Canon do you think are “not considered the word of the Buddha even by orthodox Theravadin standards”?

Authentic is defined as that which is actually spoken (in substance) by the Buddha.
I.e. if a sutta claims that the Buddha said it and he actually did not - that would be considered inauthentic.

You will have to direct your inquiries to someone more knowledgeable that me about this.
Sorry that I can’t be of more help to you with my current level of knowledge and mental development.

Sorry, let me clarify.
It seems to me that each sect, at least implicitly, claims that their canonized texts are the word of the Buddha. Monastics within the sect may disagree, but the sect as a whole canonizes the texts they think are the word of the Buddha, I think.
If not, what’s the point of a canon? Or else, it would beg the question: why are sects canonizing words that do not belong to the Buddha?

On further reflection, it seems to me that all this discussion, including my own contributions, misses the crucial point. The fundamental difference is the attitude to time: Theravada is mythical, Early Buddhism is historical.

The best summary of mythic time is from Sallustius:

These things never happened, but always are.

Myth points to the presence of the eternal in the transient. Events of the past are true not because they are verified facts, but because they are imbued with an overwhelming sense of meaning. So for Theravada, for example, the doctrine taught by the Buddha is identical with that in the Abhidhamma, which is identical with the commentaries, which is identical with that in contemporary Theravada. And any challenge to this is not about the facts, it is a threat to the sense of meaning that creates the identity of Theravadin community.

“Early Buddhism” is a concept that arises once you reject that approach. If you look at things historically, that is, take an interest in what actually happened, using whatever critical faculties may be brought to bear on this question. To a historian, it is self-evident that things change over time, and that they may only be understood in terms of context and process.

Understood like, this, we can see that the underlying difference between the two approaches is not a matter of the acceptance or denial of certain facts or interpretations. It’s a question of character and culture, of spiritual evolution. Speaking for myself, I could no more go back to orthodox “Theravada” than I could will myself to believe in Jesus. I have been there, and I moved on.

But that doesn’t mean that Early Buddhism is better than Theravada. People are just in different places, and what matters is not your religious identity, but how that identity nourishes your spiritual growth. If you try to force ideas on people, you just end up creating divisions and hardening opposition. People grow and change when they’re ready. Sure, in some cases, there’s no choice. If it is a matter of fundamental human rights, then no-one has a right to cling to their tradition, and they will have to change, like it or not. But when it comes to, say, choice of meditation method, what matters is whether it helps abandon the hindrances. There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches, and it’s healthy to want to learn.

Rationalist-minded people like myself chronically underestimate the power of the irrational, of the little-understood psychic forces that bring people together and imbue a community with a shared sense of meaning. And it is entirely noteworthy that we have rather systematically failed to create any meaningful equivalent. Attempts to create a purely rational world typically devolve to irrational cults of personality (see: the history of Communism). Due to fear of the irrational and inability to understand it, apostles of the rational end up in thrall to the irrational.

And this is why I have been studying and promoting the study of mythology.



I don’t quite understand what you have written here. Are you equating the version of history accepted by Theravadava as mythical and/or are equating the the doctrine presented in Abhidhamma/Commentaries as mythical?

Perhaps this earlier post of mine will be relevant.


I am not asking what a myth is Bhante.

I think the point is, they make a connected body of works. A ‘naya Sāgara’ as it were.

I found your further reflection to be quite insightful.

How do you define Early Buddhism in this case?

I know Early Buddhism isn’t perfect (in my own mind, I use “actual Buddhism” or just “Buddhism” to denote that which was/is perfectly representative of what the Buddha himself intended - the caveat being that I myself likely cannot fully discern what it is at this time).

But couldn’t one (rightly) claim that Early Buddhism is “better” than Theravada Buddhism in a non-divisive matter of fact way without resorting to making it seem like Early Buddhism is the perfect representation of Buddhism?
For example, Mahayana is A percent correct, Theravada is B percent correct, Early Buddhism is C percent correct, and so on and so forth - but acknowledge that C is greater than B?

Perhaps falsely equating those which are not equal could misrepresent the reality to those who are not yet familiar with that situation?

The reason I share this is because when I first got interested in Buddhism, I got drawn to the Theravada sect because I assumed that because they were the most conservative, that they conserved the teachings hopefully almost completely.

I think I was in for a rude surprise when I began to learn that a significant amount of Theravada literature does not actually accurately represent the Dhamma-Vinaya that the Buddha taught.

This had adverse tangible effects on my life: I purchased most of the Pali Canon books thinking that I was buying a hard copy version of what the Buddha taught and now feel like I have wasted quite a bit of money due to “false advertising.” Theravada sect advertised something that they claimed was taught by the Buddha that was actually not taught by him and that seemed to have led me to some sort of financial harm.

The intangible effects are likely even worse - I think back to various views that I picked up from non-Dhamma-Vinaya Theravada literatures (such as commentaries, Abhidhamma, etc.) which upon critical examination have seems to have no actual basis in Dhamma-Vinaya, such as “Devadatta will be reborn as a paccekabuddha,” “Buddha taught his mother and gods the Abhidhamma,” and other such views that I think misled me into wrong view.
It has led me to dread the karmic consequences of these because I myself (wrongly) trusted the Theravada sect to tell me the right thing and they didn’t, but I have no one to blame but myself for (wrongly) misplacing my trust in a sect that falsely claims to preserve the teachings purely, completely, 100%, etc.

When I reap harm for being misled by the Theravada sect, will the Theravada sect take responsibility for misleading me into harm and dukkha?

Of course this same principle applies to both non-Buddhist and Buddhist individuals and groups, myself included!

But I wanted to bring up this concern as a possibility of the kind of danger that I see for excusing or overlooking the false, harmful, unbeneficial, misrepresentative, etc. parts of anyone and anything (in this case, of the Theravada sect, and perhaps Early Buddhism to some degree as well) in order to try to maintain some illusory semblance of unity between the various divisions of Buddhism, instead of say actual unity that is based squarely on the Dhamma-Vinaya.

Given how much/many times I have felt misled by things that were claimed to have been taught by the Buddha, how can I suitably respond to these misrepresentative parts without being divisive or harsh or harmful or unbeneficial in any way whatsoever from here on forward the future?

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I understand you Bhante. That was beautifuly written. :clap:

I tend to think like that also. I’m aware that there was change in Buddhism. I see the Faith of hoping things are the same as 1 council as the traditional interpretation. We have to work more towards just letting go. And hoping each person choice is helping towards the goal.

If it teach a person to let go then that’s actually Buddha’s path. Later or before. :slight_smile: