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"Theravada Buddhism" vs. "Early Buddhism"

To what degree and in what ways are Theravada and “Early Buddhism” in disagreement?
To what degree and in what ways are Theravada and “Early Buddhism” in agreement?

Early Buddhist Texts

(Note: The texts listed are not necessarily early in their entirety, perhaps only partially.)

Pali

  • Digha Nikaya
  • Majjhima Nikaya
  • Samyutta Nikaya
  • Anguttara Nikaya
  • Dhammapada
  • Udāna
  • Itivuttaka
  • Sutta Nipāta
  • Thera Gāthā
  • Therī Gāthā
  • Pātimokkhas
  • Suttavibhanga
  • Khandhakas: Mahavagga/Cullavagga

Chinese

  • Dirgha-agama (Dharmaguptaka; Chinese)
  • Madhyama-agama (Sarvastivada; Chinese)
  • Samyukta-agama (Sarvastivada; Chinese)
  • Ekottara-agama (Mahasamghika; Chinese)
  • The Four Buddhist Āgamas in Chinese – A Concordance of their Parts and of the Corresponding Counterparts in the Pāli Nikāyas - by Anesaki

Sanskrit

  • Dirgha-agama (Sarvastivada; Sanskrit)

Theravada Pali Canon:

Vinaya
Patimokkha
Suttavibhanga
Khandhaka (Mahavagga and Cullavagga)
Parivara

Sutta Pitaka
Digha Nikaya
Majjhima Nikaya
Samyutta Nikaya
Anguttara Nikaya
Khuddaka Nikaya

  • Khuddakapatha
  • Dhammapada
  • Udana
  • Itivuttaka
  • Sutta Nipata
  • Vimanavatthu
  • Petavatthu
  • Theragatha
  • Therigatha
  • Jataka
  • Niddesa
  • Patisambhidamagga
  • Apadana
  • Buddhavamsa
  • Cariyapitaka
  • Nettippakarana
  • Petakopadesa
  • Milindapañha

Abhidhamma Pitaka
Dhammasangani
Vibhanga
Dhatukatha
Puggalapaññatti
Kathavatthu
Yamaka
Patthana

Disagreements

  • Buddha biographies
  • Historical chronicles
  • Commentaries
  • Sub-commentaries
  • Parivara
  • Abhidhamma
  • Dhammasangani
  • Vibhanga
  • Dhatukatha
  • Puggalapaññatti
  • Kathavatthu
  • Yamaka
  • Patthana
  • Khuddakapatha
  • Vimanavatthu
  • Petavatthu
  • Jataka
  • Niddesa
  • Patisambhidamagga
  • Apadana
  • Buddhavamsa
  • Cariyapitaka
  • Nettippakarana
  • Petakopadesa
  • Milindapañha
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Well, according to Theravada it is in full agreement with the EBT as it is the unmodified continuation of the Buddha’s teachings:

"Ten thousand of the of the Vajjiputtaka bhikkhus[after spliting from the good monks] seeking adherents among themselves, formed a school called the Mahasanghika [these then split several times] Thus from the school of the Mahasanghikas, in the second century only two schools seceded from the Theravada[note that the rightful monks are called Theravada by Buddhaghosa]-Mahimsinsasakas and Vajjiputtakas… [it lists more that split later]…Thus from the Theravada arose these eleven seceding bodies making 12 in all. And these 12 together the six schools of the Mahasanghikas constitute the 18 schools which arose in the second century. Of the eighteen, 17 are to be understood as schismatics, the Theravadan only being non- schismatic."""

Katthavathuppakarana-Atthakatha by Ven. Buddhoghosa

The commentary continues and cites the Dipavamsa:

The Bhikkhus [of the schismatic sects] “settled a doctrine contrary [to the true faith] Altering the original redaction, they made another. They transposed suttas which belonged in one collection to another place; they destroyed the true meaning and the faith in the vinya and in the five collections. Those bhikkus who understood neither what had been taught in long expositons…settled a false meaning in connection with spurious speeches of the Buddha. These bhikkhus destroyed a great deal of meaning under the colour of the letter. Rejecting the other texts- that is to say the Pavara, the six sections of the Abhidhamma, the Patisambhidhida, the niddessa and some portions of the Jataka they composed new ones. They changed their appearance, …forsaking what was original…”

Thank you for sharing.
What about according to EBT?

Do you mean according to EBT as in the texts or EBT as in those who claim the title? If you mean texts then you first have to establish what you mean by “EBT”? What are you counting as early? If you mean according to people who take on the label of EBT follower then yes, quite a few would claim that Theravada is at odds with the “EBT” (however defined).

EBT stands for early Buddhist texts. I’m not sure how it could be a title to be claimed.

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I’m not saying that what you’re saying is false, but should we uncritically believe in the clean conservation of teachings, doctrines and practices of Early Buddhism in Theravada (in its multiple forms) merely based on the text quoted?

What about the evidence suggesting (I’m thinking about the book I mentioned in other thread, “Reexamining Jhana: Towards a Critical Reconstruction of Early Buddhist Soteriology”) that a lot of the understanding about, for instance, the importance and role of jhana in the N8P, was -at least- distorted through time, after the death of the Buddha and the first generations of monks and nuns? Why couldn’t such kind of distorsion happened in other matters of the doctrine and practice?

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You still haven’t said what you are classing as “early” thus being an EBT. For example, the Patisambhidamagga likely dates from the 3rd centrury BC. Is that included as an EBT?

Many people claim to only follow “EBT”, hence it is a title claimed based on an approach to understanding the Buddha and what he taught.

I’m not saying that what you’re saying is false, but should we uncritically believe in the clean conservation of teachings, doctrines and practices of Early Buddhism in Theravada (in its multiple forms) merely based on the text quoted?

Given the highly conservative nature of Theravada, with an aversion to change, I see a basis for what was claimed in the quote. I see it further when looking at the Abhidhamma and the commentaries.

What about the evidence suggesting (I’m thinking about the book I mentioned in other thread, “ Reexamining Jhana: Towards a Critical Reconstruction of Early Buddhist Soteriology ”) that a lot of the understanding about, for instance, the importance and role of jhana in the N8P, was -at least- distorted through time, after the death of the Buddha and the first generations of monks and nuns? Why couldn’t such kind of distorsion happened in other matters of the doctrine and practice?

I got a bit lost in that thread with all of the replies and stopped contributing. I haven’t read that particular piece of work myself. I would say its slightly an odd claim since the role of Jhana is found in all Buddhists texts. Until Mahayana all of the Buddhist schools agreed about Jhana, with some minor differences. It was doctrine that caused the biggest divide. What is the basis of their argument?

I see you have edited your OP. Thanks for clarifying. I see nothing in those texts which contradict Theravadin orthodoxy, apart from the agamas that I have read so far which discuss dhammas existing in the 3 times.

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?

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.

And it is quite clear that Therava have generated some conceptual innovations which don’t come from the earliest strata of texts, such as:
-proposing a bhavanga-citta.
-proposing a heart-basis.

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I pose some question. It’s what written here in the introduction of The Path of Discrimination (Theravada commentary)
Indicating that The Chanting Together sutta might have started it all?

It appears that after the First Schism, with the MahSsamghikas (probably in B.C. 349, IB 214), the Theravāda School had an Abhidhamma in 4 sec- tions, namely 1) With Questions, 2) Without Questions, 3) Conjunction and Inclusion and 4) Basis (conditions, sources). Thefirst two of these correspond in content to the extant Vibhañga, the third to the Dhātukathā and the fourth to the Patthāna, though no doubt with comparatively little of the elaboration we nowfind in all these texts, especially the last. The distinction of with and without questions is purely formal. Thus the topics of the groups or aggregates, the sense-entrances, bases (18 dhātus of the senses and consciousness) and some others were elaborated in the form of questions and answers by applying to their dhammas some at least of the dyads (pairs of contradictories) and triads (of contraries and the neutral position between them) much as we stillfind done in the abhidhamma- bhājaniya and pañhapucchaka divisions of the present Khandhavibhañga (pp. 12-69), etc. On the other hand the topics of the four bases of self- possession (mindfulness), the exertions, bases of power (iddhi), the way (path) and so on were expounded simply by quoting relevant passages from the suttas (cf. the suttantabhājaniya division of the present Sati-
patthānavibhañga, pp.193-202). In the present Vibhañga these two types of topic have been put together in one book: as far as possible both types of analysis are applied to all the topics in order to produce a consistent system.
A collation of all the available sets of dyads and triads (in the Dhamma- sañgani,theSabbatthivSdaPrakaranapāda, the*Śāriputrābhidharmaśāstra and the Bahussutika *Tattvasiddhiśāstra; we have no space for the details here, which would carry us too far from our immediate concern) indicates
that even before the First Schism (the Bahussutikas being a branch of the MahSsamghikas) there was a set of twelve dyads and three triads (the first
triad being ‘good’, ‘bad’ and ‘indifferent’ as it is even now in the Dhamma- sañgani). At that time, the *Tattvasiddhi seems to confirm (IB2 222), there was a With Questions and a Without Questions Abhidhamma, probably concluding with a short section on four ‘conditions’.TheConjunction
and Inclusion section may have been an innovation by the Theravāda afterwards.
But in addition to this, which seems to have been the Abhidhamma in the strict sense, there very likely were certain other texts related to it but also closely related to the Suttanta. These would be an elaboration of the Saqigīti Suttanta (with quotations from other suttas to explain the dhammas listed in it) and an early version of the Petakopadesa on how to interpret suttas. The Sabbatthivāda School had a Samgltiparyāya, extant in Chinese and extensive Sanskrit fragments, as an Abhidhamma text, though the TheravSda has not preserved such a work. The Paññatti- vSda branch of the Mahāsamghikas had a text in their Abhidhamma which appears to correspond to the Petakopadesa and thus to confirm the antiquity of such a text (IB2 278; it is ascribed to MahākaccSyana, as
is the Theravāda text). At this point a question suggests itself: if there was an elaboration of the Samgīti Suttanta, which in fact is an enormous mātikā, to produce a text of an Abhidhamma type (though without the strictly abhidhamma analysis), was there not also an elaboration of its sister text, the Dasuttara Suttanta, a similar mātikā though with the dhammas classified practically as to be abandoned or developed, etc., as well as simply understood? We shall try to answer this question in the course of our investigation which follows.
The original Theravāda School after the First Schism may thus have inherited from pre-schism Buddhism an Abhidhamma (proper) in three sections (to which they added another on conjunction and inclusion shortly afterwards) and possibly three semi-abhidhamma texts more closely related to the suttas and to commentaries (atthakathā) on the suttas: *Samgītipariyāya> *Dasuttarapariyāya and Petakopadesa

Could it be that The Chanting Together sutra was the origin of all later Abhidharma?

And since Sāriputta was the one who first chanted a suttas like that. Tradition involve it’s tradition between them still?

Does the later tradition stories reveal the true roots tradition?

Does Sāriputta normally had a teaching style to make a Abhidharma movement?

DN 33 Saṅgītisutta

I was thinking also anything that’s not in that sutta or that’s not connected to it in suttas must be rightly said that it came after. :man_shrugging:

Thanks for bringing this up, I had a similar query as well ! One of the disagreements I have read of is the duration of time between successive births during the process of rebirth. The Theravada position is that the rebirth is instantaneous, without any intermediate state. On the other hand, the EBTs do seem to suggest such an an intermediate state. I am not well versed in the suttas, so the only oft-quoted sutta I have seen to support this argument is the Kutuhalasalasutta(Kutuhalasala Sutta: With Vacchagotta)-

Blockquote
(Vacchagotta) …“And at the moment when a being sets this body aside and is not yet reborn in another body, what do you designate as its sustenance then?”
“Vaccha, when a being sets this body aside and is not yet reborn in another body, I designate it as craving-sustained, for craving is its sustenance at that time.”

Maybe someone could help to elaborate on this ?!

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I clarified a rough list in the OP (main post).

When I think of early Buddhist texts, I think of the academic discipline that is devoted to study early Buddhist texts and make some sort of assessment of what is early based on the evidence available so far.

Because it is an academic endeavor, it aims to refine that list based on and new evidence that comes to light.

I honestly don’t think the conservative nature of Theravada was nearly conservative enough for my taste - my preference would be 0% change since the time of the Buddha - I do not think Theravada is as close to this as many who subscribe to the Theravada Buddhist tradition seem to think.

Welcome.

There is definitely some contradiction. I don’t think early Buddhism “canonizes” nor “authorizes” commentaries or sub-commentaries. Furthermore, the following are considered not to be spoken by the Buddha and thus not considered “authentic” according to Early Buddhism (I edited/updated the OP too):

  • Buddha biographies
  • Historical chronicles
  • Commentaries
  • Sub-commentaries
  • Parivara
  • Abhidhamma
  • Dhammasangani
  • Vibhanga
  • Dhatukatha
  • Puggalapaññatti
  • Kathavatthu
  • Yamaka
  • Patthana
  • Khuddakapatha
  • Vimanavatthu
  • Petavatthu
  • Jataka
  • Niddesa
  • Patisambhidamagga
  • Apadana
  • Buddhavamsa
  • Cariyapitaka
  • Nettippakarana
  • Petakopadesa
  • Milindapañha

Well, we’d first have to define these things a lot more clearly, and distinguish between text, doctrine, and practice. For example, what is considered to be “Theravada” in theory is very different from Buddhism as practiced in “Theravada” countries by people who would consider themselves “Theravadins”. That is, we have a narrow, textual and doctrinal, view of Theravada, whereas it is in fact a full religious tradition, with its hierarchies, magic, ritual, and superstitions.

Many of the ideas doctrinally regarded as “Theravadin” are not really accepted or understood by most Theravadins; for example, many Theravadin death rituals assume that there is a period between life and life.

Within the broad tent of early Buddhism, there is a general agreement on certain kinds of things; for example, that the Buddha taught a rational doctrine with meditation at its core, which taught the escape from suffering; and that he did not teach, or at least did not emphasize, the worship of relics, for example.

My point here is really this: if there seems to be a lack of a simple and well-defined list of differences between the two, that is probably because those who are familiar enough with the field to understand the differences appreciate that it is a lot more complex than it looks!

There are other studies in these areas. I have looked at one important area in my A History of Mindfulness. Having said which, I don’t find the depth of research in this book particularly compelling.

There are a variety of works along similar lines, and they keep bringing up the same passages and ideas. I can think of two reasons why that might be the case:

  • They are really on to something, and the suttas are saying something quite different from what we thought.
  • There is a systematic problem in how such studies are undertaken and framed, a bias in reading that shapes findings in predictable ways.

I have found that scholarly work is most useful when it focuses on small and specific areas, when it addresses social, economic, or material aspects of the texts. The problem, I believe, is when scholarship tries to scale up its methods—breaking big problems into reductive units, then reassembling the big picture from atoms—so that the same principles are applied to profound matters of consciousness. The mistakes in small things, which are many, become hidden under the big tent, and an illusion of certainty is created.

Ven Bodhi would generally accept the same distinctions as any other historically-minded scholar.

That’s too reductive. It is an early example of the Abhidhamma tendency. There are many other such early indications of early “abhidhammic” tendencies, including the Satipatthana Sutta, the formal structure of the Samyutta, the discussions on meaning found in the Suttas, the formal structure of the Vinaya, and so on. It was a broad-based movement, not a specific text or set of doctrines.

Yes, tradition ascribes a close relationship between Sariputta and the origin of the Abhidhamma, and in the non-reductive sense, this is obviously true.

This is true, and most followers of EBTs would accept this.

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Learned this New word :joy:

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Just to add a postscript here regarding Reexamining Jhana: Towards a Critical Reconstruction of Early Buddhist Soteriology, as I hinted above I find the main argument has too many problems of fact and interpretation to be convincing. However, I have just read the 'Aftermath" portion, and it’s really interesting.

Again, not that I would say everything the same way, but it expresses things that I have believed my whole life: namely, that we (as a child of so-called “western” culture) are in crisis, and lack the tools to get out of it; and Buddhism (among other things) may well provide ideas that can enable us to move forward. Yet as he says:

But to take advantage of these possibilities, Buddhism must come out of its slumber, and start actively rethinking its place and role in the world. Its relative inactivity and inability to produce outstanding thinkers or sensitive artists is really embarrassing, especially when we compare Buddhism to say, Catholicism. But to succeed in that task, the East must do away with the false dichotomy of uncritically affirming its own tradition or completely ignoring it. It must take the middle road of critical approach.

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Kept reading introduction to path of discrimination. This came after what I posted earlier

The book which has really dominated the Theravāda Abhidhamma tradition as we know it is the Dhammasañgani, a text quite unknown, apparently, to the other schools. It enumerates and describes the dhammas, applies the triad and dyad analysis to them and further classifies them as ‘thought’ (citta), ‘mentals’ (<cetasika), ‘matter’ and nibbāna and in other ways. It may embody some older material, but is probably later than the Sabbatthivāda schism (c. B.C. 237, IB2 273). It was placed first in the standard order of the texts. Now the Samgītiparyāya of the Sabbatthivāda likewise enumerates dhammas (from the Samgīti Suttanta), but explains them by quoting other suttas, often duplicating explanations in the Dharmaskandha- Vibhañga. The Theravāda, following our hypothesis above, would have had such a text. If so, they discarded it in favour of the new Dhammasañgani as a far more systematic account of the dhammas, described by listing synonyms and what were later called ‘characteristics’ 0lakkhana) and classified according to the abhidhamma-anslysis and an elaborated version of the ‘groups’.

I am confused by what exactly you are saying here. Can you define more clearly between Early Buddhist texts, Early Buddhism And the acedemic endeavour?

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Sorry for the lack of clarity.
Early Buddhist Texts seem to be those texts that are identified by the academic community of Early Buddhism scholars to likely be a from the earliest strata of Buddhist texts and/or spoke by the Buddha and his immediate disciples.
Early Buddhism seems to be the religion based upon that.
The academic discipline would be the “Early Buddhism” specialists within the field of “Buddhist Studies.”

Does this make sense?

It seems that every Buddhist sect considers all of their texts to have been spoken directly by the Buddha and thus early. However, these claims do not seem evidence-based.

I replied in this thread because this discussion seems more related to “Theravada Buddhism vs. Early Buddhism” than it does to “Theorist vs. Practitioners.”

I think you are implicitly giving both the Abhidhamma and Commentaries too much credit here.
I think that from the evidence available today, it is relatively clear that neither the Abhidhamma nor Commentaries were even in existence during the First Buddhist Council.

I agree with your concise assessment provided here.

Venerable, many of us are afraid that you may have fallen into wrong view (to some degree) on the topic of Abhidhamma and Commentaries being taught directly by the Buddha.

Isn’t there a discourse on persuading others and allowing oneself to be persuaded?

How do you think that we all, including me, should address this disagreement regarding whether the Abhidhamma and Commentaries are spoken by the Buddha, perfect, completely in accordance with Dhamma-Vinaya, etc.?

Perhaps we can try out those approaches to the degree that they are suitable in order to harmoniously arrive at a happy mutual agreement that is based on the Dhamma? What do you think?

How would you re-write those lines in a more objective, impartial, and unbiased way?
How could be written in a way that is neither biased against, nor for the Theravada sect?

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