Toy model of early mediative techniques and their buddhist prehistory:

I am sorry, but I can’t find the three permutations anywhere else in the canon outside of the identical sutta in the Vinaya and the Patis which I found with tiparivaṭṭaṃ could you direct me to other examples of this doctrine? I searched for pariññeyyan , pahātabban and sacchikatan too to get a clearer picture and nasically couldnt find them either, perhaps you could explain why the buddha introduced the 4 truths with these 3 “modes” and then never mentions them again but mentions for example dukkhanirodhagāminī several hundred more times?

If this refers to the first teaching of the Buddha (the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta), the following comparative study by Choong Mun-keat between SN 56.11 and its counterpart SA 379 may be relevant (pp. 236-237):

Pages 235-240 from The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism Choong Mun-keat 2000.pdf (338.1 KB)

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Thanks @thomaslaw , i read that with interest, however i am more interested in reoccurances of the 3 modes and 12 aspects in the Pali canon itself, i remember seeing it outside SN56.11 (maybe in MN?) But cant seem to find it at the moment, any assistance would be appreciated.

There are several suttas with the title pariññeyya. SN 23.4, SN 22.106, and SN 56.29. Then is the Pariñña Sutta at SN 22.23 which is nearly identical to the first.

The concept/term ’ pariññeyya’ occurs also at MN 149 , and similar to SN 56.11 or MN 149, is AN 4.254 which applies the four-fold framework (which makes the three turnings into 12 modes). At places such as AN 3.126 we see this formula which occasionally occurs of ‘completely understanding’ sensual pleasures, form, etc. and giving them up via the gratification, danger, escape pericope. This is found in e.g. MN11, MN13 or MN45 where there is talk of giving up grasping, and at MN 43 there is reference to complete understanding/giving up as the function of wisdom (paññā). It’s hard to go through all of the references, just start digging into related instances. But the framework is certainly present. The wording of the ‘three turnings’ and ‘12 modes’ is unique.

Generally speaking, I think that the framework is moreso embodied in the Buddha’s overall teachings. He speaks about dukkha, its arising, its cessation, and how to arrive at the cessation from the framework of “fully knowing” dukkha (e.g. in contemplating the nature of the body, seeing the gratification and danger in things, knowing the nature of aggregates, etc.) and in “abandoning” the grasping/craving/picking up of that dukkha to " realize" the cessation via the various practices involved above and elaborated in detail. So the entirety of the contemplative teaching is based on this framework which is verbalized explicitly in the 12 modes at SN 56.11 and elsewhere, which then reverberates through the rest of the canon. (Making sense of it as the turning of the dharma wheel teaching).

We can compare this to e.g. DN 1. Apart from references to the sixty-plus wrong views in a couple of places (just as the DN mentions categories in a handful of ending suttas), when we start looking at the actual views and explanations contained in DN 1—where do we see them elsewhere?
Where do we find reference of partial eternalism due to recalling gods of streaming radiance in the universal contraction? Well, there’s DN 27. But this idea is just not a major one at all. Similarly for almost all of the views in DN 1. The elaborate combinations of the self, perception, form, limitedness, etc. are referenced there and occasionally in similar suttas which just pull out similar repetition frameworks like the Pañcattaya Sutta.

What is in DN 1 that’s clearly related elsewhere is the teaching on the conditionality of contact, feeling, and clinging to views which gives rise to further existence and reckons one in terms of suffering. And this is precisely the major themes found in the SN/SA core ‘sutta-aṅga’ collections, Aṭṭhakavagga, core MN/MA discourses, etc. The conditional arising of sense experience and the relationship of this to developing the qualities of the path to understand dukkha, the abandon the arising, and realize cessation.


Yes, but you are thinking of the period much later, when Buddhism arrived in China. The Daodejing is one of those ancient texts that doesn’t have a known origin. It probably does represent the beginning of Chinese philosophical thought, in which principles are drawn out of animistic folklore and collected as aphorisms. But that doesn’t mean it ought to be considered separate from that tradition. The two existed in the same context for many centuries before Buddhism and other foreign influences arrived.

Westerners want to separate it from its cultural context because they deprecated “religion” during the Enlightenment in Europe. This is something peculiar to Western thought in general. “Religion” is almost a pejorative to many people compared to “philosophy.” In East Asia, the two things continued to exist side by side without that separation, and their religious traditions didn’t develop into great monotheistic edifices of abstract fantasy the way they did in the Greek world. So, then the labels “religion” and “philosophy” as separate things don’t make as much sense when applied to native East Asian traditions.


Yes, it’s important in EBT studies to be aware of the relationship that exist between the traditions. The Chinese DA is from the Dharmaguptaka canon, and it’s very close as a parallel to the Theravada DN. The two schools clearly derive from a common source, but then they diverged over time and geography. But it’s amazing sometimes how similar Dharmaguptakas were to Theravadins despite that separation.

When we look at parallels from a much more distant tradition, like EA which probably was from a Mahasamghika tradition, then the divergence is much greater. Sarvastivadin sources like the Chinese SA and MA are not as different as EA is to Theravadin texts, but more so than Dharmaguptaka texts. Sometimes, though, Sarvastivada passages are copied into Theravada texts, especially when they relate to Abhidharma. It seems as though Theravadins at some point in history decided to incorporate some Sarvastivada material. This is another example of it being very complicated to sort out.


And the other way too.

Im sorry @cdpatton but this is just staight up nonsense and fantasy. The history of religion and philosophy in europe is a vastly more nuanced and complicated one than your “westerners think that…” attitude. I hope you find time to broaden your horizons in the future, perhaps by exploring the deeply religious figures of the “enligtenment” such as Spinoza, Kant, Neeton etc to understand how narrow and false the “westerners/easteners” dichotomy is.


Thanks so much @Vaddha for giving me much to chew on! I will explore your post and formulate my thoughts, thanks so much for taking the time!! :slight_smile:

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Ok, basically the substantive points as i see them here are thus;

MN149 is an early draft of the collection you rely on, SN, which I claim is a later, scholastic development, almost certainly later than the buddhas lifetime, so appealing to MN149 to support a reading of the 3 modes in SN56.11 is not convincing to me, it more or less being part of “S” as far as I am concerned.

AN4.254 says

And what are the things that should be developed by direct knowledge?
Katame ca, bhikkhave, dhammā abhiññā bhāvetabbā?
Serenity and discernment.
Samatho ca vipassanā ca—
These are called the things that should be developed by direct knowledge.
ime vuccanti, bhikkhave, dhammā abhiññā bhāvetabbā.

Samatho ca vipassanā is obviously late, confined to DN34, MN suttas not replicated in MA, and I havent finished checking but it looks like at least SA568 lacks the SN41.6 occurrence for eg.

AN3.126 is bizarre, I have never seen an example where the buddha exohrts a mendicant to declare a difference in a same difference argument, nor a place where there are both the buddha and another person questioning a third person, nor do I quite make out what the sutta is actually arguing, so I am not sure how it bears on the situation as a whole.

danger gratification and escape are in my view early, earlier than the aggregates certainly, and i think probably earlier than the rigidified four noble truths although I think the as yet en-enobled 4 truths are broadly contemporaneus with the danger gratification escape idea.

You say this, but just for example, AN3.126 features mahānāmo the sakyan, and another sutta, MN53, features mahānāmo and in it, there is an actual concrete description of the path:

Then Ānanda addressed Mahānāma the Sakyan: By convention, speech is addressed to the most senior member of the group.
Atha kho āyasmā ānando mahānāmaṁ sakkaṁ āmantesi:

“Mahānāma, a noble disciple is accomplished in ethics, guards the sense doors, eats in moderation, and is dedicated to wakefulness. They have seven good qualities, and they get the four absorptions—blissful meditations in the present life that belong to the higher mind—when they want, without trouble or difficulty. This is a version of the Gradual Training. It is generally oriented towards monastics, as the Gradual Training usually is, but the inclusion of the “seven good qualities” appears to be a nod towards adapting it for a lay audience.
“idha, mahānāma, ariyasāvako sīlasampanno hoti, indriyesu guttadvāro hoti, bhojane mattaññū hoti, jāgariyaṁ anuyutto hoti, sattahi saddhammehi samannāgato hoti, catunnaṁ jhānānaṁ ābhicetasikānaṁ diṭṭhadhammasukhavihārānaṁ nikāmalābhī hoti akicchalābhī akasiralābhī.

And how is a noble disciple accomplished in ethics?
Kathañca, mahānāma, ariyasāvako sīlasampanno hoti?
It’s when a noble disciple is ethical, restrained in the monastic code, conducting themselves well and seeking alms in suitable places. Seeing danger in the slightest fault, they keep the rules they’ve undertaken.
Idha, mahānāma, ariyasāvako sīlavā hoti, pātimokkhasaṁvarasaṁvuto viharati ācāragocarasampanno aṇumattesu vajjesu bhayadassāvī, samādāya sikkhati sikkhāpadesu.
That’s how a noble disciple is ethical.
Evaṁ kho, mahānāma, ariyasāvako sīlasampanno hoti.

And how does a noble disciple guard the sense doors?
Kathañca, mahānāma, ariyasāvako indriyesu guttadvāro hoti?
When a noble disciple sees a sight with their eyes, they don’t get caught up in the features and details.
Idha, mahānāma, ariyasāvako cakkhunā rūpaṁ disvā na nimittaggāhī hoti nānubyañjanaggāhī.
If the faculty of sight were left unrestrained, bad unskillful qualities of covetousness and displeasure would become overwhelming. For this reason, they practice restraint, protecting the faculty of sight, and achieving its restraint.
Yatvādhikaraṇamenaṁ cakkhundriyaṁ asaṁvutaṁ viharantaṁ abhijjhādomanassā pāpakā akusalā dhammā anvāssaveyyuṁ tassa saṁvarāya paṭipajjati, rakkhati cakkhundriyaṁ, cakkhundriye saṁvaraṁ āpajjati.
When they hear a sound with their ears …
Sotena saddaṁ sutvā …pe…
When they smell an odor with their nose …
ghānena gandhaṁ ghāyitvā …pe…
When they taste a flavor with their tongue …
jivhāya rasaṁ sāyitvā …pe…
When they feel a touch with their body …
kāyena phoṭṭhabbaṁ phusitvā …pe…
When they know an idea with their mind, they don’t get caught up in the features and details.
manasā dhammaṁ viññāya na nimittaggāhī hoti nānubyañjanaggāhī.
If the faculty of mind were left unrestrained, bad unskillful qualities of covetousness and displeasure would become overwhelming. For this reason, they practice restraint, protecting the faculty of mind, and achieving its restraint.
Yatvādhikaraṇamenaṁ manindriyaṁ asaṁvutaṁ viharantaṁ abhijjhādomanassā pāpakā akusalā dhammā anvāssaveyyuṁ tassa saṁvarāya paṭipajjati, rakkhati manindriyaṁ, manindriye saṁvaraṁ āpajjati.
That’s how a noble disciple guards the sense doors.
Evaṁ kho, mahānāma, ariyasāvako indriyesu guttadvāro hoti.

And how does a noble disciple eat in moderation?
Kathañca, mahānāma, ariyasāvako bhojane mattaññū hoti?
It’s when a noble disciple reflects rationally on the food that they eat:
Idha, mahānāma, ariyasāvako paṭisaṅkhā yoniso āhāraṁ āhāreti:
‘Not for fun, indulgence, adornment, or decoration, but only to sustain this body, to avoid harm, and to support spiritual practice. In this way, I shall put an end to old discomfort and not give rise to new discomfort, and I will live blamelessly and at ease.’
‘neva davāya na madāya na maṇḍanāya na vibhūsanāya; yāvadeva imassa kāyassa ṭhitiyā yāpanāya vihiṁsūparatiyā brahmacariyānuggahāya. Iti purāṇañca vedanaṁ paṭihaṅkhāmi, navañca vedanaṁ na uppādessāmi, yātrā ca me bhavissati anavajjatā ca phāsuvihāro cā’ti.
That’s how a noble disciple eats in moderation.
Evaṁ kho, mahānāma, ariyasāvako bhojane mattaññū hoti.

And how is a noble disciple dedicated to wakefulness?
Kathañca, mahānāma, ariyasāvako jāgariyaṁ anuyutto hoti?
It’s when a noble disciple practices walking and sitting meditation by day, purifying their mind from obstacles.
Idha, mahānāma, ariyasāvako divasaṁ caṅkamena nisajjāya āvaraṇīyehi dhammehi cittaṁ parisodheti,
In the evening, they continue to practice walking and sitting meditation.
rattiyā paṭhamaṁ yāmaṁ caṅkamena nisajjāya āvaraṇīyehi dhammehi cittaṁ parisodheti,
In the middle of the night, they lie down in the lion’s posture—on the right side, placing one foot on top of the other—mindful and aware, and focused on the time of getting up.
rattiyā majjhimaṁ yāmaṁ dakkhiṇena passena sīhaseyyaṁ kappeti, pāde pādaṁ accādhāya, sato sampajāno, uṭṭhānasaññaṁ manasi karitvā,
In the last part of the night, they get up and continue to practice walking and sitting meditation, purifying their mind from obstacles.
rattiyā pacchimaṁ yāmaṁ paccuṭṭhāya caṅkamena nisajjāya āvaraṇīyehi dhammehi cittaṁ parisodheti.
That’s how a noble disciple is dedicated to wakefulness.
Evaṁ kho, mahānāma, ariyasāvako jāgariyaṁ anuyutto hoti.

And how does a noble disciple have seven good qualities? These are illustrated with a simile of a citadel at AN 7.67. They partly overlap with other factors of the Gradual Training; but then, these things are not meant to be exclusive.
Kathañca, mahānāma, ariyasāvako sattahi saddhammehi samannāgato hoti?
It’s when a noble disciple has faith in the Realized One’s awakening:
Idha, mahānāma, ariyasāvako saddho hoti, saddahati tathāgatassa bodhiṁ:
‘That Blessed One is perfected, a fully awakened Buddha, accomplished in knowledge and conduct, holy, knower of the world, supreme guide for those who wish to train, teacher of gods and humans, awakened, blessed.’
‘itipi so bhagavā arahaṁ sammāsambuddho vijjācaraṇasampanno sugato lokavidū anuttaro purisadammasārathi satthā devamanussānaṁ buddho bhagavā’ti.

They have a conscience. They’re conscientious about bad conduct by way of body, speech, and mind, and conscientious about having any bad, unskillful qualities.
Hirimā hoti, hirīyati kāyaduccaritena vacīduccaritena manoduccaritena, hirīyati pāpakānaṁ akusalānaṁ dhammānaṁ samāpattiyā.

They exercise prudence. They’re prudent when it comes to bad conduct by way of body, speech, and mind, and prudent when it comes to acquiring any bad, unskillful qualities.
Ottappī hoti, ottappati kāyaduccaritena vacīduccaritena manoduccaritena, ottappati pāpakānaṁ akusalānaṁ dhammānaṁ samāpattiyā.

They’re very learned, remembering and keeping what they’ve learned. These teachings are good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good in the end, meaningful and well-phrased, describing a spiritual practice that’s entirely full and pure. They are very learned in such teachings, remembering them, reinforcing them by recitation, mentally scrutinizing them, and comprehending them theoretically.
Bahussuto hoti sutadharo sutasannicayo. Ye te dhammā ādikalyāṇā majjhekalyāṇā pariyosānakalyāṇā sātthā sabyañjanā kevalaparipuṇṇaṁ parisuddhaṁ brahmacariyaṁ abhivadanti tathārūpāssa dhammā bahussutā honti dhātā vacasā paricitā manasānupekkhitā diṭṭhiyā suppaṭividdhā. Variant: dhātā → dhatā (bj, sya-all, km, pts1ed) | bahussutā → bahū sutā (?)

They live with energy roused up for giving up unskillful qualities and embracing skillful qualities. They’re strong, staunchly vigorous, not slacking off when it comes to developing skillful qualities.
Āraddhavīriyo viharati akusalānaṁ dhammānaṁ pahānāya, kusalānaṁ dhammānaṁ upasampadāya, thāmavā daḷhaparakkamo anikkhittadhuro kusalesu dhammesu.

They’re mindful. They have utmost mindfulness and alertness, and can remember and recall what was said and done long ago. The pre-Buddhist sense of sati is “memory”, while “mindfulness” evolved from the practice of “remembering” scripture, creating an uninterrupted flow state in the present. In this sense, mindfulness can be understood as the element of continuity that knits consciousness together in a coherent stream. Thus when practicing “mindfulness of breathing” one pays continuous attention to the breaths, not “forgetting” what one is doing.
Satimā hoti, paramena satinepakkena samannāgato, cirakatampi cirabhāsitampi saritā anussaritā.

They’re wise. They have the wisdom of arising and passing away which is noble, penetrative, and leads to the complete ending of suffering.
Paññavā hoti, udayatthagāminiyā paññāya samannāgato, ariyāya nibbedhikāya sammā dukkhakkhayagāminiyā.
That’s how a noble disciple has seven good qualities.
Evaṁ kho, mahānāma, ariyasāvako sattahi saddhammehi samannāgato hoti.

And how does a noble disciple get the four absorptions—blissful meditations in the present life that belong to the higher mind—when they want, without trouble or difficulty?
Kathañca, mahānāma, ariyasāvako catunnaṁ jhānānaṁ ābhicetasikānaṁ diṭṭhadhammasukhavihārānaṁ nikāmalābhī hoti akicchalābhī akasiralābhī?
It’s when a noble disciple, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, enters and remains in the first absorption …
Idha, mahānāma, ariyasāvako vivicceva kāmehi …pe… paṭhamaṁ jhānaṁ upasampajja viharati;
second absorption …
vitakkavicārānaṁ vūpasamā ajjhattaṁ sampasādanaṁ …pe… dutiyaṁ jhānaṁ upasampajja viharati;
third absorption …
pītiyā ca virāgā …pe… tatiyaṁ jhānaṁ upasampajja viharati;
fourth absorption.
sukhassa ca pahānā dukkhassa ca pahānā pubbeva somanassadomanassānaṁ atthaṅgamā …pe… catutthaṁ jhānaṁ upasampajja viharati.
That’s how a noble disciple gets the four absorptions—blissful meditations in the present life that belong to the higher mind—when they want, without trouble or difficulty.
Evaṁ kho, mahānāma, ariyasāvako catunnaṁ jhānānaṁ ābhicetasikānaṁ diṭṭhadhammasukhavihārānaṁ nikāmalābhī hoti akicchalābhī akasiralābhī.

When a noble disciple is accomplished in ethics, guards the sense doors, eats in moderation, and is dedicated to wakefulness; and they have seven good qualities, and they get the four absorptions—blissful meditations in the present life that belong to the higher mind—when they want, without trouble or difficulty, they are called a noble disciple who is a practicing trainee. Their eggs are unspoiled, and they are capable of breaking out of their shell, becoming awakened, and achieving the supreme sanctuary from the yoke.
Yato kho, mahānāma, ariyasāvako evaṁ sīlasampanno hoti, evaṁ indriyesu guttadvāro hoti, evaṁ bhojane mattaññū hoti, evaṁ jāgariyaṁ anuyutto hoti, evaṁ sattahi saddhammehi samannāgato hoti, evaṁ catunnaṁ jhānānaṁ ābhicetasikānaṁ diṭṭhadhammasukhavihārānaṁ nikāmalābhī hoti akicchalābhī akasiralābhī, ayaṁ vuccati, mahānāma, ariyasāvako sekho pāṭipado apuccaṇḍatāya samāpanno, bhabbo abhinibbhidāya, bhabbo sambodhāya, bhabbo anuttarassa yogakkhemassa adhigamāya.
Suppose there was a chicken with eight or ten or twelve eggs. And she properly sat on them to keep them warm and incubated. Even if that chicken doesn’t wish,
Seyyathāpi, mahānāma, kukkuṭiyā aṇḍāni aṭṭha vā dasa vā dvādasa vā tānāssu kukkuṭiyā sammā adhisayitāni sammā pariseditāni sammā paribhāvitāni, kiñcāpi tassā kukkuṭiyā na evaṁ icchā uppajjeyya:
‘If only my chicks could break out of the eggshell with their claws and beak and hatch safely!’
‘aho vatime kukkuṭapotakā pādanakhasikhāya vā mukhatuṇḍakena vā aṇḍakosaṁ padāletvā sotthinā abhinibbhijjeyyun’ti,
Still they can break out and hatch safely.
atha kho bhabbāva te kukkuṭapotakā pādanakhasikhāya vā mukhatuṇḍakena vā aṇḍakosaṁ padāletvā sotthinā abhinibbhijjituṁ.

In the same way, when a noble disciple is practicing all these things they are called a noble disciple who is a practicing trainee. Their eggs are unspoiled, and they are capable of breaking out of their shell, becoming awakened, and achieving the supreme sanctuary from the yoke.
Evameva kho, mahānāma, yato ariyasāvako evaṁ sīlasampanno hoti, evaṁ indriyesu guttadvāro hoti, evaṁ bhojane mattaññū hoti, evaṁ jāgariyaṁ anuyutto hoti, evaṁ sattahi saddhammehi samannāgato hoti, evaṁ catunnaṁ jhānānaṁ ābhicetasikānaṁ diṭṭhadhammasukhavihārānaṁ nikāmalābhī hoti akicchalābhī akasiralābhī, ayaṁ vuccati, mahānāma, ariyasāvako sekho pāṭipado apuccaṇḍatāya samāpanno, bhabbo abhinibbhidāya, bhabbo sambodhāya, bhabbo anuttarassa yogakkhemassa adhigamāya.

Relying on this supreme purity of mindfulness and equanimity, that noble disciple recollects their many kinds of past lives. The fourth jhāna.
Sa kho so, mahānāma, ariyasāvako imaṁyeva anuttaraṁ upekkhāsatipārisuddhiṁ āgamma anekavihitaṁ pubbenivāsaṁ anussarati,
That is: one, two, three, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand rebirths; many eons of the world contracting, many eons of the world expanding, many eons of the world contracting and expanding. … And so they recollect their many kinds of past lives, with features and details.
seyyathidaṁ—ekampi jātiṁ dvepi jātiyo …pe… iti sākāraṁ sauddesaṁ anekavihitaṁ pubbenivāsaṁ anussarati,
This is their first breaking out, like a chick from an eggshell.
ayamassa paṭhamābhinibbhidā hoti kukkuṭacchāpakasseva aṇḍakosamhā.

Relying on this supreme purity of mindfulness and equanimity, that noble disciple, with clairvoyance that is purified and superhuman, sees sentient beings passing away and being reborn—inferior and superior, beautiful and ugly, in a good place or a bad place. … They understand how sentient beings are reborn according to their deeds.
Sa kho so, mahānāma, ariyasāvako imaṁyeva anuttaraṁ upekkhāsatipārisuddhiṁ āgamma dibbena cakkhunā visuddhena atikkantamānusakena satte passati cavamāne upapajjamāne hīne paṇīte suvaṇṇe dubbaṇṇe sugate duggate …pe… yathākammūpage satte pajānāti,
This is their second breaking out, like a chick from an eggshell.
ayamassa dutiyābhinibbhidā hoti kukkuṭacchāpakasseva aṇḍakosamhā.

Relying on this supreme purity of mindfulness and equanimity, that noble disciple realizes the undefiled freedom of heart and freedom by wisdom in this very life. And they live having realized it with their own insight due to the ending of defilements.
Sa kho so, mahānāma, ariyasāvako imaṁyeva anuttaraṁ upekkhāsatipārisuddhiṁ āgamma āsavānaṁ khayā anāsavaṁ cetovimuttiṁ paññāvimuttiṁ diṭṭheva dhamme sayaṁ abhiññā sacchikatvā upasampajja viharati,
This is their third breaking out, like a chick from an eggshell.
ayamassa tatiyābhinibbhidā hoti kukkuṭacchāpakasseva aṇḍakosamhā.

It very clearly describes the sekkha patipada version of buddhist belief and practice described at DN2 and repeated and qouted from more frequently than any other piece of text in the 4 principle nikayas, and it (MN53) and that (DN2) make no mention of aggregates, make no mention of modes or what is to be done with modes, make no mention of an eightfold path, make no mention of 12 links of dependent origination, they are clearly earlier, simpler, less elaborated, less “compounded” than the efforts at MN149, and then in basically the entirety of the prose portion of SN, and I am yet to hear an even half convincing argument to put things the other way round (with SN56.11 being composed earlier than say the sekkha portion of DN2 or even (in my view obviously later again) MN53)

I’m sorry, too! But this digression has little to do with anything. I was simply pointing out to Vaddha that storytelling is likely to be older than formal philosophy in Buddhist texts, but Western readers tend to skip the stories and like the philosophy. It’s just one of those cultural mismatches that we encounter when reading 2,000+ year old texts. Now, I shall exit stage right and stop feeding trolls.

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So, you consider that these teachings, such as the four noble truths (modes), the eightfold path, are clearly very late.

clearly pre-sectarian, but clearly scholastic and clearly later than the bulk of the pericopes that make up the 4 principle nikayas, yes.

So, do you consider “pre-sectarian” and “later” are the same notion or development in early Buddhist history?

It is very unlikely that sectarian Buddhism is the earliest or earlier in Buddhist history.

I think that philosophy via the medium of storytelling is rather old, as opposed to mechanistic Abhidharma-esque and commentarial discussions. It’s similar to the early Upanisads: there are dialogues with characters and loose plots that present philosophical discussions. Understanding the dynamics of the characters, locations, etc. is often very relevant to the context of the discussion, and philosophy is expressed via more concrete conversation and dialogue with various pre-existing ideas and practices.

I don’t think it’s just ‘Westerners’ who tend towards “raw theory” or “pure philosophy.” If we look at the Indian or derived Tibetan Buddhist traditions in comparison to, say, the Chinese, it’s clear that India was extremely steeped in complex theory, debate, and philosophy beyond sheer narrative. The Abhidharma movement being an early example of this. I agree though that early Buddhism pre-Abhidhamma seems to have been in a kind of between state: there was nuanced conversation going on, but it was still embedded in oral cultures with rich myth and dialogue.

I think that the some verses in the Sagāthāvagga of the SN are quite early. Some seem quite late. But especially when considered in light of our recent discussion of Jain parallels, it seems that there were likely verses and schemes floating around that were picked up and played with by various traditions. There, we find riddles, responses to prior poems, dialogues between deities and sages, etc. And these all echo examples of what we find in earlier Brahmanical texts like the Brāhmanas and Upanisads, + some Jain texts. Different deities and persons represent “sides,” and riddles are presented in the context of a mainly forest-based ascetic meditative ideal.

But these conversations, scenes, and riddles certainly contain ‘philosophy’ within them - sometimes quite complex or contemplative.

I feel that this has been skimmed over or missed (as per some of @josephzizys response), but I have not argued that the SN/SA is earlier, more authentic, more true, or more meaningful than the DN/DA. I believe that the Gradual Training is one of the essential texts of Early Buddhism and that Sīlakkhandhavagga (a core of the D collection) is very rich and meaningful in presenting Early Buddhism. And I certainly think there are scholastic innovations and developments within the canon. What I’m arguing is that there are fundamental assumptions not being questioned or set aside, and that the core early message of the Buddha is found not only in a presentation of the essentials of training.

As I’ve said before, but has simply not been answered or addressed: ‘simple’ or ‘concise’ does not equal ‘early.’ Anybody, at any time, can present a concise description of some aspect of their teaching. So long as this stubborn assumption is not questioned, there will simply be no movement.

I was thinking of presenting a longer response to and analysis of the Gradual Training scheme, but it feels unnecessary and impractical. All the best!

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Oh please do @Vaddha !!

I am sure that i am closer to you and @cdpatton in position than i appear, i like to argue, i find it helps me understand and understand where my understanding needs reinforcment :slight_smile:

Most importantly, while I think that in all probability a lot of the “numerical” buddhist doctrines, like 8fp and 12do are later scholastic developments that occur after the gradual training, i dont think there is much evidence of any incompatibility between the presentations, at least in the ebt, however i think ignoring the gradual training and the abayakata in favour of the claim that anatta and aggregates are the “first formulation” and all other doctrine should be understood in thoses terms leads to inconsistent ideas, especially with regard to the abayakata and significant parts/claims in the atthakavagga (in particular that suffering is given up “right here and now in this very life”.

I very much value your engagement with this thread!

What I’ve done is gone through the text of the gradual training, breaking it down in terms of core doctrines or ideas that allude to or call for further attention elsewhere in the corpus. This is to help situate the teachings within the gradual training in the overall early Buddhist system, helping to better identify the underlying philosophy and function of the training scheme on its own terms. This allows us to better understand what content in the corpus may or may not be relevant to it, or compatible with it. I’ve followed this with a concluding summary of early Buddhist theory and practice in the spirit of the original thread here.

He realizes with his own insight this world—with its gods, Māras and Brahmās, this population with its ascetics and brahmins, gods and humans—and he makes it known to others.

This seems to imply waking up to the reality of a world full of various beings, human, non-human, celestial, etc. and teaching this to others. Presumably it would involve at least some kind of description of facets of the world relevant for practice and life. Examples would be teachings on kamma, rebirth, ethics, and the arising/ceasing of ‘the world’ or what makes up the world — such as teachings on aging, sickness, death, transience, etc. This is taken up for explicit discussion in the MN/SN/AN Pāḷi collections fairly often. We see the world defined in terms of the senses, their arising/ceasing, kamma and rebirth explained in more detail in terms of ethics and view and so forth. This also comes up towards the end of the gradual training, when speaking of the divine eye to understand kamma. So there seems to be a realization that is said to be explained, but none is of course found in the Gradual Training itself.

He teaches Dhamma that’s good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good in the end, meaningful and well-phrased. And he reveals a spiritual practice that’s entirely complete and pure.

It continues by saying that there are discourses taught with proper meaning and phrasing, as well as a spiritual practice. Presumably, the Gradual Training is an example of the complete and pure spiritual practice. But here we have not come into contact, again, with other Dhamma discourses which the gradual training assumes. As mentioned above, discourses on existential topics and wholesome practices would match this description and inspire someone to practice. But this is still merely assumed as unspoken background for the training about to be laid down.

A householder hears that teaching, or a householder’s child, or someone reborn in a good family.

This implies that there are converts from the household life directly into Buddhist renunciants. While this is a minor detail, I do think that the first people the Buddha would be interacting with and “converting” would be other ascetic peers — not preaching to random householders. In the traditional account of his teaching career, he first converts the five self-mortifiers and later teaches Brahmanical ascetic practitioners. For a householder to hear the Dhamma and go forth under the Buddha’s teaching would generally imply some kind of pre-existing community with a teaching and training regimen, as opposed to a small more disorganized group of ascetics who have been convinced. Nevertheless, this remains not much more than a fine detail.

Next is a discussion of leaving home and going forth as a mendicant following basic precepts. This is not unique to Buddhism and needs no comment here. After the basic precepts, however, follow more detailed ones:

They eat in one part of the day, abstaining from eating at night and at the wrong time.

This was a later rule in the Buddhist community, documented at MN 65, MN 66, and MN 70. There we see clear cases of how there was already an established Buddhist community of mendicants who were familiar with the path before the Buddha decided to limit the communal rules on eating times. It was no received well by all, and there was a good degree of controversy it seems (the case crops up not just in one discourse, but three!). This part of the gradual training, then, would need to have been expanded upon.

When they see a sight with their eyes, they don’t get caught up in the features and details.

After the section on ethics and contentment follows the section on sense restraint (indriyasaṁvara). Here, the framework of the six-senses and corresponding sense experiences is assumed (eye-sight, … mind-idea). This is, of course, a familiar Buddhist framework, and we find it in discussions of ‘the world’ (as mentioned above) and so forth. Other philosophers presented different models for sense activity involving the breath, speech, work, etc.

If the faculty of sight were left unrestrained, bad unskillful qualities of covetousness and displeasure would become overwhelming.

The idea of ‘unskillful qualities’ is a major one in the teaching found elsewhere in the canon, and covetousness (abhijjhā) and displeasure (domanassa) are two common examples included in e.g. the definition of right mindfulness (sammāsati) and the paths of action (kammapatha). Here, not much elaboration or background is needed to comprehend, but there seem to be kernels of ideas behind what qualities are presumed to be developed and why within particular frameworks that are assumed.

they return from almsround, sit down cross-legged, set their body straight, and establish mindfulness in front of them.

Finishing the more fundamental sections on ethics in terms of the body, speech, and mind, comes the description of more profound mental purification. This starts with a reference to ‘establishing mindfulness’ (satiṁ upaṭṭhapetvā), a well-known resolution of ‘satipaṭṭhāna.’ As has been discussed elsewhere on this thread, there does not seem to be a pre-Buddhist attestation of ‘mindfulness’ in this sense. Moreover, there is really no explanation what it would entail in this context. We are not simply referring to sitting down and being calm — this exercise is said to lead to the jhānas, which are highly exalted states of consciousness. Moreover, there is the following section on the five hindrances.

They give up these five hindrances, corruptions of the heart that weaken wisdom.

In an essential description of the path of practice, this is a great overview. But for actual meditators with real lives and minds, there would of course be more discussion about the process of applying mindfulness and purifying the mind which is absent here. Elsewhere, of course, there is extensive discussion of the kinds of mindfulness meditation, more details about entering and developing jhāna, and the five hindrances. The five hindrances are, as exemplified in this text, a major teaching in Buddhist meditation. But here they are hardly treated in terms of how they may be fed or abandoned, not to mention the positive qualities that are referenced here.

Even in the event that this text is the early core going back mainly to the historical Buddha, we would expect this same figure to have much more to say about the hindrances or mindfulness meditation. Where would these discourses be found? Perhaps they are part of what is alluded to at the beginning — the teachings people hear that are good in the beginning, middle, and end and which go into detail about the spiritual practice. We do have examples of these in the early Buddhist corpus — they are found mainly in the SN and the MN, some in the AN (and corresponding parallels).

They enter and remain in the first absorption

Followed by the practice of applying mindfulness and cleansing the mind of the hindrances is the description of the four jhānas. As these are mainly resultant states, not much is needed to be said about them. There is little deviation from these standard formulas, but there is a good amount of elaboration in terms of prerequesites, details, emphasis, and relationship to other practices discussed in the early corpus which practitioners may expect and find very useful.

Next comes the description of the higher knowledhes (abhiññā) and understanding (paññā) that come from the jhāna states. The gradual training found in the DN elaborates with examples of knowledges not detailed elsewhere. These, then, show signs of expansion. Considering their complete absence in the rest of the early corpus, we may go as far as to presume that they are later than most of it. Nonetheless, this is not certain and they may very well simply be taken up in this collection for its length and focus on the gradual training.

The first four knowledges — ‘knowledge and division’ (of the relationship between the four-element body and consciousness), ‘mind-made body,’ ‘psychic power,’ and ‘clairaudience’ — require little discussion. The first is interesting in that it references themes which are quite important and picked up in more detail elsewhere. Why this ‘knowledge’ would be important or mentioned here would seem to imply the idea of dependency between viññāṇa and nāmarūpa mentioned in the context of dependent arising (paṭiccasamuppāda) and the process of grasping leading to rebirth and continual embodiment. It may also be mentioned as a way of recognizing the potential of the mind outside the materialistic world-view of the body, which is then demonstrated via the following psychic abilities.

They understand the minds of other beings and individuals, having comprehended them with their own mind.

This knowledge is in fact frequently mentioned in the canon, but in a slightly different context — the four satipaṭṭhānā and mental purification (!). The mind-states listed are examples of what mindfulness of the mind (cittānupassanā) involves, including mindfulness of others’ minds (c.f. MN 10, DN 18). AN 10.51 / AN 10.52 are examples where the same metaphor of checking oneself in the mirror is given, found also here in the description of comprehending minds. A very similar simile is related in a teaching about the five hindrances (e.g. AN 5.193).

The above teachings also go into more detail on samādhi and the unskillful qualities one is to look for and purify — all themes related to above references in the gradual training framework. The concept of these various mind states and the formula containing them is a trope in the early corpus that belongs not just here, but equally elsewhere in the canon — another thread to other discourses.

they project [their mind] and extend it toward recollection of past lives.

The next knowledges are the well-known three knowledges (tevijjā) which are frequently attributed to the Buddha and arahant disciples. There is not much to comment here in terms of the past lives passage.

they project [their mind] and extend it toward knowledge of the death and rebirth of sentient beings. … ‘These dear beings did bad things by way of body, speech, and mind. They spoke ill of the noble ones; they had wrong view; and they acted out of that wrong view.

The passage describing the knowledge of kamma and clairvoyance contains references to ‘the noble ones’ and ‘right view’ as opposed to wrong view. ‘Right’ and ‘wrong’ view have been nowhere mentioned or explained previously, and the ‘noble ones’ implies a pre-existing community or group of people. The passage may be an addition — but it is important to keep in mind that this would be sheer speculation. There appears to be no textual reason why this would not be an authentic part of the original gradual training narrative. We have already identified references to other concepts, frameworks, beliefs, and communities within the teaching. Considering this, it would simply be a case of arbitrary choice to decide that all references that do not fit in with the view that the gradual training is independent and pre-exists other teachings.

Finally, there is the liberating knowledge unique to Buddhist training:

[T]hey project [their mind] and extend it toward knowledge of the ending of defilements. They truly understand: ‘This is suffering’ … ‘This is the origin of suffering’ … ‘This is the cessation of suffering’ … ‘This is the practice that leads to the cessation of suffering’.
They truly understand: ‘These are defilements’ … ‘This is the origin of defilements’ … ‘This is the cessation of defilements’ … ‘This is the practice that leads to the cessation of defilements’

Here the text references what are now called the ‘four noble truths’ and uses the framework of the four noble truths (suffering, arising, ceasing, path) applies also to the ‘defilements’ (āsavā). There is no explanation of what the arising of suffering is, and therefore how one would come to this insight by themself is not explained. Presumably, it would have to be understood in some way prior to reflection on and witnessing the destruction for oneself. Likewise, the defilements are listed here as of ‘sensuality,’ ‘existence,’ and ‘ignorance.’ While the first two could be thought of as rather self-explanatory, there is no explanation of what one is ignorant of. If it is the arising of the defilements or aforementioned truths, these are again not explained.

This teaching and example, again, makes sense as an overarching example and explanation of the Buddhist training, but leaves important pieces undefined and unexplained, or otherwise appears to assume references to ideas that are unpacked in other discourses (themselves referenced at the beginning of the text, presumably).

Now that I’ve given a bit of analysis of the gradual training text in terms of its references and concepts, it is also a good time to mention what I have brought up in the past: the actual context of this text. The gradual training does not appear in a vacuum. It is, invariably, embedded within a larger early Buddhist discourse. In the first chapter of the Pāḷi DN, these discourses always involve discussions with and/or conversions of non-Buddhist persons. The text is framed as a basic explanation to non-Buddhists, from the background of a pre-existing Buddhist community, what their practice entails. Elsewhere, it occurs or is referenced within the canon just alongside other sections which can equally be justified as being authentic or early.

Therefore, from the perspective of the early Buddhist corpus itself, there is no suggestion that this text was meant to be isolated as a stand-alone, all-encompassing Ur-Text of the entire tradition, upon which all other material is later commenting beyond the lifetime of the historical Buddha. On the contrary, it is consistently embedded and necessarily contextualized as a teaching within a pre-existing Buddhist framework, and it contains references to ideas that are otherwise unclear or explained in more necessary detail for practitioners.

Moreover, there are other sections of the early corpus which have historically stood out as examples of potentially very early material. One such example is the Aṭṭhakavagga, now found in the Sutta Nipāta of the Pāḷi Khuddaka Nikāya. Even when factoring in speculative stratification within this collection, there are references within the text that require further explanation or comment for any practical purpose to be derived which is made sense of in other parts of the early corpus (e.g. MN/SN/AN). When we look at these ideas and practices, they include and go beyond examples of references within the gradual training text. From another perspective, then, we seem to preserve examples of a corpus which is broader than the two texts at hand (gradual training and aṭṭhakavagga) and which contains discussions of ideas well-known within Early Buddhist studies.

Where and what are these texts, and what are the core doctrines or practices they present?

In the spirit of this thread, I would say that Early Buddhism is a soteriological system that takes the worldview of saṁsāra — perpetual [re]birth and [re]death in various realms of existence — and attempts to be free of the suffering involved in it. This suffering is the ultimately unsatisfactory, bleak nature of a transient and painful reality, in which the gratification that is offered (sensuality, generally) is also fleeting and uncomfortable, and higher refuge in divine spheres comes to an end.

There is the recognition of the driving forces: craving (taṇhā) and intentional actions (kamma). The understanding of kamma as intentional actions is an important innovation, and it forms the foundation of the view and implementation of the training. There is recognition of intention expressed via the body, speech, and the mind. One is to cultivate wholesome actions to conduce to more happiness, peace, ease, good rebirth, and ultimately which are supports for more refined, liberating purification of the mind. These help remove qualities such as covetousness, desire, anger and distress which are larger examples of subtle hindrances for the mind to find pleasant ways of abiding and understand the formation of suffering clearly. Kamma (or often 'saṅkhārā) constructs and shapes our experience into its current state, and it is by understanding how to work with and refine this process of shaping happiness/suffering that we come to approximate the principles behind liberation for a more calm, clear picture.

Beyond the driving force (intention/kamma) which shapes the quality and form of experience, there is the force which upholds and maintains it: craving (taṇhā) or grasping (upādāna). Particularly, this relates to desire-driven grasping of and identification with experiential phenomena, or experience itself, which is the domain and scope of saṁsāra. This subjectivity is understood as unreliable and ultimately undesirable. It is not lasting, and therefore cannot provide satisfaction or ultimate ease, despite the wish inherent in craving for it to do so. The major form of stability is in terms of individuality within an existence; one’s life will cease, involving the loss of all that is dear and loved, illness, pain, and decay. This then continues in other forms of transient existence which are also ultimately unsatisfying and involve pain. Moreover, the particulars within experience involve a range of unstable physical and emotional afflictions, as well as unsatisfactory means of deriving ease such as via sensuality, holding and debating views, or taking up particular modes of life.

In order to work with, ease, and relinquish this grasping at and identification with experience, there are various frameworks and examples given of ways in which beings entangle themselves within their own subjectivity. A major framework is that of the six sense-fields (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind). These are the ‘domains’ of subjectivity, and within them we are presented with the phenomena that entices and repels us, and therefore that which we grasp onto and entangle ourselves with. Some take on more formulated views and fixations in regards to their identification and grasping. These are often more subtle (views are less tangible, and philosophical speculation can provide superficial security that masks the danger therein). Therefore, frameworks which go into detail about what is described or thought of, grasped after, and identified with — they may discuss physicality or form (rūpa), perception (saññā), consciousness/awareness (viññāṇa), etc. These views are broken down in e.g. DN 1, but also in SN 22 and elsewhere, where the framework of the ‘five aggregates’ is highlighted as a simple breakdown of these categories.

However subjective experience is broken down, these frameworks are of course simply conceptual constructs meant to aid in investigation and purification. There are a variety of particular modes in which people may form identifications and speculations about their experience — ultimately a subjective, self-fueled tangle. These are exemplified mainly via the undeclared points or questions. They are speculations about the ‘cosmos,’ ‘soul’ and ‘body,’ and the after-death state of one who has been liberated from saṁsāra. Philosophers of the time had various ideas about these topics. For example, if one is liberated from saṁsāra, some may propose it is that they are annihilated at death, thereby freed from it. Others, however, may say they find a truly eternal state of existence beyond the transience of saṁsāra. Others may speculate about the infinite range of the external cosmos, or the connections between the soul and the body.

The Buddhists proposed that, ultimately, these questions operated under erroneous frameworks which involve inherent misunderstandings, proliferations, or identifications with the subjective experience that is the range of saṁsāra. By understanding the dependency of that experience, and by freeing oneself from any grasping and identification with it, one is thereby not able to be reckoned in terms of it. While experience may operate, one cannot place the liberated one within, without, or between it. Therefore, all speculations regarding space-time, annihilation, eternalism, etc. are not proper. They fall outside of the realtiy of our epistemological predicament into the realm of subtle grasping.

The path to this realization is where these ideas — the frameworks of subjectivity and how to relate to it, the shaping force of kamma, and the sustaining force of taṇhā — all converge. Wholesome, skillful qualities are those that reduce the craving, grasping, and attachment to subjectivity and provide proper perspective in regards to it, which leans towards liberation. This is done, as mentioned before, first via essentials of bodily and verbal conduct. This is the foundation for a stable, peaceful, and thereby clear mind that is not so entangled within its own subjectivity so as to stab itself with ultimately self-harming painful intentions. One is instructed to cultivate a sense of minimalist contentment with one’s possessions and lifestyle, further purifying the mind of coarse desire and aversion. Then is the process of sense restraint, whereby one applies the framework of six-fold subjective sensory experience to cultivate a clear, non-reactive mind. This cultivates further wholesome kamma — leading to a stable foundation of joy and contentment free of unwholesome desire — while also providing clarity into the process of grasping at one’s own experience to perpetuate their reckoning in terms of it. The training in sense restraint is a beginning step in ‘disappearing’ from reckoning and perpetuation in terms of saṁsāra.

Ultimately, this training culminates in a firm foundation in both mental stability and peace paired with the inseparable clarity and understanding. This leads onwards to the step of purifying the mind from more subtle obstacles which prevent the mind from further liberation and weaken understanding of the self-inflicted origins of mental suffering (via the process of craving and grasping saṁsāra, which is undesirable). Therefore, the practitioner establishes a proper awareness at their experience that guards the mind from unwholesome states (the side of kamma) and leans towards clear understanding of and personal liberation from reckoning in terms of one’s experience (the side of craving/ignorance). This is primarily via establishing mindfulness at the experience of the body-mind, calming the involvement with it and liberating the mind via progressively more refined evolution of consciousness. This culminates in right samādhi — a state of pure well-being which is wholesome and provides a glimpse of the principle of letting go, non-attachment, and non-craving; it is free from the hindrances that perpetuate unwholesome attitudes towards one’s experience or world, but has not uprooted them for good.

These unified states — the jhānas — can be further refined so long as the practitioner follows the proper principles and perspectives as outlined above, grounded in the pre-requisite practices. (Here, one can see how it is simply non-sensical and contradictory to think of attaining proper jhāna outside the context of the gradual training and right view). As the cultivator perfects their mental liberation from more coarse forms of feeling tone and mental reactivity, they are said to reach a perfectly balanced state of purified equipoise and mindfulness, endowed with clear view and profound non-reactivity towards their being. This allows them to project the mind powered with these qualities towards refined knowledge of their experience and the workings of the arising of their suffering via grasping, unwholesome habits and intentions, etc. in a way that understands the undesirability of what subjectivity or existence has to offer without having personalized, adverse reactions.

This knowledge, dispassion, and freedom is facilitated via understanding the scope of existence. One can recall their past lives as well as the workings of kamma and rebirth of other beings. Then, they can look deeper into the nature of this process within their own mind, understanding the arising and cessation of it. By seeing the nature of their subjectivity and the undesirability it entails — whether through the senses, aggregates, elements, past lives, peace of non-grasping, etc. — they are able to permanently liberate the mind from this process, and therefore also from any reckoning in terms of it in the present life. That is, it is by penetrating into the principles behind the gradual training up to jhāna in a way that is sufficiently broad and all-encompassing, that the practitioner is able to follow the principle all the way to the extinguishment of greed, hatred, and delusion.

From then on, they cannot be found or defined within, without, or in-between, and hold no views or identifications in regards to the experience they have entirely relinquished.

The overall thread here is the nature and workings of experience. Is escape to be found in an eternal form? Eternal consciousness? How does craving arise? What is fueling the intentionality of our experience? Why is rebirth problematic?

This is of course all described, understood, and realized in terms of conditionality and dependent arising. It is by understanding the nature and arising of sense experience, contact, feeling, craving, intentions/volitions, ignorance, etc. that one is able to work through this and escape from it properly without falling into wrong notions, views, or identification. The particular nature of release and the freedom from alternatives in terms of annihilationism or eternalism must be articulated and experientially justified. These principles of conditionality and conditioned arising, then, are essential for all of the above and every aspect of Buddhist training. And this conditionality includes and encompasses the nature of intention and craving in shaping and propelling existence or rebirth; the forces behind saṁsāra do not cease with the sheer physical elements, nor is there eternal rest in a formless conscious state void of the elements.

Frameworks such as the aggregates — which break apart experience in a useful way for meditators and contemplatives — demonstrate this principle of not finding safety in any kind of theoretical doctrine or mental attachment. There is no safety to be found in form, or feeling, all the way up to awareness itself. Understanding how these unsafe phenomena are ‘piled up’ and afflict one who defines themself in terms of them is synonymous with understanding grasping in general. Particular frameworks address particular issues, but the overall principle and training is laid down in the gradual training from sīla to jhāna to understanding.

The details of working with mindfulness, the hindrances, particular mental states, refined levels of understanding and wisdom, virtue, pre-requisite qualities, etc. are provided in detail throughout the early corpus. Likewise, essential doctrinal details and explanations about kamma, conditionality, views, identification, etc. are provided in this early material. They are necessary for and facilitate the above process of training. There are explanations of how one applies mindfulness to work with their body, feelings, mental development, and the the principles and mind states that arise throughout this process. There are details on working with the hindrances, investigating attachment, questioning views, etc.

This is how I would understand the core of Early Buddhist theory and practice, tying in the frameworks of the gradual training and other early texts or collections on the subject. From this it should be clear that the gradual training is, in my view, a depiction of the core early Buddhist training. And those who overlook it to focus on pounding a tilakkhaṇa-centric worldview into their head would not be approaching Early Buddhism from its own side. As I discussed above, frameworks such as the aggregates or sense-fields are not to be taken as ultimate categories to be observed in minute mind-moments; they are closer to practical depictions of what grasping, accumulating, and relinquishing the experiences in our existence entails. Their purpose is supplementary and functional, not primary and prescriptive.

I fail to understand how the ideas in e.g. DN 1 say anything different or less ‘scholarly.’ There is an overarching thread that is held in common with these teachings. And there is clear signs of actual evolution in various minor discourses and in slightly later material such as the Abhidhammas, Niddesas, Avadānas, etc.


Wow, Vaddha, you should write a book (or at least a blog)! You always have so much to say and are so clearly spoken


Agreed!! Amazing work @Vaddha !! I look forward to digging into this greatly.

Much Metta

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