Which yāna came first?

I recently came across this polemic on quora, and found it quite thought provoking, im wondering if you agree with the assertions made in this piece?

"… [Why should anyone practice Mahayana Buddhism when Theravada Buddhism is closer to the actual teachings of Gautama Buddha?])

Your question and the comment by Pannadipa Tan Bk in particular demonstrate a very weak exposure to genuine Mahāyāna literature and teaching. I will be addressing Pannadipa Tan Bk’s comments to reply your question too. He hasn’t given any concrete example of anomalies and knotty issues in Mahāyāna, but rather felt it necessary to leave a vitriol without putting forth his arguments. He has projected his inability to understand Mahāyāna as the fault of Mahāyāna, which is unfortunate.

It looks like you are both naturally connected to Srāvakayāna teachings, which by no means proves that Mahāyāna is fake, or is not the words of the Buddha. In fact, this is the reason that the Buddha taught different types of teachings so that sentient beings of different capacities and inclination could relate with his method and get liberated. Many of you seem to have missed this point.

Coming back to the contents of your question and Pannadipa’s comment – you may think that you both are going to the root of Buddha Dharma but you have unknowingly fallen into the trap of “Protestant Buddhism.” Under the influence of their own cultural background i.e. Protestant Christianity, Protestant Buddhism was constructed by some European scholars in early 20s. Just like Protestants felt it necessary to find the original teachings of Christ, these European scholars constructed the idea of Early Buddhism, by the means of linguistic or historical reconstruction. However, recent scholarships have shown that such construction of Early Buddhism is not possible and any such construction is conjectural, based on personal bias and prejudice.

Here are some of the reasons Early Buddhism is a wrong idea, and Theravada Buddhism as the original teaching of the Buddha is a fiction. First, the term Theravada is retrospectively given by an European in the modern era. Many of you may not even know that the tradition that stem from the Mahavihara in Srilanka didn’t call themselves Theravada. So, you are using a term coined by an European about 2300 years after the Buddha. I don’t know how this will help you to understand the so called “original teaching.”

Furthermore, Pali texts have been linguistically altered. The texts were transferred to several different languages before it took the present shape. We don’t know in which language the Buddha spoke during his teaching period. Further, the Tripiṭaka that Mahinda, the son of King Asoka allegedly took, was from the western region of India. Modern scholarship has fairly established that present Pali used in these texts have the influence of Suraseni or the languages of Western region, where the Buddha didn’t visit in his life time. To add further – present Pali has been heavily Sanskritized, and has been standardized into the present form. Therefore, the present Pali text is linguistically unrecognizable, at least to the effect that we could infer using different layers of the texts in terms of linguistic chronology and construct the hierarchy of early and later period. Unless we can do that, it is impossible to establish linguistically whether certain texts were earlier than others. All such constructions are considered today conjectural or personal bias. Therefore, there is no Early Buddhism from the point of view of linguistics.

Second point – there is no physical evidence of Pali text, other than what we have today. The earliest manuscript is no less than common era. In fact, when these palm leaves were found in Gandhara region, there were other Mahāyāna texts too along with some Srāvaka texts. Hence, archeologically, there is no evidence that Pali texts are earlier.

Third point – the present construction of textual hierarchy is based on two things: Pali texts itself and some para-canonical Srilankan chronicles such as Depavaṃsa and Mahāvaṃsa. These texts were produced by the sectarian Mahāvihāravāsin, a traditional seat of Therāvāda orthodoxy. It goes without saying that they would definitely hold their tradition as the purest among all others. Hence, other than Therāvāda’s own text and sectarian literature, there is no concrete external evidence to prove that Pali texts were the only original words of the Buddha. Since we don’t have any archeological evidence or epigraphy or any other external means to prove these texts, all such constructions are based on personal whims and biases, and conjectures. Ashokan Pillar is the only first evidence, which is about 200-300 years after the Buddha. By then, Sarvāstivāda as well as other Buddhist Srāvaka schools had already evolved. Many of these Sravaka schools used to retain Mahāyāna Sūtras in Prākrita. Therefore, there is no means to prove that Pali texts are the only earliest texts.

Fourth point – Strictly speaking, the Pali text today is no older than Buddhaghosa, who belong to 5-6th century. There is no evidence of Pali texts before him, and Therāvāda that we have today is his construction (as well as later commentators). Traditional account tells us that Buddhaghosa burned all the earlier texts and converted to Pali. Therefore, Pali texts and commentaries that we have today should be dated only after Buddhaghosa. And many of the Srāvaka sutras had already reached China as early as 2-3rd century. Since Chinese had the culture of documentation, they have meticulously kept all the records of other Buddhist schools such as Sarvāstivāda, Dharmaguptaka and so forth. This means the Chinese texts are much earlier evidence of Srāvaka schools than Pāli texts we have today.

Fifth point – As mentioned, Mahāyāna texts were retained by some Srāvaka schools as early as Ashokan era. When Chinese travelers visited India, they found both Mahāyānists and Srāvakayānists living together under the same roof practicing their respective traditions with mutual tolerance and respect. These are the evidences that Protestant Buddhists would never mention in their writing. Further, some Srilankan sources tells us that Vaitulyavādins were already at the time of King Ashoka. These Vaitulyavādins are the Mahāyānist, as Mahāyāna texts are also called Vaitulya Sūtras because of their vastness of the content. Further, archeologically, earliest manuscripts so far found are those of Mahāyāna sutras in Gandhara. Furthermore, Pali tradition itself have materials to demonstrate that there are were different types of bodhisattvas. It is insane to think that the Buddha, who became the Buddha through certain path, didn’t teach that path to his students. Jātaka stories clearly tells us that the Buddha was building a career trajectory which was different than his Srāvaka disciples, who were meant to become only Arhat. Where is that path through which the Buddha became the Buddha? Why does Srāvaka texts itself mentioned different types of Bodhi, such as Sammasambodhi, Pratyekabodhi and Arhatbodhi, and these are not mentioned by these Protestant Buddhists? Why Buddhaghosa himself mentions these bodhi-s, who is about 1500 years earlier than these Protestant Buddhists and who had all means to verify these information (at least better than scholars today)? Furthermore, all Buddhist schools talk about three doors of liberation (vimutti-dvāra) ie. emptiness, wishlessness and signlessness. There are materials in Pali tradition itself that mentions “liberation through emptiness” but it is not elaborated in Pali tradition. Ācārya Nāgarjuna himself quotes a passage of Kaccāyana-gotta Sutta to prove that the Buddha had already taught śūnyatā in Srāvaka Piṭaka. These are the questions and issues, which are never addressed properly by Protestant Buddhists.

Within this context, to construct Therāvāda as earliest and Mahāyāna as the later is based on seer ignorance, personal bias and prejudice.

And, Pannadipa has alluded in his comment that Mahāyāna is that “beautifully adorned texts” that the Buddha cautioned not to read. There is no evidence for that, and there is no extra embellishment in the Mahāyāna texts. It is natural to praise the teacher, the leader and Buddhaghosa and Pali tradition also does that amply.

Rather, Pannadipa didn’t mention that in the same sutta the Buddha cautioned another important thing – In the Anagata-bhyani Sutta III, he cautioned that later “monks” will disregard the profound teachings based on śūnyatā (emptiness or void). He actually cautioned very clearly that monks themselves would reject the teaching of the Buddha that pertains to śūnyatā. You seem to be that person indicated by the Buddha, who seem to be under the spell of foreigners, Protestant Buddhists, who wrote articles cleverly and “beautifully” to delude the world.

Finally, you as well as Pannadipa may want to know that Mahāyāna is also based on the same four noble truth, 8 fold path, three seals, 37 limbs of bodhi, samatha/vipasyana, four jnānas and so forth. There isn’t any separate Mahāyāna without the foundation of Srāvaka Abhidharma. To construct Mahāyāna as something unrelated to Srāvaka schools is a clear sign that you haven’t properly understood Mahāyana teachings. In fact, Mahāyana teachings fill many of the lacunae that Pali tripitaka has failed to do. It shows how the Buddha practiced Pāramis and became the Buddha, having more capacity and ability than Sravakas. It demonstrates clearly how the Buddha could have 10 powers, as indicated in the Mahasihanada Sutta, which distinguished him completely from any of the Arhat disciples. Can anyone tell here how the Buddha had these 10 powers that not a single Arhat disciples had? Can Theravada explain us how this was possible by following Satta-visuddhi-magga, as explained by Buddhaghosa in the Visuddhimagga? In any case, if you have any concrete examples why so called Theravada is the original teaching, and if Pannadipa can indicate how there are ‘anomalies and knotty issues’ Mahāyana that he alluded in his comment, I would be happy to further discuss…" Bibek Sharma


This type of topic belongs to Watercooler, I think. :anjal:

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Buddhist Sects in India by Nalinaksha Datt.

This book has information on the chronology of Buddhist sects. Bhante, may have read this book.

Eventhough, there are number of schools in Mahāyāna Buddhism Lotus sutra is the teaching that separates Teravāda tradition from Mahāyāna. Studying this sutta would be helpful to get an idea about Mahāyāna tradition.

Lotus sutra itself would be enough to prove that Mahāyāna is later development of Buddhism.

Humans have an intrinsic nature of believing in supreme power or a god who would help us to get rid of suffering. Thats why they imposed godlike nature to the Buddha, and started to believing that The Bodhisattas come to the world time to time and teach new sutras.
To get rid of the nibbāna which offers nothing to rejoice they introduced The Pure Land (Sukhavati).

It is hard to get along with Teravāda tradition or dhamma practice due to it’s strict way of interpreting eight fold path. If someone wants to attain nibbāna the path that could be followed to do is explained in Teravāda. There is no other way to achieve nibbana but developing 37 factors belonging to enlightenment. To attain nibbāna the path that has to be followed is very difficult which is why there are only a very little number of beings achieve Nibbāna.

When someone is trying to practice the path, every step of the way is difficult. With many years of practice it is normal to think that all this effort I have done is for nothing when there is no positive result of achieving jhāna or fruits. Then as believers of samsāra people tend to believe they had not completed pāramitā with the explainations about past lives of Sddhārta bodhisatta they draw into this conclution. With all these stories from the dhamma one would think why should I attain nibbāna just to be an arahant, I would rather be a Sambuddha. This normally happens to the teachers who are trying to attain nibbāna while teaching others. When a person see so called good results of meditation he tend to think “why wouldn’t I teach this to others” and then starts teaching and with the time he loses the viriya in his own path.
In this way it is far easier to think that I would rather be a Buddha, because of this and that, etc reasons.

I think this intrinsically originated nature (of being lazy) led to practice bodhisatta path which is far easier than practicing the path to nibbāna in an arhantship.

Then how would they justify themselves? They had to intorduce new fictions and theories about bodhisatta path using basic teachings of EBTs.
Changing Vinaya rules and minor things is not the problem but changing the goal.

Since there were number of other religions with a devotional path, there was a massive competition to spread dhamma. However, spreading a dhamma which is neutral is very difficult. Since Teravādins never wanted to change their way of practice it would have been very difficult to spreading dhamma or compete with other religions. Teravāda or early Buddhism is not competitive. It was the mahayanic tradition who kept fighting with other religions which made it possible to thrive. In some cases they mixed up buddhism with local religions; ex: Tibetan Buddhism.

People always tend to achieve things easier and it is easier to offer some things to a stūpa than siting for meditation for an hour. Therefore It is so obvious why people fall into this bodhisatta trap over real practice. When a person is asked to practice a devotional path it is easier to get offerings and do rituals for money or wealth.
Of cause Giving is difficult, but compared to other thing that had to be done to achieve NIbbāna it is always easier to give. Then they collect merits ( through āmisa pūjā) and never use it to achieve nibbāna in this very life. They hold achieving nibbāna over to a future life.

If we remove Mahayanic pratices from (so called) present Teravāda tradition, there would almost nothing be left. Now most people wish for Metteyya Buddha Sāsana to achieve nibbāna.

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I don’t think Mahāyāna vs. Therāvāda is a skillful or correct way to frame questions of early, middle and present day Buddhism.

When it is framed in this way, it seems to invite bad vibes and hurt feelings. Moved to the watercooler for now, let’s see how it goes :expressionless:


This topic and variants of it have been debated before.

I’d just like to reinforce that Sutta Central doesn’t put forward the view that earlier texts are ‘better’ or ‘superior’ or that later texts are ‘worse’ or ‘inferior’. They just are, what they are.

Very simply put - EBT’s claim to trace a direct link to the teachings of the Buddha Gotama, as far as possible. Later texts are clarifications, elaborations and expansions, based on the EBTs, by other beings at a later point in time - that’s all.

However, SC specifically focuses on the translation and provision of free access to the EBTs in order to provide this, hitherto undervalued and harder to access, resource to everyone.

Bhante @sujato, or Ajahn @Brahmali , you may wish to confirm or expand on this :anjal: :dharmawheel:


Not to start a debate.

based on the EBTs?

I doubt that. Some modifications are contrary to early texts. Is your point completely true?

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Bhante Sujato on chronology.

Bhante, I read “based on EBTs” in @Viveka’s quote to be an adjunct, rather than a point of its own.

“Later texts are clarifications, elaborations and expansions, based on the EBTs, by other beings at a later point in time - that’s all.” <-- note the commas around “based on EBTs” and a few other clauses. I read this to indicate that this sentence has two adjuncts, or qualifiers, that give additional information. The sentence itself is “Later texts are clarifications by other beings at a later point in time,” and makes no claims as to the correctness or incorrectness of these clarifications, just like the old Siṁhala and Sarvāstivāda commentaries were meant to be a series of “clarifications,” for instance, as to what is right from particular points of view concerning “right.”

“Elaborations and expansions [and] based on the EBTs,” are the three qualifiers, which one has to admit, are all separately quite true. Mahāyāna scriptures are elaborations (on the EBTs). Mahāyāna scriptures are expansions (on the EBTs).

Mahāyāna scriptures are based on EBTs, however loosely. Actually, all Buddhist scriptures are de facto based on EBTs, EBTs being the only historical source for information concerning the Buddha.

We have a spectrum of para-historical Buddhist scriptures, which critical thinkers, monks, scholars, etc., can inquire into the historicity of. We have a spectrum of apocryphal scriptures, ranging from Indian Mahāyāna sūtras, to homegrown Chinese apocrypha, to Tibetan “found texts” (gter ma/“termas”). All of these stratas are quite different and have a lot of diversity within themselves. A popular contrived platitude is “even a broken clock is right twice daily.” This diversity means that certain things will be gotten quite right and certain things quite wrong.


Many thanks for the clarification.


You may be interested to read Bhante Sujatos book, “Sects and Sectarianism”. I’ll add a link a bit later, am not at my computer atm :slightly_smiling_face:


Found it!
Hope this is legal. :face_with_raised_eyebrow:


Yes Ven Amatabhani, it is completely legal, it is free commons distribution :slight_smile:

I found it very tough going, especially given my unfamiliarity with so many of the terms used… I trust it will be an easier and more enjoyable read for yourself :pray::slightly_smiling_face:


" A given text is considered to be a Buddhist sūtra because Buddhists, or enough Buddhists of the right status, accept that it is so."


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What i am trying to understand is: those who go into lengths to prove/disprove that certain teachings belong to a historical figure, what are they trying to do or achieve?

Let us assume that magically, we became 100% sure that Theravada suttas are the actual teachings of the historical Buddha, or Mahayana or any other sect out there, what is next? and why all of this is important?


Wouldn’t you like to know as far as possible whose teachings you are following?

Then you can make an informed choice as to what you want to focus on :slight_smile:

And just as a point of clarification they are not “Theravada teachings”, they are the teachings of the Buddha, which are the texts (Pali canon) that Theravadins use for practice. Everyone or anyone can choose to use them.

There has been much written about this subject, and there is a large amount of information available here.

Have a look here as a starting point :slight_smile:

I highly recommend watching some of the video classes on EBTs by Bhante Sujato and Ajahn Brahmali.

Enjoy! :smiley: :pray: :dharmawheel:


All of these is important for the pride.
Mostly we like to prove what we believe is right no matter it is right or wrong.
One might search these for scholary purposes. So we just cannot ignore and keep the question unanswered.
Sometimes conversations like this creates new arguments that can be useful to analyse the available information. Therefore, being equanimous is important.
But to say something effectively to someone we should either criticize or compliment.

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Greetings Venerable, would you be able to clarify what you mean in this sentence please? I can’t quite understand what you mean :pray:

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it’s so true that this can be the primary push behind so much that is said or written. It can be easy to lose one’s equanimity in the urge to be right.


One would rather pay attention on criticism because it hurts his or her feelings or ego. He would pay his attention to it and remember it for a long time.
On the other hand we like being praised and admired.

My Weak English :zipper_mouth_face: