Why are Theravadins rejecting Abhidhamma?

Why do people who reject Abhidhamma still call themselves Theravadins?

Should they not start their own school given that both Theravada and Sarvāstivāda seem to be defined by their Abhidhamma books :face_with_raised_eyebrow:


I reject Abhidhamma and I don’t call myself anything.

I’ve read/heard some monastics calling themselves ‘Early Buddhists’ rather than ‘Theravadins’.


Aren’t they defined by their Vinaya rather than their Abhidhamma?


Why do people who reject Bruce Springsteen still call themselves “Americans”?

Group identity is complicated. If you want a good introduction, I recommend Calhoun’s Social theory and the politics of identity


Group greed, hate and delusion are indeed complicated.


I don’t think that thes Theravadins actually reject the Abhidhamma, instead they caution against using this book as a primary means of Dhamma education. The issue is that many schools came to teach only Abhidhamma, at the expense of the entire Sutta Pitaka which lead to many complications, including the idea that enlightenment is not possible in this day and age.


i think it is like infiltrating Taekwondo school to divide and conquer, destroying it from within by rejecting it’s defining techniques and characteristics in favor of one’s own techniques even if these are known to have been rejected by the founders of the school explicitly. In the end one is only corrupting the oldest surviving school and appropriating it’s name and reputation to validate one’s own pet theories.


This seems more accurate.

Some Theravadan monks prefer not to study or practice abhidhamma. And many perhaps most, who do use it tend to avoid trying to teach it to general lay audiences.

Some (in particular in Burmese circles, and as documented by Nyanaponika Thera) consider study/use of abhidhamma to be a prerequisite to a formal teacher, but NOT to teach it per se, but rather to give more precision to their own understanding and ability to teach.

Those who dismiss abhidhamma altogether can’t rightly consider themselves in the Theravada tradition.


because they live in america?

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Sutra Central, the repository of Early Buddhist texts to which this forum is attached, has three sections. Sutras, Vinaya and Abhidhamma. In this forum the Suttas do get the most attention and Abhidhamma the least. This reflects a desire to get as close to what the Buddha said as possible; it doesn’t have to imply a rejection of the Abhidhamma. Are there many Theravadin Buddhists who explicitly reject it?


‘Theravadin’ can mean different things to people. To a historically conscious monastic or scholar the concept of ‘Theravada’ would of course include their specific Vinaya and Abhidhamma.

But if you are a pragmatic meditator you have the choice between different groups and their labels: Zen, Tibetan, Theravada. Not everyone who goes to a ‘Theravada’ meditation group is strictly or in an historical sense a ‘Theravadin’. Often it just means that one is inspired by the Pali Suttas since this is considered the earliest historical Buddhism.

So the ‘theravadins’ who reject Abhidhamma are likely to be Buddhist practitioners who follow teachers & teachings based on the suttas and value the historical old age. Since the Abhidhamma is clearly later I think it’s not a problem to call oneself that.

There are also monastics ordained in the Theravada tradiition of a certain lineage/school and who also consider the Abhidhamma as not crucial for their inspired understanding of Buddhism. They of course are also still ‘Theravadins’.


I think that they might just as well call themselves Pudgalavadins or Mahāsāṃghikians based on that definition since there is nothing inherently Theravadin about studying Sutta. It is the Theravadin interpretation of the Sutta expounded in the Abhidhamma which is inherently Theravadin.

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I think some sects nowadays might be outrighting reject it and many lay “theravadins” do this as well. I think this is unfortunate.

I think this “Early Buddhism” designation is misleading and should be criticized because any contemporary interpretation or practice based on the old texts can be called “Early Buddhism” no matter how wrong, modern or innovative it is.

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This site is about Early Buddhist Texts. It was designed in order to translate the Pali Canon into as many languages as possible, and to make it freely available to all who are interested. The texts are presented as they are, with no expectations or conditions of how they are used

The members of this site, have no “group identity”, just 1 interest in common (among probably hundreds of different interests) - reading the Pali Canon.

To extrapolate any more from this,

to construct value judgements, to even feel duty bound to crtitcize this ‘mind made’ movement - does nothing to further the Dhamma - for anyone involved.

Please, if you have a point to make that either facilitates understanding of the Early Buddhist texts, or a concern about Dhamma transmission, then present it as unemotionally as possible, so we can all consider the points. Otherwise, your opinion( that you do not like this) has been noted, and there is nothing further to do…

May all beings be free of suffering :dharmawheel:


It is not that i don’t like it but it is quite confusing. Therefore I wondered if there was a particular reason prompting these Abhidhamma rejecting sects to call themselves Theravada other than sheer ignorance. Perhaps i missed something and there is a good reason for such designation.

May all beings be free from sufferings :anjal:

I think it’s just that “words” and “names” are subject to slightly different interpretations/meanings depending on the different groups of people that use them.

Sect is another word that can have different interpretations and which needs to be applied carefully. Many groups don’t have boundaries that are tight enough to make them sects in the full meaning of the word.


Hello. I have read this whole thread and found your question a bit confusing?

I am not part of a sect. I do like studying the Pali suttas.

The suttas teach me a lot and are easy to read. Just now I tried reading some Abhidhamma, but it was too detailed and I could not get the big picture, so I went back to the suttas. The Abhidhamma made sense, but I find the suttas more helpful.

How do you practice and study?


I just think it is strange that people who reject Abhidhamma would ordain in a Theravada tradition for example. As i understand it that is akin to ordaining as a Mahayana priest and rejecting the Sutras.

Therefore i think a sect is appropriate designation for these elements who hold different religious beliefs regarded as heretical from and by those of a larger group to which they supposed to belong.

I don’t know if anyone would join a tantric priesthood and not believe in tantra, tantric priesthood and the syncretic priesthoods of Japan are their own animal, but people ordain in the Dharmaguptaka lineage as monks and do not practice Mahāyāna Buddhism necessarily.