Why can't LBTs be Authentic?

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What got this conversation started was my interest in what you claimed to see as differences in doctrine between SN and AN and my asking you to provide them. Because I didn’t see any glaring differences. I’m interested to see if you can argue otherwise with specific quotes. As you correctly surmised, a few passages from DN repeating in AN and not in SN doesn’t convince me that AN is doctrinally difference from SN in any meaningful way.


Depends on what you see as ‘meaningful’. To me the occurrence of the formula “ esa bhagavato sāvakasaṅghopuññakkhettaṃ…" for example is meaningful for it partly constitutes the relationship with laity. A doctrine which propagates the end of rebirth for monastics and a futile divine rebirth for laity (which we find more in the AN) is relevant for my perspective of early Buddhism.

Many of the (early) poems in the first SN Vagga and the Snp seem to be composed by Brahmin-Buddhists because of the vocabulary they use. They set the tone for a devotional Buddhism.

The idea of an original nine-fold classification in “Sutta , geyya , veyyākaraṇa…” is only AN.

The polemic against the one who mortifies himself and others is only AN (it’s an intransparent reference to the Brahmin diksa-ritual). This feeds into the doctrine that original Buddhism was against self-mortification and influences how we interpret “the middle path”.

And there is more. Again, I know it’s not convincing to just read it from me. It becomes relevant if you dig into it. Do you know where in SN and AN the all-buddhist term “Four Noble Truths” appears? Only in the SN Mahavagga (with one exception only in SN 56), AN 3.61 and AN 5.15. That is relevant I find. We take a term from SN 56 and apply it to be the fundamental structure of all Early Buddhism. What we make of it is another topic, but I find it relevant.


I’m just linking this here, in case some of you didn’t see in in the AV category.


I can’t recall a passage where divine rebirth is said to be “futile” for a disciple of the Buddha, lay or monastic. For a Buddhist disciple, dIvine rebirth is always described in positive terms unless it’s compared to Nibbana, in which case it is described at worst as falling short rather than a futile exercise.

But do any of these unique AN quirks actually contradict SN? That’s my contention. I don’t see SN saying “the sky is blue” vs. AN saying “the sky is red.” I don’t think AN and SN contradict each other in any doctrinally (let alone practically) meaningful way whereas it appears you think they do - perhaps not to the extent of red vs blue, but certainly to some meaningful extent. And that’s fine: as you said, what’s meaningful to me may not be for you and vice-versa.


This is true of the word ariyasacca. But when the four truths are expounded they are not always named as such. You will find quite a few more references in the SN and AN if you search for dukkhasamudayo, dukkhanirodho and dukkhanirodhagāminī paṭipadā.


Sorry, I didn’t make clear that this is my take on it. On the one hand you have a doctrine that says “The only way out is nibbana (+sotapatti etc), anything else is just another birth” and then lay people are lured with a carrot “here’s how your next life will be nice”? Against the background of endless rebirths up and down this seems to me inconsistent. In that respect I understand how in Mahayana there was a need to envision a heaven other than nirvana.

That’s probably correct. Contradiction would be a hard criterion. We probably don’t find a nikaya contradicting another. It still might matter for people to find different concepts in different nikayas/chapters. Early Buddhism is just not as homogeneous as one would usually think (in the sense of ‘teaching the same thing everywhere’).

That is right of course. There is no doubt that dukkha and reducing/ending it is a main topic of the nikayas.

Just to atone for my digression: can anyone say if in the LBT the end of duhkha is still the most important-desirable-attainable spiritual goal?


Depends on which LBT we are talking about and how the end of dukkha is defined.

For example, I was just reading the Bodhisambhara sastra by Nagarjuna, he says that a bodhisattva fears the grounds of the arhats and the pratyekabuddhas “more than the hells” and for him they constitute death. So clearly he has a different view of what the end of dukkha is, since in EBT end of dukkha is arhatship which is not ontologically different than the state of a buddha.

Also Yogacara texts teach “apratistha nirvana” which is said to be a metaphysically different kind of nirvana than the nirvana of an arhat that allows a buddha to be in nirvana but not pass into a state of cessation but continue to be reborn/stay active in the world helping others. Again, this twofold view of nirvana is not kosher as per EBTs and is clearly a later view.


It would be neat to get a picture about the texts up until the 2nd or 3rd century. Also the individuals (eg Nagarjuna) vs the Sutras.

If it turns out that the main register changed from end of dukkha to cosmic compassion (so that compassion overrides cessation) then that’s probably another ground for assessing the texts as ‘inauthentic’ - namely, the change in spirit.

But that’s certainly not the whole story as we have another theme of Śūnyatā and the Prajñāpāramitā. Interestingly this (voidness, emptiness) is described more radically than in the EBT, and even EBT followers argue with this strong ontological position. So, maybe without knowing EBTers slip into LBT-mode when arguing for ‘what the Buddha really meant to say’ :slight_smile:


Maybe we could discuss a specific example…? I’m not familiar with Nagarjuna’s teaching to have a sense of the overall view.


Here is Falk’s publication of the earliest Mahayana-Prajnaparamita manuscript: prajnaparamita-5 | Harry Falk -

It is one of the Gandhara manuscripts, radiocarbon-dated to the second half of the first century and thus one of the oldest Buddhist manuscripts. It was part of a collection of mostly EBT suttas, hence the still valid theory that Mahayana developed within EBT communities.

You will find the content to be relateable: Khandhas are empty and also our practice should not reinforce the khandhas. And, they are all empty - which is an essential aspect of prajnaparamita literature.


As far as I know, in all stages in the evolution of non-Mahāyāna Indian Buddhism dukkhanirodha remains the highest good.

Having said that, the rise of the notion of the six or ten perfections marks a major change in how the path to dukkhanirodha came to be conceived. I’m not referring solely to bodhisattvas here, but rather to the notion in Apadānic literature that for everybody — would-be sammāsambuddhas, paccekabuddhas and arahants alike — a pivotal encounter with a Buddha followed by a multi-kalpa development of the perfections is a prerequisite to enlightenment. One consequence of this is that for those who believe in the Apadānic conception, the EBT emphasis on striving for dukkhanirodha in the present life will not be viewed as applying to them unless they’re confident that they’ve already had a pivotal encounter with a Buddha and 100,000 kalpas (or whatever) of paramitā development successfully completed.