I have a few questions relates to Wikipedia’s info on “Pre-sectarian Buddhism” (their term for Early Buddhism).
First I’d like to give a short summary of the Wiki text on that page. After its brief summary of the samaṇa movements, their main contributions to Indian philosophy, the various academic approaches to Early Buddhism, and the various scholarly positions with regards to the subject matter, the Wiki page goes on to summarise the teachings of “earliest Buddhism”. This is where things get wild.
It begins by stating that “some scholars” believe that the original version of Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta only pointed at “the middle way” (without an eightfold path) as the core of the Buddha’s teaching, which in turn pointed to development of jhanas as its core method. The Eightfold Noble Path and the Four Noble Truths are considered (by said scholars) later additions that were developed “under pressure from developments in Indian religiosity, which began to see “liberating insight” as the essence of moksha”.
So right off the bat this Wiki page suggests that the Eightfold Path and the Four Truths are “later additions”, thus not Early Buddhism.
Then it goes on to suggest that the Buddha had viewed death as an “error” which he sought to correct by finding the “door to the Deathless” - “our true immortal selves”.
It then suggests that kamma and rebirth were either “incidental to early Buddhist soteriology” or concepts that the Buddha only became acquainted with after his realization and chose to incorporate into his teaching because of reasons.
Then the text suggests that “original Buddhism did not deny the existence of the soul”.
It goes on and on like this. Reading this Wiki page, I get the impression that Early Buddhism is something completely different from what we can find in the Early Buddhist Texts. That “original Buddhism” didn’t contain almost any of the concepts that we consider essential to Buddhism today: the Eightfold Path, the Four Truths, kamma, rebirth, not-self, etc.
Dependent Origination is suggested to be a mix of shorter lists (of which one “may be a mockery of the Vedic-Brahmanic cosmogeny”).
When discussing nibbana, the text mentions several scholars’ positions. One such position is that the original concept of nibbana was “an eternal consciousness”, “an invisible infinite consciousness, which shines everywhere”, “consciousness as the nonimpermanent centre of the personality which constitutes an absolute element in this contingent world”.
Another scholar claimed that precanonic Buddhists considered nibbana “a place one can actually go to. It is called nirvanadhatu, has no border-signs (animitta), is localized somewhere beyond the other six dhatus (beginning with earth and ending with vijñana) but is closest to akasa and vijñana.”
You get the picture. The page is full of really wild claims about what Early Buddhism was like.
Okay, so moving on to my questions:
Sutta Central seems to have a completely different definition of Early Buddhism than any of the scholars mentioned on the Wikipedia page. Can someone here explain the difference in the definition used by those scholars and the one used on Sutta Central?
Considering how different these scholars of Early Buddhism claim that “original Buddhism” was from the teachings in the Pali Canon, how useful is the Pali Canon (or EBT) as a source for Early Buddhist studies?
Most references in the Wiki text quote academic papers rather than original source material that the quoted scholars base their theories on. Does anyone here have any idea what sources (other than the EBT) those academic scholars have used in order to come to their radical conclusions about the contents of Early Buddhism?