Pre-sectarian Buddhism

See also: Early Buddhism

Pre-sectarian Buddhism,[1] also called early Buddhism,[2][3] the earliest Buddhism,[4][5] and original Buddhism,[6] is the Buddhism that existed before the various subsects of Buddhism came into being.[web 1]

Some of the contents and teachings of this pre-sectarian Buddhism may be deduced from the earliest Buddhist texts, which by themselves are already sectarian.[quote 1][quote 2][note 1]


Various terms are being used to refer to the earliest period of Buddhism:

Some Japanese scholars refer to the subsequent period of the early Buddhist schools as sectarian Buddhism.[2][3]


Pre-sectarian Buddhism may refer to the earliest Buddhism, the ideas and practices of the Buddha himself. It may also refer to early Buddhism as existing until about one hundred years after the Parinirvana of the Buddha,[9] until the first documented split in the Sangha.[9]

Contrary to the claim of doctrinal stability, early Buddhism was a dynamic movement.[10] Presectarian Buddhism may have included or incorporated other shramanic groups,[11][note 3] as well as Vedic and Jain ideas and practices.[12][13][14][15]

The first documented split occurred, according to most scholars, between the second Buddhist council and the third Buddhist council.[16] The first post-schismatic groups are often stated to be the Sthaviravada and the Mahasanghika.[note 4] Eventually, eighteen different schools came into existence.[17] The later Mahayana schools may have preserved ideas which were abandoned by the "orthodox" Theravada,[18] such as the Three Bodies doctrine, the idea of consciousness (vijnana) as a continuum, and devotional elements such as the worship of saints.[8][19][note 5]

The śramaṇa movements

Early Buddhism was one of the śramaṇa movements.[20] The time of the Buddha was a time of urbanisation, and saw the growth of the śramaṇa movement, wandering ascetics intent on escaping samsara.[20][21] The Śramaṇa tradition gave rise to Yoga,[22] Jainism, Buddhism,[23] Ājīvika, and also popular concepts in all major Indian religions such as saṃsāra (the cycle of birth and death) and moksha (liberation from that cycle).[24][note 6]

The ideas of samsara, karma and rebirth show a development of thought in Indian religions: from the idea of single existence, at the end of which one was judged and punished and rewarded for one's deeds, or karma; to multiple existences with reward or punishment in an endless series of existences; and then attempts to gain release from this endless series.[25] This release was the central aim of the śramaṇa movements.[20] Vedic rituals, which aimed at entrance into heaven, may have played a role in this development: the realisation that those rituals did not lead to an everlasting liberation lead to the search for other means.[20]

Contents and teachings of earliest Buddhism


Scholarly positions

According to Schmithausen, three positions held by scholars of Buddhism can be distinguished regarding the possibility to extract the earliest Buddhism:[26]

  1. "Stress on the fundamental homogeneity and substantial authenticity of at least a considerable part of the Nikayic materials;"[note 7] and Richard Gombrich.[28][quote 4]</ref>
  2. "Scepticism with regard to the possibility of retrieving the doctrine of earliest Buddhism;"[note 8]</ref>
  3. "Cautious optimism in this respect."[note 9] Johannes Bronkhorst[quote 6] and Donald Lopez.[quote 7]</ref>

Textual comparison

Information on the contents and teachings of the earliest Buddhism cannot be obtained from the existing Buddhist schools, nor from the early Buddhist schools, since they were sectarian from the outset.[1][quote 1]

One method to obtain information on the oldest core of Buddhism is to compare the oldest extant versions of the Theravadin Pali Canon, the surviving portions of the scriptures of Sarvastivada, Mulasarvastivada, Mahisasaka, Dharmaguptaka and other schools,[32][6] and the Chinese Agamas and other surviving portions of other early canons.[note 10][note 11]

The oldest recorded teachings are the texts of the four main nikayas of the Sutta Pitaka,[note 12] together with the main body of monastic rules, the Vinaya Pitaka. Scholars have also claimed that there is a core within this core, referring to some poems and phrases which seem to be the oldest parts of the Sutta Pitaka.[33][note 13]

Resolving inconsistencies

The reliability of these sources, and the possibility to draw out a core of oldest teachings, is a matter of dispute.[12][34][35][29] According to Tillman Vetter, the comparison of the oldest extant texts "does not just simply lead to the oldest nucleus of the doctrine."[32] At best, it leads to

... a Sthavira canon dating from c. 270 B.C. when the missionary activities during Asoka's reign as well as dogmatic disputes had not yet created divisions within the Shtavira tradition.[32]

According to Vetter, inconsistencies remain, and other methods must be applied to resolve those inconsistencies.[32] Exemplary studies are the study on descriptions of "liberating insight" by Lambert Schmithausen,[36] the overview of early Buddhism by Tilmann Vetter,[34] the philological work on the four truths by K.R. Norman,[37] the textual studies by Richard Gombrich,[29] and the research on early meditation methods by Johannes Bronkhorst.[38]

Dhyana and insight

A core problem in the study of early Buddhism is the relation between dhyana and insight.[34][12][29] The Buddhist tradition has incorporated two traditions regarding the use of dhyana (jhana).[12] There is a tradition that stresses attaining insight (bodhi, prajna, kensho) as the means to awakening and liberation. But it has also incorporated the yogic tradition, as reflected in the use of jhana, which is rejected in other sutras as not resulting in the final result of liberation.[34][39][29] The problem was famously voiced in 1936 by Louis de La Vallee Poussin, in his text Musila et Narada: Le Chemin de Nirvana.[40][note 14]

Schmithausen[note 15] notes that the mention of the four noble truths as constituting "liberating insight", which is attained after mastering the Rupa Jhanas, is a later addition to texts such as Majjhima Nikaya 36.[36][12][34] Schmithausen discerns three possible roads to liberation as described in the suttas,[36] to which Vetter adds the sole practice of dhyana itself, which he sees as the original "liberating practice":[41]

  1. The four Rupa Jhanas themselves constituted the core liberating practice of early buddhism, c.q. the Buddha;[42]
  2. Mastering the four Rupa Jhanas, whereafter "liberating insight" is attained;
  3. Mastering the four Rupa Jhanas and the four Arupa Jhanas, where-after "liberating insight" is attained;
  4. Liberating insight itself suffices.

This problem has been elaborated by several well-known scholars, including Tilman Vetter,[34] Johannes Bronkhorst,[12] and Richard Gombrich.[29]

Core teachings

The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta[note 16] is regarded by the Buddhist tradition as the first talk of the Buddha.[43] Scholars have noted some persistent problems with this view.[44] Originally the text may only have pointed at "the middle way" as being the core of the Buddha's teaching,[43] which pointed to the practice of dhyana.[34] This basic term was extensified with descriptions of the eightfold path,[34] itself a condensation of a longer sequence.[45] Under pressure of developments in Indian religiosity, which began to see "liberating insight" as the essence of moksha,[46] the four noble truths were added, as a description of the Buddha's "liberating insight".[43]

Death, rebirth and karma

According to Vetter, the Buddha at first sought "the deathless" (amata/amrta), which is concerned with the here and now.[47] According to Edward Conze, Death was an error which could be overcome by those who entered the "doors to the Deathless", "the gates of the Undying."[48] According to Conze, the Buddha saw death as a sign that "something has gone wrong with us."[49] The Buddha saw death as brought on by an evil force, Mára, "the Killer,"[note 17] "who tempts us away from our true immortal selves and diverts us from the path which could lead us back to freedom."[49] Our cravings keep us tied to Mára’s realm. By releasing our attachments we move beyond his realm, and gain freedom from samsara, the beginningless movement of death and rebirth.[49]

Karma is the intentional (cetanā) actions which keep us tied to samsara.[50] Two views on the liberation from samsara can be discerned in the shramanic movements. Originally karma meant "physical and mental activity". One solution was to refrain from any physical or mental activity. The other solution was to see the real self as not participating in these actions, and to disidentify with those actions.[51] According to Bronkhorst, the Buddha rejected both approaches.[52] Nevertheless, these approaches can also be found in the Buddhist tradition, such as the four formless jhanas,[53] and disidentification from the constituents of the self.[54][note 18]

Bruce Matthews notes that there is no cohesive presentation of karma in the Sutta Pitaka,[56] which may mean that the doctrine was incidental to the main perspective of early Buddhist soteriology.[56] Schmithausen is a notable scholar who has questioned whether karma already played a role in the theory of rebirth of earliest Buddhism.[57][58] According to Schmithausen, "the karma doctrine may have been incidental to early Buddhist soteriology."[59] According to Vetter, "the deathless" (amata/amrta) is concerned with the here and now. Only after this realization did he become acquainted with the doctrine of rebirth.[47] Bronkhorst disagrees, and concludes that the Buddha "introduced a concept of karma that differed considerably from the commonly held views of his time."[60] According to Bronkhorst, not physical and mental activities as such were seen as responsible for rebirth, but intentions and desire.[52]


Both Schmithausen and Bronkhorst note that the attainment of insight, which is a cognitive activity, cannot be possible in a state wherein all cognitive activity has ceased.[12] According to Vetter and Bronkhorst, dhyāna itself constituted the original "liberating practice".[41][12][61] Vetter notes that "penetrating abstract truths and penetrating them successively does not seem possible in a state of mind which is without contemplation and reflection."[62] Vetter further argues that the eightfold path constitutes a body of practices which prepare one, and lead up to, the practice of dhyana.[63]

According to Bronkhorst, dhyana was a Buddhist invention,[12] whereas Alexander Wynne argues that dhyana was incorporated from Brahmanical practices, in the Nikayas ascribed to Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta. These practices were paired to mindfulness and insight, and given a new interpretation.[15] Kalupahana argues that the Buddha "reverted to the meditational practices" he had learned from Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta.[64] Norman notes that "the Buddha's way to release [...] was by means of meditative practices."[65] Gombrich also notes that a development took place in early Buddhism resulting in a change in doctrine, which considered prajna to be an alternative means to "enlightenment".[66]

According to Richard Gombrich, the sequence of the four rupa-jhanas describes two different cognitive states.[67][quote 8][68] Alexander Wynne further explains that the dhyana-scheme is poorly understood.[69] According to Wynne, words expressing the inculcation of awareness, such as sati, sampajāno, and upekkhā, are mistranslated or understood as particular factors of meditative states,[69] whereas they refer to a particular way of perceiving the sense objects.[69][note 19][note 20]


According to Johannes Bronkhorst,[12] Tillman Vetter,[34] and K.R. Norman,[65] bodhi was at first not specified. K. R. Norman:

It is not at all clear what gaining bodhi means. We are accustomed to the translation "enlightenment" for bodhi, but this is misleading [...] It is not clear what the buddha was awakened to, or at what particular point the awakening came.[65]

According to Norman, bodhi may basically have meant the knowledge that nibbana was attained,[71][72] due to the practice of dhyana.[65][34]

Bronkhorst notes that the conception of what exactly this "liberating insight" was developed throughout time. Whereas originally it may not have been specified, later on the four truths served as such, to be superseded by pratityasamutpada, and still later, in the Hinayana schools, by the doctrine of the non-existence of a substantial self or person.[73] And Schmithausen notices that still other descriptions of this "liberating insight" exist in the Buddhist canon:

"that the five Skandhas are impermanent, disagreeable, and neither the Self nor belonging to oneself";[note 21] "the contemplation of the arising and disappearance (udayabbaya) of the five Skandhas";[note 22] "the realisation of the Skandhas as empty (rittaka), vain (tucchaka) and without any pith or substance (asaraka).[note 23][74]

Discriminating insight into transiency as a separate path to liberation was a later development.[75][66] This may have been to due an over-literal interpretation by later scholastics of the terminology used by the Buddha,[76] or to the problems involved with the practice of dhyana, and the need to develop an easier method.[77] According to Vetter it may not have been as effective as dhyana, and methods were developed to deepen the effects of discriminating insight.[77] It was also paired to dhyana, resulting in the well-known sila-samadhi-prajna scheme.[77] According to Vetter this kind of preparatory "dhyana" must have been different from the practice introduced by the Buddha, using kasina-exercises to produce a "more artificially produced dhyana", resulting in the cessation of apperceptions and feelings.[78] It also led to a different understanding of the eightfold path, since this path does not end with insight, but rather starts with insight. The path was no longer seen as a sequential development resulting in dhyana, but as a set of practices which had to be developed simultaneously to gain insight.[79]

According to Alexander Wynne, the ultimate aim of dhyana was the attainment of insight,[80] and the application of the meditative state to the practice of mindfulness.[80] According to Frauwallner, mindfulness was a means to prevent the arising of craving, which resulted simply from contact between the senses and their objects. According to Frauwallner this may have been the Buddha’s original idea.[81] According to Wynne, this stress on mindfulness may have led to the intellectualism which favoured insight over the practice of dhyana.[69]


According to Bronkhorst, referring to Frauwallner, Schmithausen and Bhattacharya,

It is possible that original Buddhism did not deny the existence of the soul.[82][note 24]

The eightfold path

According to Vetter, the description of the Buddhist path may initially have been as simple as the term "the middle way".[34] In time, this short description was elaborated, resulting in the description of the eightfold path.[34] Vetter and Bucknell both note that longer descriptions of "the path" can be found, which can be condensed into the eightfold path.[34][45] One of those longer sequences, from the CulaHatthipadopama-sutta, the "Lesser Discourse on the Simile of the Elephant's Footprints", is as follows:[83]

  1. Dhammalsaddhalpabbajja: A layman hears a Buddha teach the Dhamma, comes to have faith in him, and decides to take ordination as a monk;
  2. sila: He adopts the moral precepts;
  3. indriyasamvara: He practises "guarding the six sense-doors";
  4. sati-sampajanna: He practises mindfulness and self-possession (actually described as mindfulness of the body, kdydnussati);
  5. jhana 1: He finds an isolated spot in which to meditate, purifies his mind of the hindrances (nwarana), and attains the first rupa-jhana;
  6. jhana 2: He attains the second jhana';
  7. jhana 3: He attains the third jhana;
  8. jhana 4: He attains the fourth jhana;
  9. pubbenivasanussati-nana: he recollects his many former existences in samsara;
  10. sattanam cutupapata-nana: he observes the death and rebirth of beings according to their karmas;
  11. asavakkhaya-nana: He brings about the destruction of the asavas (inflow, mental bias),[84] and attains a profound realization of (as opposed to mere knowledge about) the four noble truths;
  12. vimutti: He perceives that he is now liberated, that he has done what was to be done.

The four truths

K.R. Norman concluded that the earliest version of the Dhamma-cakka-ppavattana sutra sutta did not contain the word "noble", but was added later.[37][note 25] Lambert Schmithausen concluded that the four truths were a later development in early Buddhism.[12]

Carol Anderson, following Lambert Schmithausen and K.R. Norman, notes that the four truths are missing in critical passages in the canon,[88] and states:

... the four noble truths were probably not part of the earliest strata of what came to be recognized as Buddhism, but that they emerged as a central teaching in a slightly later period that still preceded the final redactions of the various Buddhist canons.[89]

The four truths probably entered the Sutta Pitaka from the Vinaya, the rules for monastic order. They were first added to enlightenment-stories which contain the Four Jhanas, replacing terms for "liberating insight". From there they were added to the biographical stories of the Buddha:[44]

[I]t is more likely that the four truths are an addition to the biographies of the Buddha and to the Dhammacakkappavattana-sutta.[90]

According to both Bronkhorst and Anderson, the four truths became a substitution for prajna, or "liberating insight", in the suttas[91][44] in those texts where "liberating insight" was preceded by the four jhanas.[92] According to Bronkhorst, the four truths may not have been formulated in earliest Buddhism, and did not serve in earliest Buddhism as a description of "liberating insight".[93] Gotama's teachings may have been personal, "adjusted to the need of each person."[92]

This replacement was probably caused by the influence and pressures of the wider Indian religious landscape, "which claimed that one can be released only by some truth or higher knowledge."[46]


Main article: Satipatthana

According to Grzegorz Polak, the four upassanā have been misunderstood by the developing Buddhist tradition, including Theravada, to refer to four different foundations. According to Polak, the four upassanā do not refer to four different foundations, but to the awareness of four different aspects of raising mindfulness:[94]


According to Warder the Bodhipakkhiyādhammā, the 37 factors of enlightenment, are a summary of the core Buddhist teachings which are common to all schools.[95][note 26] These factors are summarized in the Maha-parinibbana Sutta,[note 27] which recounts the Buddha's last days, in the Buddha's last address to his bikkhus:

Now, O bhikkhus, I say to you that these teachings of which I have direct knowledge and which I have made known to you — these you should thoroughly learn, cultivate, develop, and frequently practice, that the life of purity may be established and may long endure, for the welfare and happiness of the multitude, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit, well being, and happiness of gods and men.

And what, bhikkhus, are these teachings? They are the four foundations of mindfulness, the four right efforts, the four constituents of psychic power, the five faculties, the five powers, the seven factors of enlightenment, and the Noble Eightfold Path. These, bhikkhus, are the teachings of which I have direct knowledge, which I have made known to you, and which you should thoroughly learn, cultivate, develop, and frequently practice.[web 2]

Alex Wayman has criticized A.K. Warder, for failing to present an integrated picture of early Buddhism.[96] But according to Gethin, the bodhi-pakkhiyadhamma provides a key to understanding the relationship between calm and insight in early Buddhist meditation theory, bringing together the practice of jhana with the development of wisdom.[97]

Schayer - Precanonical Buddhism

A separate stance has been taken by Stanislaw Schayer, a Polish scholar, who argued in the 1930s that the Nikayas preserve elements of an archaic form of Buddhism which is close to Brahmanical beliefs,[8][19][98][99] and survived in the Mahayana tradition.[100][101] Contrary to popular opinion, the Theravada and Mahayana traditions may be "divergent, but equally reliable records of a pre-canonical Buddhism which is now lost forever."[100] The Mahayana tradition may have preserved a very old, "pre-Canonical" tradition, which was largely, but not completely, left out of the Theravada-canon.[101]


Schayer searched in the early texts for ideas that contradict the dominant doctrinal positions of the early canon. According to Schayer, these ideas have

... been transmitted by a tradition old enough and considered to be authoritative by the compilers of the Canon. The last conclusion follows of itself: these texts representing ideas and doctrines contradictory to the generally admitted canonical viewpoint are survivals of older, precanonical Buddhism.[102][note 28]

Edward Conze notes further:

They assume that wherever the Canon contains ideas which conflict with the orthodox theories of the Theravadins and Sarvastivadins, and wherever these ideas are taken up and developed by the Mahayana, we have to deal with a very old, "pre-Canonical" tradition, which was too venerable to be discarded by the compilers of the Canon.[101]

Ideas and practices

Regamy has identified four points which are central to Schayer's reconstruction of precanonical Buddhism:[103]

  1. The Buddha was considered as an extraordinary being, in whom ultimate reality was embodied, and who was an incarnation of the mythical figure of the tathagata;
  2. The Buddha's disciples were attracted to his spiritual charisma and supernatural authority;
  3. Nirvana was conceived as the attainment of immortality, and the gaining of a deathless sphere from which there would be no falling back. This nirvana, as a transmundane reality or state, is incarnated in the person of the Buddha;
  4. Nirvana can be reached because it already dwells as the inmost "consciousness" of the human being. It is a consciousness which is not subject to birth and death.

Accordin to Ray, Schayer has shown a second doctrinal position alongside that of the more dominant tradition, one likely to be of at least equivalent, if not of greater, antiquity.[104]

Schayer's methodology has been used by M. Falk.[104][note 29] Falk details the precanonical Buddhist conceptions of the cosmos, nirvana, the Buddha, the path, and the saint. According to Falk, in the precanonical tradition, there is a threefold division of reality:[104]

  1. The rupadhatu, the samsaric sphere of name and form (namarupa), in which ordinary beings live, die, and are reborn.
  2. The arupadhatu, the sphere of "sheer nama," produced by samadhi, an ethereal realm frequented by yogins who are not completely liberated;
  3. "Above" or "outside" these two realms is the realm of nirvana, the "amrta sphere," characterized by prajna. This nirvana is an "abode" or "place" which is gained by the enlightened holy man.[note 30]

According to Falk, this scheme is reflected in the precanonical conception of the path to liberation.[106] The nirvanic element, as an "essence" or pure consciousness, is immanent within samsara. The three bodies are concentric realities, which are stripped away or abandoned, leaving only the nirodhakaya of the liberated person.[106] Wynne notes that this pure consciousness was the central element in precanonical Buddhism:

Schayer referred to passages in which "consciousness" (vinnana) seems to be the ultimate reality or substratum (e.g. A I.10) 14 as well as the Saddhatu Sutra, which is not found in any canonical source but is cited in other Buddhist texts — it states that the personality (pudgala) consists of the six elements (dhatu) of earth, water, fire, wind, space and consciousness; Schayer noted that it related to other ancient Indian ideas. Keith’s argument is also based on the Saddhatu Sutra as well as "passages where we have explanations of Nirvana which echo the ideas of the Upanishads regarding the ultimate reality." He also refers to the doctrine of "a consciousness, originally pure, defiled by adventitious impurities."[107]

Conze mentions ideas like the "person" (pudgala), the assumption of an eternal "consciousness" in the saddhatusutra, the identification of the Absolute, of Nirvana, with an "invisible infinite consciousness, which shines everywhere" in Dighanikdya XI 85, and "traces of a belief in consciousness as the nonimpermanent centre of the personality which constitutes an absolute element in this contingent world."[101]

According to Lindtner, in precanonical Buddhism Nirvana is

... 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. One cannot visualize it, it is anidarsana, but it provides one with firm ground under one’s feet, it is dhruva; once there one will not slip back, it is acyutapada. As opposed to this world, it is a pleasant place to be in, it is sukha, things work well.[8][note 31]

According to Lindtner, Canonical Buddhism was a reaction to this view, but also against the absolutist tendencies in Jainism and the Upanisads. Nirvana came to be seen as a state of mind, instead of a concrete place.[8]

Elements of this precanonical Buddhism may have survived the canonisation, and its subsequent filtering out of ideas, and re-appeared in Mahayana Buddhism.[8][98] According to Lindtner, the existence of multiple, and contradicting ideas, is also reflected in the works of Nagarjuna, who tried to harmonize these different ideas. According to Lindtner, this lead him to taking a "paradoxical" stance, for instance regarding nirvana, rejecting any positive description.[8]


According to Conze, Schayer's approach and results are "merely a tentative hypothesis".[108] Conze notes that it is also possible that these ideas later entered Buddhism, as a concession to "popular demand, just as the lower goal of birth in heaven (svarga) was admitted side by side with Nirvana."[108] According to Conze, the real issue is:

Did Buddhism originate among an elite of intellectuals, of philosophical ascetics, and then become a popular religion only at the time of Asoka? Or was it, even from the earliest times onwards, a popular religion based on the cult of the Bhagavan, of the Lord Buddha? And if so, was this religious side a part of its very essence, or just as propagandistic concession to laymen?[108]

See also


  1. 1 2 A.K Warder: "...a reconstruction of the original Buddhism presupposed by the traditions of the different schools known to us."[6]
  2. This kernel of doctrine is presumably common Buddhism of the period "before the schisms of the fourth and third centuries BC. It may be substantially the Buddhism of the Buddha himself."[6]
  3. See also Atthakavagga and Parayanavagga#Interpretation as heterodox
  4. Collin Cox: "Virtually all later sources agree that the first schism within the early Buddhist community occurred with the separation of the Mahasamghika school, or "those of the great community," from the remaining monks referred to as Sthaviras, or the "elders."".[16]
  5. See also Atthakavagga and Parayanavagga
  6. Flood & Olivelle: "The second half of the first millennium BCE was the period that created many of the ideological and institutional elements that characterize later Indian religions. The renouncer tradition played a central role during this formative period of Indian religious history [...] Some of the fundamental values and beliefs that we generally associate with Indian religions in general and Hinduism in particular were in part the creation of the renouncer tradition. These include the two pillars of Indian theologies: samsara - the belief that life in this world is one of suffering and subject to repeated deaths and births (rebirth); moksa/nirvana - the goal of human existence."[24]
  7. Well-known proponents of the first position are A.K. Warder[quote 3]
  8. A proponent of the second position is Ronald Davidson.[quote 5]
  9. Well-known proponent of the third position are J.W. de Jong,[5][quote 2]
  10. Warder: "When we examine the Tripitakas of the eighteen schools, so far as they are extant, we find an agreement which is substantial, though not complete. Even the most conservative of the early schools seem to have added new texts to their collections. However, there is a central body of sutras (dialogues), in four groups, which is so similar in all known versions that we must accept these as so many recensions of the same original texts. These make up the greater part of the Sutra Pitaka."[17]
  11. Most of these non-Indian texts are only available in a Chinese translation, with the exception of some individual scriptures found in Nepal, which are composed in Sanskrit.[6] The Gandhāran Buddhist Texts were recovered from Afghanistan. The central body of sutras in these texts is so similar that they are considered to be different recensions of the same text.[6]
  12. The Digha Nikaya, Majjhima Nikaya, Samyutta Nikaya and Anguttara Nikaya
  13. Nakamura: "It has been made clear that some poem (Gāthā) portions and some phrases represent earlier layers [...] Based upon these portions of the scriptures we can construe aspects of original Buddhism [...] Buddhism as appears in earlier portions of the scriptures is fairly different from what is explained by many scholars as earlier Buddhism or primitive Buddhism.[33]
  14. See Louis de La Vallée Poussin, Musial and Narad. Translated from the French by Gelongma Migme Chödrön and Gelong Lodrö Sangpo.
  15. In his often-cited article On some Aspects of Descriptions or Theories of 'Liberating Insight' and 'Enlightenment' in Early Buddhism
  16. Sammyuta Nikaya 56:11
  17. "Mara" is deeply rooted in Indo-European mythology. See also Mare (folklore)
  18. According to Bronkhorst, the Buddha's approach was a psychological one. He explains the incorporation of "inactivity asceticism" as effected by followers of the Buddha who misunderstood the Buddha's understanding of karma. Bronkhorst himself asks the question where this different view of karma came from, and speculates that the buddha may have inherited it from his parents, or "modified his views in this respect in the light of the experiences that led to, or constituted, his liberation."[55]
  19. Wynne: "Thus the expression sato sampajāno in the third jhāna must denote a state of awareness different from the meditative absorption of the second jhāna (cetaso ekodibhāva). It suggests that the subject is doing something different from remaining in a meditative state, i.e., that he has come out of his absorption and is now once again aware of objects. The same is true of the word upek(k)hā: it does not denote an abstract 'equanimity', [but] it means to be aware of something and indifferent to it [...] The third and fourth jhāna-s, as it seems to me, describe the process of directing states of meditative absorption towards the mindful awareness of objects.[70]
  20. According to Gombrich, "the later tradition has falsified the jhana by classifying them as the quintessence of the concentrated, calming kind of meditation, ignoring the other - and indeed higher - element.[67]
  21. Majjhima Nikaya 26
  22. Anguttara Nikaya II.45 (PTS)
  23. Samyutta Nikaya III.140-142 (PTS)
  24. Bronkhorst: "(Frauwallner 1953: 217-53; Schmithausen 1969: 160-61; Bhattacharya, 1973)."[82] See also Bronkhorst (2009), Buddhist Teaching in India, p.22 ff.
  25. See also:
    • Anderson (1999):[85] "The appearance of the four noble truths in the introduction, enlightenment, and gerundival sets in the Dhammacakkappavattana-sutta provide evidence for Norman's correct conclusion that the teaching was probably not part of the earliest version of the Sutta.[86]
    • Batchelor (2012): "In a 1992 paper entitled "The Four Noble Truths," Norman offers a detailed, philological analysis of The First Discourse, and arrives at the startling conclusion that "the earliest form of this sutta did not include the word ariya-saccaؐ (noble truth)" (Norman 2003: 223). On grammatical and syntactical grounds, he shows how the expression "noble truth" was inexpertly interpolated into the text at a later date than its original composition. But since no such original text has come down to us, we cannot know what it did say. All that can reasonably be deduced is that instead of talking of four noble truths, the text merely spoke of "four.""[87]
  26. In his 1970 publication Indian Buddhism, which predates the discoveries of Norman, Schmithausen, Vetter, Bronkhorst and Gombrich.
  27. DN 10
  28. quote from Schayer 1935, p.124
  29. M. Falk (1943, Nama-rupa and Dharma-rupa
  30. See Digha Nikaya 15, Mahanidana Sutta, which describes a nine-fold chain of causation. Mind-and-body (nama-rupa) and consciousness (vijnana) do condition here each other (verse 2 & 3). In verse 21 and 22, it is stated that consciousness comes into the mother's womb, and finds a resting place in mind-and-body. [105]
  31. Cited in Wynne (2007) p.99.[107]


  1. 1 2 Leon Hurvitz: "... stressed that the written canon in Buddhism is sectarian from the outset, and that presectarian Buddhism must be deduced from the writings as they now exist."[1](quote via Google Scholar search-engine)
  2. 1 2 J.W. De Jong: "It would be hypocritical to assert that nothing can be said about the doctrine of earliest Buddhism [...] the basic ideas of Buddhism found in the canonical writings could very well have been proclaimed by him [the Buddha], transmitted and developed by his disciples and, finally, codified in fixed formulas."<ref name='FOOTNOTEJong199325'>Jong 1993, p. 25.
  3. According to A.K. Warder, in his 1970 publication "Indian Buddhism", from the oldest extant texts a common kernel can be drawn out.[27] According to Warder, c.q. his publisher: "This kernel of doctrine is presumably common Buddhism of the period before th great schisms of the fourth and third centuries BC. It may be substantially the Buddhism of the Buddha himself, although this cannot be proved: at any rate it is a Buddhism presupposed by the schools as existing about a hundred years after the parinirvana of the Buddha, and there is no evidence to suggest that it was formulated by anyone else than the Buddha and his immediate followers."<ref name='FOOTNOTEWarder1999inside flap'>Warder & 1999, p. inside flap.
  4. Richard Gombrich: "I have the greatest difficulty in accepting that the main edifice is not the work of a single genius. By "the main edifice" I mean the collections of the main body of sermons, the four Nikāyas, and of the main body of monastic rules."[29]
  5. Ronald Davidson: "While most scholars agree that there was a rough body of sacred literature (disputed)(sic) that a relatively early community (disputed)(sic) maintained and transmitted, we have little confidence that much, if any, of surviving Buddhist scripture is actually the word of the historic Buddha."<ref name='FOOTNOTEDavidson2003147'>Davidson 2003, p. 147.
  6. Bronkhorst: "This position is to be preferred to (ii) for purely methodological reasons: only those who seek nay find, even if no success is guaranteed."[30]
  7. Lopez: "The original teachings of the historical Buddha are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to recover or reconstruct."[31]
  8. Gombrich: "I know this is controversial, but it seems to me that the third and fourth jhanas are thus quite unlike the second."[67]


  1. 1 2 3 4 Hurvitz 1976.
  2. 1 2 3 Nakamura 1989.
  3. 1 2 3 Hirakawa 1990.
  4. Gombrich 1997, p. 11-12.
  5. 1 2 Jong 1993, p. 25.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Warder 1999.
  7. Gombrich 1997, p. 11 -12.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Lindtner 1997.
  9. 1 2 Mun-keat 2000, p. ix.
  10. Warder 2000, p. 262.
  11. Vetter 1988, p. 101-106.
  12. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Bronkhorst 1993.
  13. Lindter 1997.
  14. Lindter 1999.
  15. 1 2 Wynne 2007.
  16. 1 2 Cox 2004, p. 502.
  17. 1 2 Warder 1999, p. 5.
  18. Potter 1996, p. 31-32.
  19. 1 2 Lindtner 1999.
  20. 1 2 3 4 Samuel 2010.
  21. Norman 1997, p. 28.
  22. Samuel 2008, p. 8.
  23. Svarghese 2008, p. 259-260.
  24. 1 2 Flood 2003, p. 273-274.
  25. Norman 1997, p. 28-29.
  26. Bronkhorst 1993, p. vii.
  27. Warder 1999, p. 0.
  28. Bronkhorst 1997, p. viii.
  29. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Gombrich 1997.
  30. Bronkhorst 1997, p. vii.
  31. Lopez.
  32. 1 2 3 4 Vetter 1988, p. ix.
  33. 1 2 Nakamura 1989, p. 57.
  34. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Vetter 1988.
  35. Schmithausen 1990.
  36. 1 2 3 Schmithausen 1981.
  37. 1 2 Norman 1992.
  38. Bronkhorst 1997.
  39. bronkhorst 1993.
  40. Bronkhorst 1993, p. 133-134.
  41. 1 2 Vetter 1988, p. xxi-xxii.
  42. Vetter & 1988 xxi-xxxvii.
  43. 1 2 3 Vetter 1988, p. xxviii.
  44. 1 2 3 Anderson 1999.
  45. 1 2 Bucknell 1984.
  46. 1 2 Vetter 1988, p. xxxiii.
  47. 1 2 Bronkhorst 1998, p. 3.
  48. Conze 2008, p. vi.
  49. 1 2 3 Conze 2008, p. viii.
  50. Bronkhorst 1998.
  51. Bronkhorst 1998, p. 13-14.
  52. 1 2 Bronkhorst 1998, p. 14.
  53. bronkhorst 1998, p. 14-15.
  54. bronkhorst 1998, p. 15.
  55. bronkhorst 1998, p. 16.
  56. 1 2 Matthews 1986, p. 124.
  57. Schmithausen 1986.
  58. Bronkhorst 1998, p. 13.
  59. Schmithausen 1986, p. 206-207.
  60. Bronkhorst 1998, p. 16.
  61. Cousins 1996, p. 58.
  62. Vetter 1988, p. xxvii.
  63. Vetter 1988, p. xxx.
  64. Kalupahana 1994, p. 24.
  65. 1 2 3 4 Norman 1997, p. 29.
  66. 1 2 Gombrich 1997, p. 131.
  67. 1 2 3 Wynne 2007, p. 140, note 58.
  68. Original publication: Gombrich, Richard (2007), Religious Experience in Early Buddhism, OCHS Library
  69. 1 2 3 4 Wynne 2007, p. 106.
  70. Wynne 2007, p. 106-107.
  71. Norman 1997, p. 30.
  72. Vetter 1988, p. xxix, xxxi.
  73. Bronkhorst 1993, p. 100-101.
  74. Bronkhorst 1993, p. 101.
  75. Vetter 1988, p. xxxiv-xxxvii.
  76. Gombrich 1997, p. 96-134.
  77. 1 2 3 Vetter 1988, p. xxxv.
  78. Vetter 1988, p. xxxvi.
  79. Vetter 1988, p. xxxvi-xxxvii.
  80. 1 2 Wynne 2007, p. 105.
  81. Williams 2000, p. 45.
  82. 1 2 Bronkhorst 1993, p. 99.
  83. Bucknell 1984, p. 11-12.
  84. Carr & Mahalingam 1997, p. 948.
  85. Anderson & 1999 17-20.
  86. Anderson & 1999 20.
  87. Batchelor 2012, p. 92.
  88. Anderson 1999, p. viii.
  89. Anderson 1999, p. 21.
  90. Anderson 1999, p. 17.
  91. Bronkhorst 1993, p. 99-100, 102-111.
  92. 1 2 Bronkhorst 1993, p. 108.
  93. Bronkhorst 1993, p. 107.
  94. Polak 2011.
  95. Warder 1999, p. 82.
  96. Gethin 2001, p. 343.
  97. Gethin 2001, p. xiii.
  98. 1 2 Akizuki 1990, p. 25-27.
  99. Ray 1999.
  100. 1 2 Reat 1998, p. xi.
  101. 1 2 3 4 Conze 1967, p. 10.
  102. Ray 1999, p. 374.
  103. Ray 1999, p. 374-377.
  104. 1 2 3 Ray 1999, p. 375.
  105. Walshe 1995, p. 223, 226.
  106. 1 2 Ray, p. 375.
  107. 1 2 Wynne 2007, p. 99.
  108. 1 2 3 Conze 1967, p. 11.


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Further reading

History of Buddhism (general)
Early Buddhism
Modern understanding

External links

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