There is a book called “Esoteric Theravada”, by Kate Crosby, described thusly:
"A groundbreaking exploration of a practice tradition that was nearly lost to history.
Theravada Buddhism, often understood as the school that most carefully preserved the practices taught by the Buddha, has undergone tremendous change over time. Prior to Western colonialism in Asia—which brought Western and modernist intellectual concerns, such as the separation of science and religion, to bear on Buddhism—there existed a tradition of embodied, esoteric, and culturally regional Theravada meditation practices. This once-dominant traditional meditation system, known as borān kammaṭṭhāna , is related to—yet remarkably distinct from—Vipassana and other Buddhist and secular mindfulness practices that would become the hallmark of Theravada Buddhism in the twentieth century. Drawing on a quarter century of research, scholar Kate Crosby offers the first holistic discussion of borān kammaṭṭhāna , illuminating the historical events and cultural processes by which the practice has been marginalized in the modern era."
The author seems to imply that true Theravada meditation and doctrine is some esoteric practice not found in the commentaries, nor Pali Canon, and that this practice was crushed by colonialism. The further implication is, of course, that true Theravada was whatever this esoteric stuff was, and what we have today, that we call Classical Theravada is a fraudulent tradition created by colonialism. Thus, she implies that’s the only reason we hold the commentaries and Visuddhimagga as authoritative, while we should be practicing a pre colonial, culturally regional, esoteric Theravada.
However, the premise is flawed. It’s impossible that what we call Classical Theravada today has only been around for a couple centuries, because what we call Classical Theravada today is completely based on the suttas, Vinaya and Abhidhamma. Even if no one used the commentaries, nor Visuddhimagga, until the last few centuries (which is, of course, false), the Theravada Pali Canon already contains everything in the commentaries and Visuddhimagga, except for a few terms, but the meaning is the same. Not to mention, the commentaries and Visuddhimagga, which, supposedly only became the main focus of Theravada after colonialism, predate colonialism by, oh, what, something in the neighborhood of two thousand years?
Particularly devastating to this author’s position is the Kathavatthu, which is part of the Pali Canon, and is a very clear delineation of Theravada specific doctrinal points, all of which are in perfect agreement with the commentary and Visuddhimagga. So, if some groups calling themselves Theravada didn’t use the commentaries, nor Visuddhimagga at any point, and so their practice and doctrine was totally different from what we know as Theravada today, so much so that their practice was called “culturally regional” and “Esoteric Theravada” that just means that they weren’t in line with the Pali Canon, and what we know as Classical Theravada today is in line with it.
The Buddha’s teachings are not supposed to be changed into regional, esoteric doctrines and practices that dramatically deviate from what he actually taught in the Pali Canon, so much so that they require a different name and delineation from the Theravada school. And, of course, the commentaries and Visuddhimagga were very careful to make sure their practices are directly from the Pali Canon, which is why these practices are not called "culturally regional, nor “Esoteric Theravada”, but, instead, are just known as “Theravada,” or “Classical Theravada.” Only requiring the delineation “Classical Theravada” to differentiate from culturally regional, esoteric versions of Theravada, popping up today, in the form of aberrant versions of the school, bearing little resemblance to the core source doctrine, and pushing ideas like eternal soul, subjective idealism, and Mahayana influenced doctrines cobbled together by modern thinkers, who want so badly to retroactively find that their doctrines are true Buddhism, and that Classical Theravada is the aberrant one.
Luckily, any rational person reading the Pali Canon can see that Classical Theravada is the original school. This is because all the others stick out like sore thumbs, so badly that they have to throw out huge chunks of the Pali Canon itself in order to make their “true Buddhism” compatible with the very texts they consider authoritative.
So, to sum up: Sorry Ms Crosby, but the Theravada is the school that most carefully preserved the practices taught by the Buddha, and it has not undergone tremendous change over time. It has not only come into it’s Classical Theravada form recently, after colonialism. This is nonsense. Some schools have surely been aberrant over the years, and there surely have been some periods where a return to the true teachings has gone on, but the core teachings, doctrines and practices considered Classical Theravada today haven’t changed a bit since the Buddha taught them.