I’ve seen some claims that ancient Theravada was nothing like today, and that what we have today has only been around for a couple centuries. My take is, unless the Visuddhimagga was not used for a very long time, and only started to be used in the past couple centuries, that sounds like nonsense, because the Visuddhimagga is 1500 years old, and still used today. Thus, unless it was strictly not used for a thousand years or so, there is a common thread, that is uniquely Theravada, tying ancient and modern Theravada together, which easily defeats such a claim. But I’m no expert, and can’t find any information on such a specific question. Can anyone clarify?
Visuddhimagga is a book compiled by Ven. Buddhaghosa Thera on the request by Mahavihara Theras at Sri Lanka. It is actually more like a resume submitted to Mahavihara.
I heard this claim by one monk. I will ask him why he says that and try to report back.
Visuddhimagga was not used for a very long time, and only started to be used in the past couple centuries
Indeed, it was not used for a very long time. By the 18th century, Sri Lankan Sangha went into such a decline that Upasampada and meditation practice had to be imported from Ayutthaya:
Meditative practice also died out in Burma, and had to be reconstructed from textual sources:
So in the past couple centuries the Visuddhimagga became one of the key sources for the reconstruction of meditative practice.
Thanks! So, how long was it used for after Venerable Buddhaghosa wrote it around 500 AD before it declined?
I asked the monk. He mentioned that the terms Kālapa was new and referenced the Abhidhammatthasaṅghaha as being new and what he was talking about as “only a few hundred years old”.
Some terms are indeed considered new just because they were not mentioned in Suttanta:
Patisandhi citta, kalapa, cittavithi …
But that doesn’t mean wrong.
There are 21 rupa kalapas. 9 kalapas are kammaja rupa kalapas, 6 are cittaja, 4 are utuja and 2 are aharaja rupa kalapas. Rupa Kalapa: 2 definitions
Don’t know whether the term is new or old. If the term can be found in other Indian languages, then it must not be new. Kalapa can be seen by everyone nonetheless.
Cultures are always changing. India itself is no longer what it was 2500 years ago. We are Buddhists but we don’t live like ancient Indians. Whether Indian or non-Indian, a sotapanna is free of attavada.
Thank you, Venerable. So, has the Visuddhimagga been in use continually since its writing in 500 AD until today? Or was there a gap?
I think that the vsm is not new and there have been cycles of “what is popular” The publish date is the publish date. To think that the major root commentary is new, is guessing what monks have studied. Mainstream Buddhism is different from the sincere practitioner form of Buddhism that follows vinaya. Without the internet and communication or proper record keeping of historical facts, it is really difficult to guess what was practiced and studied. We are very grateful that the texts have been saved.
Buddhism has traveled to Myanmar a few times, but only after it was written down did it stick. We must be grateful for the elders who broke the oral tradition to write it down.
Personally, I am grateful to Venerable Buddhaghosa Thera. With his explanation of Dhamma summarised in Visuddhimagga, everything made systematically and could be followed with great confidence.
So far, I don’t see any serious solid refutation against Visuddhimagga from the modern Suttavadins other than baseless accusations against Venerable Buddhaghosa Thera.
Myanmar has great reverence and gratitude for Sri Lanka Theravada for writing it down and also where the vsm was compiled.
Same here. The Visuddhimagga has brought me peace in so many stressful times. It has also advanced my practice. It is an indispensable work.