Question about Tīkā (subcommentaries)

Hi all, wishing everyone healthy and happy. =)

I have a question… Is it okay to abandon Tīkā, while accepting Pāli Tipitaka and Atthakatha altogether, to be considered as Theravadin (or to be more accurate, Vibhajjavadin)?

What I understood is that Pāli Tipitaka along with Atthakatha were recited in Buddhist councils and brought forth to Sri Lanka, but not Tīkā… While Atthakatha is substantial as it verified by Arahants, is Tīkā having the same sacred status as Atthakatha too?

Any Tīkā books translated into English available for online download or purchase nowadays?

A Theravadin means a person who believes the texts according the following precedence given by the Aṭṭhakathā.

  1. Sutta: (=Three Piṭakas)

  2. Suttanuloma: (=The Four Mahāpadesas of Vinaya and Suttanta.)

  3. Acariyavada: (= Aṭṭhakathā aka Pakiṇṇakadesanā)

  4. Attanomati: (=Own views or Anything other than the above 3)

It is allowed if it contradicts the Tipitaka or Atthakatha, but complete-abandoning is not considered as a wise decision, since there are many valuable explanations which has become almost necessary in some cases.

Tika acariyas are not considered as average monks, but as exceptionally intelligent monks.
For an example,

  • Atthakathaacariya Dhammapala is also the Main Tikaacariya.

  • Sub-tika to the Tikaacariya Ananda’s tika was written by Atthakathaacariya Dhammapala.

  • Tikaacariya Sariputta had an exceptional memory that he only needed to listen something once, in order to keep it in memory.


You should look at the ṭīkā and see what it says before you think of global disregard. Much of the frustration comes from the later style of pāḷi that is written with very long and joined words, which is overkill and defeats the purpose of clarifying things and acting as a “dictionary”. TPP’s PEU dictionary can let you get an idea of what it says. It is needed in many places, like the Visuddhimagga-mahāṭīkā for the Visuddhimagga itself.

In the suttas, the ṭīkā is also very useful.
In the vinaya, the same.

Generally speaking, their is a hierarchy with the:

  1. mūla
  2. aṭṭhakathā
  3. ṭīkā

The commentaries are mostly dictionaries for the level above.
The subcommentaries are also dictionaries for the commentaries.

It is for this reason that they are probably not translated. On the other side, some of the very first books translated into English were commentaries. JaA, DhpA, Vsm, Malindapanha, etc.

Sometimes there are backstories embedded like in the Cūḷa­kamma­vibhaṅga­ sutta.
Sometimes you get nice Dhammatalks or lists and numbers.

As Sayadaw U Kovida (Pa-Auk) said, The Sutta (mūla vinaya too) are Kings. This means that each level must fit inside the other. Vinaya can sometimes have different opinions at the ṭīkā level and usually the side of the stricter opinion is taken just to be safe. The same should be done with the Dhamma as well. Before one decides which is valid or not, one should be very skilled and know the whole picture. Often this is not the case.

Probably much of what you hear negatively about subcommentaries is in the vinaya, probably from traditions that don’t follow the commentaries either, yet they eat cheese in the afternoon because a Thai written sub sub commentary that is very recent, says it is okay. As I said before, it is best to take the more strict approach when in doubt.

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Some excellent translations by Bhikkhu Bodhi of suttas include the Atthakatha and tikas and written in a way where it is easy to read. Impressive.

Great Discourse on Causation: Mahanidana Sutta and Its Commentaries
by Bhikkhu Bodhi
Discourse on the Fruits of Recluseship: Samannaphala Sutta and Its Commentaries by Bhikkhu Bodhi

The Discourse on the Root of Existence: Mulapariyaya Sutta and Its Commentaries

The All-Embracing Net of Views (The Brahmajala Sutta and its Commentaries)

I think the tikas, don’t ever(or maybe rarely) disagree with the Atthakatha. They are there just to add extra clarification on knotty points.
We shouldn’t classify newer “sub-commentaries” by modern authors with the respected ancient tikas


Question …

How about the subcommentaries written by Burmese monks like Ledi Sayādaw?

Is that attanomati ?

Attanomati = Own views = Anything other than the above 3

Many scholars in Burma respect Ledi sayadaw’s tikas saying they are comprehensive, while some people criticize him a little because sayadaw had criticized an early tika on minor points.

Sometimes we find few places where two early tikas have some disagreements between each other on minor points, but tikas hardly disagree with atthakatha. Tikas have been written by the monks who highly respect the atthakatha.

One tika says the atthakatha is pakinnakadesana of the Buddha while the other says root of the atthakatha is Buddhavacana.

Good example of this regard:

AN Mettāvagga -Uttaravipattisutta (Uttara on Failure)

Now at that time the great king Vessavaṇa was on his way from the north to the south on some business. He heard Venerable Uttara teaching this to the mendicants on Saṅkheyyaka Mountain. “…”
Then Vessavaṇa vanished from Saṅkheyyaka Mountain and appeared among the gods of the Thirty-Three, as easily as a strong person would extend or contract their arm. Then he went up to Sakka, lord of gods, and said to him:

“Please sir, you should know this. Venerable Uttara is teaching the mendicants on Saṅkheyyaka Mountain in this way: “…”

Then Sakka went up to Venerable Uttara, bowed, stood to one side, and said to him:
“Is it really true, sir, that you teach the mendicants in this way: “…”

“Indeed, lord of gods.”

“Sir, did this teaching come to you from your own inspiration, or was it spoken by the Blessed One, the perfected one, the fully awakened Buddha ?

“Well then, lord of gods, I shall give you a simile. For by means of a simile some sensible people understand the meaning of what is said.

Suppose there was a large heap of grain not far from a town or village. And a large crowd were to take away grain with carrying poles, baskets, hip sacks, or their cupped hands. If someone were to go to that crowd and ask them where they got the grain from, how should that crowd rightly reply?”

“Sir, they should reply that they took it from the large heap of grain.”

“In the same way, lord of gods, whatever is well spoken is spoken by the Blessed One, the perfected one, the fully awakened Buddha. Both myself and others rely completely on that when we speak.”

“It’s incredible, sir, it’s amazing! How well this was said by Venerable Uttara! ‘Whatever is well spoken is spoken by the Blessed One, the perfected one, the fully awakened Buddha. Both myself and others rely completely on that when we speak.’


Thank you for the information. But it is still perplexing as I don’t believe every monk in the past who adhering to Atthakatha are without misapprehension.

I do agree that Atthakatha is the orthodox system of teaching and it should be upheld as proper teaching guide for Buddhist scripture studies.

But I couldn’t bring my mind to believe everyone of them (authors of subcommentaries) is correct though. Like in Visuddhimagga, Bhandatacariya Buddhaghosa Thera pointed out some opinions by other Theravada monastic teachers of his time, though upholding Theravada tradition, still fall off as misunderstanding. This is why I express my doubting in Subcommentaries. Though I don’t oppose them. I guess I will need to get my my hands on these subcommentary books before comment further.

By the way, I take Visuddhimagga as introduction book of Atthakatha though. So I accept Visuddhimagga 100% as orthodox Theravada scripture…


One issue with ledi sayadaw, in the English versions I have read, is that it is written like essays and is sometimes unclear which texts he is getting his conclusions from.

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We don’t need to be afraid of Tikas, since we are free to keep them aside if they contradicts the atthakatha.

And we don’t need to have a negative attitude towards Tikas before we study them, as well.

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Yes… I believe this too. I think this is where we get subjective to “accepting” the subcommentaries.

On the other hand… with vinaya… often a derogatory comment is… this sub sub sub commentary says, “yadayada”. The aim is to belittle an ancient commentary.

Usually a Western monk from a Thai tradition will say this because he does not want to follow the rules and encourage others to do the same, whilst at the same time recommending the very recent Thai Vinaya Mukha, which allows eating chocolate, cheese, and bottled juice as seven day medicines.

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What is even better than all the sutta, atthakattha, or tika is what Ven. Ledi Sayadaw call bhavana-maya panna (knowledge that come from practice). I don’t know if this is a term of the commentary or Ven. Ledi’s own terms. Surprisingly the amount of theory required to start practicing Buddhism is not that much. Reading too many text also has its danger where one’s time can be used too much thinking about theories. Sometimes less is better.

I think it sounds more cool if people say, based on my experience … rather than based on this text … Which is why Ven. Ledi’s text which often does not cite the reference could be a plus, because it sounds that the Venerable speak from experience. Of course we also need to reflect whether it is in accordance with the basic Buddhist principles or not.

I agree that reading more doesn’t mean wiser. But to understand the teaching is the core of practice.

But it depends on our intelligence, parami, and willingness to learn too.


I would argue that reading the text does not give (much) understanding. Reading the text creates view and belief, “I think the meaning of this text is this…” and so on. Whether the belief is true or not must be proved in practice, which then results in understanding.

For example no matter how much I read about anicca it is still a preconception rather than understanding.

More text, more belief. And we tend to filter information that does not support our beliefs. Thus the belief become more stronger. Strong belief can sometimes become an obstacle to true understanding, if the reality does not conform to our belief.

I prefer being “Bahussuta”. And one of the five strengths of Sotapanna is “Suta” too.

But most importantly, study the scriptures with care and practice it in real life situation wherever applicable.

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If one is a monk, one has the responsibility to learn the vinaya. If one breaks the rules even without knowing there was a rule that was broken, there can be extreme consequence such as the heavy rules. But the smaller rules can also be a blockage to attainments.

Then why ordain?
Because monk life is set up to give one plenty of time for practice. It is a net gain.

Much of the abhidhammatthasaṅgaha, which is a ṭīkā, would need to be memorized along the way as one meditates and progresses. It does not take long if one is personally working with those dhammas in meditation. The abhidhammatthasaṅgaha, has many of the core terms all nicely packed into one small book. That is why much of it needs to be memorized.

I don’t know anyone who has studied the whole of the abhidhammapiṭaka who would criticize the abhidhammatthasaṅgaha. When we get praise like that, then it is definitely a worthy ṭīkā for acceptance.


Now this is interesting thing. There are people who attain enlightment without ever knowing abhidhamma. Do they know the categorization of nama-rupa in abhidhamma? I assume so, when they investigate the nama-rupa, the knowledge of this is consciousness, this is perception, etc. this is their arising, this is their ceasing came to them by itself, that is by practice.

I think my point is that, one could just read as much as one can practice. We know that the amount of sutta, with atthakatha, with tika, is enormous. Why spend time reading all that when we can read a short text on how to meditate, and then spend time actually meditating. Maybe increase our textual knowledge along the way as our experience increase.

If I am going to diet do I have to read all the books there is about diet and take a doctorate in nutrition? Of course not. I can just pick one book, try it, and if it does not work, find another method. Of course if one want to read all the books available about diet and take a doctorate in nutrition it is their choice, but it is simply unnecessary.

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It can be that someone thinks they understand in practice nama-rupa, think they are perceiving consciousness, but their perception is tainted by wrong view.

This can also happen even with the one who is knowledgeable in Abhidhamma but the whole thrust of the Abhidhamma is to break down the self - and to varying degree the one who studies it rightly will at least dampen the coarse views of self.

When one is considering Abhidhamma rightly it should be that even while reading the words they see that it is very real in daily life- there is seeing (cakkhu vinnana) for instance.

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Abhidhamma is indeed very helpful in classifying mental formations.

There are a lot of account of people attaining enlightment in the sutta pitaka but I think none has ever mentioned 89 type of cittas or cetasikas.

Abhidhamma might be a system of naming and classification added later, just like species latin names. Before there is a latin name, does not mean that the spesies in unknown, there is just no standard name and different people might use different name for it.

So while abhidhamma is helpful it might not be the only way. Analysis of nama-rupa can be done directly on the realities. When done correctly after jhana or upacara samadhi there should not be wrong views because it is supressed by samatha.

This is a common wrong perception that one can be enlightened without being knowing Abhidhamma concept such as Khandhas, Ayatanas, Dhatu, Pannatti, Saccas, Indriyas etc.

Even the Bhikkhu Cula-Panthaka, who can even penetrate a single Gatha, when he gained Enlightenment through mind investigation and meditation (which is the realm of Abhidhamma), he was able to demonstrate Dhamma teachings in many ways.

It can be said that without fully penetrating Abhidhamma to the extent of a Sammasambuddha, one can be enlightened as Savaka only. But this Savaka will too, understand Abhidhamma greatly sufficient to gain Enlightenment. But to the Teacher and General of Dhamma, the Abhidhamma was so clear and penetrated the teachings in all aspects.

Abhidhamma’s status shouldn’t be just “helpful”, but it is “necessary” to gain Enlightenment. Yes, we can start off from various method: Sutta, Bhavana, Sila, etc., but in the process of it, one will encounter Abhidhamma inevitably, especially when discerning the truth of Pancakhandha in meditation.

But we layfollowers (we are quite slacky) are not monks, so we will begin the practice thorough basics such as Dana, Sila, and Bhavana. But once we are ready to strive full 100% for gaining Enlightenment, that will be the time we need both Suttanta Pitaka & Abhidhamma Pitaka altogether.

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