The Myth That Classical Theravādins Do Not Read Suttas

I think that most dvi-pitakins (Westerners) believe that those who promote the Abhidhamma and commentaries simply dwell exclusively on such topics and limit themselves to such areas, forever reading the Abhidhammatthasaṅgaha, The Visuddhimagga, and Buddhist Legends.

I myself read the Suttas all of the time and consider them foremost in authority. However, I also respect and appreciate the commentaries and Abhidhamma which explain the details in the Suttas which are surely missing.

People usually think that others think the same way as they do. As I have said before, “A kleptomaniac will think that others are trying to steal his belongings.” In the same way, perhaps since the suttanta-only followers stick to a single set of books and exclude what they don’t believe in, they might think the same way about those who like the Abhidhamma and commentaries… that is they believe we exclude what they believe in.

For me, I take a “whole-istic” approach to the Suttas… or better say… I take a “whole-istic” approach to the tipiṭaka. I like to read the suttas systematically, cover to cover with all the footnotes. These days, I’m trying to read the pāḷi samyutta nikāya with the commentaries.

What are your thoughts?
Do you limit yourself to the Abhidhammatthasaṅgaha, The Visuddhimagga, and Buddhist Legends? Or do you take a whole-istic approach?

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I know many people who read both Suttas and Abhidhamma. Many of the Classical Scholars read all the Three Pitakas.

A Classical Theravada monk have to study Vinaya, Abhidhamma, Sutta along with the vast literature of commentaries and sub-commentaries while Modern Dvi-pitakins pay attention mainly/only to Suttas. So they have more time to read Suttas than a Classical Theravadin. At the beginning years, this could show a gap in knowledge about Suttas between them, but after some years the Classical Theravadins gain more knowledge and accurate understanding of Suttas.

Suttavadins need to read suttas more at the beginning to create fundamentals of Buddhism while Classical Theravadins gain the knowledge of fundamentals through the treatises like Abhidhammatthasaṅgaha and Visuddhimagga.

Traditional Theravadins are divided in to many groups according to their preferences, such as Vinayadhara, Suttadhara and Abhidhammadhara. Only the Suttadhara or Bhanakas dedicate their whole life mainly to the Suttas.

Many Suttavadins are Aesthetic lovers, so they have a passion of reading Suttas which give inspiration. Suttavadins seem to prefer the inspiration over analysis and fundamentals.

What (serious) Classical Theravadins have, is a balanced path or a middle path. They tend to develop Sila-Samadhi-Panna using Vinaya-Sutta-Abhidhamma respectively.

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I read Suttanta, Abhidhamma, or whatever scriptures found in the Pali Tipitaka canon.

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I never really got that vibe from the EBT or Suttanta crowd. I always thought they thought of classical theravadins as reading the suttas but we simply interpret them in line with the commentaries and established tradition or something. Except if you’re talking about “asian” classical Theravadins, then yeah the new modern western Buddhist sects of EBT and whatnot like to (somewhat racistly) say they only go along with tradition and never read the suttas themselves and whatnot.

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Okāsa vandāmi Bhante :pray:

From pure four Nikāyist who were western monks, and de facto prefered Suttas most of the time,
i heard them to criticize the Sinhala monks who learned Abhidhamma and Vinaya. They said like " they never study suttas, they ignore it, only Abhidhamma abd Vinaya".

They think Theravādin bhikkhus ignore such concepts as " anupubbasikkhā" and therefore don’t practice it well.

I really heard such things Bhante. They think also to practice samatha is almost wrong, they believed theirr own version of satipatthāna, for exemple, you must have bare mindfulness of the body and clear comprehension, and the persons who stick to a kamatthāna don’t practice rightly.
Thus they have views about pariyatti and also about the practice.

Then i saw some of them who rejected the commentaries of the suttas and didn’t like to read it.
And others who liked to read commentaries by desire of knowledge of the language and to acquire skills in this field, and advice others thus:
"Read the commentaries to get the explanation about the meaning of some words or the grammar, but throw all other things ".

I found Sinhalese Theravadin monks have much more faith, respect, and stronger right views than western Dvipitakin . For exemple among Dvipitakin westerners may think pūja is kind of useless tradition, and they never engage in this kind of merits, except while forced to do (before uposatha recitation and so on).

Therefore Bhante i think it is not only a question of pariyatti only, but it is very much about practice, the skills in kusala, about wisdom and other faculties.

My inclination about Pariyatti is to like everything, but i admit i prefer Sutta and Abhidhamma than Vinaya.
My wish is to read all Tipitaka and their important commentaries (Atthakathā and tīka) at least one time🙂. Also the things written by Venerable Buddhagosa have an extraordinary style and proficiency in various methods, it is much delightful (although my Pāli is still weak).

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I think we all follow similar ways and it is fair to say Classical Theravāda Buddhist are “whole-istic” in their approach. While there is no exclusivity in Suttas, they do play an important role, but the details are found elsewhere in the commentaries and general knowledge of abhidhamma as well.

Furthermore, I think there are also other areas within the Tipiṭaka that give interest that might spread out the focus, but not remove the focus.

Lastly, I also think that Classical Theravāda Buddhists do not go outside the realm of pāḷi and into other branches or other languages describing Buddhist ideas, such as Sanskrit or Chinese etc found in EBT. There is just too much to know within our own pāḷi writings. The Tipiṭaka Sayadaw told me that he does not know Sanskrit. He is proof that there is yet still much to learn within pāḷi. He is still taking exams to this day. I was really inspired by that.

I also see a strong desire to learn pāḷi and read the commentaries.

sādhu sādhu sādhu

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