The origins of the western dvi-pitaka-vada

It’s not a secret that dvi-pitaka-EBT-vada is pretty strong and prominent in the west, especially in the States. But what caused this? The thai forest tradition, which gained the opportunity before any other institution, or the cultural basis of protestantism? Maybe both? Matbe something else? I would like to know some points of view of the actual westerners, especially of those born and raised in the USA.


I think Abhidhamma pitaka needs to be rejected if someone has annihilationist or eternalistic views. The whole Abhidhamma performs the function of breaking down the wrong view of self.

The Sutta pitaka also does that, but because the suttas often use conventional language the one with strong self view can still find a way to slip in a self.


I think it’s because of science…

You can’t prove rebirth, past births and if that question arises how will you ans to western crowd.
And it is not just western. Dr B. R ambedkar. Who fought against caste system. In his book on Buddhism had also rejected this rebirth model. He wrote that this is not original philosophy some Brahmins mixed there views with orignal Buddhist philosophy (like Mahayana elements)

So i think EBT Vada is very old … started with some western scholar’s who didn’t believe rebirth…but loved Buddhism so much that they end up rejecting some idea and kept some ideas which they were agree on…


There are many reasons why Western monks and also Laypeople reject the commentaries and Abhidhamma, yet rely on Chinese texts as an authority one what is the true dhamma (EBT) . Here are some thoughts which have been on my mind for a long time.

  • As much as PTS has helped spread the teachings, they led the way to critical criticism footnotes and the comments like “The valley of dry bones” as a description from CAF Rhyes Davids. That has always set the stage for a long time.

  • There are also many comments that criticize the commentaries by Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi in the same way as PTS (he did much for the spread of Buddhism, but also did much harm), or just following the lead from PTS and desire for academic recognition. aka printing e-books for free was not an reputable academic option post 90’s when it was really easy to do.

  • There is a false need in the West for trying to be a scholar. So, they want to test their theories and sound smart, or smarter than the commentaries.

  • There is a need for individuality and to question authority in the West

  • There is often a lack of scholarship in the Western world and reliance on the other few who know how to translate.

  • Westerner monks are often given extra room in terms of their learning and extra room on respect and extra room on behavior. Often traditional education is put aside and the white monks are often “trophy monks” for the monastery. There is also a worry that if they press to hard, the Western monks will disrobe. They wait for the dhamma to sink in, but it didn’t fully penetrate them. For this reason they are given space. They also assume they will disrobe and think that their vocal theories will die with them.

  • Now we have Western monasteries bringing up Western monks. It amplifies and accelerates what was started long ago.

  • The requirements for independence from a teacher are seen as too difficult by most monks and they don’t bother to try. Instead, they can reject the commentaries and be free of a teacher.

  • The vinaya (monk’s rules) are much more comprehensive with less loopholes. It is easier to live as a monk and make up your own interpretations of the rules.

  • One’s own false enlightenment and attainments can be easily shot down with the aid of the Commentaries and Abhidhamma which are very exact.

  • EBT is a little bit of all the stuff listed above.

Dhammasangani : C. A. F. Rhys Davids


My theory is this:

Western people developed a great affinity for idealism via Kant and Berkeley, and other philosophies. Most Western people believe that reality is either largely imaginary, or at least is a form of phenomenalism where mind independent reality is non existent. Upon this fertile soil was laid the first major introductions to Buddhism, and Mahayana was the one that got the most popular.

I think there were two reasons for this: 1.) Mahayana is largely idealism, and extreme relativism, and 2.) The Mahayana self aggrandizement and denigration of the Theravada makes Mahayana sound greatly superior.

Fast forward to the internet making scholarly studies of the development of Buddhism widely available, and suddenly these Westerners realized that Mahayana is… well… let’s say less than authentic.

Now what? They still want to be Buddhist, but Theravada is a form of realism, where ultimate paramattha dhammas exist from their own side, extremely rapidly appearing and disappearing, independent of the minds conceptual processing of them. This, obviously, is not going to work for them, because their whole worldview is based on reality being imaginary, and fundamentally unreal, but they want to be authentic. So, now, they practice never ending eisegesis. Every Mahayana point about reality, every teaching they liked from Mahayana now is perfectly compatible with Theravada, and, in fact, the Buddha actually taught exactly what the Mahayana taught, including idealism, and the extreme relativism of Nagarjuna.

This has led most of them to throw out the commentaries and abhidhamma, because they confirm the fact that Theravada is realist. They find it easier to wiggle through the suttas with their eisegesis than the abhidhamma and commentaries, for some reason, while embarrassing themselves with laughably incorrect and subjective interpretations of the many suttas that confirm realism. That said, though, some, bizarrely enough, even keep the abhidhamma and commentaries, and claim that they, too, are idealist, and not realist, if you read them right.


Well, I hope I wouldn’t overstep here, but I have an insider’s viewpoint.

  1. Just plain reading of early sutta vs commentaries gives a lot of differences.

  2. The rebirth evidences cases has accounts of people died, hang around somewhere and then got reborn, clearly showing the in-between states, as well as that one sutta which explicitly seems to confirm it by the Buddha. When a being died and not yet reborn it is sustained by craving. Also without the commentary interpretations of the 5 kinds of non returners, the spark that extinguishes before landing is intepreted by EBT as parinibbana in the in-between life. If non returners has in between life, then, it couldn’t be intepreted as ghost realm.

I am sure there’s more, but I am still learning more. Not yet so confident to say somethings yet.

Ps. remembered another. There’s sarvastivada abhidhamma as well, which is different from Theravada abhidhamma. It casts doubt that abhidhamma is by the Buddha as opposed to being composed later on, which explains the difference between the schools in abhidhamma, but not so much in sutta.

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I think the schismatic sects had two choices - either deny the Abhidhamma was recited at the first council or create their own Abhidhamma.
Denying it was difficult as it was well known that there was a Tipitaka.
Keeping the original Abhidhamma was impossible as this directly contradicted thir various wrong views. The best way was to create their own Abhidhamma that supported their erroneous ideas.


Which of the 31 plane are these in-between states?
This idea revolves around an idea of a self who is born and dies.

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Quote from sutta: But when someone who is attached has laid down this body and has not been reborn in one of the realms, what does Master Gotama say is their fuel then?”

“When someone who is attached has laid down this body, Vaccha, and has not been reborn in one of the realms, I say they’re fueled by craving. For craving is their fuel then.”

the sutta SN44.9 seems very clear that it’s not in any realms.

Quote from Ven. Sujato.
Rather than a “re-linking consciousness” the EBTs speak of the “stream of consciousness” or the “onflowing consciousness” that flows from one life to the next. Rebirth is a process, like leaving a house, walking down the street, and entering another house.

my comments:
As this in-between state is also impermanent, suffering, how can it be regarded as self?

it’s only if someone thinks after parinibbana something is leftover, then that something could be called a self. As parinibbana is permanent, not sufferring, if there’s anything leftover, that would be worth calling a self.

Before that, the 5 aggregates, rebirth etc, however we choose to label things, it can work in anyway and still also is not considered self.

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This could go both ways, the sarvastivada people might say the same thing about Theravada and it just happens that Theravada survives.

There’s also a point in sarvastivada abhidhamma (I think, haven’t actually read it), that mindfulness is neutral, which matches well with miccha sati in sutta, as well as the fact that mindfulness can be used to train better killers (assasins, soldiers, snipers). In contrast with Theravada abhidhamma which says mindfulness is always wholesome.

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Yes it is not in any realm because the moment of death leads immediately to the rebirth.
So upon death next moment is rebirth.

Except in the case of the arahat.

PTS Peter Masefield

commentary (Ud-a),1:10, Bahiya.

“When you, Bahiya, are not therein (tato tvam Baahiyna tattha), then
you, Bahiya, will be neither here nor there nor, additionally, in
both - this alone
is the end of dukkha.”

"It is, moreover, wrong on the part of those who seek reference to an
intermediate becoming (antaraabhavam) by seizing upon the phrase
ubhayamantarena [in both]. For the existence of an intermediate becoming
is altogether rejected in the Abhidhamma. …Furthermore, those who still
say that there is an intermediate becoming by seizing unmethodically upon
the meaning of such sutta-passages as “An antaraaparinibbaayin” (eg
Aiv 70ff) and ‘Those who are become or those seeking becoming’ (Khp8) are
to be rebuffed with ‘there is no (such thing)’ since the meaning of the
former sutta passage is that he is an antaraaparinibbaayin since he
attains parinibbaana (parinibbaayati) by way of remainderles
defilement-parinibbana through attaining the topmost path midway
(antaraa )[in lifespan]…, whilst the meaning of the latter
(sutta-passage) is that those who, in the former word, are spoken of as
‘those who are become’ (bhuutaa), are those in whom the asavas have been
destroyed, being those who are merely become, (but) who will not become
(again, (whereas the latter,) being the antithesis thereof, (and spoken of
as) ‘those seeking becoming’ (sambhavesino) since it is becoming
(sambhava.m) that they seek (esenti), are sekhas and puthujjanas on
account of the fetters giving rise to becoming not having been
abandoned…[…]For when there is a straightforward meaning that follows the
> (canonical) Pali, what business is there in postulating an intermediate
> becoming of unspecified capacity?


Just to go back to the OP question. this leads one to just see where does one has faith on.

The discussion above clearly show that there’s a difference between directly reading the suttas (if the Buddha knew that there’s no intermediate state, why didn’t he just say so? What’s the use of saying craving sustains that if there’s no time frame for it to sustain?)

And knowledge from abhidhamma, commentaries and so on which has the notion of rebirth relinking consciousness must immediately follow the death consciousness and doesn’t allow any existence (which is still samsara) beyond the standard realms of rebirth.

Many monks in EBT sees this kind of differences and choose to place their faith in the suttas or early suttas rather than the abhidhamma, commentaries etc, as guided by AN4.180.

AN4.180 says anything anyone claims to be the word of the buddha should be checked against the sutta and vinaya (note, not abhidhamma) and if they do not agree with/are not found in the sutta and vinaya, it’s to be concluded that they are not the words of the Buddha.

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But you don’t mention that Abhidhamma is classified at times as Tipitaka and at times as sutta.

Atthasalini (expositor) p. 32:

“Which is the Khuddaka Nikaya? The whole of the Vinaya-pitaka, Abhidhamma pitaka and the fifteen divisions excluding the four nikayas” p35 “thus as rehearsed at the [first]council the Abhidhamma is a Pitaka by Pitaka classification, khuddaka -nikaya by Nikaya clasification, veyyakarana by part-classification and constitues two or three thousand units of text by classification of textual units”

Thus Abhidhamma is also sutta.

Commentary to the Mahāparinibbānasuttaṁ (DN 16)

But in the list [of four things] beginning with sutta, sutta means
the three baskets [Suttanta, Vinaya, Abhidhamma] which the three

It is unfortunate that some can’t understand how profound Abhidhamma is and how it aligns exactly with what is real: what is here right now.

If they could they would see how Abhidhamma- pitaka , Sutta- pitaka and vinaya- pitaka are in agreement in every way, as they must be since they were spoken by the Sammasambuddha.


In ancient times some Bhikkhus also denigrated the Abhidhamma.

Expositor p.37

He who prohibits (the teaching of) Abhidhamma gives a blow to the Wheel of the Conqueror, denies omniscience, subverts the Teacher’s knowledge full of confidence, deceives the audience, obstructs the path of the Ariyas, manifests himself as advocating one’ of the eighteen causes of dissension in the Order, is capable of doing acts for which the doer is liable to be ex- communicated, or admonished,’ Or scorned (by the Order), and should be dismissed after the particular act of excommuni-cation, admonition, or scorn, and reduced to living on scraps of food.

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The Sarvāstivāda had distorted understanding and that is to be expected of a schismatic sect.

It is not surprising that some of these ideas appeal to a few today and thus we can see how hard it is to even develop correct intellectual understanding, let alone more than that.

Here is from Wikipedia:

The Vaibhāṣika school saw itself as the orthodox Sarvāstivāda tradition, and they were united in their doctrinal defense of the theory of “all exists” (sarvām asti). This is the doctrine which held that dharmas, past present and future, all exist . This doctrine has been described as an eternalist theory of time.

It is laughable - one would think, right- but still, somehow it is taken seriously.

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I started to reply… but it is just a trap.
EBT is just clickbait…with clickbait titles… and we live in a polarized world for clout articles rather than the proper pāḷi dhamma.

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How can we address the SN44.9 quote regarding “being sustained by craving” while staying in line with commentaries and Abhidhamma?


Hi Sam,
If tanha is absent then there is no condition for patisandhi citta to arise.
Tanha is the fuel of samsara. Thus the moment of death is distinct from the next moment.

Why do wrong viewers interpret this short phrase to mean that it shows there is some being flying around ( who is not in any realm) before rebirth?
That is the nature of wrong view - to try to find a self.


It becomes a vicious cycle. If one is fixated on imaginating an intermediate being then it shows there is no understanding, even at the intellectual level, of the rise and fall of dhammas. This leads to more imaginating, “maybe the Abhidhamma is wrong?” . And so on.
If it goes further one might believe the ancients of Theravada got it all wrong and deny their Ariya status.

How can this dangerous state be rescued?
If there is the beginning of distinguishing concept from reality one can see such ideas are mere thinking, conceiving .
Then there may be the turning towards the six doors and learning to study the seeing and color, the hearing and sound, the touching and hardness, heat and so on. And then the radical impermance and uncontrollabilty of each moment gets imprinted little by little. Doubts too are known as they are.
Then a virtuous cycle occurs and confidence grows as the teachings of the ancients are revealed to be exactly the same as what is occuring in life and nature.


Yes master it is so simple to understand…and there is similar sutta with fishermen son sati.