Those Who Follow Only Suttas

You must be new to English Dhamma circles. :laughing:
Take a look at two of the monks listed in this topic.

We should focus on what is useful and not focus on saving the world from what is not useful.
EBT tries to focus on what is wrong and save the world but it is counter productive. There are many variations of such EBT and they seem to disagree with each other because fault finding is their nature .
I have no problem with a monk who focuses on a single sutta and nothing else. It is the monks who criticize other works that is a problem.

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What Bhante Subhuti said is true.

I might suggest to the people who doubted the commentaries…if you don’t feel like to read it, you can leave it aside, that’s fine. That is your personal choice. But please don’t turn around and bite senselessly.

Other than English “EBT” circle, in Asian countries such as Thailand and Malaysia, there are similar campaign too. In Thailand, it is “Buddhawajana” trend from Wat Nongpaphong, led by a monk by Ajahn Kukrit. He compiled some scriptures based on Thai modern translation (that he thought is authentic) and put it as “Buddhawajana” books. And he claimed by read these books published by him, the real Buddha’s teachings can be known. By doing this, not only he attempted to replace the Pāli Tipitaka canon, change the order of scriptures and discarded many of the teachings, rejected 227 precepts system… essentially he divided the Buddhist communities into two: a community that uphold Pāli Tipitaka canon and another uphold Ajahn Kukrit’s “Buddhawajana” books. Now both these communities are often quarrel and indeed sad to see this happening in Thai Buddhist circle.

In Malaysia, LP Dhammavuddho (deceased) taught and written many things saying that only Nikayas are teachings of the Buddha but not Abhidhamma Pitaka and Atthakatha. He is indeed err as he don’t even know the meaning of Nikaya arrangement. While alive, he went on preaching wrong view such as “Antarabhava”, there is a “Soul” in the body, “Soul” will leave the physical body as an identity searching for rebirth, and other folk superstition such as give food offering directly to Peta (hungry ghosts). Many local Buddhists led to believe these sort of things and turned superstitious. Even now he is dead, the damage is done. What an unfortunate event.

I can’t help to but think that now Buddhasasana is walking towards its disappearance due to all these misguided people. Buddhasasana will never be destroyed by outer factors such as war or famine; rather it will be destroyed by inner factors such as misinterpretation, cutting down Vinayas, preaching wrong views as right views, etc.


I have been to a monastery in Chicago that has all of his literature and the monk who lives there says he does not follow Ajhan Kukrit but follows The Buddha. He is basically a follower or from the same movement. He is the same including the 150 patimokkha rules.

I am not sure if they have ordained anyone or created simas, but questions should be asked about their procedures since they reject all commentary . This is how a split can occur from suttanta only.

This monastery in Chicago is a “rock in a hard place”. They follow basic vinaya but vinaya monks don’t want to go there. Money-using-monks are not welcome there, so there is only one monk there. The followers are in their 70s or 80s.
The descendents from these are not so Buddhist from years of dhamma-is-chanting-food-giving-money abuses.

a person can support himself in any portion of the Canon he can feel. There is no reason to reject the presence of the rest which can be useful for other people from 2.500 years ago.

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Maybe this is slightly tangent, but these are some impressions I’ve gotten here in the US, specifically the Midwest, among the laity:

The lay community is composed of four types: Asian immigrants for whom Buddhism is a cultural affair, faith followers who (usually) took a Goenka course, teachers, and serious, often intellectual types.

  1. The immigrants don’t really care about suttas or study. They’re there for social functions. They consider ordination but for all the wrong reasons.

  2. The faith followers don’t really care about suttas or study. They tend to believe whatever they’re told by their local sect and any discussion about suttas, commentaries, or the like could even potentially contradict what their local sect teaches makes them really uncomfortable. They tend to either have irregular practices or if it is consistent, it’s only 30m or so a day. They’re not generally considering ordination.

  3. Most lay teachers are forming their own ideas and trying to present them to a Western audience, but they do tend to have a broad affiliation of some sort (Theravada/jhana practice, or maybe Soto Zen). They’re not teaching from a traditional perspective as they (rightly) assume that Western audiences would reject much of the traditional approaches found in Asia. Folks in this group are not considering ordination at all and they tend to have regular practices. There’s one notable exception to this group: teachers in the Goenka tradition. Given the quarks of that particular organization, teachers here are not really teachers so much, but tend to be more facilitators and fall more into the faith follower category. Their training seems to be very regimented and specific. I’ve sat in a lot of student interviews and maybe only 1 out of every 50 wasn’t some variant of “return to the meditation object and keep working, you can do it!”

  4. The serious intellectual types are typically not dedicated to a specific sect. This is the group that cares about suttas and commentaries. Folks in this group typically feel adrift and uncomfortable about not being dedicated to a specific sect. But it’s really hard for them to settle down because they see faults in all the sects, they see faults in the canons of the whole world of Buddhism as they’re typically aware of the scholarly work/Bhikkhu Analayo, and they are desperate to resolve all these inner contradictions. Their practice either tends to be very irregular or very dedicated (2+ hours a day) but not much in between. They’re often considering ordination.

The last group is particularly interesting imo, and it’s one I belong to, but I’ve met tons of other folks that fall into this category. Folks in this group really want to find a path to follow vigorously and seriously but they have a lot of objections to file through. Many of these objections are the result of a Western background, but a lot of it is just honestly that the information is so much more available and there’s less opportunity for information and tradition silos to occur.

This last group has a wide range of approaches to attempt to resolve the internal doubts and difficulties each individual feels. One such approach is to strictly follow only what the Buddha taught, as the Buddha is a reliable source and any later developments are loaded with cultural baggage. It’s this group that will be “sutta only” followers. And of course there’s a lot of problems with this approach, not least of which is determining a canon, as folks in this set are going to be really interested in authenticity and may throw out a lot of suttas that are in the Theravadan canon based off current scholarship/hermeneutics, and the fact that the Buddha himself taught within a specific cultural context and there’s some things, like the treatment of women, that are likely to be unacceptable to a modern Western audience. In any case, cherry picking of some sort has to occur and there’s going to be pros and cons to every approach.

Another approach folks take is to rely on their own experience and what can be shown to them in their practice or through simple reasoning. This group tends to care less about tracing back suttas to the Buddha and tends toward lots of skepticism. They accept the general idea behind Buddhism but after that you have to “prove it” for them to believe it. For this reason they tend to be just as well-read in the Mahayana as Theravada and will readily borrow ideas from there…or anywhere really. They resolve the internal contradiction through the Kalama Sutta or even Rhinoceros Sutta.

Most of the folks in this fourth group don’t ever resolve the internal contradiction though. They float from sect to sect and author to author until they give up on Buddhism, ordain in a tradition but disrobe after their doubts just simply follow them, or fall into a private practice. Their cycle is to get really interested in some approach, Rinzai Zen for example, and dive into it just to leave feeling disappointed when they see how it works in the real world. Zen tends to hold special appeal for this group as it appears to be iconoclastic and to take a very pragmatic, “whatever works” approach but then they get into it and find that it’s really regimented, not open-minded at all, and the teachers have not transcended suffering or even simple bad behavior.

So ya, there you go. This is just my impression of the lay community here in the US. Those that follow only suttas are not really common among that group, but there are a few. I might suggest really considering that Buddhism is mostly failing its Western practitioners. There’s a lot of good to be done in resolving the mess.


This is obviously true of many people born into a Buddhist society. However, unless you’ve actually spent some time with a community, and got to know people, I’d be cautious about such generalisations. Some of the lay Thai people I know well are much more inspiring to me than most people who would fall into your “serious” category.

Many places made by immigrants are just cultural centers. One Lao place in Hawai’i, sell alcohol for their gatherings as a fundraiser. They invited me to come to the place again but I refused on the condition they don’t sell alcohol anymore. They told me not to come back.

I’ve heard it is common in American Lao temples to sell alcohol.
They probably take 5 precepts while holding a beers in between their anjali hands.

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“Asevana ca balanam; panditananca sevana…”

I think we just have to choose the ‘correct’ Buddhist community to mingle with…

Many so-called “Buddhists” are just taking the brand name to gain a sense of belonging only, without sincerity in learning and practising the Dhamma.

The truth on this matter is that there’s going to be exceptions within any population, and I acknowledge that.

However, the (admittedly few) temples and monasteries I’m familiar with are performing weddings, have monks accepting money, and are really just the local immigrant community church, but instead of a crucifix there’s a Buddharupa at the front of the room. This seems to be the majority of the immigrant temples.

I call this sort of Buddhism “Buddhist Paganism.” Every single major world religion has a current of strong deterioration toward paganism, which is marked by:

  1. A clergy focused on performing social functions (like weddings and other get togethers) as well as reinforcing tribal affiliations.

  2. Interpretation of the religion in a material way that commoners can readily grasp. This can mean taking metaphors as literal or reinterpreting abstract concepts into something material.

  3. An emphasis on ritual with the belief that the ritual is literal. A doubling down on the fetter of attachment to rites and rituals.

  4. A desire to appease a supreme spirit or group of spirits.

Hats off to those SE Asians that see through that and become serious practitioners. They deserve commendation. I’ve yet to meet one here in the US (well, I met one that fell into the faith follower category above).

Sadly, Soto and Sambo Zen have far more serious practitioners than anybody here in the US. Goenka centers seem to have the most faith followers but 10%-ish of Goenka old students are very confused serious students looking for a place more in line with the actual path.

If I thought Zen led to Nibbana or Arhatship I’d probably do that for the convenience lol. Theravada, outside Goenka and immigrant temples, just hasn’t made the same inroads.

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Well said. Reminds me of something I just read recently from the Chuang Tzu:

It is said, “When the Tao was lost, Virtue
when Virtue was lost, benevolence appeared;
when benevolence was lost, righteousness
when righteousness was lost, ritual appeared.
Rituals are just the frills on the hem of the
Tao, and are signs of impending disorder.”


That’s Tao Te Ching 38 and I love that passage. My favorite of the whole Tao.
My favorite version is:

When the Way is lost, kindness arises.
When kindness is lost, law and order arises.
When law and order are lost, ritual is what remains.
Empty ritual is the dead husk of true faith, the beginning of Chaos.

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Hey thanks! This was puzzling me, it is in Chuang Tzu, chapter 22, The Shores of the Dark Waters, page 188 of the Palmer translation, and I was thinking “I know I’ve heard this one before.” and now you’ve confirmed for me: it’s from the Tao Te Ching! Funny, and I imagine that’s one of the reasons scholars agree the later Chuang Tzu chapters are not original to Chuang Tzu the person, as they show signs of other ideas, apparently!

If you’ve not read Chuang Tzu, I highly recommend it! The Palmer translation is cheap and widely available. It’s more story based, and less just terse aphorisms like the Tao Te Ching. There’s also a lot of comedy and fun.

I wouldnt say your classifications are wrong. but maybe your descriptions. for sure some temples are purely cultural centers, but the only reason Buddhism even got a foothold in the US was because of serious Buddhist teachers and practitioners from ethnic temples. Theres a huge spectrum among the cultural Buddhists. Its the same as church in the US, some churches are just for a local community center, some are serious prosteylizers. Among Buddhist centers, asian immigrants tend to grativate to what they want so you have these full of immigrants who just use the temple as a cultural center and also temples of asian immigrants who are very serious practitioners. And its not like thats unique to immigrants, look at the new age white hippie Buddhists in america who smoke weed and do LSD while discussing how far out Buddhist philosophy is.

The intellectual types are also a huge spectrum. Theres intellectual types who read the suttas literally just to fight with ppl online about whats right or not and show off thier ability to quote suttas. others love to study the dhamma but dont really practice it in real life other than easy stuff they can do at home. and theres people who do real world practice in strong tandem with the learning the suttas. Ive found that the intellectual types (from what ive seen) are not that likely to actually ordain, despite being more versed in the vinaya than some monks are. and seeming to know everything about various doctrines taught mainly to monks in the Buddhas time. Intellectual type buddhists (defined as you did as reading suttas and commentaries as opposed to people who just read buddhist books) are also a fairly new phenomena as they werent that common in the pre-internet era due to the relative diffculty of getting your hands on a copy of the tripitaka. And its not like someones just gonna wake up one day and decide to buy a copy of it unprovoked.

Generally speaking he is correct about many things, but not all. That is the problem with blanket statements. There are quite a few Lao monasteries in the USA that sell alcohol for fundraisers.

There are of course places of serious practice monks, and those who study, or do both and devotees to go with those places. His view is devoid of monk life at such places or limited to Thai Forest Tradition…

However, it is a smaller word than a small world and we tend to all know each other and are related in many ways even from different countries. At IIT, there are several monks from different monasteries that know of or have been related to wat khao group or paauk group and one lao group which recently switched to be more like wat khao. The leader of that Lao group will be visiting the monastery I have been to in Chicago. There is a good chance we will meet one day since I know many of his students. There is also a cambodian franchise that follows proper vinaya according to commentaries…One of those monks is here, he also lived in Thailand at a Wat Khao connected place and Paauk before. There are so many interconnections between sincere monks because there are so few places.

And with that, we could say @Philosophy is generally correct.

He is correct generally, his categories are pretty accurate divisions, even at cultural temples that are generally very serious, the people are there for the social gathering for the most part. but thats a good thing. The Buddha said spiritual friendship is not half of the spiritual life, it is all of it. So nothing wrong with that in and of itself. You just need a good group to rub off of. The alcohol thing seems true as well, i havent seen it in my ventures at cultural temples but that does seem like something that would happen at some places from what ive seen. but thats not specific to immigrants. When i go to those meditation/eastern spirituality fairs popular among the Thich nhant hanh, and jack kornfield book reading western Buddhist intellectual types. they literally have stands selling weed, and half the goers are high on shrooms or LSD while talking about how they like to read Buddhist books and meditate.

A striking difference between classical Theravada practitioners and Theravada modern writers is the understanding of sutta.

For example, in Karaniyamettasutta,

Pali text:
Bhūtā va sambhavesī va,
Sabbasattā bhavantu sukhitattā.

Modern translation:
Those born and to-be-born —
May all beings be at ease.

But in the Khuddakanikaya Atthakatha Commentary, it is this meaning:

"That are (bhuta): that have been born, generated;
they are reckoned thus ’ They are (have been), they will not be again’, which is a designation for those with taints exhausted, [namely, Arahants].

That yet seek to be: sambhavesino=sambhavam esanti (resolution of compound); this is a designation for Trainers (Sekha) and ordinary men (Puthujjana), who still seek being (sambhavam esantanam) in the future, because they have not abandoned the fetter of being (existence). Or alternatively, in the case of the four kinds of womb generation, (see e.g. M. i. 73), creatures that are egg-born or uterus-born are called those that yet seek to be as long as they have not broken the egg-membrane or the caul-membrane [respectively]; but when they have broken the egg-membrane or the caul-membrane and have come out, they are called those that are. However, moisture-born creatures and those of spontaneous appearance are called those that yet seek to be in the first moment of their cognizance, and they are called those that are from the moment of the second cognizance; or else they are those that yet seek to be as long as they do not reach any posture other than that in which they were born, while after that they are called those that are."

This is so different in terms of understanding. And according to the tradition, the Metta range is even wider, it covers both enlightened beings and non-enlightened beings.