Why should I follow Classical Theravada?

Hello all,

I have been meditating sincerely for about a year now, and I have noticed something.

When I follow the instructions of Abhidhamma monks, I feel very discouraged. I walk, and when I’m walking, I have to note everything until I am speed-talking like an auctioneer in my head. I wonder “how could this possibly take me to stream entry?” but then I remember that wondering that is wrong, I’m supposed to be meditating, and then I feel even more discouraged. At the end I feel like I’ve just been wasting my time.

Yet, when I follow the instructions of DN 22 and Thai Forest monks, everything makes sense. I “remain focused on the phenomenon of origination & passing away with regard to the body”, and I try to become an experimenter like the buddha was, following “the taste of liberation”. I notice the origination of the desire to move my feet, and the momentary happiness that comes with the cessation of the desire when the movement is completed. And I think, “perhaps if I focus on that moment, I will learn more about desirelessness”. I feel encouraged, and at the end I feel like I learned something.

So why should I follow abhidhamma practice? Have I just been given bad instructions? What benefits do Abhidhamma and the commentaries bring?

Thank you.

Abhidhamma and commentaries are beneficial to study so you can understand the Dhamma in the context of the time it was actually taught (at least somewhat close to it compared to now). You also have to remember that you dont need to study everything to attain liberation. Many of the Buddhas monks enlightened hearing only one sutta. And i dont even think most studied every single sutta. But if you want a comprehensive understanding of the body of teachings, classical is beneficial and imo the most likely to be accurate (even though i dont think classical theravada or anything in the modern world is comprehensively 100% accurate Dhamma)

If you find benefit to meditating with Thai forest tradition monks go ahead, I generally never discourage anyone from trying anything. Kinda defeats the “come and see” attribute of the Dhamma to do so. You also have to remember what works for someone else may not work for you. The Buddha taught multiple meditation techniques, he wouldnt have done that if there was such a thing as one size fits all. People respond to different methods differently.

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It is not the only meditation-technique that is recommended in Classical books. There are various meditations recommended for various character types in Visuddhimagga, Abhidhammathasangaha and Sutta commentaries. Not every technique is recommended for all.

And some of the modern “noting-meditation” techniques are criticized by the Classical scholars as well.

Actually some of the Thai forest techniques are considered calming, but the problem is the Views of them. Their techniques carry the meditator towards their goal of the view.

Classical books recommend to contemplate “origination & passing” of Khandas, not of a person. First of all one has to identify Khandas before Vipassana. Otherwise one will contemplate some other thing as Anicca-Dukkha. It is not the correct vipassana recommended in Classical book.

To secure the view first, which is the fore-runner of every thing.

Classical books show how to do meditation without getting trapped by any other good or bad Non-Buddhist meditation-techniques and views.

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This sounds like what is called " the Burmese method". It seems to be an interpretation of the satipatthana sutta, but I think it is debateable that it is fully orthodox.

It would.be good if you read Abhidhamma and the Visuddhimagga. I’d like to know where noting would be a complete Calssical Theravāda package too. :innocent:

I’d like to recommend mindfulness of breathing by ven. Nyanamoli. Or Mindfulness of Breathing and The Four Elements by Pa-Auk Sayadawgyi.

Knowing and seeing by ven Pa-Auk Sayadawgyi is a good book as well. It is quite close to the Visuddhimagga and Abhidhamatthasangaha.

Thai Forest tradition is not Classical Theravāda. It is its own thing. We are quite happy that they often qualify and trademark their own flavor and their followers do the same. Then we are less confused about why students are confused if they mention this. The Thai Forest Tradition’s Bible: The Biography of Ajahn Mun talks about previous Buddhas lining up to congratulate him.

Welcome. I hope you came here to learn. You are welcome to learn here. Fresh beginners are usually good to learn from Classical Theravāda. You are most welcome to join and learn here. Please read our new Faq. You seem to qualify as somone who wants to learn.from us and we hope you can learn from us.

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Yes this was one of my original motivations for joining your forum.
I don’t necessarily think that modern views are better than ancient ones. Often the contrary…

Other Abhidhamma buddhists I’ve spoken to have told me the Thai Forest monks only teach Samatha Jhana. Is this what you mean by calming?

The descriptions of Samatha Jhana I’ve heard seem quite different from the Suttas’ descriptions of Jhana, which the Thai Forest tradition follows.

Isn’t Right View the same as the Four Noble Truths?

“And what, monks, is right view?
Knowledge with regard to stress,
knowledge with regard to the origination of stress,
knowledge with regard to the stopping of stress,
knowledge with regard to the way of practice leading to the stopping of stress:
This, monks, is called right view.”

I would like to learn more about how to meditate, according to classical theravada. I’m looking for a good book on the topic.

Thank you for the recommendations. But I haven’t even finished the Sutta Pitaka…

I rushed through Thanissaro’s Digha Nikaya, like it was a novel, and I somewhat regret it.
But I have read and re-read DN 22 many many times. This way works better for me.

Out of the books listed;

The Abhidhammatthasangaha,
the Visudhimagga,
Mindfulness of Breathing by Ven. Nyanamoli,
Mindfulness of Breathing by Pa-Auk Sayadaw,
The Four Elements,
and Knowing and Seeing;

is there a specific one you would recommend for someone who is new to Abhidhamma, to read slowly and practice carefully? A “DN 22” of Abhdhamma?

I try to follow the Kalama Sutta. So everything should be questioned. Is Ajahn Mun trustworthy? Are the Commentaries and Abhidhamma trustworthy? Are the Suttas trustworthy? Did the Buddha really exist? Am I dreaming? Are you dreaming? Am I a figment of your imagination?

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. I could wake up tomorrow and feel the VR goggles fall off and discover I’m a tentacle alien playing a video game. It doesn’t matter. I will still feel stress, I will still desire the end of stress, and for as long as I know the Dhamma I can continue practicing it and feel myself getting closer and closer to liberation.

I believe you have a background in Computer Science, right? Then you know even mathematics is questionable, according to Godel. It still has its assumptions and axioms. The Dhamma is different. The four noble truths are universal and undeniable, because they are directly experienced; no argument or theory, no matter how logical, can convince you that you are not suffering when you are.

So it doesn’t matter a whole lot to me what Ajahn Mun’s biography says. I check everything against the axiom of experience.
“When adopted and carried out, does it lead to welfare and happiness?”
So far his tradition has been the most fruitful for me. But I know little.

I did come here to learn. I’m glad my intentions survived the process of putting them into words. Sometimes they don’t.


You don’t have to note. It’s just a recommended technique. That said, have you considered Samatha meditation instead? Mindfulness of breathing is an obvious one, but it can be tricky to master. There are also the Kasiṇas, which might be a bit easier.


Dear hannibal,

Yes, but their Samatha can be somewhat different from the Classical Samatha.

Did you mean Thai-forest Jhana descriptions are in accordance with the Sutta or otherwise?

Yes, but the four noble truths are defined differently in different traditions.
Different Interpretations makes Four Noble Truths different.

Let’s take the first two Noble truths:

  1. Dukkha is Panca-Upadana-Khandas (mentioned Dhammacakka Sutta)
    Dukkha is not defined as a Dukkha in the general sense.
    It is not the Dukkha of a Person or the Dukkha of a part of a Person. (eg: Dukkha of a person’s body)
    Dukkha is the Stress of Khandas.
    Khandas includes each and everything in the world.
    There should be no remainder (like universal-consciousness, bright-mind) apart from the Khandas.
    (Thai-forest-tradition believes in a Consciousness outside the 5 Khandas)
    Therefore the First Noble Truth is different in different traditions.

  2. Samudaya is Tanha (mentioned Dhammacakka Sutta)
    Samudays is Paticcasamuppada (menioned in another Sutta)
    To know Paticcasamuppada, one must know the definitions of it’s 12 parts such as Sankhara, Nama-rupa, Salayatana etc.
    They are differently defined in different traditions. (Nama is different, Salayatana are different etc.)
    Therefore the Second Noble Truth is different in different traditions.

Likewise All the Four Noble truths are different in different traditions and movements.

Classically recommended meditation manual is Vidsuddhimagga. But to read the last half of it, one needs some Abhidhamma basics beforehand, where he needs Abhidhammatthasangaha.

If you want to quickly and easily learn about the Character-types and the Recommended mediations for each character-type, you should read the following chapters of the above two books, which don’t demand Abhidhamma knowledge beforehand.

  • Abhidhammatthasangaha CHAPTER IX: MEDITATION SUBJECT (Kammaṭṭhānapariccheda)

For the long run you should read the above two books (and sometimes commentaries or explanations of them).

For your convenience, I would mention some of the Non-Classical fundamentals followed by different authors because they include those views in some of their books or in translations as foot notes.

Venerable Thanissaro has a different view about Anatta
Venerable Sujato/EBT group has a different view about Paramattha
Venerable Nanavira/ Nananada has a different view about Paticcasamuppada
Venerable Thai-forest monks have a different view about Khandas
Venerable Bodhi has a different view about Puggala

All of them (all Non-classical authors) write books in order to convince the reader their views while presenting some good material.


These are slender and digestible books (now with links).

When you outgrow those books. A condensed practical version of the vsm is
Knowing and Seeing. (older version listed… I like better)


There is also Manual of Mindfulness of Breathing: Anapana Dipani by Ven. Ledi Sayadaw.

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Here are some

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To me, Abhidhamma is just as important as the other two aspects of the Pali canon.

In fact, many Suttas are giving Abhidhammic vibe when you read them such as Bījasutta, Udānasutta, Sattaṭṭhānasutta, Puṇṇamasutta and many more. Many Abhidhamma scriptures are aimed to dispel wrong views and delusion.

Therefore, we should try to understand Abhidhamma, even just a small part of it, could be useful in understanding.


Why not include these in a “textual study” topic, in all three or one by one and discuss this?


Friend, you haven’t received proper instructions.


Something related from another topic:

The difference between Classical and Non-Classical Vipassana Approaches

Visuddhimagga recommends identifying Khandas (Ditthi-visuddhi/Sankhara-pariccheda) and their causes (Kankhavitarana-visuddhi/ Paccaya-pariggaha) first of all.

Venerable scholar Maggavihari preaches that Ditthi visuddhi is the “Door” to Vipassana, without which the Vipassana is unsuccessful.

(And he says he will start lessons on Vipassana fundamentals, after he finished Nama chapter in his lesson series.)

And there are a lot to learn about Anatta because Anatta seems to have many categories where each category have a special cause for it.

A Non-Classial Theravadin or Non-Theravadin may reflect Anicca-dukkha-anatta of

  • wrongly interpreted Khandhas
  • or of a Person
  • or of a parts of a Person
  • or of personal-entities misrecognized as impersonal-entities (unknowingly)

They contemplate Anicca-dukkha-anatta of Pannattis (Concepts) or of Pannattis-with-Paramathas.

Therefore distinguishing Pannatti and Paramattha considered very important.

When one contemplate Anicca-dukkha-anatta of Pannattis, like Marana-sati meditaion, as Araka Satthu (Bodhisatta) did, it may still develop Wisdom, but not Buddhist Vipassana Wisdom.

This is where many Non-Classical Theravadins get deceited, because they know their paths can develop Samatha and Wisdom.

According to the Visuddhimagga:

  • Samathayanikas start Ditthi visuddhi after attaining jhanas.
  • Sukkhavipassakas start Diithi visuddhi after Dhatumanasikara (Catudhatuvavatthana).

Perception of Impermanence and Nonself: How to do it?

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Thank you all for the great advice.

I’ll ask more questions once I’ve finished reading, and started practicing what I’ve read :grin:

Metta :pray:

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