The Pali Canon Phenomenon

eTalk presented to the members of the Riverview Dharma Centre on Saturday, January 7, 2017.

“Start with the universe.” Bucky Fuller

In this talk, I will be discussing the phenomenon of the Pali Canon, considered as a whole as distinct from any particular part of the Canon. This talk should be suitable for newcomers to Buddhism who are trying to get an overview of the subject matter as well as advanced students who are familiar with all or part of the Canon, either directly in translation, through anthologies such as Bhikku Bodhi’s In the Buddha’s Words, or by listening to my series of talks on the Pali Canon and/or the Digha Nikaya.

The Pali Canon is the term used to describe a set of texts published in Pali between 1871 and 1956. There are five editions of the Pali Canon extant, including the first Burmese Edition (1900, 38 vols.) Pali Text Society Edition (1877-1927, 57 volumes); Thai Edition (1925-1928, 45 vols.); the Sixth Buddhist Council Edition (1954-1956, 40 vols.); and the Sinhalese Edition (1957-1993, 58 vols.). The Sixth Buddhist Council Edition, called the Chattha Sangayana, is available online at Thanks to the efforts of the Pali Text Society and others, almost all of the Pali Canon is now available in English translations ranging from fair to good, both in print and online. A new, truly critical edition of the Pali Canon is in the early stages of preparation in Wat Phra Dhammakaya, north of Bangkok. When finished, it should supersede through incorporation all of the previous versions of the Pali Canon. The Pali Canon will be truly restored to its theoretical singularity. However, will that event constitute the manifestation of the ekayana – true, universal dharma? It was not lost on the redactors of the Sixth Buddhist Council Edition that their project would culminate in 1956, which according to their calendar marked the 2500th year of the Buddhist era. In fact, 2100 is closer to the year 2500 BE.

A modern critical edition of the Pali Canon did not exist prior to 1900, about 2,300 years after the death of the Siddattha Gotama, the Buddha. Nevertheless, very few if any scholars doubt the antiquity of the modern text, based on the demonstrable antiquity of the Pali language and comparative study of texts similar or identical to texts in the Pali Canon in other ancient canons, especially the Chinese canon, and other traditions, especially the Sarvastivadin tradition, an almost complete collection of which was discovered recently in Afghanistan. The Pali Canon is a text of the Sthavirivada school, from which the Theravada claims to derive.  It is, therefore, a sectarian collection though it includes a substantial number of pre-sectarian texts too.

There is no reason to contest the traditional statement that the original Pali Canon was written down on palm leaves during the first century before the Common Era, almost three hundred years after the death of the Buddha in about 400 BCE. This latest consensus date came out of the Gottingen symposium, the results of which were published in The Dating of the Historical Buddha by the Gottingen Academy of Sciences in 1991 and 1992. Only the first two of a projected three volumes have been published. The range of dates for the death of the Buddha that is now increasingly given is between 410 and 370 BCE, supplanting the older date of 487 to 483 BCE, which in turn supplanted still older dates, going back (according to some) as far back as 2420 BCE! This is a good thing for the Pali Canon. According to the Theravadin view, the Buddha died in 545 BCE and the Pali Canon was first written down in the first century BCE, about 500 years after the death of the Buddha. The new date means that the Pali Canon may have been written down as early as three hundred years after the death of the Buddha. This should increase our confidence in the veracity of the Canon significantly.

The interval between the death of the Buddha and the approximate final form of the Pali Canon may even be smaller than this. Many scholars accept the view that the Canon achieved its approximate final form prior to the reign of Ashoka, who is nowhere alluded to, which would put the Canon prior to Ashoka’s conversion to Buddhism about 250 BCE, a mere 150 years after the death of the Buddha, just about the time of the Great Schism. For comparison, the Buddha predicted the future rise and fall of the city of Pataliputra (modern Patna) in the last year of his life, according to the Pali Canon. The Buddha’s prophecy refers to the rise of the Mauryan empire in 321 BCE. Barring actual prescience, these considerations broadly place the date of the Pali Canon between 321 BCE and 250 BCE. The Great Schism occurred during the Second Buddhist Council when the elder Sthaviras, the ancestors of the Theravadins, split from the majority Mahasamghikas over a disagreement on Vinaya. I am vastly oversimplifying because the Pali Canon is not a singular text but a collection of texts, some parts of which are certainly older and some parts of which are certainly more recent than the range of dates I have suggested.

It is clear from internal evidence that the Canon was edited, revised, and copied over hundreds of years. Thus, it is a heterogeneous cocktail of a text, riven by differences of details but characterized by a broad underlying uniformity, the product of a process of such intense intellectual energy that we can only imagine. The intellectual project of the Pali Canon is extraordinary. In the early days, changes or elucidations were probably made to clarify differences of doctrine, whereas as time passed the nature of the changes probably became more editorial in character. Thus, the Canon would have gradually congealed into stasis over time. The Canon itself indicates the conservatism and seriousness with which the task of preserving the dharma teachings was taken, as it still is today. To regard it as something that just “appeared” more or less spontaneously and effortlessly, perhaps due to guile, is surely a mistake. We must believe that there is an historical veracity at the core of the Canon. Nevertheless, while the Pali Canon can be said to derive from this core, nothing in the Pali Canon can be simplistically identified with it. A range of interpretations is always possible. The best approach seems to be to keep an open mind.

The Pali Canon is an aggregate of texts, some earlier, and some later. Rhys Davids classified the chronology of the Pali Canon in ten strata or stages, in which the earliest identifiable texts of the Pali Canon are the Paranavagga and the Atthakavagga, the final two chapters of the Sutta Nipata. We find these texts in the Khuddaka Nikaya, surprisingly, since the latter is generally associated with later matter. The third early text is the Pattimokkha, the rules of the sangha, although the Pali Canon alludes to a Pattimokkha of only 152 rules, compared with the 227 rules of the Pali Vinaya. This causes us to classify the Vinaya generally as a post-sutta text. The famous Rhinoceros or Khaggavisana Sutta, also in the Sutta Nipata, may be included here. These four texts, to which we can add the Five Precepts (Pansil), are as close as we can come to the words of the historical Buddha in the Pali Canon as it exists today.

The Atthakavagga addresses such basic concerns as desire, attachment, philosophy, mindfulness, detachment, the nature of Buddhahood (referred to as the Muni, or ‘Sage,’ similar to the Tao Te Ching, and Bhagavat, ‘Lord’), and the path.  The suttas emphasize the importance of independence and disdain philosophizing and seeking salvation through others. We must save ourselves. The Buddha opposes the doctrine of self-purification through the cultivation of inward peace to the doctrine that one is purified by the practice of philosophizing based on speculation and argument. Even at this early date, we see the Buddha celebrated and even worshipped as a descendent of the Sun, a Muni, an Isi, and a Sambuddha (‘perfectly or self-enlightened’). The Buddha is said to have been reborn from the Tushita (‘satisfied’) heaven, associated with the bodhisattva doctrine. The Buddha is described as having the thirty-two marks of a great man and as having the psychic power of telepathy. The realm of the deities (devas), including earthbound devas and Mara, are also referred to. The path is described as both gradual and instantaneous. The Buddha prohibits some of the same superstitious practices, especially prognostication, that he criticizes in the first sutta of the Digha Nikaya, the Net of Confusion (Brahmajala Sutta). As observed by Mrs. C.A.F. Rhys Davids, asceticism is deemphasized. Pain is observed, but not sought. The liberated person is free from attachment and revulsion and sees happiness everywhere. They are friendly and tolerant to all, much like the sage of Laozi. These texts, especially the Parayanavagga, introduce the same question and answer format that structures almost all of the suttas, suggesting that this may have been the major teaching method used by the historical Buddha.

Yet even these texts cannot be identified with the historical person of Siddhattha Gotama. For one thing, the Buddha is already partly divinized. They are, rather, interpretations of the teachings of the Buddha by the immediate successors of those arhants that convened the First Buddhist Council under Mahakassapa. By definition, we do not know who was not present at that meeting, or whose potential contributions were forgotten. Ananda’s significant contribution was only saved by his attaining the state of arhantship on the night before the council was set to meet. I have discussed these documents in my talk, “The Oldest Buddhist Scripture.” Rather than get into dogmatic minutiae here, in this talk I want to discuss the general implications of these discoveries for our understanding of the Pali Canon and its place in the context of the Dharma Transmission to the West, the ekayana, and the whole Buddhist oeuvre, from a universal perspective.

While on this topic of chronology I would like to address a common concern that one finds cropping up constantly in discussions of what Buddhism says and means, or should say and mean, and that is the statement that because a text is “later” than another text the later text can be disregarded. This bias seems to be based on the notion that through the application of a reductive method one can ultimately identify a hypothetical “Q” text that is therefore identical with the actual historical teaching of Siddattha Gotama (this is also based on the hidden axiom that Buddhism is restricted by or to the historical teachings of Siddhattha Gotama, an axiom that is refuted by no less a Buddhologist than Hajime Nakamura). Thus, one goes from the non-essential to the essential by a process of elimination. Unfortunately, no objective methodology on how to do this has been described and no new canon proposed based on the application of the unexplained method. Polish Buddhologist Stanislaw Schayer contests the underlying assumption of this approach, arguing that the exceptional and idiosyncratic texts that were nevertheless included in the canon are more likely to represent the original teachings, which based on this assumption  correspond more closely to the Mahayana.

The historicist, reductionist, “academicist,” fundamentalist approach to the Pali Canon is really missing the point. Even if we were able to identify the exact words of the Buddha, and thus create a revised, “corrected” Canon, in which only historically reliable material is included – based on the assumption that the dharma itself is historical and nothing else – the twin problems of ‘meaning and praxis’ (dharma-vinaya) would not disappear. Even during the Buddha’s own lifetime, these problems were recognized. Even if we were able to apply an absolutely rigorous method to this “Q” text to identify with certainty what each and every word of the historically corrected Pali Canon meant in the context of the meanings of the words in other, similar sentences and in the context of the Buddha’s cultural milieu, we cannot avoid the syntactic and semantic uniqueness of the sentences in which he used these words without denying the significance of the Buddhist project itself and we cannot identify what these sentences meant to the Buddha in his own interiority. We cannot identify the Buddha’s “authorial intent.” We can only know the Buddha’s mind through knowing our own Buddha mind, thus coming full circle.

Even so, such an analysis inevitably ignores what these sentences imply and what they might mean to us, both collectively and as individuals. Even in the Pali Canon, the Buddha is represented as giving different teachings and techniques to different individuals based on their personal needs and stages of spiritual development. Thus, to infer any perfectly consistent system from an historical reconstruction of the “original” teachings of the Buddha, himself merely one of many historically and samsarically contingent beings, is inherently paradoxical since the second half of the equation, the individual subjects themselves, is absent. Moreover, the axiom of impermanence (anicca), itself militates against any such possibility. As Kierkegaard notes, there is no repetition. While dharma itself may be supermundane, every samsaric expression of dharma is necessarily relative and contingent. Thus, there is no ultimate manifestation of dharma anywhere, but there are expressions more or less perfect based on their completeness (it does not follow, however, that these are all equal). The fundamentalist project is at its root self-contradictory and thus inevitably degenerates into religious fascism and ultimately nihilism, as we clearly see in the person of Devadatta, who also wanted to impose a maximally rigorous “Buddhism.”[1]

Not all of the Pali Canon purports to represent the ‘words of the Buddha’ (Buddhavacana). It is clear from the compilation of the Canon that the “canonicity” of the Canon does not inhere only in its being identical with the words of Siddattha Gotama. There are also suttas and poems uttered by others, rules, formulas, precepts, catechisms, summaries, stories, commentaries, analyses, histories, and the expositions of the Abhidhamma, the third major section of the Pali Canon, which codifies the suttas and was supposed to have been taught by the Buddha to his mother in Tavatimsa, the Heaven of the Thirty-Three Gods, yet Theravadins castigate Mahayanists for holding similar views about their sutras!

The Buddha was not mainly or even at all concerned with his own person. The goal of his renunciation was not personal; it was universal. His purpose in leaving home was very specific, and it only had to do with Siddhattha insofar as he was one of many. His purpose was to discover the dharma or truth underlying the universal suffering of living and sentient beings and its cure. The Buddha had already clarified that this is what he wanted to do himself to some extent. It is in the course of this quest or search that Siddhattha Gotama discovers the praxis and thus became a Buddha. It is the praxis, not the theory, which made Siddhattha a Buddha. Theory also precedes praxis, as well as following from it in the form of insight.

Thus, our concern in trying to identify the original words of the Buddha, insofar as we can do that, is not to find out about the Buddha himself but to find out about the dharma that he sought and taught, the most generalized meaning or interpretation of which is “natural law” or simply “truth,” especially the First Noble Truth of Suffering, and the praxis. These are not two things but one thing, since wisdom implies praxis and praxis implies wisdom. Thus, the Buddha said that we should make the dharma, not the Buddha or the sangha, our refuge and our teacher, and reason and experience our criteria of evaluation, not teachers or texts, including, presumably, the Buddha and Pali Canon. The Buddha deemphasized himself, and said that he was merely one of many (the lineage of Buddhas) and part of a group (the sangha). This does not, however, negate the fact of the Buddha’s primogeniture. This ontological fact alone proves that the path that leads to Buddhahood, the path of the bodhisattva so-called, is not the same as the path that leads to arhantship, the path of the sravaka so-called. However, it is clear from the Pali Canon that the fundamental difference between Buddhas and arhants was clearly recognized in the early texts.

The main part of the Pali Canon that quotes the Buddha or his close disciples includes the suttas or “discourses” of the Digha Nikaya, Majjhima Nikaya, Samyutta Nikaya, Anguttara Nikaya, and Khuddaka Nikaya. In the Khuddaka Nikaya, only the Khuddakapatha (five suttas), Itivuttaka (112 suttas), and Sutta Nipata (71 suttas) include actual suttas. Thus, there are approximately 5,572 suttas in total.

Digha Nikaya: 34 suttas (521 pages)

Majjhima Nikaya: 152 suttas (1,151 pages)

Samyutta Nikaya: 2,889 (1,888 pages)

Anguttara Nikaya: 2,308 (1,588 pages)

Khuddakapatha: 188

Vinaya: 1 (1,214 pages)

The suttas vary greatly in length, from 1,214 pages to one and a half pages. In English translation, they may be about 6,644 pages in total. This is about 3,322,000 words. When I speak, I use a rule of thumb of about 5,000 words per hour. Thus, all of the texts of the Pali Canon attributed to the Buddha, disregarding duplications of material, represents about 664 hours of speech. Since we know that the Buddha taught for forty-five years, we can say that the Pali Canon presents about fifteen hours of speech for each year that the Buddha taught – less than twenty minutes per week. Yet the Pali Canon itself represents the Buddha as engaged in almost continuous dialogue with visitors and Buddhist monastics on a wide variety of topics as well as a legislator of Vinaya. It is obvious that the Pali Canon itself is only a small fraction of what the Buddha himself must have actually said. The Pali Canon says even less about praxis. Many practices are referred but not explained, let alone described. This may indicate that the redactors of the Pali Canon were forgetting the practices or perhaps these were considered too sacrosanct to commit to writing. The Buddha alludes to something similar, when he says that the wisdom of the Buddha, “vast as the leaves of simsapa trees in a simsapa forest,” vastly exceeds what he actually says. Elsewhere the Buddha is presented as being reluctant to discuss speculative matters, warning his followers against becoming mere intellectuals and debaters, while emphasizing the preeminent importance of wisdom and meditation. The Pali Canon also represents the Buddha as hesitating to teach the dharma for fear he would not be understood.

This view of “lateness” derives from the Buddhist identification of time with entropy, which is identical with the axiom of anicca or ‘impermanence.’ Thus, everything decays into its elements and loses its identity over time.  “Even the dharma will be forgotten” is a familiar refrain. From this fear, the fundamentalist gains his motivation. Preserving the dharma from its own demise becomes a sort of bodhicitta. However, even in the context of the Buddhist worldview this axiom is inadequate because it is incomplete. Time is both entropic and negentropic. There is devolution but there is also evolution. Living systems demonstrate this and so do information systems. Information systems grow and expand, like a brain. As long as there is memory, there is progress. Thus, it is as absurd to say that a later school is ipso facto degenerate and therefore false due to the passage of time, even if not a single sentence of the teachings of that school is identical with a sentence spoken by the historical Siddhattha Gotama, as it is to say that the history of Western philosophy has no meaning or value in relation to the pre-Socratics or that quantum physics is inferior to Einsteinian relativity, which is inferior to Newtonian physics, etc. This extreme view turns out upon analysis to be incorrect. Thus, the fundamentalist project is false in its essence. In the Pali Canon, we read that the dharma wheel cannot be stopped and that it never stops rolling. However, in such a kinetic system it is clear that the older schools will be the ones most likely to become corrupted, whereas the newer schools will represent a mixture of error and insight, devolution and evolution, depending on their conditions. Thus, the quality of the manifestations of dharma changes over time as a function of changing conditions, but it certainly does not follow logically than later = inferior, even if the original truth of Buddhism could be established.

We cannot infer anything evidential from the non-appearance of a doctrine or concept in the earliest versus the later texts simply because the survival or non-survival of the early texts is certainly fortuitous and therefore arbitrary. We can assume I think that a significant number of early texts were incorporated into later texts of the corpus, and there is evidence in the Pali Canon of suttas being spliced into other suttas. Thus, old wine may appear in new bottles! Nor can we assume that the Pali Canon corpus itself is complete and therefore exclusive for the reasons already stated. While we might infer some axiomatic meaning from the presence of a doctrine in the earliest texts of the Pali Canon – there is a functional difference between the foundation and the attic of a house – no negative connotation can be inferred concerning the truth or falsehood of a later doctrine or text, any more than any “implication” can be stated to be inferior to an “axiom.” Axioms and implications have the same relationship to each other as causes and effects. For this reason when the Buddha refers to testing a new text or doctrine by reference to the established corpus he does not mean that it must be identical but rather that it must be continuous. Any other interpretation vitiates the axiom of impermanence (anicca) and is intellectually absurd.

The Buddha repeatedly implies that the application of reason to problems of religion can arrive at true conclusions “on the basis of truth,” even though he admitted that ultimate meaning and emancipation itself are beyond words or reason itself. Thus the Buddha discouraged empty speculation and cautioned his followers against dogmatism and sectarianism, referring each one to the authority of their own conscience, since enlightenment, like death, is experienced by and for oneself alone. The fruits of enlightenment may be shared but in itself, it is not a collective phenomenon. It is however false to infer from this fact that wisdom is  unimportant and that all that matters is practice, since the Buddha emphasized the salvific primacy of wisdom both in his statements and in his behavior, where he spent the better part of forty-five years teaching and instructing others.

Praxis without wisdom is unintelligible (as is wisdom without praxis). The Buddha made no distinction between Buddhists and non-Buddhists, rich and poor, lay and monastic, and men and women, instructing everyone who came to him openly and without prejudice, giving to each one what they needed in that moment to take the next step in their spiritual education. It is only later after the Buddha’s death that the predominantly male monastics began to make and enforce such discriminations. After the Buddha’s death, his successors established an increasingly dogmatic, authoritarian, and hierarchical organization that included systemic discrimination against women, dogmatic disputatiousness, and arguments about the practice and enforcement of the rules, culminating in the Great Schism of the Second Buddhist Council, about a hundred years later. This was followed by the disintegration into the Eighteen Schools, including disputes focused especially on the spiritual perfection and infallibility of arhants in relation to the Buddha.

Many scholars seem willing to accept the texts cited plus the Four Great Nikayas (Digha, Majjhima, Anguttara, Samyutta) as the foundation of “mainstream Buddhism,” but even these texts demonstrate a significant ideological development as well as internal doctrinal differences, especially in the matter of the spiritual status of men and women, which I have discussed at length in another talk, “The Status of Women in Ancient India and the Pali Tradition.” Those who advocate the notion that later texts are necessarily and inherently corrupt fail to consider that development may also imply an original potential implication that may very well originate in the person of the Buddha himself, just as a tree originates in an original and originating “seed,” even if the appearance of the mature form differs greatly from the germ, yet who says that the tree is not implicit in the seed or inferior to the seed or, even more absurdly, not the seed?

To take just one example, the Pali Canon includes a collection of Jatakas or “birth stories” attributed to the Buddha. According to the Pali Canon, the Buddha remembered many if not all of his past lives during his enlightenment experience, and throughout the course of his subsequent life, he would identify people, places, and events in his present life as Siddhattha Gotama with people, places, and events that he remembered from past lives. The Jatakas are generally dated to the fourth century BCE. Scholars recognize that many of the stories in the Jatakas come from other languages and media, including popular oral traditions that predate the Pali compositions and are also found in Hinduism. Therefore, many academic Buddhologists and “modernist” religionists might be inclined to reject the doctrine of rebirth itself based on the historical implausibility of the Jataka tales, but does this inference follow logically from the premise? The fact that the conservative redactors of the Pali Canon included the Jatakas in the Pali Canon, along with many accounts of supernatural powers, characters, and events in the suttas, are also relevant facts.  Similar considerations apply to the Mahayana literature. Questions of historicity and questions of meaning and value are not coterminous.

Another example: psychic powers. We need not believe that the Buddha actually levitated, teleported, and bilocated to accept that the Buddha demonstrated psychic powers on occasion, along with the vast host of other holy beings, both human and non-human, yet the evidence for the reality of some sort of psychic power is growing, and such powers as well as profound and powerfully transformative charisma and wisdom are commonly attributed to and demonstrated by so-called exceptional individuals throughout the human experience. This is the universal testimony of human history and Buddhism is not an exception to this. This is not surprising since the Buddha did not claim any originality for himself, but rather claimed to be restoring the ancient spiritual tradition.

A fascinating aspect of this association is the UFO phenomenon, wherein many of these powers are experienced both in the UFO contact experience itself and in its aftermath. The UFO phenomenon is fully evident in the Pali Canon (I have discussed this connection at length in “Buddhism and the UFO Phenomenon“), in accord with the historical hypothesis of Dr. Jacques Vallee in his book, Passport to Magonia. In view of the demonstrated physicality of at least some UFO manifestations, we should not arbitrarily reject the possibility of such powers, although the Buddha himself said that the development of such powers is not the main point or objective of his teachings.  Psychic powers and the UFO phenomenon itself also manifest in the context of the psychedelic experience and visionary phenomena, which are attested to in the Pali Canon.

One of the advantages of the Pali texts in relation to the founding texts of Christianity is the sheer abundance of material – 300 pages or so of primary Christian scripture, of which only about 12,000 words represents the words of Jesus (referring to Q and The Gospel of Thomas), compared with about forty volumes of material in the Pali tradition, mot of which consists of the words of the Buddha. Moreover, the Pali material is highly repetitive. One may hypothesize in such a situation that the tropes of the original and originating Buddhist texts were extensive and significant enough to (a) be preserved and (b) generate complex associations of meaning that led to meaningful implications that can then be refined by applying logical criteria to them. Quite simply, we know a lot more about Shakespeare because he wrote 37 plays than we would know if he only wrote one. The project is then to identify the general tropes in the Canon, collate them with each other, and submit them to criticism, to arrive at the truth of dharma.

This is precisely contrary to the fundamentalist project that tries to reduce the Pali Canon to a hypothesized set of original sentences, denies the value or legitimacy of any sentences outside that set or that any unstated implications do or could exist, and identifies through intensive comparative analysis the meanings and connotations of the words and sentences as they were spoken by the Buddha in a given semantic context, approximating as far as possible to “authorial intent.”  That such a project is impossible in principle is proved by the axiom of impermanence (anicca). There are no “permanent truths.” The truth is the middle way between dogmatic fundamentalist extremism on the one hand and subjectivism on the other. Mahayana and Hinayana need and correct each other. Without Mahayana Hinayana degenerates into arid literalism, whereas without Hinayana Mahayana degenerates into a flight of fancy.  The ekayana and the Dharma Transmission to the West include them both. We find this point of view most highly developed in the schools of Tibetan Buddhism, Chan, and esoteric Buddhism, and least developed in the Theravada sect, whose orthodox adherents still uphold the view, now thoroughly discredited, that the Pali Canon represents the verbatim utterance of the Buddha, in the language spoken by the Buddha, recalled by the photographic memory of Ananda, and handed down for several hundred years by a perfect or nearly perfect process of group recitation till it was written down on palm leaves and meticulously preserved for 1900 years and finally printed in Burma. The scorpion of self-purification has arisen in the heart of Theravada Buddhism in the form of so-called progressive or “modern” Theravada. It ends in historical nihilism, whereas the sutras state that after 2,500 years in the new age now dawning the dharma of the future will be personal and esoteric.


  1. The Pali Canon is a sectarian collection of sectarian and pre-sectarian texts, indiscriminately worked and reworked over centuries to form a composite textual aggregate.
  2. The core suttas of the Pali Canon were probably established by the mid-third century BCE, approximately a century and half after the death of the Buddha circa 400 BCE.
  3. The early and later Buddhist texts represent a complementary process of preserving and clarifying the original teachings of Siddattha Gotama, in the context of the universal dharma that he sought in relation to his special concern: the problem of universal suffering and its cure.
  4. The Pali Canon only represents a fraction of what the Buddha said, and what the Buddha said only represents a fraction of the dharma. The original teachings of Siddhattha Gotama and the dharma are not conterminous or coextensive.
  5. Dharma can only be ultimately understood by each individual for themselves through the exercise of reason and experience.
  6. Devolution and development in time co-occur. The dharma itself is unconditional and omni-evolutionary, yet its samsaric manifestations appear, develop, decay, and disappear and are always subject to error, flux, and change.
  7. Every expression of dharma is conditional and relative to what each individual needs at that moment. Universal dharma can only be inferred from this by a process of collation and abstraction and can never be perfectly arrived at. Largely it is intuitive and symbolic and ultimately trans-rational, thus allowing for new insights and formulations. Dharma is multivalent and is capable of multiple forms and interpretations without contradiction.
  8. Fundamentalism, organizationalism and authoritarianism all contradict the axiom of impermanence (anicca), since there are no permanent forms, and are thus adharmic. They are all contrary to authentic spiritual progress and are decadent, corrupt, reactionary, devolutionary, and after 2500 years, all historical Buddhist schools are more or less in the same boat. The whole system is stagnant. This is the mappo.
  9. What is needed is a radical comprehensive reformation. This is the Dharma Transmission to the West.
  10. Potentially all non-self-contradictory tropes in the Pali Canon are ultimately relatable to an original and originating trope. The task is to identify the recurrent patterns and recognize them as deriving from an original axiom, essentially expressed, identifying their implications and ultimately their praxis.
  11. “Original Buddhism” is the set of primary axioms.
  12. The complete set of primary axioms must explicate all subsequent implications.
  13. Tropes that contradict the known prejudices of the conservative male monastic organizationalists who compiled the Pali Canon may have been too well known and too entrenched to be expurgated, like similar passages in the Christian New Testament, thus highlighting their interest and integrity. Anything that contradicts the status quo is less likely to have been invented.
  14. The Buddahvacana includes dharma teachings not spoken by the Buddha. Thus, the denial of canonicity to Mahayana sutras is inconsistent. The latter may represent symbolic and visionary expressions of authentic implications of the axioms of the dharma and thus constitute authentic dharma realizations without being historically factual or spoken by the Buddha at all. Because dharma is unconditional potentiality the continuity of authentic dharma traditions, lineages, canons, sutras, and termas is infinitely extensive and diverse. Dharma is an open, not a closed, system.
  15. Spiritual development and enlightenment imply the experience of altered states of consciousness, visionary states, meditative states, dream states, radical metaphysical and philosophical intuitions and insights, powerful affective states, and influential charismatic states, similar to all other spiritual practices and traditions. Buddhism is continuous with Aryan/Indian tradition and exists in the universal context of shamanism and the perennial philosophy, the prehistorical ground of human spirituality.
  16. By collating all Buddhist expressions and resolving their complexities and contradictions into a coherent system of axiomatic generalizations one arrives at dharma. This is the hermeneutical method of the ekayana. This is the project of the Dharma Transmission to the West, which will achieve its apotheosis on all planes in the historical manifestation of Shambhala, the dharma society of the future.

[1] Nonetheless it appears, contrary to the Pali Canon, that Devadatta’s order was successful for about a thousand years.