The Suttas are the discourses of the Buddha. They are the scripture for those interested in the authentic teachings of the historical Buddha.

The Suttavadins were an early Buddhist school generally believed to be descended from the Sthavira nikāya. The Theravada school also descended from the Sthāvira nikāya. So the two were related. Only the Theravāda school survived.

Suttavādin means literally “those who rely upon the Suttas.” This was because they held that the Suttas, but not the Abhidharma, as authoritative. I am reviving the term because, just like the Suttavādins, I do not accept the Abhidharma as authoritative.

The simple fact is that the books of the Abhidharma were composed hundreds of years after the Buddha’s passing. Each of the major early divisions of Buddhism shared a common Vinya and Suttas but differed greatly in their Abhidharma books. This can easily be explained because they were composed after early Buddhism split into different groups.

“Theravada orthodox,” notes Bhikkhu Bodhi and U Rewata Dhamma, “maintains that the Abhidhamma Pitaka is [the] authentic Word of the Buddha” (9). They go on to say that the Theravada tradition explains this by claiming that the Buddha taught the Abhidhamma to the devas and his mother in Tavatimsa heaven. He later gave daily summaries of the teaching to Sariputta, who passed them on (10). “Theravadins,” writes Bhikkhu Analayo, utilized modes of authentication of Abhidharma scripture similar to those in use by followers of the Mahayana for their texts” (101).

The Suttavadins school is believed to have been founded in the third century CE by the elder Kumaralata. It is said that he became disillusioned with the Abhidhamma and sought to “eliminate confusion and abandon the later developments, with the hope of returning to the origin” (Wikipedia).

It is important to note that the Suttavadins were only a doctrinal division and not a schism, for they did not create their own ordination linage. The most important feature, and the one I follow, is holding only the Suttas authoritative for Buddhist belief and practice.

References

  • Analayo, Bhikkhu. Superiority Conceit in Buddhist Traditions: A Historical Perspective. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publication, 2021.
  • Bodhi, Bhikkhu, U Rewata Dhamma, and Mahathera Narada. A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma: The Abhidhammattha Sangaha of Acariya Anuruddha. Onalaska, WA: BPS Pariyatti Editions, 2010.
  • Wikipedia contributors, “Sautrāntika,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sautr%C4%81ntika (accessed February 11, 2022).