Suttavadin Buddhism only accepts the Early Buddhist Texts as authoritative. Bhikkhu Sujato and Bhikkhu Brahmali define Early Buddhist Texts as, “Texts spoken by the historical Buddha and his contemporary disciples.”
This eliminates all the Mahayana Sutras since they were later creations and do not originate from the historical Buddha. It also eliminates parts of the Pali Canon, especially the Abhidhamma.
Bhikkhu Sujato and Bhikkhu Brahmali enumerate the texts that are Early Buddhist Texts:
They are the bulk of the Suttas in the main four Pali Nikayas and parallel Agama literature in Chinese, Tibetan Sanskrit, and other Indian dialects; the patimokkhas and some Vinaya material from the khandhakas; a small portion of the Khuddaka Nikaya, consisting of the significant parts of the Sutta Nipata, Udana, Itivuttaka, Dhammapada, and Thera- and Theri Gatha” (11-12).
The Suttas, or discourse of the Buddha, are found in the Pali canon and are known as the Sutta Pitaka or the Basket of Discourses. This basket includes:
- The Collection of Long Discourses of the Buddha (Digha Nikaya).
- The Collection of the Middle-length Discourses of the Buddha (Majjhima Nikaya).
- The Collection of the Connected Discourses of the Buddha (Samyutta Nikaya).
- The Collection of the Numerical Discourses of the Buddha (Anguttara Nikaya).
- The Collection of the Minor Collection of Discourses of the Buddha (Khuddaka Nikaya).
- The Short Passages (Khuddakapatha)
- The Teaching of the Path (Dhammapada)
- Buddha’s Inspired Utterances (Udana)
- Book of the Sayings (Itivuttaka)
- The Discourse Collection (Sutta Nipata)
- Male Elder Verses (Theragatha)
- Female Elder Verses (Therigatha)
- And others not considered to be Early Buddhist Texts
The thesis which Bhikkhu Sujato and Bhikkhu Brahmali, and which I follow, is “that the Early Buddhist Texts originated in the lifetime of the Buddha or a little later, because they were, in the main, spoken by the Buddha and his contemporary disciples” (5).
A Suttavadin Buddhist is simply one who holds that only the Early Buddhist Texts are authoritative for belief and practice. The other parts of the Pali Canon and the Mahayana Sutras should be treated as commentaries that may or may not be in line with the Buddha’s teaching.
Since the early school of the Suttavada (Sanskrit, Sautrantika) no longer exists, by the use of the term I do not endorse any particular teaching of this school. Rather, I am using the term to refer to their general attitude of taking “the direct words of the Buddha rather than… the commentaries… [or] Abhidharma” as authoritative (Rinpoche 57). When it comes to beliefs and practices I follow the Suttas (Sanskrit, Sutras).
- Bhikkhu Sujato and Bhikkhu Brahmali. The Authenticity of the Early Buddhist Texts. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society, 2014.
- Rinpoche, Khenchen Palden Sherab, and Khenpo Tsewang Donhyal Rinpoche. Opening the Clear Vision of the Vaibhashika and Sautrantika Schools, Pema Dragpa and Philippe Turenne, Eds. Sidney Center, NY: Dharma Sanuda, 2007.