Sutta Slime is an amateur project dedicated to freely sharing information about Early Buddhism.
The “Early Buddhism” movement is concerned with reconstructing something that theoretically resembles pre-sectarian Buddhism by identifying the oldest parts of the various sources that have survived into the modern age, with the assumption that these most ancient parts are also the most authentic - those most likely to have been taught by the historical Buddha.
The most reliable method of establishing material as “pre-sectarian” is to ensure that it is shared by the various traditions which emerged after the sangha began to splinter into different schools. These common materials being preserved despite the developments which evolved internally within these later sects strongly suggests that they were inherited from an older, unified sangha. These materials are commonly called the "Early Buddhist Texts," or EBTs.
The EBTs exist alongside materials which are obviously later innovations, as evidenced by their absence from the collections of rival schools as well as their blatant contradictions with the EBTs. “Early Buddhism,” then, is defined by isolating the early material from these later innovations.
My name is Dillon. I was once on track to become a Buddhologist, but I dropped out of graduate school while struggling with my mental health. Eventually, I converted, mostly engaging with Vajrayana, but after discovering the “Early Buddhism” movement (primarily through the works of Bhikkhus Analayo and Sujato), my interest shifted to those doctrines I now believe are pre-sectarian.
Transparency is an important part of this project. There are shortcomings with the “Early Buddhism” movement, my own work, and myself as a practitioner that you should be aware of if you read anything on this site. I encourage you to consult other sources, consider opposing ideas, and be thorough in your research.
> The “Early Buddhism” movement must be differentiated from “Early Buddhism.” “Early Buddhism” refers to the tradition which existed during the Buddha’s life, and shortly after his death, before the religion divided into diverse schools of thought. As such, it may also be called “pre-sectarian” Buddhism. The historical existence of “Early Buddhism” is a certainty. The “Early Buddhism” movement, on the other hand, exists in modernity, and comes from attempts to establish what exactly “Early Buddhism” was.
> This movement is reconstructionist in nature, and as such, the form of Buddhism it presents is theoretical. Even if the conclusions we reach are absolutely correct - something which can’t be said with 100% confidence - it is probably incomplete, and cannot be said to wholly represent the historical Buddha’s teaching. We must accept that some things have been lost to the passage of time.
> The idea of Buddhism established in this way stands at odds with literally every living tradition of Buddhism. It exists as an idea in books, essays, articles, and academies - you will find no “Early Buddhist” temple, and no lineage of “Early Buddhist” ordination. Every school of Buddhism which exists today contains aspects which must be considered inauthentic by those who accept this movement. This can present a dilemma for practitioners interested in engaging with Buddhism beyond theory.
> Anyone attempting to reconstruct "Early Buddhism" runs the risk of cutting too deeply while trying to "trim the fat" which was added over time, throwing out material which cannot reasonably be identified as later innovation. I find this is particularly true with secularists, who have often demonstrated an eagerness to do away with unscientific elements we find in Buddhism, despite much of it being early. These people would have you believe that when we have finished reconstructing an authentic form of Buddhism, we are left with a perfectly scientific, curiously modern system of thought that just so happens to align with all of our current-day sensibilities. Buddhism is not science, it is not modern, and that's okay.
> Furthermore, one risks being dismissive of a vast body of Buddhist thought and culture in a way that is harmful. It is important to acknowledge that there is value to these traditions. They exist as crystallizations of thousands of years of history and cultural growth. We do ourselves no favors in considering the adherents of these traditions as being in any way "less Buddhist" than those who restrict themselves to doctrines and practices which are demonstrably older.
> Finally, I want you to keep in mind that I am not an authority on Early Buddhism. I am not an authority on anything at all. I am an academic dropout turned lay practitioner. I will admit openly that I am lacking in both knowledge and practice. Sometimes I disagree with people who surpass me in both fields by leaps and bounds. I make no secret of this, and you will find acknowledgments of this when it is relevant. I encourage you to consider the opinions of those I disagree with, and always keep in mind the possibility that I am incorrect.