Criticism of Wikipedia article on Buddhism

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The article can be found at [1].
NB The Wikipedia article is of course constantly being revised. It may take a while for this page to catch up.

General remarks

This article illustrates the way Wikipedia "works". In theory there is a policy of neutral point of view, but in practice this is only haphazardly enforced, leaving many articles biased by their editors. Most WP editors working on Buddhism are Buddhists, leading to a Buddhist bias. More importantly, most of them, like most editors of English Wikipedia, are Westerners, leading to a bias to Western Buddhism, which is almost entirely modernist in emphasis.[1] (This is not necessarily deliberate: people often more or less vaguely assume their version of their religion is the only one.) See #Balance for a brief summary.

Another problem is conceptual confusion among four different things:

  1. what the Buddha taught
  2. what various historians think he taught
  3. what various Buddhists think he taught
  4. what various Wikipedia editors think he taught

Also, there's a tendency to base statements on Buddhist sources. This is rather like trusting the Pope or Billy Graham as a reliable source for an unbiased account of Christianity.

Names and technical terms are given in a random mixture of Pali and Sanskrit, often misspelt. Roughly speaking:

  • Theravada Buddhists use Pali
  • East Asian Buddhists use Chinese
  • Tibetan Buddhists use Tibetan
  • scholars, when talking about Buddhism in general rather than within one of those 3 branches, use Sanskrit

Furthermore, the article often uses devanagari script for Pali, which is interesting. Generally speaking, everyone writes Pali in their own script: the Sinhalese write it in Sinhalese script, the Burmese in Burmese script etc. So Western scholars follow this practice by writing it in Latin script. The only people who use devanagari are Indians, and Indian Theravada Buddhists are only a small proportion of the total Theravada population, smaller than Burmese and Thais, certainly. So why does Wikipedia often use devanagari for Pali? The answer would seem to lie in the fact that a very large number of Indians are on the internet. They are expected to overtake Americans soon. So they're gradually taking over English Wikipedia and imposing their own national bias on it, in place of its traditional American/British bias.

A further problem is logistical. WP articles are supposed to be based on what "reliable sources" say. But is it actually practical for WP's editors to find this out? Consider the following.

  1. A 2006 survey identified 189 Buddhologists in North America alone.[2]
  2. The International Association of Buddhist Studies has about 500 members.[3]
  3. The majority of scholarship in the field is Japanese.[4]
  4. It's impossible,[5] or virtually so,[6] for a single scholar to keep track of the whole field.

Is it really possible for them to keep track of what all the above scholars have to say?


As noted above, the article has a strong bias in favour of forms, aspects and interpretations common in Western(ized) Buddhism. Perhaps the most blatant example is that Pure Land, which is the most popular form of Buddhism,[7] is hardly mentioned, while other forms have whole section headings. The reason, of course, is that Pure Land has few Western followers (maybe because it's too like Christianity, which has already cornered the market for that sort of religion), while the other 3 have many.

Curiously, the article itself includes most of the information needed to prove its own bias:

devotional chanting however, adds Harvey, has been the most prevalent Buddhist practice
Throughout most of Buddhist history, meditation has been primarily practiced in Buddhist monastic tradition, and historical evidence suggests that serious meditation by lay people has been an exception
Western interest in meditation has led to a revival where ancient Buddhist ideas and precepts are adapted to Western mores and interpreted liberally, presenting Buddhism as a meditation-based form of spirituality
Devotion is an important part of the practice of most Buddhists
In Pure Land Buddhism, devotion to the Buddha Amitabha is the main practice. In Nichiren Buddhism, devotion to the Lotus Sutra is the main practice. Bhakti (called Bhatti in Pali) has been a common practice in Theravada Buddhism, where offerings and group prayers are made to deities and particularly images of Buddha ... According to Karel Werner and other scholars, devotional worship has been a significant practice in Theravada Buddhism, and deep devotion is part of Buddhist traditions starting from the earliest days ... Guru devotion is a central practice of Tibetan Buddhism.

In addition to the above:

  1. Nearly all Buddhists use ritual for spiritual ends.[8]
  2. Pure Land Buddhism offers a way of salvation based on faith alone,[9] and believes the Buddha Amitabha has the power to take his devotees to his Pure Land.[10]

None of this is mentioned in the lead, and there's rather little in the main article. Space allocation is very biased.

The lead

Buddhism is the world's fourth-largest religion, with over 520 million followers or 7% of the global population, known as Buddhists

The demographic statements are taken from just a few sources. See Demographics of Buddhism for a much wider range of estimates from both reliable and unreliable sources.

Most scholars seem to regard Buddhism as a religion. Some, however, regard it as more than one religion:[11] The works cited are all standard works, suggesting this is a "significant minority view" that's supposed to be represented according to Wikipedia's neutrality policy.

Another view held by some scholars is that Buddhism is part of the national religions of the various Buddhist countries[12] rather than a separate religion.

Another issue that might be considered is the statement[13] that statements such as "Buddhism is a religion" could have two different possible meanings, an ordinary, common-sense one and an academic one. So the statement in Wikipedia may be ambiguous; it may come under what Wikipedia calls "weasel words".

Is it a good idea to use terms like "Sramana" in the lead like this? Most readers won't have a clue what they mean.

Two major extant branches of Buddhism are generally recognized by scholars: Theravada ("The School of the Elders") and Mahayana ("The Great Vehicle").

No source cited for this statement. Quite a few scholars[14] seem to prefer a threefold division:

  1. Theravada or Southern
  2. East Asian, Eastern or Mahayana
  3. Tibetan, Northern or Vajrayana

Cantwell, Buddhism, Routledge, 2010, uses both 3-fold and 2-fold classifications.

Some historical surveys use something like the following arrangement:[15]

  1. The Buddha
  2. India
  3. Theravada
  4. East Asia
  5. Tibetan Buddhism
  6. Buddhism in the modern world

Theravada can also mean Ancient Teaching; both meanings are recognized in the tradition.

All Buddhist traditions share the goal of overcoming suffering and the cycle of death & rebirth, either by the attainment of Nirvana or through the path of Buddhahood

Misleading in suggesting Nirvana and Buddhahood are two completely different things. In fact Theravada regards Buddhahood as a variety of nirvana.

Buddhist schools vary in their interpretation of the path to liberation

This seems to imply that there is some agreed path in some sense, but differently interpreted. It's not at all clear this is so. See for example Olson, The Different Paths of Buddhism.

Widely observed practices include taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, observance of moral precepts, monasticism, meditation, and the cultivation of the Paramitas (virtues).

Biased selection: these are the important practices in Western forms of Buddhism. The most popular form of Buddhism is Pure Land ([2]), whose principal practice is chanting homage to Amitābha Buddha.

the bodhisattva path, a state wherein one remains in this cycle to help other beings reach awakening

Unclear what this actually means. Different Mahayana sources seem to give at least 3 different ideas:

  1. This is similar to the Theravada idea: instead of following the comparatively short path to become an ordinary arahant, one takes a much longer path to full Buddhahood; having attained this, and to some extent before, one has more ability to help others. This is probably the commonest.
  2. One refrains for ever from becoming a Buddha, in order to remain in the world and continue helping others.[16]
  3. One simply progresses unendingly from one stage to a higher stage; there is no actual Buddhahood at all.[17]
Vajrayana, a body of teachings attributed to Indian siddhas, may be viewed as a third branch or merely a part of Mahayana.

Rather unhelpful. Doesn't tell you what relation it bears to the above list. Most Buddhologists seem to use the term to refer to Tibetan and Shingon Buddhism together, though some, and non-specialists, use it just as a synonym for Tibetan Buddhism, as this passage seems to. A third meaning, used for example in the 5th edition of Robinson et all., is a component of all three branches of Buddhism, though strongest in Tibetan Buddhism. And what's the point of the reference to siddhas? All forms of Buddhism recognize some scriptures that are, by their own admission, not the literal words of the historical Buddha.

Life of the Buddha

""Siddhārtha," ("Achieved the Goal") which appears to have been a kind of honorific title when it does appear."

No source cited.

The evidence of the early texts suggests that he was born as Siddhārtha Gautama in Lumbini and grew up in Kapilavasthu
  1. This flatly contradicts the above statement in the preceding paragraph.
  2. The form of his name given here is Sanskrit, which is not used in the early texts.
  3. The second place name, on the other hand, is given in a spelling apparently found in Sri Lanka. In the West the Pali form is usually spelt Kapilavatthu, the Sanskrit Kapilavastu.
  4. The name Siddhattha (Siddhārtha) first appears in the Apadäna, generally considered by scholars to be one of the latest parts of the Pali Canon. The late Professor Warder dated it around 100 BC.

"Some hagiographic legends state that his father was a king named Suddhodana, his mother queen Maya, and he was born in Lumbini gardens." "Some hagiographic legends" is loaded language. In fact all this (except maybe the word "gardens") is in the Pali Canon.

Early Buddhist canonical texts ... state that Gautama studied under Vedic teachers

In fact, those texts do not say the teachers referred to were Vedic.

Bodhi Tree in the town of Bodh Gaya

Near, not in.

"18 Buddhist sub-schools of thought, each with its own basket of texts containing different interpretations and authentic teachings of the Buddha." Should say "allegedly authentic" or something of the sort.

"these over time evolved into many traditions of which the more well known and widespread in the modern era are Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism": see #The lead above for comments on classification of Buddhism. In fact all traditions in the modern era could be classified under these headings: anything quite different is a recent development, not a tradition.

The problem of life: endless rebirth

Four Noble Truths - dukkha and its ending

This new title doesn't correspond to the contents of the subsection, which doesn't actually tell you what the truths are.

Dukkha is most commonly translated as "suffering," which is an incorrect translation

A source is cited here that says most other sources are wrong. Wikipedia policy says that in such cases Wikipedia should not take sides, but that's just what the article does here.

The cycle of rebirth


Saṃsāra means "wandering" or "world", with the connotation of cyclic, circuitous change

Dubious at least. Etymologically, it derives from the root sar, meaning flow.

The later Buddhist texts assert that rebirth can occur in six realms of existence

This is not true. Many such text do indeed say this, but many other say there are five. In particular, most Theravada texts say this, as does the Abhidharmakośa, and as do many Gelugpa texts. And the section on rebirth later on gives five as the Theravada position, correctly and with citation.

The article adds a footnote saying

when described as five realms, the god realm and demi-god realm constitute a single realm

Again not true. Maybe some texts say this, but the Kathāvatthu says only some demi-gods count as gods, but others as ghosts.

hungry ghosts

is Chinese. Other sources regard these as only one type of ghost.


doctrine of anattā ... rejects the concepts of a permanent self or an unchanging, eternal soul, as it is called in Hinduism and Christianity.

As Buddhism and Hinduism evolved alongside each other for centuries, it seems sensible to understand the Buddhist doctrine as rejecting the Hindu one. But what about Christianity? Is its idea of soul the same as the Hindu one? No citation is given.

According to Buddhism there ultimately is no such thing as a self independent from the rest of the universe (the doctrine of anatta).

As far as we're concerned, Christians and others would presumably agree with this, saying our existence is dependent on God.

Some Buddhist traditions assert that "no self" doctrine means that there is no perduring self, but there is avacya (inexpressible) self which migrates from one life to another.[100] The majority of Buddhist traditions, in contrast, assert that vijñāna (a person's consciousness) though evolving, exists as a continuum and is the mechanistic basis of what undergoes rebirth, rebecoming and redeath

Not clear what this means, let alone whether it's true.

hungry ghosts

is Chinese. Other sources regard these as only one type of ghost.

According to East Asian and Tibetan Buddhism, there is an intermediate state (Tibetan "Bardo") between one life and the next. The orthodox Theravada position rejects this; however there are passages in the Samyutta Nikaya of the Pali Canon (the collection of texts on which the Theravada tradition is based), that seem to lend support to the idea that the Buddha taught of an intermediate stage between one life and the next.[18][19]

This is very biased. According to Alex Wayman, both views find support in the early texts.[20] Furthermore, does the article on Christianity say "The orthodox Christian position ...; however there are passages in the Bible, that seem to lend support to the idea ..."? This looks like a violation of the Wikipedia policy "Wikipedia is not a soapbox".


the unconscious receptacle (ālaya)

Ālaya is a specifically Mahayana doctrine.

it implies neither fatalism nor that everything that happens to a person is caused by Karma

The latter point at least is disputed. The Theravada Abhidhamma says that all sense consciousness is the result of karma.

six realms of existence

Now back to 6 again, as in the Saṃsāra section, while the Rebirth section in between correctly stated that it's a matter of disagreement between schools how many there are.

"A notable aspect of the karma theory in Buddhism is merit transfer ... A person accumulates merit not only through intentions and ethical living, but also is able to gain merit from others by exchanging goods and services, such as through dāna (charity to monks or nuns) ... Further, a person can transfer one's own good karma to living family members and ancestors."

The wording of this seems to imply that one can effectively buy good karma. While this might be true from a sociological perspective, the traditional interpretation is that giving is good karma in itself, especially so for virtuous recipients. The orthodox interpretation of "merit-transfer", at least in Theravada, is that merit is not acttually transferred; rather, a meritorious act by one person can inspire a good state of mind in another, which is itself good karma.


As the heading is now "The problem ...", does a subsection about its solution belong here?

The path to liberation: Bhavana (practice, cultivation)

If you're going to use a foreign term, and even italicize it to indicate this, you really ought to include the diacritics: bhāvanā.

Devotion is also important in some Buddhist traditions

Actually, in practice it's important in all traditions, being devalued only in modernist Buddhism.

textual study ... the Zen tradition takes an ambiguous stance

Not really. It went through a phase of apparently negative attitudes, but got over that, at least in Japan and Korea.[21] The negative attitudes themselves may have been more rhetoric than reality. In modern times some teachers seem to have revived them.

Refuge in the Three Jewels

The Buddhist path

This very title begs the question. Is there one Buddhist path, or are there many? Olson, The Different Paths of Buddhism, Rutgers University Press, 2005, would seem to take the latter point of view.


is a point of view, not a fact.

Theravada - Noble Eightfold Path

Should make clear this is (at least in some interpretations: see e.g. The Middle Way, volume 26, no. 2, page 123) only the final stages, from stream attainment on.

"irreconcilable": opinion, shouldn't be stated as fact.

It was a part of Buddha's first sermon

As stated earlier in the article, historical facts about the Buddha are pretty uncertain. This should not be stated as such a fact.

This section consists of nothing but a single subsection, which is pointless. What's more, it seems to go beyond the limits of the wiki software, at least on some browsers: there seems to be no visible difference between these 2 levels of headings.

Mahayana - Bodhisattva-path and the six paramitas

A Bodhisattva refers to one who is on the path to buddhahood

As noted above, there are at least three different concepts of bodhisattva found in Mahayana, and this description would be misleading for two of them.

Should mention that there's also a list of perfections in the Pali Canon (Buddhavamsa, chapter 1).

Śīla – Buddhist ethics

Does this belong as a subsection under the heading of bhavana? The Pali Canon gives a list of three items, dana, sila and bhavana, implying sila isn't part of bhavana.

This whole section is very confused. The word sikkhāpada in Pali and its equivalents in other languages refer to the following:

  • 5 precepts to be followed by lay people regularly
  • 6 precepts for sikkhamānā, probationary nums
  • 8 precepts recommended for lay people on special days
  • 10 precepts for exceptional lay people, and for novices in the monastic order
  • over 200 precepts for monks and nuns; the number differs between branches of the sangha, and between monks and nums; these precepts make up most of the Patimokkha

The difference between 8 and 10 precepts is itself confusing: 1 of the 8, banning entertainments and adornments, is split in 2, and a precept against money is added.


To refrain from sensual (including sexual) misconduct

The idea that the 3rd precept refers to anything other than sexual misconduct seems to be (almost?) entirely modern. The scriptural paraphrases make clear it's roughly equivalent to "Thou shalt not commit adultery".


"every fortnight": new and full moons, thus either 14 or 15 days apart.

Samadhi (Dhyana) – meditation

"meditation" primarily refers to the practice of dhyana c.q. jhana

Untrue. Its normal use in English-language sources is quite broad. And what is the abbreviation c.q. supposed to mean?


Another section giving undue prominence to the views of one scholar, but a different one. Even the article's bias is inconsistent.

Bronkhorst notes that the Buddhist canon has a mass of contradictory statements

The word "notes" implies in Wikipedia's voice that this is a fact, when it's actually just Bronkhorst's opinion.

Four rupa-jhāna and four arupa-jhāna

If you're going to write ā, you should also write ū.

"These are described in the Pali Canon as trance-like": "trance" is an English word, not Pali; interpreting the Canon in this way is surely contentious.

The arupa-jhanas (formless realm meditation) are also four, which are entered by those who have mastered the rupa-jhanas (Arhats).

Nonsense. These attainments are not confined to arhats, or even Buddhists: according to the Pali Canon, for example, Āḷāra Kālāma had attained one of them.

Meditation and insight

This section gives undue prominence to the views of one scholar, Schmithausen.

The Brahma-vihara

Why single out this particular form of meditation?

Practice: monks, laity

According to Peter Harvey, whenever Buddhism has been healthy, not only ordained but also more committed lay people have practiced formal meditation ... Loud devotional chanting however, adds Harvey, has been the most prevalent Buddhist practice and considered a form of meditation that produces "energy, joy, lovingkindness and calm", purifies mind and benefits the chanter ...
  1. "healthy" is a value judgment, which doesn't belong in Wikipedia
  2. this statement might also be a tautology: if "more committed lay people" weren't practising meditation, would Harvey simply say "Oh, but in that case Buddhism isn't healthy"?
  3. "considered" by whom?

Prajñā – insight

Prajñā is important in all Buddhist traditions

Dubious. At least in practical terms, it seems to have little or no importance in Pure Land.


Here, 4 different scholars are mentioned, but no attempt seems to have been made to establish whether these are representative of scholarship as a whole.


Levels of subheadings are probably going too far: the following subheadings within this heading display identically to it, at least in some systems.

Dependent arising

Tanha is Pali, but all the others are Sanskrit (or, in some cases, correct in both).


the heterodox theories of svabhava circulating at the time were refuted on the basis of the doctrines of early Buddhism

"heterodox" is an opinion, which Wikipedia shouldn't be expressing as fact. Similarly, "refuted" is an opinion on the validity of the arguments.

has a following in the East Asian Buddhism

In fact it's the dominant philosophy there.


Buddhist texts

The first Buddhist canonical texts, were likely written down in Sri Lanka, about 400 years after the Buddha died

Dubious. Most scholars now date the Buddha's death around 400 BC (see Dates for the Buddha), and the later of the 2 datings given for the reign of the king when the Pali Canon is said to have been written down is about 29-17 BC, which might be considered about 400 years. But do scholars think it likely that nothing was written down before? The late L.S. Cousins argued that the Canon was written down earlier, in India, and parts were composed in writing from the start ([3]).

"Unlike what the Bible is to Christianity and Quran is to Islam, but like all major ancient Indian religions, there is no consensus among the different Buddhist traditions as to what constitutes the scriptures or a common canon in Buddhism": in fact there is no consensus among the different Christians "traditions as to what constitutes the scriptures or a common canon in" Christianity ([4]).

Each Buddhist tradition has its own collection of texts, much of which is translation of ancient Pali and Sanskrit Buddhist texts of India

No. Very little is translation from Pali, though much is actual Pali.

The Chinese Buddhist canon, for example, includes 2184 texts in 55 volumes

Misleading at least. This is the first, Chinese portion of the standard Japanese edition, which continues with 30 volumes of Japanese texts and 15 miscellaneous volumes.

the Tibetan canon comprises of 1108 texts – all claimed to have been spoken by the Buddha – and another 3461 texts composed by Indian scholars revered in the Tibetan tradition

The numbers of texts vary somewhat between editions (Brill's Encyclopedia of Buddhism, volume I, 2015, page 104).

The use of the word "canon" seems arbitrary and inconsistent (this is the fault of scholars, followed by Wikipedia).

Notice there's no section on the "higher" tantras, the principal scriptures of Tibetan Buddhism.

Pāli Tipitaka

These constitute the oldest known canonical works of Buddhism

According to mosts cholars, but not undisputed.

The Sutta Pitaka contains words attributed to the Buddha

But so do the other two.

The Abhidhamma Pitaka contain expositions and commentaries on the Sutta, and these vary significantly between Buddhist schools.

But the section heading is not about different schools, it's about Theravada. And the Sutta and Vinaya also vary between schools, the difference being one of degree.

The Pāli Tipitaka is the only surviving early Tipitaka

Meaning not clear. It is not complete, as there is a sutta missing from the Anguttara Nikaya, mentioned in the commentary but not found in any manuscript known to the editors of major editions.

According to Peter Harvey, it contains material at odds with later Theravadin orthodoxy

Undue weight?

Theravada texts

Here the article reverses the inconsistency of scholarly usage of terms like "canonical". Whereas many commentaries and other texts not regarded as "The Word of the Buddha" tend to be classified as canonical in discussion of Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism but not for Theravada, the article has a section on such texts for Theravada but not for Chinese Buddhism. See Buddhist scriptures and canonical texts for different usages.

Mahayana Sutras

Some adherents of Mahayana accept both the early teachings (including in this the Sarvastivada Abhidharma, which was criticized by Nagarjuna and is in fact opposed to early Buddhist thought[22]) and the Mahayana sutras as authentic teachings of Gautama Buddha, and claim they were designed for different types of persons and different levels of spiritual understanding.

"Some" is an understatement. This is the standard postition.

Not "in fact". This is simply the view of some scholars.

Tibetan texts: Śālistamba Sutra

  1. It's not a Tibetan text: it's a (lost) Sanskrit text surviving in both Tibetan and Chinese translations, as stated in the article
  2. Undue weight: there are many texts of greater importance


Historical roots

Historically, the roots of Buddhism lie in the religious thought of Ancient India during the second half of the first millennium BC.[23]

False citation. The source cited says nothing of the sort. This illustrates the sort of thing that happens in Wikipedia all the time. Someone puts in a statement with a citation, or adds a citation to a statement that's already there. Then someone else comes along and

  1. disagrees with the statement and replaces it with their own opinion while leaving the citation, now attached to a statement it doesn't support
  2. disagrees with the statement and deletes it, leaving the citation attached to the previous statement, which was nothing to do with it
  3. or adds another statement in between the original statement and the citation, thereby hijacking the latter (usually unintentionally)

This section cites the views of very few scholars, and gives no indication they're representative of scholarship as a whole.

Indian Buddhism

The term "early Buddhism" is used in a variety of different senses, not just that given here.

Pre-sectarian Buddhism

This term is almost entirely a Wikipedia artefact. It's hardly ever used by scholars. It's also offensive, implying all existing forms of Buddhism are sectarian. It seems to have been introduced into WP as propaganda for a neo-foundationalist sect calling itself by this name.

Pre-sectarian Buddhism is the earliest phase of Buddhism, recognized by nearly all scholars.

The meaning of this statement has been changed by the insertion of a comma. It originally read

Pre-sectarian Buddhism is the earliest phase of Buddhism recognized by nearly all scholars

meaning that nearly all scholars recognized it but some recognized an earlier phase (see for example Nakamura, Indian Buddhism, Kansai University of Foreign Studies, Hirakata, Japan, 1980).

Tracing the oldest teachings

The characterization of approach of the 3rd group identified by Schmithausen as "cautious optimism" as to reconstructing the original teaching seems to be a misinterpretation. Schmithausen, who identifies himself as following this approach, says

these methods of higher criticism will, at best, yield a relative sequence (or sequences) of textual layers and/or sequence (or sequences) of stages of doctrinal development. And it may not be easy to safely ascribe any such layer or stage (or layers/stages) to a definite date or even to the Buddha himself without additional criteria.
Core teachings
According to Mitchell, certain basic teachings appear in many places throughout the early texts, which has led most scholars to conclude that Gautama Buddha must have taught something similar to the three marks of existence, the Five Aggregates, dependent origination, karma and rebirth, the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, and nirvana

This is actually original research as defined by Wikipedia, combining material from different places in Mitchell's book.

"Bruce Matthews notes that there is no cohesive presentation of karma in the Sutta Pitaka": again, "notes" is non-neutral language, inplying Wikipedia agrees with him.

Early Buddhist schools

If this section is going to mention the First Council at all, it should mention that its historicity is disputed among scholars (e.g. [5]).

The Second Buddhist council resulted in the first schism in the Sangha, probably caused by a group of reformists called Sthaviras who split from the conservative majority Mahāsāṃghikas.Template:Sfn After unsuccessfully trying to modify the Vinaya, a small group of "elderly members", i.e. sthaviras, broke away from the majority Mahāsāṃghika during the Second Buddhist council, giving rise to the Sthavira sect.[24]

Confused. According to Theravada tradition, the losing side at the 2nd Council immediately broke away to form the Mahasanghika. However, specialist scholars have long since rejected this tradition since the Mahasanghikas' own Vinaya, preserved in Chinese, tells the story of the 2nd Council from the same point of view as the Theravada. Exactly when and why the split did occur, scholars have yet to agree. Many, perhaps most, hold a view like that stated here, but certainly not as taking place at the 2nd Council.

each Saṅgha started to accumulate their own version of Tripiṭaka (Pali Canons ...

Rubbish. Only the Theravada version is called Pali canon.

each school included the Suttas of the Buddha, a Vinaya basket (disciplinary code) and added an Abhidharma basket which were texts on detailed scholastic classification, summary and interpretation of the Suttas

Gross oversimplification. No scholar would maintain that there are no later additions in the Sutta and Vinaya, and the differenet schools had different versions of these. The distinction between them and the Abhidhamma is one of degree, not kind.

Abhidharmas of various Buddhist schools ... were composed starting about 3th century BCE and through the 1st millennium CE

Scholars give different dates; see Dates of the Pali Canon.

"Eighteen early Buddhist schools are known, each with its own Tripitaka, but only one collection from Sri Lanka has survived, in nearly complete state, into the modern era": 18 is a conventional number; lists of 18 schools in the tradition differ, including overall about twice as many names.

Early Mahayana Buddhism

There is no evidence that Mahayana ever referred to a separate formal school or sect of Buddhism

Strictly speaking, this stateemnt may not be incorrect, as it appears in the section on Indian Buddhism. In today's world, though, it to all intents and purposes is just that, so the statement is liable to be misinterpreted.

Late Mahayana Buddhism

During the period of Late Mahayana Buddhism, four major types of thought developed: Madhyamaka, Yogacara, Tathagatagarbha, and Buddhist Logic as the last and most recent.[25] In India, the two main philosophical schools of the Mahayana were the Madhyamaka and the later Yogacara.[26] ... There were no great Indian teachers associated with tathagatagarbha thought.[27]

These statements seem to contradict each other. Was tathagatagarbha important or not? Maybe these should be presented as views, not facts.

Vajrayana (Esoteric Buddhism)

Spread of Buddhism

What we'd expect after Indian Buddhism is an account of the history of Buddhism outside India. What we get instead is this section which just tells about the spread of Buddhism.

" "Alasanda" (which could be either Alexandria of Egypt or Alexandria of the Caucasus, both cities founded by Alexander the Great)." Or about 20 others he named after himself. Most likely Alexandria Eschata in NW India (Pakistan).

Schools and traditions

"as the Hinayana term is considered derogatory, a variety of other terms are used instead, including Śrāvakayāna, Nikaya Buddhism, early Buddhist schools, sectarian Buddhism and conservative Buddhism": but "sectarian" is also derogatory, so is it really used for this reason? "Śrāvakayāna" is simply incorrect, since members of the schools referred to are perfectly free to follow a bodhisattva path if they wish. Another term used by some scholars is "mainstream Buddhism", which is derogatory in the reverse sense, implying Mahayana is fringe.

Both Theravada and Mahayana traditions accept the Buddha as the founder, Theravada considers him unique, but Mahayana considers him one of many Buddhas

The latter part is at least misleading. Theravada considers the Buddha unique in his time. There are past and future Buddhas, but no simultaneous ones. Mahayana tradition believes in simultaneous Buddhas.

Both accept the Middle way, dependent origination, the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path and the Three marks of existence

This may be true in such an attenuated sense as to be misleading.

Nirvana is attainable by the monks in Theravada tradition, while Mahayana considers it broadly attainable; Arhat state is aimed for in the Theravada, while Buddhahood is aimed for in the Mahayana
  1. Theravada holds that lay people can attain nirvana, but if they do they must be ordained within the day or die.
  2. Any sense in which Mahayana considers nirvana "broadly attainable" is very different from the Theravada sense.
  3. Theravadins are free to pursue Buddhahood if they wish, and some do so.
  4. As noted above, at least 3 apparently different concepts of the bodhisattva path are found in Mahayan sources, not all fitting the phrasing of the article here.
Religious practice consists of meditation for monks and prayer for laypersons in Theravada, while Mahayana includes prayer, chanting and meditation for both

Almost totally false. There is not much difference in practice. Everyone practices ritual and devotion (before modern times). In addition, many monks and a very small number of lay people (before modern times) practice meditation.

Theravada has been a more rationalist, historical form of Buddhism; while Mahayana has included more rituals, mysticism and worldly flexibility in its scope

It's questionable how far even this is true, except on the point of flexibilty, which Mahayana certainly makes more of.


Now, finally, in the wrong place, the article gets round to telling us when Buddhism actually started.

This seems to show the early schools becoming very unimportant in India about 500. This disagrees with the reports of 7th century Chinese pilgrims.

The grouping of East Asian schools seems confused. Why are Tiantai and Jìngtǔ bracketed together?

Theravada school

considers itself to be the more orthodox form of Buddhism

Silly: everyone considers themself the most orthodox form of their religion.

it spread for the first time into mainland southeast Asia about the 11th century

Not for the first time: there's plenty of historical evidence for presence there in earlier times.

Sinhalese Buddhist reformers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries portrayed the Pali Canon as the original version of scripture

Nothing new about that: Theravada had always claimed that (as of course had all other schools for their own scriptures).

No information at all in this ection about what Theravada actually believes and practises.

Mahayana traditions

Mahayana flourished in India from the time of Ashoka

Very few scholars would accept that Mahayan existed that early.

Vajrayana traditions


Why is there a section on Zen when there is none on Pure Land, the most popular of all forms of Buddhism ([6])?

Zen ... lays special emphasis on meditation

May be true in some sense, but most Japanese Zen temples have little or no meditation practice.[28]

Buddhism today

Main article: Buddhism by country

The article linked here was used by a subsequently permablocked editor to post vastly inflated estimates for numbers of Buddhists in each country from a Buddhist propaganda website. It has been improved somewhat, but probably still contaminated.


As rewritten, this section gives the views of only a few sources (probably the ones its author had come across and considered "reliable" as defined by Wikipedia). For many more see Demographics of Buddhism.

The article changes Harvey's terminology of Southern, Eastern and Northern Buddhism to Wikipedia's terminology of Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana.

After China, where nearly half of the worldwide Buddhists live, the 10 countries with the largest Buddhist population densities are

But the table following lists 11 countries, not 10, and China is included at the end, not the beginning.

Wikipedia's response to this page

Someone mentioned this criticism page on the talk page for the WP article on 26 July 2012. A few others commented. The thread was archived on 5 November. No one seems to have shown any inclination to change the article in response.


  1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Buddhism, 2007, page 286
  2. Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, 30, page 263
  3. Routledge Encyclopedia of Buddhism, 2007, page ix
  4. Hirakawa, History of Indian Buddhism, volume 1, English translation, Hawai'i University Press, 1990, page IX
  5. Routledge Encyclopedia of Buddhism, 2007, page ix
  6. Lopez, (Story of) Buddhism, Harper/Penguin, 2001, Acknowledgements
  7. Flesher, Exploring Religions, University of Wyoming
  8. Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism, 2004 (Volume One), page 139
  9. Oxtoby & Amore, World Religions: Eastern Tradtions, Oxford University Press, 2010, page 211/Oxtoby & Segal, Concise Introduction to World Religions, 2nd ed, 2012, page 398
  10. Mitchell, Buddhism, Oxford University Press, ist ed, 2002, page 206/2nd ed, 2008, page 226
  11. Robinson et al, Buddhist Religions, 5th edn, Wadsworth, 2004, page xxi; Routledge Companion to the Study of Religion, 2005, page 439; de Blij & Murphy, Human Geography, 6th ed, Wiley, 1999, page 158
  12. Routledge Encyclopedia of Buddhism, 2007, page 267
  13. Collins, Nirvana, Cambridge University Press, 2010, page 10
  14. Gethin, Foundations of Buddhism, Oxford University Press, 1998, pages 1f; Shaw, Introduction to Buddhist Meditation, Routledge, 2009, pages xvf; Harvey, Introduction to Buddhism, Cambridge University Press, 1990, page 4; Hinnells, 1997, page 370; Religion Past & Present: Encyclopedia of Religion and Theology, ed Hans Dieter Betz, Don S. Browning, Bernd Janowski & Eberhard Jüngel, volume II, Brill, Leiden/Boston, 2007, page 257 (translated from German original published 1998); Robinson et al, Buddhist Religions, 5th edn, Wadsworth, 2004, page xx
  15. Bechert & Gombrich, World of Buddhism, Thames & Hudson, 1984, table of contents; Prebish & Keown, Introducing Buddhism, Routledge, 2006 (ebook, Journal of Buddhist Ethics, 2005, table of contents)
  16. Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Vol. 1, p. 351; Cook. Hua-yen Buddhism. pp. 110f
  17. Harvey, Introduction to Buddhism, Cambridge University Press, 2nd edition, 2012, page 160
  18. Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Vol. 1, p. 377
  19. The Connected Discourses of the Buddha. A Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya, Bhikkhu Bodhi, Translator. Wisdom Publications.
  20. "The Intermediate-State Dispute in Buddhism", Alex Wayman, in Buddhist Studies in Honour of I. B. Horner, ed L. Cousins, A. Kunst, & K. R. Norman, D. Reidel, Dordrecht (Netherlands)/Boston (Massachusetts), 1974, page 236
  21. Harvey, Introduction to Buddhism, Cambridge University Press, 1990, pages 165f, says this of the founders of Zen in those countries
  22. David Kalupahana, "Sarvastivada and its theory of sarvam asti." University of Ceylon Review 24 1966, 94-105.
  23. Gethin, Sayings of the Buddha, Oxford University Press, 2008, p. xv
  24. Skilton, Andrew. A Concise History of Buddhism. 2004. p. 49, 64
  25. A History of Indian Buddhism — Hirakawa Akira (translated and edited by Paul Groner) - Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, Delhi, 1993, p. 8,9
  26. Peter Harvey, "An Introduction to Buddhism." Cambridge University Press, 1993, page 95.
  27. Peter Harvey, "An Introduction to Buddhism." Cambridge University Press, 1993, page 113. "There were no great Indian teachers associated with this strand of thought."
  28. Routledge Encyclopedia of Buddhism, 2007, page 304


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