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The Mind in Early Buddhism

Bhikkhu Thich Minh Thanh

New Delhi, 2001

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The chapter will be reserved for the chronological survey of the five Nikāyas as a whole and that of their specified divisions and subdivisions wherever there are some chronological clues affordable. Buddhaghosa says that in the narrow meaning the 5 Nikāyas denotes 5 divisions of the Sutta Piṭaka, but in the wider meaning the 5 Nikāyas cover all the Tipiṭaka, that is, including the Vinaya Piṭaka and the Abhidhamma Piṭaka which, in this convictional proposition, would be included in the Khuddaka Nikāya [1]. T. W. Rhys Davids' suggestion of their importance in any search for objective and systematic knowledge about the fundamental Buddhism is apparent in his statement: "the... great division is the Sutta Piṭaka... and here we come to the sources of our knowledge of the most ancient Buddhism"[2]. It is really advantageous for us to have the whole Sutta Piṭaka whose composition is prior to the earliest Buddhist schism at least in its scriptural appearance though this does not necessarily follow that there would have not been any later recention and editorial touching, expurgation and addition. In that, however, there is no trace of any sectarian bias. In his opinion, the first four Nikāyas 'had been put together out of older material'[3].

Insomuch as the doctrinal institution is concerned, the Nikāyas reflect the first and foremost phase in the development of Buddhist thought when the Saṁgha 'was, in appearance at least, doctrinally one'. The doctrine then characterized by simplicity and spontaneity, intuition and somehow unsophisticated, was for guiding the emancipation-loving person toward an end of suffering, and not for analysis or institution up to the round-shaped and non-questionable[4] system.

To make an example about its simplicity: khandha, a term for the psychophysical structure of a man began with a scheme of three khandhas, later it developed to four khandhas, and finally to full-fledged five khandha scheme. The much later term is upādāna-khandha that assumes a full-fledged theory of anatta, and a conception of viññāṇa that has traveled far from its original form. Starting from the original distinction between kāya or rūpa and viññāṇa (citta), psychological analysis in the Nikāyas arrived at this subtler conception through an intermediate stage and was itself superseded in the Abhidharma stage[5].

The 5 Nikāyas, namely, Dīgha Nikāyas, Majjhima Nikāyas, Saṃyutta Nikāya, Aṅguttara Nikāya, and Khuddaka Nikāya, are traditionally put on the same footing. T. W. Rhys Davids, however, recognizes the first 2 as one single book which 'is in 2 volumes, so to speak, called respectively Dīgha and Majjhima - that is to say, long and of medium length[6]. It contains 186 dialogues of Gotama arranged according to their length. They are discussions on all the religious and philosophical points of the Buddhist view of life'[7]. These dialogues are thus most genuine and authoritative, but their arrangement according to the length and not to the subject they are relating to makes it not easy for anyone to look for the statement of doctrine on any particular point which is interesting him at the moment. T. W. Rhys Davids assumes that 'it was very likely just this consideration which led to the compilation of the other two collections'[8], namely, the Aṅguttara Nikāya and the Saṃyutta Nikāya.

K. T. S. Sarao's observation, however, does not comply with the chronological distinction between the 186 dialogues and the later 2 collections. He deals with the 4 equally as the Buddha's sayings which were 'collected together by his disciples into the first 4 Nikāyas', arriving at the historical idea that: "The first 4 Nikāyas belong to the earlier part of the Canon and in language and style too, there is no essential difference amongst themselves". K. T. S. Sarao just pushes the last Nikāya, the Khuddaka Nikāya to the younger foothold, saying: "the developed doctrine found in the certain smaller books - especially the Buddhavaṃsa, Cariya Piṭaka, Petavatthu, Vimānavatthu - shows that they are younger than the first Nikāyas"[9].

It is not likely that the 2 ensuing Nikāya are necessary to be just the re-composition of the 2 initiative ones if we hold that the succeeding compositions must be distinguishable by the later peculiarities. Just the arrangement of the suttas according to their length as in the fist 2 Nikāyas, or to the numbered dhamma they treat as in the Aṅguttara Nikāya, or to the subjects they are specified in the Saṃyutta Nikāya, is not much of a convincing evidence for dividing them into former and later stages.

The difficulty in any attempt to find out the truth of this issue is that the Nikāyas developed 'in dark; and their history can be recovered in the form of a series of conjectures to account for the fact which they exhibit'[10], in other words, most of the issues to be put under question suggested by the Nikāyas have to be solved, so far as solution is possible at all, on the basis of the very texts themselves 'by the comparison of the material which they offer us. The history of Gospel-criticism is in reality a history of this process'[11].

As to the stratifying of almost all the texts, it is difficult to fix their time with certainty on the time axis unitized by year or decade, we can only say something with strong conviction on the time axis divided by quarter of century, half of century or even longer span, say, the date of Nikāyas was put in the later half of the fourth century B.C. by the Kathāvatthu[12]. The course of its formation and growing was probably falls between the age of Upaniṣad as terminus ante quem and that of the Abhidhamma and other Buddhist sectarian literature as terminus ad quem[13]. On account of 'the fact that the 4 Nikāyas do not take much notice of the issue contested by the earlier sects K. T. S. Sarao accepts that the second Buddhist Council should be marked as the time when the composition of the 4 Nikāyas completed[14].

B. C. Law's treatment, nevertheless, puts not only the 4 but the whole mass of 5 Nikāyas on the same range, he definitely observes that the Sutta Piṭaka comprising the 5 Nikāyas certainly would come to completion before the composition of the Milinda Pañha[15] 'in which authoritative passages are quoted from the texts of this Piṭaka, in certain instances by mention of the name of the sources. We can go further and maintain that the Sutta Piṭaka was closed along with the entire Pāli canon and when the canon was finally rehearsed in Ceylon and committed to writing during the reign of king Vaṭṭagāmaṇi'. Therefore, the Sutta Piṭaka as authoritative source of the Buddha's teachings could supposedly be in existence as early as the first half of the second century B.C. so long as the date of king Milinda is concerned[16].

The Sāñci and Bhārut inscriptions dated in the lump in the middle of the second century B.C. push the composition of the 5 Nikāyas back to a bit earlier date by mentioning the words as bhāṇaka and pañcanekayika[17], which are used as distinctive epithets of a number of Buddhist donors. Observing that the Nikāyas, had been put together at a period about half way between the death of the Buddha and the accession of Aśoka[18]. T. W. Rhys Davids puts into effect that before the words such as pañcanekayika, suttantika[19], suttantakinī[20], and petaki[21] were employed as the special epithets, the 5 Nikāyas of the Pāli canon must have been well known and well established[22].

The date of Aśoka[23] is also adopted as a point of time by which the composition of Sutta Piṭaka may be dated. The mention of the word 'Pañca Nikāya' in the Cullavagga ii (Vinaya), whose date could be assigned to a period which immediately preceded the Aśokan age (before 265 B.C.)[24], enables us to push the composition of the 5 Nikāyas back to the time as early as the beginning of the third century B.C. in the successional order: 5 Nikāyas þVinaya Cullavagga þAśokan age. It does not seem to follow that the five Nikāyas of the Pāli canon had been already popular in the early third century B.C. We can not assume that the composition of all the canonical books, or individual suttas or passages were necessarily completed by that time.

The terminus ad quem of their composition could be assigned to the time when Thera Mahinda came to Sri Lanka after the third Council had been over[25]. It can be safe to assume that 'the canon became finally closed sometime before the beginning of the Christian era. Thus, we can safely fix the last quarter of the first century B.C. as the lower limit'[26].

In the 10-layer scheme proposed by T. W. Rhys Davids the 4th layer is reserved for the whole mass of 4 Nikāyas of which the Dīgha Nikāya is considered as earliest except for the closing passage at the end of the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta. The passage, as was pointed out by B. C. Law, belongs to the Mauryan period, relates the distribution of the Buddha's corporal relics after cremation.

The concurrent of the first four Nikāyas as a whole is also disagreed on by B. C. Law who, on the ground that 'in the Dīgha Nikāya the story of Mahagovinda[27] has assumed the earlier forms of Jātakas characterized by the concluding identification of the Buddha, the narrator of the story, with its hero, whereas in the Aṅguttara Nikāya the story is a simple chronicle of seven purohitas (an ancient sort of Prime Minister) without the identification'[28], assigns implicitly the priority to the Aṅguttara Nikāya. We should conclude this section here with B. C. Law's warning: 'without discriminating the different strata of literary accretions it will be dangerous to relegate all the four Nikāyas to the early stage of the Pāli canon'[29].

A. Stratification and dating of the Dīgha Nikāya and the Majjhima Nikāya:

As already mentioned, only the Dīgha Nikāya, treated as one unit by T. W. Rhys Davids, share the equal footing with the Majjhima Nikāya as the most genuine sayings of the Buddha embodied in the 186 dialogues. It should be noted here that the discourses of middle length in the latter are highly fitting, it seems, to the length of a normal sermon delivered by the Buddha whereas in the Dīgha Nikāya several lengthy suttas hardly are the record of actual single sermon. The Buddha himself is the chief interlocutor and several main disciples of his play the prominent role in those dialogues. In general they are the discussion of all the points relating to the religious and philosophical in Buddhist life[30].

1. The Dīgha Nikāya:

The Dīgha Nikāya[31] contains 34 suttas in three groups or divisions. Although T. W. Rhys Davids does not recommend to summarize those suttas, saying that 'it would be worse than foolish to attempt any description of their contents'[32] there till have been such the attempts to be performed, say, that of U Ko Lay who gives a brief account of the 3 divisions of the Dīgha Nikāya:

The first is named Division Concerning Morality 'This division contains 13 suttas which deal extensively with various types of morality, namely, Minor Morality, basic morality applicable to all; Middle Morality and Major Morality which are mostly practiced by Samanas and Brahmanas. It also discussed the wrong views then prevalent as well as Brahmin view of sacrifice and caste, and various religious practices such as extreme self-mortification'[33].

The second division is named The Large Division whose 10 suttas 'are some of the most important ones of the Tipiṭaka, dealing with historical and biographical aspects as well as the doctrinal aspects of Buddhism. The most famous sutta is the Mahāparinibbāna sutta that gives an account of the last days and the passing away of the Buddha and distribution of his relics. Mahāpadāna sutta deals with brief accounts of the last seven Buddhas and the life story of the Vipassī Buddha. Doctrinally important are the two suttas: the Mahānidāna sutta which explains the Chain of Cause and Effect, and the Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta dealing with the four Methods of Steadfast Mindfulness and practical aspects of Buddhist meditation'[34].

The last division named 'Pāthika Vagga Pāli' contains 11 shorter discourses of miscellaneous nature. They deal with the Buddha's rejection of wrong and severe asceticism practiced by followers of many sects. They deal also with the periodical evolution and dissolution of the universe, the accounts of Universal Monarchs and the thirty-two physiognomic characteristics of a great man. There is one discourse, Siṅgāla sutta, addressed to a young Brahmin showing the duties to be performed by member of the human society. The last two suttas, Saṅgīti and Dasuttara, are discourses given by the Venerable Sāriputta and they contain lists of doctrinal terms classified according to subject matter and numerical units. The style of their composition is different from the other nine suttas of the division'[35].

In general, an examination of all the strata first proposed by T. W. Rhys Davids, and then modified by other scholars gives us the impression that except for a certain number of texts in the Vinaya Piṭaka, almost all of the remaining texts of the Tipiṭaka are admixture to some extent of earlier and later elements, say, the Dīgha Nikāya describes many account of the Buddha's life and also of incidents that took place after his passing away and even later as pointed out by B. C. Law[36].

We, anyhow, should presuppose that the date of the latest elements in the Dīgha Nikāya do not go beyond the second periods, that is, 383-265 B.C. as counted by B. C. Law[37] who says: 'We may, then, be justified in assigning the whole of the Dīgha Nikāya to a pre-Aśokan age, there being no trace of any historical event or development which might have happened after King Aśoka. The only exception that one has to make is in the case of the concluding verses of the Mahāparinibbāna sutta which were interpolated, according to Buddhaghosa, in Ceylon by the teachers of that island'[38].

The placing of the Dīgha Nikāya, by T. W. Rhys Davids, among the three other Nikāyas, i.e. the Majjhima Nikāya, the Saṃyutta Nikāya, and the Aṅguttara Nikāya on the 4th stratum[39] is confuted by K. L. Hazra who agrees with B. C. Law on observing that it is wrong to regard all the 4 Nikāyas are earlier than the Sutta Nipāta is'[40].

In term of further stratification, L. Bapat in Annuals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute discerns the three different literary stages in the Dīgha Nikāya:

The first stage is assigned to the first volume by placing the previousness of the second sutta of it to most of the subsequent suttas on the account that 'this Sutta (the Sāmaññaphala sutta) forms the basis of all the subsequent suttas, except the last one, in the first volume, and serves the purpose of a common factor, thus indicating that almost the whole of the first volume must have been put together in its present form'[41].

The two suttas, Mahāpadhāna and Mahāgovinda as being chronological signs draw scholars' attention. Mahāpadhāna, the first sutta in Mahāvagga of the Dīgha Nikāya, relates a discourse given at Sāvatthi to the Bhikkhus who were one day discussing the Buddha's knowledge of past existences. The Exalted One told them about the last seven Buddhas, with a full life story of one of them, the Vipassī Buddha, recalling all the facts of the Buddhas, their social rank, name, clan, life span, the pairs of Chief Disciples, the assemblies of their followers, their attainments, and emancipation from defilements. The Buddha explained that his ability to remember and recall all the facts of past existences was due to his own penetrating discernment as well as due to the devas making these matters known to him[42].

In the Mahāgovinda sutta, the 6th sutta in Mahāvagga of the Dīgha Nikāya, Pañcasikha, a Gandhabba deva, told the deva assembly where Sanaṅkumāra Brahmā taught the Dhamma as shown by Mahāgovinda, the Bodhisatta who had reached the Brahmā world. The Buddha said that Mahāgovinda was none other than himself and explained that the Dhamma he taught at that time could lead one only to the Brahmā world. With his teaching now as an Enlightened Buddha, higher attainments such as the Sotāpatti, Sakadāgāmi, Anāgāmi, and the highest achievement Arahatta phala were possible[43].

The above suttas also appear in the Culla Niddesa of the Khukkaka Nikāya, and are notable illustrations, as they are assumed, of the Suttanta Jātakas, the Jātakas as found in the earliest forms in Pāli literature. The casting of the story in a Jātaka mould as we find it in the Mahāgovinda suttanta could not taken place in the lifetime of the Buddha.

The second volume of the Dīgha Nikāya also throws some light on the issue of dating through the Pāyāsi sutta, the 10th and last sutta in the Mahāvagga of the Dīgha Nikāya. The sutta recounts how the Venerable Kumārakassapa showed the right path to Governor Pāyāsi of Setabyā town in Kosala country. Governor Pāyāsi held the wrong belief: "There is no other world; no beings arise again after death; there are no consequences of good or bad deeds." The Venerable Kumārakasapa showed him the right path, illustrating his teaching with numerous illuminating similes. Ultimately Pāyāsi became full of faith and took refuge to the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Saṁgha. The venerable Kumārakassapa taught him also the right kind of offerings to be made and that these offerings should be made with due respect, by one's own hands, with due esteem and not as if discarding them. Only under these conditions would the good deed of offerings bear splendid fruits[44]. The suttanta contains several anecdotes forming the historical basis of some of the Jātaka stories. All this makes it strongly convincible, as agreed upon by B. C. Law and then by K. L. Hazra, that the date of this sutta should be placed at least half a century after the demise of the Buddha[45].

The Āṭānāṭiya sutta in the last volume of the Dīgha Nikāya records that Four Celestial Kings came to see the Buddha and told him that there were non-believers among many invisible beings who might bring harm to the followers of the Buddha. The Celestial Kings therefore wanted to teach the bhikkhus the protecting incantation known as the Āṭānāṭiya Paritta. The Buddha gave his consent by remaining silent. Then the four Celestial Kings recited the Āṭānāṭiya Paritta[46], which the Buddha advised bhikkhus, Bhikkhuṇīs and lay disciples to learn, to memorize so that they might dwell at ease, well guarded and protected[47]. This sutta is otherwise described as a rakkhā or saving chant manipulated apparently on a certain passage in the then known as Mahābhārata. The development of these elements, the Jātaka stories as referred to in the foregoing paragraphs, and the parittas could not take place when Buddhism remained in its pristine purity.

There is, however, no reason for surprise that such developments had already taken place as early as the 4th century B.C., as contented by B. C. Law and K. L. Hazra on account that the warning against the forgery in form of fable and fiction, and especially of imaginative poetry was given in certain passages of the Aṅguttara Nikāya. Moreover, 'the growth of these foreign elements must have caused some sort of confusion otherwise it would not have been necessary to discuss in a sutta of the Saṃyutta Nikāya the reasonable way of keeping genuine the utterance of the Buddha distinct from others that crept in under the outside influence and were characterized by poetical fancies and embellishments[48].

All this makes it justifiable for us to assign to a pre-Aśokan age most of the Dīgha Nikāya with little exception for the concluding verses of the Mahāparinibbāna sutta.

Whereas the first stage in the Dīgha Nikāya, represented by the first volume, is characterized by its distinctive simplicity and the humanity of the Buddha the third stage assigned mainly to third volume contains in it the 'anabolism' of the Buddha with the super-human power, the mention of the future Buddha: Metteyya, the preference to the ancient legends, the inception of the Tantric literature, and the pervasiveness of numeration, say, particularized in the last two suttas.

2. The Majjhima Nikāya:

The Majjhima Nikāya[49], consists of 152 suttas, some of them attributed to disciples, covering nearly all aspects of Buddhism. Included are texts dealing with monastic life, the excesses of asceticism, the evils of caste, Buddha's debates with the Jains, and meditation, together with basic doctrinal and ethical teachings and many legends and stories. The suttas in this Nikāya also throw much light on the social ideas and institutions of those days, and provide general information on the economic and political life.

The 152 suttas are arranged in three 'groups of 50' or paṇṇāsa. The first group, Mūlapaṇṇāsa deals with the first 50 suttas in five vaggas, the second group, Majjhimapaṇṇāsa consists of the second 50 suttas in five vaggas too; and the last 52 suttas are dealt with in 5 vaggas of the third group, Uparipaṇṇāsa. The detailed account by K. R. Norman of the name given to the suttas is here skipped over; we just abridge his account of the name of the vaggas.

To some extent the tittles of the vaggas reflect their contents, some being called after the first sutta in the vagga. The Gahahapati vagga consists of suttas in each of which, except for sutta 57, the Buddha addresses householders. The third vagga surprisingly has no title. Since six of the ten suttas have the word upama in their titles, it would have been appropriate to call it Opamma vagga'[50].

It is observable that the Majjhima Nikāya represents the most genuine sayings of the Buddha, and most of the individual suttas contained therein are highly fitting, it is apparent, to the length of one each an actual single sermon delivered by the Buddha whereas those composing the Dīgha Nikāya are not.

There is not much of disputes about the dating and stratifying of the Majjhima Nikāya because it is usually seen to be more congruous than the first Nikāya. This does not mean that all of its suttas as a whole should be dated in the Buddha's lifetime, some individual suttas going astray, say, the sutta in the Majjhima Nikāya records the fortification of the capital city Rājagaha commanded by king Ajātasattu in anticipation of the attack by Pajjota, king of Avantī. The composition of the sutta, therefore, 'is supposed to have been shortly after the Buddha's death'. In consideration of the geographical tracks that a sutta in the Majjhima Nikāya is suggestive of, we also can get to some clue for its dating. The sutta speaks of 'yonas' as having only two classes - free men (Ariyo) and slaves (Dāso). Whether it points to an Ionian commercial colony in India is uncertain. Even if it is pre-Alexandrian, which is possible (since to which one has no knowledge to the contrary), though not probable, it may most certainly be regarded relatively late[51].

K. L. Hazra successes B. C. Law in stating that 'the whole of the Majjhima Nikāya strikes us as the most authoritative and original among the collections of the Buddha's teachings. There is no allusion to any political event to justify us in relegating the date of its compilation to a time far removed from the demise of the Buddha. If it be argued that the story of Makhādeva, as we find it embodied in the Makhādeva Sutta of this Nikāya, has already assumed the form of a Jātaka which appears also in the Cullaniddesa, the Nikāya can not be a much later compilation. For the Makhādeva story is one of those few earliest Jātakas presupposed by the Pāli canonical collection of 500 Jātakas.

The literary developments as may be traced in the suttas of the Majjhima Nikāya are none of such a kind as to require more than a century after the demise of the Buddha[52]. The genuineness of the Majjhima Nikāya, as being authoritative of the Buddha's words even by the inaugural stage of the Abhidhamma literature, is presupposed by the fact that most of the chapters of the Vibhaṅga whose Abhidhamma superstructure was established on, and limited in, the elucidation of the suttantas, have their corresponding part abounding in the Majjhima Nikāya. This will be visible in the following table whose data are prepared by B. C. Law[53]:

Table 7:

Sacca vibhaṅga (Suttantabhājaniya)

Sacca vibhaṅga Sutta (Majjhima, Vol. iii, No. 141)

Satipaṭṭhāna vibhaṅga (Suttantabhajaniya)

Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta (Majjhima, Vol. i, No. 10)

Dhātu vibhaṅga  (Suttantabhājaniya)

Dhātu vibhaṅga Sutta (Majjhima, Vol. iii, No. 140)

The Majjhima Nikāya occupied the second position in the fourth stratum of the table of 10-trata put forth by T. W. Rhys Davids and amended by B. C. Law and K. L. Hazra. In which the Majjhima Nikāya is preceded by the partial Vinaya Piṭaka, that is, the Sīlas, the Pārāyaṇa and the Pātimokkha, as held by T. W. Rhys Davids, or the Sīlas, as held by the latter. The Majjhima Nikāya also occupies the third position in the first stage of the table of three major stages proposed by Prof. K.T.S. Sarao[54].

In all the above positions assigned to it by the scholars, the Majjhima Nikāya stands somehow posterior to the Dīgha Nikāya, which we cannot help feeling little reliance, no matter how much probability it may be of.

B. Stratification and dating of the Aṅguttara and Saṃyutta Nikāyas:

The two Nikāyas somehow come later than the Dīgha Nikāya and the Majjhima Nikāya and are considered by T. W. Rhys Davids as just the rearrangements of the previous ones. It is improbable to speculate about whether the two rearrangements of the Buddha's teachings were based entirely for their material on the dialogues or on other sources. 'We know that large portions of them recur bodily in the Dialogues, and that those portions not yet traced in the Dialogues contain nothing inconsistent with them'[55]. This should prove their equal merit of authenticity and somehow their date and stratification in general.

As were editorially rearranged the suttas of the Saṃyutta Nikāya was grouped together according to their contents and those of the Aṅguttara Nikāya, literally rendered as 'the by-one-limb-more collection, according to the number of dhammas they deal with. There is an overlap between the two Nikāyas, which arises from the possibility of classifying the same suttas, but in both the two ways: contents and numbers. An examination of the contents of the Chinese translation of the Saṃyuktāgama shows that it includes a number of suttas which in the Pāli canon appear in the Aṅguttara Nikāya and vice versa a large number of the suttas of the Aṅguttara Nikāya are included in the Saṃyuktāgama. The distinction between the 'connected' and 'numeral' classification, it is strongly possible, was not very clearly drawn at the time of their collection[56].

1. Aṅguttara Nikāya:

The Aṅguttara Nikāya[57], a numerical arrangement, for mnemonic purposes, of 9,557 terse suttas, is divided into 11 divisions known as Nipātas. Each Nipāta is divided again into groups called vaggas that usually contain 10 suttas each. The discourses are arranged in progressive numerical order, each Nipāta containing suttas with items of dhamma, beginning with one item and moving up by units of one till there are 11 items of dhamma in each sutta of the last Nipāta. Hence the name 'Increasing by One Item'[58]. Its first Nipāta ("group") contains suttas dealing with single things, such as the mind or the Buddha; the suttas in the second Nipāta speak of pairs, e.g. 2 kinds of sin; in the third there are triplets; and so on up to 11. The typical examples are the 3 praiseworthy acts, the 4 places of pilgrimage, the 5 obstacles, the 6-fold duty of a monk, 7 kinds of wealth, 8 causes of earthquake, 9 types of person, 10 objects of contemplation, and 11 kinds of happiness.

The Aṅguttara Nikāya constitutes an important source book on Buddhist psychology and ethics, which provides an enumerated summary of all the essential features concerning the theory and practice of the Dhamma. A unique chapter entitled Etadagga Vagga of Ekaka Nipāta enumerates the names of the foremost disciples amongst the Bhikkhus, Bhikkhuṇīs, Upāsakas, Upāsikas, who had achieved pre-eminence on one sphere of attainment or meritorious activity, e.g. the Venerable Sāriputta in Intuitive Wisdom and Knowledge; the Venerable Mahā Moggallāna in supernormal powers; Bhikkhuṇī Khema in Pañña; Bhikkhuṇī Uppalavaṇṇa in Iddhi; the Upāsaka Anāthapiṇḍika and the Upāsikā Visākhā in almsgiving; and so on.

Whereas the Majjhima Nikāya, as being authoritative of the Buddha's words even by the inaugural time of the Abhidhamma literature, has, as already mentioned, its shadow on most of the chapters of the Vibhaṅga whose Abhidhamma superstructure was established on, and limited in, the elucidation of the suttantas, the Aṅguttara Nikāya, on the other hand, were simulated by the Puggalapaññatti. Almost all of the third, fourth and fifth sections, namely, tayo puggalā, cattara puggalā, pañca puggalā of the Puggalapaññatti can be found in the corresponding sections, i.e. tika Nipāta, catukka Nipāta, and pañcaka Nipāta, of the Aṅguttara Nikāya, including the long passage entitled Yodhājīvūpamā puggalā[59].

Moreover, the Aṅguttara Nikāya preserves many tracks of Vinaya. Surprisingly, in each Nipāta of this Nikāya we come across passages relating to the 2-fold Vinaya, namely, the Bhikkhu and the Gihi. It is inferable from this point that the Aṅguttara Nikāya may justly be regarded as a sutta store-house of distinct Vinaya tracts.

In this very Nikāya we hit upon a Vinaya tract[60] which set forth a rough sketch (mātikā) not of any particular Vinaya treatise but of the whole of the Vinaya Piṭaka. The list of Vinaya topics furnished in this particular track cannot be construed as a table of contents of any particular text of the Vinaya Piṭaka. Similarly, Vinaya tracts are scattered also in the suttas of other Nikāyas. The consideration of all these facts cannot but justify the conjecture that the treatises of the Vinaya Piṭaka point to a sutta background in the Vinaya materials traceable in the Nikāyas particularly in the Aṅguttara Nikāya[61]. This should be followed by the more reliability that the antiquity of the Aṅguttara Nikāya assures.

On the other hand, its antiquity, however, is not regarded as being entirely equal with the first great Nikāyas. Scholars On observing that in language and style there is no essential difference among the four great Nikāyas, scholars still consent the lateness of the Aṅguttara Nikāya in comparison with the remaining ones 'but not much later'[62]. The occurrence of the suttas in the Aṅguttara Nikāya about future dangers, e.g. the Anāgatabhayāni[63], usually invites suspicion. The text purports to be a prophesy, and prophecies are at once suspected as compositions concocted after the event; and the truer and more wonderful they are, other things remaining the same, the greater must the suspicion become[64].

With regard to the geographical knowledge, the Aṅguttara list of 16 powers may have probably given, but it failed, some suggestion about the successive expansion of the Saṁgha. Even in the sixth century B.C. Kosambi had political connections with Avantī and presumably with the adjacent states to the northwest; traders were plying the caravans along the great highways to the North and the West. On the historical basis T. W. Rhys Davids argues cogently for the great antiquity of the Aṅguttara list[65].

The mention of the Thera Nārada, however, in the Aṅguttara[66] can be assigned with certainty to the post-Buddha's lifetime. This sutta relates the story about how the Thera Nārada consoled the king Muṇḍa of Pāṭaliputta who was lamenting over the death of his consort Bhaddā. It should be noted here that in his consolation Nārada just redacted a sermon the Buddha gave on a similar occasion[67]. This section commemorates the name of king Muṇḍa who reigned, as shown by T. W. Rhys Davids, in Rājagaha about half a century after the demise of the Buddha. So the Aṅguttara containing a clear reference to Muṇḍa Rāja cannot be regarded as a compilation made within the fifty years from the Buddha's demise. There is, however, no other historical reference to carry the date of its compilation beyond the first century from the Mahāparinibbāna of the Buddha[68].

The story of Mahāgovinda[69] was molded after the early form of Jātaka which always concluded with the identification of the Buddha, the narrator of the story, with its hero, while in the Aṅguttara Nikāya the story is a simple chronicle of seven purohitas without the identification[70]. Therefore, the Aṅguttara Nikāya's story may probably be older than the former insomuch as the simplicity is regarded as sign of early stage which, as previously mentioned, was characterized by simplicity and spontaneity, intuition and inspiration.

In fine, we may note that the Aṅguttara Nikāya, though regarded as a little later in comparison with the 3 remaining great Nikāyas, is put among them on the same footing, i.e. stratum 4 by most of the modern scholars.

2. Saṃyutta Nikāya:

The Saṃyutta Nikāya[71], gaining its tittle from the fact that its suttas are grouped together according to their contents is comprised of 5 vaggas, namely, Sagātha vagga, Nidāna vagga, Khandha vagga, Saḷāyatana vagga, and Mahā vagga. They contain 56 Saṃyuttas that again are divided into small vaggas. In the European edition the Nikāya contains 2,889 suttas in all, Buddhaghosa, however, states that there are 7,762 suttas.

The way of division in this Nikāya may cause confusion because 'vagga' denotes simultaneously the five vaggas of the first level and those of the third level. The arrangement is made by (1) subject or doctrine, (2) class of god, demon, or man, (3) some prominent person as speaker or hero, e.g. the Sakka Saṃyutta (11) contains suttas where Sakka plays a part, while the Bojjhaṅga Saṃyutta (46) is composed of those suttas in which the seven elements of enlightenment are discussed. This method of arrangement does mean that the Saṃyutta Nikāya contains some of the most important Buddhist teaching, e.g. the Sacca Saṃyutta contains 131 sutta dealing with different aspects of the four truths[72].

Among the five great Nikāyas, the Saṃyutta Nikāya is unique to receive so beautiful introductory words offered by T. W. Rhys Davids. It is illustrative and enjoyable to quote fully here:

"The venturer into the contents of these books will find himself for the most part in a curious woodland of fairies, gods, and devils, with royal and priestly interviewers of the sublime teacher, opening out here on a settlement of religious brethren, there on scenes of life in rural communities... Devas he will see; sons and daughters of 'the gods,'... they will enchant the eye of his imagination with a glory of colour, and while minor forest devas will show concern in his spiritual welfare, those of this or that heaven will welcome him to celestial mansions. He will hear riddles and saws in doggerel metre, current in ancient Indian folk-philosophy... that mothered efforts at thinking seriously, however rudimentary they might be.

The prince of darkness - of life-lust and of recurring death - will startle him in odd and fearsome shapes and ways. Grave and noble Sisters will show him a serene peace, and a grasp of truth won at the cost of much that life holds dear. The incorrigible will give themselves away as they talk before him. Mysterious aboriginal creatures, in process of being merged into the stock of folk-myth, will come forth from the abandoned shrines of dead deities to listen or menace. And the gods of to-day will contend before him with the gods of yesterday, become the Titans of to-day.

And ever, as he wanders on, there will move before him, luminous and serene, the central figure of the great-hearted Gotama, bringing him to the wood's end braced and enlightened by the beneficent tension of listening to many wise sayings... the matter of them is of the stamp of the oldest doctrine known to us, and from them a fairly complete synopsis of the ancient dhamma might be compiled... they contribute not a little to body out our somewhat vague outline of India's greatest son, so that we receive successive impression of his great good sense, his willingness to adapt his sayings to the individual inquirer, his keen intuition, his humour and smiling irony, his courage and dignity, his catholic and tender compassion for all creatures[73]".

We come back to the method of arrangement which done according to contents the sutta would help in gathering together well nigh all the information about what the specified topic was conceived and how it was solved in the Buddhist system, and by the way, enhancing the width and depth of the topic undergoing discussion. The Saṃyutta Nikāya appears, as observed by B. C. Law, to be the result of an attempt to put together relevant passages throwing light on the topics of deeper doctrinal importance[74]. From this point, it is probable to observe that the Saṃyutta Nikāya should be younger than the Aṅguttara Nikāya should insomuch as the tendency toward accretion and deepening the philosophical ideas would be marked as later development.

The Saṃyutta Nikāya as authoritative source has been quoted by name in the Milinda Pañha and in the Peṭakopadesa under the simple tittle of Saṃyutta. So this Nikāya must have existed as an authoritative book of the Pāli canon previous to the composition of both the Milinda Pañha and the Peṭakopadesa. We can go so far as to maintain that the Saṃyutta Nikāya had reached its final shape previous to the occurrence of Pañcanekayika as a personal epithet in some of the Bārhut and Sāñci inscriptions, or even before the closing of the Vinaya Cullavagga where we meet with the expression "Pañca Nikāya".

G. C. Pande points out that the Kosaka Saṃyutta of the Saṃyutta Nikāya speaks of the familiar relations of the Buddha with the king Pasenadi of Kosala, and mentions the war between Pasenadi and Ajātasattu. It may be noted that the relations between the Buddha and Ajātasattu appear just the opposite of those established at the end of the Sāmaññaphalasutta[75]. So the Kosala Saṃyutta as a whole should possibly be regarded as previous to the Sāmaññaphalasutta. Moreover, the suttas in the Saṃyutta Nikāya do not refer to any political incident justifying us to place the date of its compilation far beyond the demise of the Buddha when Buddhist system adapted in its scriptures was inclined towards a religious system[76].

We should close this section with the position of the Saṃyutta Nikāya in different schemes of stratification as observed by leading scholars. In the initial scheme of 10 strata, as observed by T. W. Rhys Davids, the Saṃyutta Nikāya takes its place in the fourth and last position of the fourth stratum which consists of the entire first four great Nikāyas; whereas in the B. C. Law's scheme adopted from that of T. W. Rhys Davids with some amendments, the Saṃyutta Nikāya occupies also the fourth position, but not the last, of the same strata: the Dīgha Nikāya, Vol. i, the Majjhima Nikāya, the Saṃyutta Nikāya, the Aṅguttara Nikāya, and the earlier Pātimokkha code of 152 rules. It is noted that the posterity of the Saṃyutta Nikāya to the Aṅguttara Nikāya, as initially positioned, is not agreed on by the later scholarship. K. T. S. Sarao puts it on the first level of his 3-major-level scheme named 'Substantially Pre-Maurian Texts' in the following order: the Vinaya Piṭaka[77], the Dīgha Nikāya, the Majjhima Nikāya, the Saṃyutta Nikāya, the Aṅguttara Nikāya, and the Udāna (verse only)[78].

C. Stratification and dating of the Khuddaka Nikāya:

Of the five Nikāyas, the Khuddaka Nikāya contains the largest number of treatises and the most numerous categories of Dhamma. Although the word "khuddaka" literally means "minor" or "small", the actual content of this collection can by no means be regarded as minor when it does include somehow the 2 major divisions of the Piṭaka, namely, the Vinaya Piṭaka and the Abhidhamma Piṭaka[79]. This collection of miscellaneous nature is diverse group of separate Buddhist texts constituting the fifth and last section of the Pāli Sutta Piṭaka. Although it contains some very early works, as a collection it is later than the other four Nikāyas and much more varied in form and content in comparison with them. It contains all the important poetic works in the Pāli canon. The books it includes have not been the same in all times and places; the Milinda-Pañha, the Suttasaṁgaha, the Peṭakopadesa, and the Netti or Nettipakaraṇa[80] are 4 additional texts that the Burmese tradition puts into the usual standard list which contains the fifteen books as follows: (1) Khuddakapāṭha; (2) Dhammapada; (3) Udāna; (4) Itivuttaka; (5) Sutta Nipāta; (6) Vimānavatthu; (7) Petavatthu; (8/9) Theragāthā/ Therīgāthā; (10) Jātakas; (11) Niddesa; (12) Paṭisambhidāmagga; (13) Apadāna; (14) Buddhavaṃsa; and (15) Cariya Piṭaka.

Taking the ground on the traditional verses embodied in the Parivārapāṭha, B. C. Law determines that the 5 Nikāyas, the seven treatises of the Abhidhamma Piṭaka and all the older texts of the Vinaya Piṭaka were make known to the people of Ceylon by the wise Mahinda who arrived in Ceylon from Jambudīpa (India) after the Third Buddhist Council had been over[81]. As authoritative source, some books of the Khuddaka Nikāya together with the other Nikāyas were quoted by Kathāvatthu[82].

The Milinda Pañha together with the Bhārhut and Sāñci inscription which may be dated, as previously mentioned, in the lump in the middle of the second century B. C. puts the 5 Nikāyas inclusive of the Khuddaka Nikāya on the same status when presupposing the different schools of reciters of the 5 Nikāyas. But B. C. Law still holds that the Khuddaka Nikāya's status as presupposed, however reliable it is, should recess the stronger and definite probability that the first 4 Nikāyas were, to all intents and purposes, then complete, while the Khuddaka Nikāya series remained still open[83]. M. Winternitz observes the lateness of the Khuddaka Nikāya, in general, by assuming that the poetic fragments usually had to struggle to be adapted into the canonical division, i.e. the Khuddaka Nikāya[84]. So does K. T. S. Sarao by concerning the remaining sayings or verses attributed not to the Buddha but his great disciples, after the completion of the four previous Nikāyas. The four texts, namely, Buddhavaṃsa, Cariya Piṭaka, Vimānavatthu and Petavatthu, in his opinion, were possibly the latest to be added to the Khuddaka Nikāya[85].


[1] B. C. Law, HPL: 18.

[2] T. W. Rhys Davids, HLB: 40.

[3] G. C. Pande, SOB: 19.

[4] Ibid.: 13.

[5] Ibid.: 40.

[6] to translate more idiomatically, longer and shorter.

[7] T. W. Rhys Davids, HLB: 40-41.

[8] Ibid.: 41-42.

[9] K. T. S. Sarao, ONAIB: 30.

[10] J. E. Carpenter, BNC: 303.

[11] Ibid.: 290.

[12] G. C. Pande, SOB: 15.

[13] Ibid.: 27.

[14] K. T. S. Sarao, ONAIB: 31.

[15] The Milinda Pañha is a lively dialogue on Buddhist doctrine with questions and dilemmas posed by King Milinda ­­- i.e. Menander, Greek ruler of a large Indo-Greek empire in the late 2nd century B.C. - and answered by Nagasena, a senior monk; composed in northern India in perhaps the 1st or 2nd century A.D. (and perhaps originally in Sanskrit) by an unknown author, the Milinda Pañha is one non canonical work whose authority was accepted implicitly by such commentators as Buddhaghosa, who quoted it frequently

[16] B. C. Law, HPL: 27.

[17] One who is well versed in, or knows by heart, the five Nikāyas.

[18] G. C. Pande, SOB: 19.

[19] A man who knows the suttanta by heart.

[20] A feminine form of suttantika.

[21] One who knows the Piṭaka by heart.

[22] B. C. Law, HPL: 28.

[23] The last major emperor in the Mauryan dynasty of India whose vigorous patronage of Buddhism during his reign (c. 265-238 B.C.) furthered the expansion of that religion.

[24] K. L. Hazra, PLL: 159.

[25] B. C. Law, HPL: 14.

[26] Ibid.: 12.

[27] D. ii: 220 ff.

[28] K. L. Hazra, PLL: 152.

[29] Ibid.: 153.

[30] T. W. Rhys Davids, HLB: 41.

[31] The first book of the Sutta Piṭaka, also known as the Long Collection or the Collection of Long Discourses or the Dialogues of the Buddha; Skt: Dirghagama.

[32] Ibid.: 41.

[33] Lay U Ko, GT: 25.

[34] Ibid.: 34.

[35] Ibid.: 39.

[36] in the first chapter of his A History of Pāli Literature.

[37] B. C. Law, HPL: 13.

[38] Ibid.: 30-31.

[39] Ibid.: 1.

[40] K. L. Hazra, PLL: 153.

[41] G. C. Pande, SOB: 24.

[42] Lay U Ko, GT: 34.

[43] Ibid.: 37-38.

[44] Lay U Ko, GT: 39.

[45] B. C. Law, HPL: 30; K. L. Hazra, PLL: 160.

[46] paritta: protection; protective charm.

[47] Lay U Ko, GT: 44.

[48] K. L. Hazra, PLL: 160-161; see also S. ii: 267.

[49] The second book of the Sutta Piṭaka, also known as the 'Middle Collection' or the Collection of Discourses of Medium Length or Middle Length Sayings; Skt: Madhyamagama.

[50] K. R. Norman, PL: 45.

[51] G. C. Pande, SOB: 47.

[52] B. C. Law, HPL: 31; K. L. Hazra, PLL: 161.

[53] B. C. Law, HPL: 24.

[54] K. T. S. Sarao, ONAIB: 33.

[55] T. W. Rhys Davids, HLB: 43.

[56] K. R. Norman, PL: 54.

[57] also known as "Item-more Collection"; Skt: Ekottarikagama.

[58] Lay U Ko, GT: 110.

[59] B. C. Law, HPL: 22-23.

[60] A. i: 98-100.

[61] B. C. Law, HPL: 19.

[62] K. T. S. Sarao, ONAIB.: 30.

[63] A. iii: 107.

[64] G. C. Pande, SOB: 48.

[65] Ibid.: 45.

[66] A. iii: 63.

[67] G. C. Pande, SOB: 47-48.

[68] B. C. Law, HPL: 32-33; K. L. Hazra, PLL: 162.

[69] D. ii: 220 ff.

[70] K. L. Hazra, PLL: 152-153.

[71] also known as "Cluster Collection"; Skt: Saṃyuktāgama.

[72] K. R. Norman, PL: 49-50.

[73] KS. i: v-viii.

[74] B. C. Law, HPL: 32.

[75] G. C. Pande, SOB: 47.

[76] B. C. Law, HPL: 31-32; K. L. Hazra, PLL: 161-162.

[77] Except CV xi, xii, Sekhya Rules and Parivārapāṭha.

[78] K. T. S. Sarao, ONAIB: 33.

[79] Lay U Ko, GT: 125.

[80] B. C. Law, HPL: 193.

[81] Ibid.: 14.

[82] Ibid.: 10-11.

[83] B. C. Law, HPL: 28; K. L. Hazra, PLL: 159.

[84] G. C. Pande, SOB: 48.

[85] K. T. S. Sarao, ONAIB: 30.


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