andhavanaṃ “the deep woods” or “Dark Forest” in @sujato 's rendering or “Blind Mans Grove” according to Horner, Bodhi and @Brahmali , occurs in a handful of suttas where the Buddha, Sariputta, or various nuns, “plunge into the deep woods for the days abiding”. One variation, andhavanasmiṃ occurs in a further 3 suttas.
andhavanaṃ or andhavanasmiṃ:
MN: 3 MN23 MN24 MN147
SN: 7: SN5.1 SN5.2 SN5.3 SN5.10 SN28.1 SN35.121 SN52.10
AN: 2 AN6.49 AN10.7
VN: 1 Bu Np 5
So I was going to write a long winded thing but I shant bother, I will just state my thesis and point out a couple of things and leave it at that, and if it sparks some discussion then great.
So my thesis is that andhavanaṃ is a signal to the reader that what is being said is a “secret” (i.e apocryphal) teaching. and the “Dark woods” or “Blind mans grove” is used in the suttas as a place where fantastical or esoteric things can happen, things that perhaps deviate from “common knowledge”.
- As per usual this curious location has SN as it’s locus, AN lacking andhavanaṃ and having only the rarer variant andhavanasmiṃ meaning both DN and AN lack andhavanaṃ
- As per usual all bar one of the occurances in MN have thier Agama parallels in SA not MA, and as per usual in the one exeption (MA9) omits the location. This means that if we exclude MN suttas whose parallels ar in SA, then DN, MN and AN all lack andhavanaṃ
- The bulk of the occurrences give either the appearance of unusal deities or the appearence of unusal doctrine or both. (the first several occurances in SN are all Mara appearing to nuns, SN28.1 giv es the standard jhana formula with a unique addition, AN10.7 has the unique Bhavanirodho nibbānaṁ , MN23 has a glorious deity appearing to Kassapa the Prince and then a unique “riddle”)
Of the other examples of the term, it was MN35 that first suggested the idea to me, basically this is the only example in MN of the phrase sabbe dhamma anatta and it strangely, for a doctrine taken as so fundamental by so many Theravadans, is taught first in the sutta, and in that entire NIkaya, not by the Buddha, but by Assaji. The hundreds of hearers of this teaching, then plunge into “Blind mans Grove” to ask the Buddha about it, whereapon the Buddha repeats the teaching verbatim. This always struck me as profoundly odd, first a new teaching is given, for the first and only time in the first 2 NIkayas (at this point I had not yet read the Samyutta) and instead of being introduced by a sutta that is spoken by the Buddha, it is introduced by a sutta spoken by someone else, and not even a someone else who has given teachings before like Sariputta, and then the sutta claims that the Buddha, in front of hundreds of people, gave the same teaching, why wouldn’t the sutta just start with the Buddha, the more significant authority?
One, to my mind quite obvious on reflection explanation, is that “the Buddha in Blind Man’s Grove” is used to legitimize the teaching as given by Assaji.
on this theory MN24 functions the same way, there is a unique teaching, the chariot relay analogy, and a lesser known exponent of this analogy, Punna, and his teaching is legitimized in the sutta by him meeting Sariputta in Blind Mans Grove.
AN6.49 functions the same way allowing Khema’s unique teaching atthi me seyyoti vā atthi me sadisoti vā atthi me hīnoti vā to be legitimised by the “Buddha in Blind Man’s Grove”.
Bu Np 5 explains how Uppalavaṇṇā came to innocently have a leg of lamb or whatever she had.
MN147 reports the enlightenment of Rahula, which on this theory is put into question by my hermenuetics of suspicion, as it becomes one of the many “strange things that happen in the Blind Man’s Grove”.
So to conclude, Blind Man’s Grove is a place, absent from DN, absent from MN that has parallels in MA, absent from KN, that is used, especially in SN, as a place were “weird” things can happen, like a teaching you’ve never heard before, or a deity or devil appearing, and I therefore think it functions as a literary signal in the early canon for questionable or apocryphal episodes.