A short note on the "Buddha in Blind Man's Grove"

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:

DN: 0
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
KN: 0
VN: 1 Bu Np 5
AB: 0
VM: 0

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”.

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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.


Interesting hypothesis! Looking into the literary tools of the suttas that may go unnoticed is a good idea and quite valuable. It reminds me of the mythological perspective which really sheds light on a lot of the narratives we find. Thanks for taking the time :slight_smile:

MN 23 has ‘andhavane’ — another grammatical form of the word.

I don’t think grammatical variations on a word count as a separate case or a “rare variant” in the sense of lacking the word. “The Buddha went to the Dark Forest” is the type of context where ‘andhavanam’ appears, versus ‘They were staying in the Dark Forest’ is ‘andhavanasmim.’ These suffixes do not parse as separate words to native speakers, just like you probably didn’t read “to the Dark Forest” and “in the Dark Forest” as different versions of “Dark Forest.” So I would not say that the AN is any kind of exception; it’s the same word just in a different context according to the narrative.

MN 147 is a parallel version of the narrative at SN 35.121. This is an example of what I meant in the other thread. Not sure we can really conclude much here, but it certainly belongs in SN 35.

As for rare teachings, sticking to the SN:

  • SN 52.10 is extremely standard / expected.
  • SN 28.1 is just about the jhānas and not having anymore conceit as an arahant; nothing abnormal.
  • SN 5.1-3, SN 5.10: All of the suttas in this Samyutta have the same scenario of the bhikkhunī encountering Māra and shooing him away, as is supported by the parallels. So this aspect is independent of the location and is rather a feature of this collection as a whole.


  • 5.1 has nothing rare/abnormal
  • 5.2 is in the opposite direction of the later developments in the Sangha which seemed to be more oppressive and separative with women
  • Above 2 points true for SN 5.3
  • SN 5.10 has a very similar question as SN 5.9 in a different location. The chariot teaching is a new simile, but this play on a ‘being’ is found at SN 23.2 and SN 35.66 and probably elsewhere in different ways.

As for, say, AN 10.7 — “bhavanirodho nibbānaṁ” is extremely standard. This meditative perception that is beyond all of the other high states in some senses is found in other suttas too, actually somewhat more frequently than you’d expect, and without the ‘dark wood’ reference of course. So I would consider this just a sutta that is talking about a rarer subject — an arahant meditating and perceiving the cessation of continued existence common to all arahants — which we find all the time in the canon (that is, suttas which discuss more nuanced things).

This leads to my final point: the amount of suttas which are apocryphal, odd, or stand out which are not related to the Dark Grove is much more in number and scenario. Every sutta is going to be unique in some sense lest it be a mere formulaic repetition like those we find in SN, and so the fact that the one’s that are set in a particular spot do not all merely repeat a common stock formula verbatim should not be the standard for associating the location with apocryphal secret teachings. I think settings like ones in which Ānanda or another monk speaks (such as when Assaji does in the sutta you noticed), or suttas associated with later developments that we can trace, etc. are examples of literary devices that help mark secret/apocryphal. That said, things like the appearance of a deity in the night or a nun being alone with a man make a lot of sense in a dark, deep forest—so this is not to say that the setting is irrelevant.


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Oh yeah, good thesis. It is definitely a location for the strange and wondrous, this being the reason it should be translated correctly.

“Blind Man’s Grove” stems from the wacky commentarial origin story. The name obviously means “Dark Forest”. Y’all are just just lucky I didn’t go with my first choice: Mirkwood.

I wouldn’t rush to argue that “strange and mysterious” implies “late”. Old things can be weird, too! But you’ve definitely made a start there in associating the place with certain kinds of teaching. I’d like to look more at the usages in the Agamas before reaching any conclusions, though.


Assaji was hardly unknown as he was one of the five original companions of the Buddha, and this is key, he was the last to understand the teaching of impermanence, and had subsequently spoken on anicca when converting Sariputta (Mv 1.23 1.10). So if ‘narrative agenda’ regarding places and especially personnel is understood fully, it is entirely appropriate that dramatic intensity would be built by having the question first asked of Assaji, then of the Buddha in the Great Forest.

come on @kaccayanagotta , ahaṃ paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ occurs here and at AN10.85 and no where else in the canon, it absolutely is an unusual phrase.

Again, this is simply not true, bhavanirodho nibbānaṁ occurs nowhere else in the canon other than the Netti, and bhavanirodho nibbānanti occurs only at SN12.68 and nowhere else in the canon. The idea that this is an “extremely standard” teaching is just not backed up by the textual evidence.

An opportunity missed! You know how i feel about novel renderings, that would have beat out even “Townsville” as my all time favourite!!

Yes, of course, but I am not referring to the “internal chronology” of the Buddhas life and dispensation, I am referring to the previous 34 suttas of MN and the previous 34 suttas of DN, this is the first time in the canon that we see this teaching, and Assaji is prioritised over the Buddha, this is quite striking and imo, suggestive.

Anyway, than you all for the interesting feedback! I will ruminate on it and perhaps add more later :slight_smile:

In Chinese, Andhavana is called 得眼林, the “Regaining Eyes” Forest (linked to the legend of the blind robbers).

Having seen the woods around Sravasti, the first impression I had of them was that they looked like a suitably dark and impenetrable place to stash the booty, hence the appropriateness of both names.


It’s the exact same as any mention of jhāna but rather than dropping the pronoun as is common in Pāli, the pronoun is inserted for emphasis because the passage is specifically about people being conceited and identifying with their meditative experiences.

I just disagree with this type of linguistic essentialism. As I said in my comment, the suttas wouldn’t be able to say anything unique or nuanced if they had to repeat verbatim stock formulas dozens of times to be validated or not seen as ‘unusual,’ ‘secret,’ and ‘apocryphal.’ This even more true for the following case.

Bhavanirodho nibbānantiis identical to ‘ bhavanirodho nibbānaṁ’ Again, this is like saying that the two sentences “I perceived that the cessation of existence is nibbāna” and “I thought ‘the cessation of existence is nibbāna’” are two separate phrases, when in reality they simply insert the same phrase into different syntactic positions. They both occur in literally the same sentence at AN 10.7, so it is not true it does not occur outside SN 12.68:

evamevaṁ kho, āvuso, ‘bhavanirodho nibbānaṁ bhavanirodho nibbānan’ti

As for it being standard, I do not mean the exact phrase. ‘Bhavanirodho’ occurs dozens of times in every single cessation sequence of dependent origination, and the cessation sequence refers to the attainment of nibbāna. The same thing occurs at Iti 44 where it discusses two types of nibbāna—one which is the cessation of bhava. Every single stock formula on the lion’s roar of the arahant has them declare that they have ended rebirth and will not return to any state of existence — i.e. bhava. All the suttas on the types of anāgāmī distinguish people who have ended the fetter of ‘bhava’ (arahants) from those with the fetter (non-returners). The ending of the āsava of ‘bhava’ is the attainment of nibbāna.
of ‘bhavanirodho’

Thus the phrase ‘bhavanirodho’ is extremely standard in reference to nibbāna, and even more so the concept of it. The same phrase occurs at AN 10.7 and SN 12.68—which has a Chinese parallel—and the same scenario worded different occurs at AN 11.20.

I think that it makes perfect sense for a ‘dark grove’ to be the setting for certain particular types of discourses, but ‘apocryphal’ is not the word to associate with even half of these, especially not on the basis of a grammatical case, quotative particle, or any teaching which is not a mere verbatim formula.

Mettā :pray:


Yes, a formula that appears over 250 times in the canon is modified in 2 places in the canon to make a point about conceit that is made in relation to jhana in only those two places in the canon. That is my point.

I understand that rarity is not in itself proof of lateness, but it is at least a first step, in that I think that it is fair to say that those formula that appear, verbatim, in all 4 principle nikayas, widely dispersed in many contexts, are likely to be early.

Therefore when a passage is unique, or occurs only a handful of times, or occurs only in certain nikayas, or occurs only in one nikaya and then more often in later material, all these textual facts weaken the statements claim to being unequivocally early.

They of course may in fact be early, and in fact it may be that any given unique sentence in the canon is in fact literally the only thing that the Buddha actually did say that is preserved, with all the rest being the invention of later monastics, but I think it is a good working hypothesis to assume that:

The 4 Nikayas are the earliest strata of prose material we have.
The Khuddaka, while it almost certainly contains archaic material, at least as a collection is anterior in time and prestige to the other 4.
The Vinaya is broadly, as a collection, later than the 4 Nikayas
The Abhidhamma is broadly later still.
Within the 4 principle Nikayas those passages which recur, verbatim in all 4 books, multiple times, are most likely to be early, or at the very least, are most likely to be widely believed to be early or important or both by the redactors of the material.

This means that phrases that occur only in one book, or occur very rarely, or occur rarely in the books but much more commonly in the later material, are for me, suspect.

I would also say that by and large I take it that the later a sutta occurs in the particular NIkaya the more suspect it is, so for example I think it is pretty clear that DN1 and DN2 are by and large comprised of earlier material than DN33 and DN34 and that MN1 and MN2 are by and large comprised of earlier material than say MN147 and MN148. This is complicated somewhat in the case of the “structured” NIkayas, SN and AN, but I still find that within samyuttas and within numbers that the earlier material tends to be more trustworthy than the later, sequentially speaking.

Further, I am finding that a high proportion of MN suttas that deal with topics that I personally identify as likely later developments have their parallels in SA and not MA I would therefore modify my earlier statement to say that I find most likely to be early those passages that occur in all 4 of the NIkayas when the Agama parallels that occur in different Agamas to the equivalent Nikaya are removed. (so that we remove MN144 to MN152 from consideration for example)

So, applying my methodology to the above “jhana conciet” teaching, I find that it is not unambiguously present in all 4 NIkayas, and therefore MAY be a later addition to the canon, and if it was, that this could be one of the functions of Mirkwood, to allow an “uncommon” teaching to be added to the caonon.

I would just point out that SN12.68 is literally about a person knowing and seeing ‘bhavanirodho nibbānan’”ti and NOT being an Arahant.

Then in AN10.7 the context is a type of meditative attainment, an “immersion”, that quotes MN1, implies that the the immersion transends nevasañ­ñā­nāsa­ñ­ñāya­tanato but then states that Sariputta had a perception, i.e

At that time I perceived that the cessation of continued existence is extinguishment.”
‘Bhavanirodho nibbānan’ti saññī ca panāhaṁ, āvuso, tasmiṁ samaye ahosin”ti.

and it’s a perception that the only other mention in the canon states is available to someone who explicitly declared that they are NOT an arahant!

You may think that all this is “extremely” parsimonious with the previously enunciated philosophy of the canon, but I do not.

I think that there are several limitations to my approach, some of them simply limitations of my own learning, others more fundamental, but I want to unpack this a bit.

FIrst, as I have mentioned here often, I have no formal training in Pali, and continue to eagerly look forward to @sujato 's proposed Pali course this year at some point.
However, I don’t think that renders my approach moot, it matters when there is a different spelling or a different grammatical case or a modification of a textual string from a common variant to a rare variant, even when it is done in a way that is perfectly legitimate in the language, if you have a phrase that puts something in the past tense, and is repeated 100 times in the past tense, but then once happens to be in the future tense, then it is reasonable to suggest that the past tense was probably the sense in which the text was originally meant. Of course, as always, it MAY be that the one occurrence of the future tense was meant, and then the second redactor modified it, and all subsequent copyists copied the second redactor, but as a general strategy, I think my approach holds up.

Secondly, it simply isn’t my method to find rare occurrences and say RARE=BAD and leave it at that, the above example illustrates this perfectly.

you have a very common phrase, bhavanirodho that occurs in a specific sequence, the dependent origination/cessation, dozens of times, and then a very rare phrase, occurring only at AN10.7 and SN12.68, that first of all makes a claim that an immersion that goes beyond neither perception nor non perception nevertheless has a perception, and then that it is possible to have this perception and not be an arahant, despite knowing and seeing it “apart from faith, preference, oral tradition, reasoned contemplation, or acceptance of a view after consideration”.

No only this but SN12.68 is super weird, making Musīla give the claim first but having them refuse to speak about their attainment or no of arahanthood, and then having Nārada make the same claims and then give the explanation of non attainment via the well analogy.

THEN we have Ananda asking Saviṭṭha if there is any problem with all this and Saviṭṭha is fine with it.

Meanwhile the parallel SA351 shuffles all the characters around and makes even less sense (although I am relying here on machine translations)

I am not fine with it. It seems to me that by far the most likely explanation for this train wreck is that a claim, to know and see cessation outside of faith, preference, oral tradition, reasoned contemplation, or acceptance of a view after consideration, is made by a monk and it is rightly thought that this amounts to a claim of arahanthood, the monk will not go that far so another monk gives the well analogy, and this is given the tacit Ananda seal of approval.

The reason it is rare is therefore because it is seeking to legitimize a new analogy, picking out the distinction in MN95 between “awakening to truth” and “arrival at truth” (a distinction that is also, IMO, not without it’s problems) and providing an innovative analogy, the well, for it.

This is ALL suggestive of lateness; the rarity, the characters, the controversy within the sutta itself, the imperfect and muddled parallel, etc etc

SO my method is not RARE=BAD, it is RARE=SUSPICIOUS and then when you carefully read RARE 9 times out of 10 it turns out to be simply incompatible with a conservative and philosophically consistent reading of the bulk of the material.

The one time out of ten that the rare example is congruent and germane, like the raft analogy, I am more than happy to keep it (although I still suspect that one may be LATE, it’s just not WRONG)



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Does it? In most contexts andha clearly means blind, as when it’s found in apposition with acakkhuka, “eyeless”. In the Vinaya andha is used with badhira and mūga to mean “blind, deaf, and mute”. So the most obvious meaning of Andhavana would seem to be the “Grove of the blind”. The commentarial story may be wacky, but that’s really beside the point.

Yes. In both Pali and Sanskrit, andha has a standard sense of “dark”. Forests are dark, they are not blind.


On the question of bhavanirodho nibbānaṁ — we may simply disagree, and that’s fine. There are a couple of relevant points here to consider though on how/why it is not so strange of a thing for this type of perception to be here in my opinion.

At SN 12.68, it appears in the context of if one understands this. Understanding it, i.e. that the cessation of bhava is nibbāna, is equated with a noble disciple: a stream-enterer or higher. Elsewhere in the canon, having right view/being a noble disciple is equated with understanding the origination and the cessation of these things, bhava included. The second noble truth being taṇhā ponobbhavikā and bhava being ‘continued existence’ or ‘life,’ the cessation of bhava is one of the most important and ubiquitous terms for the goal of the path and of the holy life in general. I do not find it strange that a noble disciple — arahant or not — would be asked if they know this, and that another one would discuss perceiving it. That said, we’ll stick to AN 10.7 because I agree with you that SN 12.68 is a bit different and more suspect.

As for this perception transcending nevasaññānāsaññā, this is a typical dialectic strategy of the early suttas. Perceiving that the cessation of bhava is nibbāna is a higher type of perception that relates to the cessation of all states of existence than nevasaññānāsaññā which is the stereotypically “highest” perception that one can have within saṁsāra. It is really the only lokuttara — transcendental or supramundane — perception or meditative state that exists. All other states are simply higher forms of bhava and thus still dukkha and saṁsāric (of the world). Just like AN 11.20 in which someone asks if there is a perception or state of mind that transcends even the highest formless perceptions. The response is yes: perceive the reflection on nibbāna itself which is literally beyond all of those perceptions — but in a different way because it is about their cessation. The only other higher thing normal for such a response would be the cessation attainment, and that is not a perception so it is not a valid response to the question.

Back to SN 12.68, I agree it has the characteristics of a more ‘sketchy’ sutta. We should be cautious with it. But note that it has the other signs of lateness, and not the dark grove setting, which were suggestive to you and myself. As usual it features conversations with other disciples, validation from a well-known figurehead of authority (Ānanda, etc.), a juxtaposition of ideas to demonstrate a degree of controversy, etc. I am not going to say it is inherently problematic — I think the well simile is apt — but it is in the ‘suspicious’ category for sure.

And I agree with the general methodology that if something is rare and does not occur much throughout the canon that it is more suspect than something that recurs — that is, it should at least be taken with a bit of caution before assuming anything. I also think there are examples of formulas which are more specific to particular nikāyas and that this is not a sign of lateness—to assume so is just a speculative assumption. It’s more likely that the people compiling, passing down, and maintaining a particular group of discourses will have some of their own standardized formulas tangential to others that other groups of redactors and reciters are using.

An easy example of this is the Itivuttaka. It has its own set of formulas consistent within the collection as a whole, and the traditional narrative is that this collection or some proto-form of it was compiled and maintained by another group of aristocratic women who then gave it to the monastics. Whatever we may think about the likelihood of the particular details of this narrative, the general story makes plenty of sense.

It’s a lot easier in a later time period to make thousands of discourses across multiple collections with their own recitation lineages/maintainers all perfectly consistent. This would be quite the undertaking. There are certain formulas which will be consistent in one or two nikāyas, but slightly different from another version (despite presenting the same general content) — a parallel formula the same type of which we see in other schools’ discourses. Or outside of formulas, just specific types of discourses/teachings which we have already discussed some above.

All this to say: I agree with the general methodology, but some of the details of it are far more speculative than they might sound at first, even if they are good angles to consider things from. We don’t know the history of the origins of these texts, as is clear from the whole ‘play of formulas’ debate in the first place.

My main point though was that the notion of ‘Dark Grove = Apocryphal’ is not supported. There are other signs of lateness which are recurring and those are much more accurate indications IMO. None of the suttas which take place in the Dark Grove are necessarily so. Not having conceit in regards to jhāna? An arahant perceiving something standard about Nibbāna that they must know by nature of being an arahant? These are the only examples that contain rarer doctrine in the list and neither of them are out there — unlike the several other suttas we’ve ended up discussing in this thread that are much more so and feature other common indications.

Mettā :slight_smile:

It’s not the asking about the topic that is strange, it’s the controversy; saying it appears tantamount to claiming arahantship in the sutta itself that’s why its there, its the descripti0on and resolution of the controversy of a monk claiming independent knowledge of bhavanirodho nibbānaṁ without being an arahant by appeal to an analogy of being able to see the water in the well but not touch it. It’s a problematic epistemological picture for early Buddhism because knowing and seeing this is to be freed from the defilements as per DN2;

Knowing and seeing like this, their mind is freed from the defilements of sensuality, desire to be reborn, and ignorance.
Tassa evaṁ jānato evaṁ passato kāmāsavāpi cittaṁ vimuccati, bhavāsavāpi cittaṁ vimuccati, avijjāsavāpi cittaṁ vimuccati,

When they’re freed, they know they’re freed.
vimuttasmiṁ ‘vimuttam’iti ñāṇaṁ hoti,

Hence to say that one knows and sees, and not only that but knows and sees independent of faith, preference, oral tradition, reasoned contemplation, or acceptance of a view after consideration, is tantamount to a claim of arahantship, and this distinction between “knowing” and “really really knowing” is a problem, that luckily is only a problem for those who take SN12.68 to be early, as it is more or less completely absent from anywhere else in the canon in regards to this issue.

This is the second time you have said this, and I am at a loss to know what you might mean by it, perhaps you are equating

They understand: ‘Rebirth is ended, the spiritual journey has been completed, what had to be done has been done, there is no return to any state of existence.’
‘khīṇā jāti, vusitaṁ brahmacariyaṁ, kataṁ karaṇīyaṁ, nāparaṁ itthattāyā’ti pajānāti.

with bhavanirodho?

I would just point out that Bhava occurs nowhere in the phrase, it rather relying on khīṇā jāti and itthattāyā, and for the life of me, outside

bhavanirodhā jātinirodho and analogous phrases in the DO sequence I cannot think of one place where bhavanirodho even occurs, let alone is ubiquitously referring to the arahant’s attainment? perhaps you could give me an example of what you are talking about?

I think it is you who have made the speculative assumption here, suggesting that there are cases where particular redactor groups have teachings from the Buddha, that for whatever reason the redactors of the other Nikayas decided to omit.

I think this is the very definition of a “speculative” solution to an apparent problem: the problem being, if it’s a true saying of the Buddha, then why didn’t the other redactors commit it to memory and preserve it? THe more parsimonious procedure is to grant the statements present repeatedly in all four books the greatest claim to originality, and then to be able to give coherent and plausible reasons why we might have a given teaching in one book and not others despite it being original.

This is a great example, and I think it is late relative to the 4 Nikayas, precisely because it deviates from them the way it does (and other doctrinal reasons I certainly don’t have time to go into)

I mean I certainly agree with this part, I am really just trying to bring the “fight” to those, and I won’t use any specific examples but tere are several well known here on the forum, who present equally speculative arguments for the relative homogeneity and “earliness” of material, arguments that obscure the equally valid (and equally speculative) evidence that all is not well in the state of denmark.

Look I think that is what this amounts to, I have a (admittedly speculative, but what else could it be?) theory about a particular location, and what I take to be suggestive as evidence you do not take to be so, that’s fine, I completely disagree with @sujato about the stratification of the canon, but he, along with you and quite a few others who I disagree with are the whole reason I read and post here, because I like to hear different arguments and perspectives and I like to get into fruitful debate about Buddhism.

I have not been dissuaded from my arguments in this case, I agree that there are MANY more late suttas than just those that occur in Mirkwood, however I remain convinced that NONE of those that do so occur have anything suggestive of earliness, and many have the suggestion of the implausible or contested.


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Yeah we agree on this. But a noble disciple is also someone who has seen the four noble truths — this is what leads to experiential confidence in the Buddha/Dhamma/Sangha and the dropping of the fetters. And yet to fully see the four noble truths is the attainment of arahantship. So this epistemological distinction exists elsewhere in the suttas. It may be an interesting conversation or topic in and of itself.

Well, to be clear, I mean that the cessation of bhava in general, not the phrase ‘bhavanirodho’ specifically. I am equating the ‘no return to any state of existence’ with bhavanirodho because this I believe is clearly how the early suttas meant the term.

Beyond this though, a more common and familiar reference is to the end of punabbhava / punabbhavābhinibbatti — no production (abhinibbatti) of more (punar) existence (bhava). This is identical to ‘bhavanirodho,’ it’s just that the latter is the abbreviated dependent origination phrasing. Like I said, bhavanirodho is implicit in the third noble truth as well which is the definition of nibbāna: the end of craving which leads to more bhava (tanhā ponobbhavikā).

This is my main criticism of the linguistic phrase methodology: if we look for a stock phrase in the suttas to inform what is and is not widespread, we are missing potentially dozens of other phrases with the exact same meaning or even etymological origins. I know you’re aware of this though, and I do really appreciate the linguistic surveying as well, I don’t mean to make it sound like it’s unhelpful — quite the contrary. I just think it is essential this not be overlooked.

Sorry if this was unclear. My point was not “this is how things are.” My point was “I can provide another equally valid form of speculation.” Just like in the ‘debate’ between Shulman and Anālayo, both parties can make convincing theses about their speculative ideas of the origins of the canon, and they are both grounded in certain valid observations. But at the end of the day, they remain speculative; it would be a mistake to pick one side and then make categorical assertions on account of it about what things are original / not.

Both approaches are extremely helpful theoretical perspectives to adopt and lenses from which we can investigate the early texts. We just must be very cautious about how much we convince ourselves of conclusions we come to when we use these methodologies as the basis for coming to those conclusions. This is my point here, not to say that one methodology is speculative and the other is not; both (and others) are.

Thank you and I feel the same way :slight_smile: I hope these comments haven’t come across as overly antagonistic. We have tended to see things differently as of late around here, but I also really appreciate the differences of perspective and experience here on the forum. I have certainly learned a lot because of it and because of other people questioning my conclusions or ideas. I’m glad you have different theories about the stratification of the canon; in the least, I feel that we’ve all learned more about how much we don’t know which is good too.

Fair :slight_smile: I remain unconvinced about this setting implying/being apocryphal, but am glad we’ve looked into it and are considering some of the literary implications of the settings in the early texts!

Mettā :slight_smile:

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Oh and just on AN11.20 this is a perfect example of what I am talking about, samādhipaṭilābho yathā - to obtain a state of meditation like X, occurs ONLY in AN, ZERO times is the phrase “obtain an immersion like X” used in DN, MN, SN, KN, VN, AB, or VM. SO you have a phrase, that asks if there are meditations different from the standard list, and there always is, and they always more or less constitute enlightenment, despite the fact that at least in DN and MN, the thought that the attainment itself is enlightenment, as opposed to the knowledge gained with right wisdom from the experience, is always scrupulously avoided, for good reason, as the idea that a meditative attainment can BE nibbana completely destroys the whole philosophical position of Buddhism.

Hence when I see say AN3.32 and realize that the word samādhipaṭilābho occurs ONLY in AN and NOWHERE else in the canon, it comes as no surprise to me that the teaching in the sutta is INCOHERENT, and INCOMPATIBLE with the bulk of the teaching elsewhere. I thus take it to be LATE.

And just to add, even amongst the clearly late sequence of samādhipaṭilābho suttas (AN3.32 AN10.6 AN10.7 AN11.7 AN11.8 AN11.18 AN11.19 AN11.20 AN11.21) the An10.7 example is UNIQUE in claiming that

“One perception arose in me and another perception ceased: ‘The cessation of continued existence is extinguishment. The cessation of continued existence is extinguishment.’
“‘Bhavanirodho nibbānaṁ bhavanirodho nibbānan’ti kho me, āvuso, aññāva saññā uppajjati aññāva saññā nirujjhati.

is the perception with ALL the other 8 examples giving

‘This is peaceful; this is sublime—that is, the stilling of all activities, the letting go of all attachments, the ending of craving, fading away, cessation, extinguishment.’
‘etaṁ santaṁ etaṁ paṇītaṁ yadidaṁ sabbasaṅkhārasamatho sabbū­pa­dhi­­paṭinissaggo taṇhākkhayo virāgo nirodho nibbānan’ti.

as the relevant perception.


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This is why I like my methodology, basically I am constantly confronted with statements to the effect that things are implicit in other things or that they clearly mean the same thing when in fact I am not convinced that they do mean the same thing or that one phrase implies another, and I find that very often this way of studying the material creates an impression of homogeneity, tacitly lending support to arguments of “earliness” when in fact it is my impression that this is precisely what the redactors are trying to do, arrange material, the core of which is early but much of which is late, in away that lets in the late words that “mean the same thing” as the early words and excluding what cannot be shoehorned into the system. What I find is that on a certain reading of the strata (my own, obviously), it becomes apparent that there is no reason to think that x in fact meant y or that z in fact implies q, and often there appear to be problems in making it work, problems that the commentarial tradition then trys to resolve.

All of which lends heft to my impression that the Nikaya material is in fact stratified, and that, of example, the jhana sequence predates the sati sequence and etc.

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These meditative perceptions are not equated with the attainment of arahantship. They are equated with perceptions related to nibbāna. I do not understand them as “X meditative state = enlightenment” and I know others here (such as Ajahn Brahmali) have said the same.

And you are free to do so. But you do not know how these suttas in the AN came to belong there or how old they are. The long gradual training with all of the monks rules only occurs in the DN and the later Vinaya according to your framework. Why don’t we see it in the SN, AN, or MN in the same way? Perhaps the DN as a whole, including the first chapter, is later, building on earlier ideas of the gradual training found in the other nikāyas and expanding them out with later rules and elaborations along with elaborate rebuttals to philosophical views for the sake of converts and non-Buddhists. Ultimately I do not know this though and so to assert a conclusion on account of it would be flawed; it would be a suspicion due to certain observations I find indicative.

Similarly, you have adopted a particular theoretical methodology and convinced yourself of the conclusions reached on account of it. Again, it’s not to say the conclusions are only speculative and have no basis in reasonable approaches; there is plenty of reason to find them helpful in evaluating these questione. But there is a much higher standard for conclusive research.

If you find these suttas incoherent/incompatible with the rest of the canon, we will simply disagree on this. And that’s fine. If I found them incompatible I would take them as likely late as well. But I don’t, and I see a consistent pattern in the structure of the discourse that could be reason for it to be organized in the AN if this were the case. We probably relate to the canon in different ways which may be part of it :slight_smile:


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The sense seems to be that the forest is so dark that it makes it impossible to see, renders one as if blind.

I mean that’s absolutely true, I don’t KNOW anything for certain, but I remain confident my approach stacks up argument wise compared to other approaches.

Yes, I think this is a good picture, and more or less the one I had for quite a long time, but the more I look into it the more it appears to me that basically the narrative nikayas in DN and MN more or less take as their Ur text the sekkha patipada and it slowly disintegrates as the suttas progress. The basic reasoning is simply that so many other pieces of the doctrine take it as an exemplar for phrasing or elaboration, while at the same time it omits so much that it sould contain if it was late, the four noble truths, the eightfold path, the aggregates, why would all those be early, dissapear for the sekkha patipada and then reappear for the abhidhamma? it just seems to me highly unlikely as a picture, so I simple take the obvious alternative to be the case.

As for there being a much higher standard for conclusive research, well, I have a suspicion that in fact there is not, and in fact as i say above, my method is at least of a similar level of coherence and depth as anything that is currently accepted as the received wisdom, and in many cases actually much more solid, but unfortunately, sans a miraculous find in a pot somewhere, ALL the theories will have to remain, as you say, more or less speculative.


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Well, if the canon was organized with the intentional play (or distribution) of formulas (including doctrinal ones), and structured, to some extent or another, according to the content of the material, then it would make perfect sense for there to be this separation, and for early formulas “reappear” in the abhidhamma: that is, rather than have disappeared, they were simply not organized in the way you picture it. I don’t take this as any less obvious than your preferred approach personally.

I think there’s probably a good mix of several things here BTW, and that’s probably a major contributor behind much of the ”controversy.” But who knows lol.


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Most of the passages that I see in MA and SA transliterate the name as “Andha grove” (安陀林), and the Chinese glossaries say it means gloomy (蔭, 晝暗). There’s a passage in one of the Vibhasas that explains that it’s a particularly dense forest where the sun doesn’t shine in the daytime. Which explains why it was interpreted sometimes as “day gloom grove” (晝暗林). For the most part, they interpret it at face value. So, yeah, Mirkwood would work.

SA2 uses the translation @suvira pointed out. As does Xuanzang in his travelogue. For fun I looked up Samuel Beal’s translation of the passage:

To the north-west of the sangharama 3 or 4 li, we come to the forest of Obtaining-Sight (Aptanetravana ?) where are vestiges of Tathagata, who walked here for exercise,
and the place where various holy persons have engaged in profound meditation. In all these places they have erected posts with inscriptions or else stupas.

Formerly there was in this country a band of 500 robbers, who roamed about through the towns and villages and pillaged the border of the country. Prasenajita-raja having seized them all, caused their eyes to be put out and abandoned them in the midst of a dark forest. The robbers, racked with pain, sought compassion as they invoked Buddha. At this time Tathagata was in the vihara of the Jetavana, and hearing their piteous cries (i.e., by his spiritual power), he was moved to compassion, and caused a soft wind to blow gently from the Snowy Mountains, and bring with it some medicinal (leaves?) which filled up the cavity of their eye-sockets. They immediately recovered their sight, and lo! the Lord of the World was standing before them. Arriving at the heart of wisdom, they rejoiced and worshipped. Fixing their walking-staves in the ground, they departed. This was how they took root and grew.