Accuracy of ancient chanting vs Human tendency to influence what it works with or observes

Continuing the discussion from Early texts, EBTs - what do they say about gender equality, as opposed to inequality?:

Dear Robert and all

I had a quick look at Ven Analayo’s article. Monks like him seem to be going along way towards recectifying the damage done by past reciters.

From memory, in the K&R workshop 2 someone asked about the validity of the ancient chanting…referring at the time to pre-Buddhist oral traditions. To which I remember Bhante Sujato replied by saying that it would’ve been incredibly accurate… I can’t remember the reasons he gave for this…but leaving this aside for now…

I took it on board that recitation, within oral traditions, had to be highly accurate…I mean, one could be out of a job, so to speak, if it weren’t…

Yet, being human, being influenced by the various delusions of our own times and places, changes, clearly, have been made. To the detriment and well being of many, for a long time too.

So I want to express immense gratitude for the existence of comparative and text critical studies and the hard work of monks like Bhante Sujato and Ven Analayo and all others who’ve helped to bring us closer to a Buddha that matches up with the Dhamma, rather than one that doesn’t match up - that causes one to lose faith in both onself (if born woman - that could be you men next - so this applies to all of us!) and in the Buddha-Dhamma.

Thank you!


Dear K and all,

My feeling is that most of the errors we find in the suttas would have happened at a very much later period. I say this because (echoing the gratitude to the hard working monastics - big SADHUS!!!) one can see that the parallels do agree with each other except on minor details. It could be through redaction once the suttas have been written down. Once the oral tradition had died down and no one does the oral recitation (that’s how they used to check for discrepancies) it’s easy to “mess” around with the writings.

It’s only normal though and we should expect it. However, the solution is quite clear: keep questioning and inquiring. That’s the only way.

Note: All of us really living in very historical period. Why? Because for one, the Bhikkhuni’s are being formally accepted in the Theravada tradition (about time!!) although in a snail’s pace (still boggles the mind just how some monks think so differently when most of the lay supporters are women and that observation comes from my own helping out a Lao temple where I live!!!). Second, the comparative studies of the suttas in all the schools are being extensively done and are being stored in one location (suttacentral) offering translations in many languages. That’s just amazing and inspiring to think of that! And here we are, given the opportunity to support both :heart_eyes:

with añjali and mettā,


Dear Kay, dear Russel, dear all,

I am just writing this post in support of @Russell 's position, that the parallels agree to a large part. Also, Ven. Anālayo said in his courses on “Readings in the Madhyama-Āgama” that the different versions of the teachings are usually very much in accord with each other. This is also the impression that I got from following the course, where Pāli-Suttas and Chinese versions were compared. Usually, the differences boiled down to changes in the sequence of some points in a list. Sometimes there were some minor additions or omissions, but overall they compared very well. So overall the changes usually did little or no damage and we are blessed that we still have a set of extremely consistent teachings after these two and a half centuries. So also from me, three huge “SADHUS!” to the nuns and monks made sure the teaching is being preserved and transmitted.
Of course, as @Russell says it is expected and only humane that this goes wrong somewhere and to me MN146 seems to be a very unfortunate extreme case!

And, don’t forget. There are many very inspiring stories that describe the outstanding contributions and achievements of female lay-followers and nuns in the Pāli text. So the Pāli-Canon is not always the bad guy. I will try to gather a number of such stories under the original topic. Feel free to help! :slight_smile:

I can only applaud @Russell 's words, on how to deal with the situation and describing the positive changes that we are wittnessing in our times. “Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu!!!” to you my friend!

With much mettā,


:pray: Dear Robert and all,

Here is an interesting link I found while browsing through Bhante Sujato’s blog:

Never really crossed my mind until I read it. Bhante Sujato shows that Mahāpajāpati wasn’t the first nun at all but Bhaddā Kuṇḍalakesā.

Ven. Bhaddā Kuṇḍalakesā story shows the classic tale of a woman falling for the wrong man (love at first sight? lustful love indeed blinds a person), it’s consequences and her journey in going forth as a Jain ascetic. Her spiritual thirst not being satisfied with the Jains, she travels the land shows her ability in humbling men in spiritual debates, until she meets the Ven. Sariputta (where she is defeated by not being able to answer the question “What is the one?”)

with añjali and mettā,



Yeah, once I heard the argument for this…that was it for me! It just made so much sense…on more than one level. I must confess to feeling just a teeny tiny bit peeved when I hear of the Ven Mahapajapati being referred to as the 1st bhikkhuni… All respect to her. But I just feel that as long as we call her the first, we continue to agree to the rest of the distinctly un-Buddhist narrative, surrounding her. Anyway…only so many thing one feels one can be bothered arguing!! :wink:

Much metta

Generally speaking, these kinds of oral traditions arise from cultures with a strong tradition of orality with regards to history. The introduction of books and writing generally does a number on the memorization skills of individuals, since it is no longer ‘necessary’, to a certain degree. One does not have to look far to find complaints with the ascent of literature that peoples’ memorization skills (and memory in general) degenerate, simply because it is not ‘necessary’ that they exercise those skills as strongly as before. It only takes 2-3 generations to loose an entire oral culture of wisdom traditions (be these myths, traditional histories, or even non-literate musical traditions(!), for example,), as testified by the numerous oral cultures that have been negatively effected via colonization, exploitation, and globalization.

I have an anthropologist friend who works with oral literature. I will ask her to provide some scholarly sources for me to add here vis-a-vis the accuracy of oral traditions in oral cultures (i.e. ‘cultures without significant literacy’).

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Some references would be interesting. Also, each media has its own sources of possible errors. Watch Brahmins recite texts and you’ll see that for them it’s just the repetition of sounds, not meaning. Similar to a piano recital when you hear that a tone is off. I witnessed this last year in the online stream of the Chopin piano competition, where in the comment section 10 people, and me too, wrote at the same time “ouch” when a wrong note was played.

So a characteristic mistake in oral chanting traditions would be replace with similar sounds. Or, when we find the wrong spelling of a word that is pronounced the same.

Changes in meaning, inserting new words etc. are characteristic for written texts. When these happen as with MN 146 and SA276 we therefore have to assume the existence of written material already preceding the texts.

Some literature:
Allon - The Oral Composition and Transmission of Early Buddhist Texts, 1997
Davidson - An Introduction to the Standards of Scriptural Authenticity in Indian Buddhism
Gamage - Some Facets of the Theravāda Oral Tradition
Rao - Cultures of Memory in South Asia. Orality, Literacy and the Problem of Inheritance, 2014