These passages would be more convincing if there were more of them. Having one or two aberrant lists here and there doesn’t give us enough evidence to come to a conclusion, it’s too easy to argue it’s a textual corruption because corruptions are not that uncommon in these texts.
Ultimately, I think these debates over individual passages are a distraction compared to analyzing the canons themselves. For example, as I mentioned earlier, the geya division of SA/SN is the most obvious and easiest to demonstrate. However, a geya sutra has a specific definition in sources like the Mahāvibhāṣā: It’s a sutra with a concluding verse (T1545.659c21).
When we look at the Pali Sagatha Vagga of SN, we see close parallels to SA’s Eight Assemblies that contain the same verse material. But the Pali suttas aren’t geya sutras according to the definition in the Mahāvibhāṣā. In fact, they don’t have the basic format of sutras according to the Buddhist world in ancient times. Only a select few have the requisite conclusion of a sutra, and many lack introductions beyond a simple place name. In fact, there are “suttas” in the Devata Samyutta that are just verses like the Dhammapada (e.g. SN 1.14). Other suttas in this division have conclusions in prose rather than verse, which also makes calling them geya more difficult (e.g. SN 2.20).
So, I would say that the Theravada was at some point in the past not nearly so orthodox and conservative as they present themselves today. Someone had the temerity to completely redact their canon to remove repetitive material. To think their canon never had the same basic format as other canons is just not likely to me. There’s nothing wrong with this redaction in my opinion, as I have a progressive mindset myself, but I point it out because it’s significant when we turn to the parallels in SA. The stripping of basic sutra formatting from SN suttas makes tracing their older forms more difficult. It’s no wonder Pali scholars scratch their heads regarding Yinshun’s ideas.
Turning to SA as a contrast, the sutras in the parallel samyuktas to SN 1-11 are in the format of geya sutras. There’s a minimal format that sutras retain if they don’t have a unique story backing them. Here’s an example using SA 25.1:
1. Thus I have heard. One time, the Buddha was staying at Anāthapiṇḍada’s Park in Jeta’s Grove of Śrāvastī.
2. There was then a devata of a marvelous appearance that visited the Buddha late at night, bowed at the Buddha’s feet, and withdrew to sit to one side. The radiance of its body illuminated the entirety of Anāthapiṇḍada’s Park and Jeta’s Grove.
3. That devata then spoke to the Buddha in verse:
"Not dwelling in the Nanda Grove,
You’ll never obtain [its] delight!
In the palace of the Thirty-Three Gods,
You’ll get the title ‘Lord of the Gods.’"
4. The Bhagavān then replied in verse:
"Foolish child, what do you know
About what the Arhat teaches?
All conditioned things are impermanent:
That’s the law of arising and perishing.
What arises will perish again;
Happiness is their extinguishment."
5. That devata spoke again in verse:
“Long have I watched this priest
Who has won parinirvāṇa.
He has gone beyond all fear,
Transcending forever worldly affection.”
6. When that devata heard what the Buddha taught, he rejoiced and was delighted. He bowed to the Buddha’s feet and promptly disappeared.
The part of this generic format that’s unique between sutras is the bolded verses. The rest is duplicated repeatedly so that they have the geya format.
So, now, I have the opposite problem: These texts have been consciously formatted in a standardized way. It suggests that the verses have either been created outside of the canon or extracted from other texts, but either way it’s the opposite problem of the Theravada canon: Artificial sutra formatting. One thing it makes me wonder is: How old is the Dharmapada and did its verses actually get brought in and converted into these sutras? One thing is for sure though: In the Sarvastivada canon, it was required that these texts be geya sutras.
All of this makes us scratch our heads. It’ll require a very close study and comparison of the two canons to draw out what we may have started with before the sectarian canons took the form that were given by their maintainers.