Are Chinese Agamas less reliable than Pali Nikayas?

Maybe this was why the bhikkuni I studied under cautioned us, her students when we hear, listen, read and study the sutras. There seems to be 2 paths which can either lead the student to wrong view or right view. And she emphasized to embark upon study with a ‘right’ view as guide.

Isnt cdpatton doing the translation now !


Analayo’s SA translation is freely distributed on his publication list page. The MA translation although is copyrighted, it can be downloaded as PDF on BDK website.

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There’s two options:

  1. Get the copyright first, and make a translation.
  2. Translate it first for our studies, then ask the copyright later.

Tbh, I often using number 2, especially for canons where alternative translations are difficult to find… :eyes:

It’s understandable. I’ve not heard that Numata is a litigious group, so as long as you want to take the risk of getting a claim.

As I have said many times before, I do not believe that there should be any copyright on any translations of ancient Buddhist texts. These are our sacred scriptures, and we, the Buddhist community, have always treated them as the Word of the Buddha, not the property of the translator. Copyright claims on our sacred scripture criminalize our traditional practice of freely sharing Dhamma for all. It’s cultural appropriation.


You right, Bhante… :grin:


This is the published text:

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If you have read this article (“Ācāriya Buddhaghosa and Master Yinshun 印順 on the Three-aṅga Structure of Early Buddhist Texts”) by Choong Mun-keat regarding the issue of the three angas, please do tell us your views about Buddhaghosa and Yinshun on the EBTs.

I consider Buddhaghosa just wanted to promote his Pali tradition, i.e., the Pali Pitakas are the words/language of the Buddha, and also originated from the first council.

Analayo seems to ignore completely the relevant findings of Yinshun when he discusses about the angas in his articles. It will be useful if he could directly review the findings of Yinshun. Possibly, Analayo is unable to read the Chinese writings by Yinshun. Based mainly on the Pali information, he considers the angas are not the particular works in the Pali texts or EBTs.

Yes, Master Yinshun’s finding is remarkable (I know it from Bhante Sujato’s History of Mindfulness), but as pointed out by Bhante Analayo, Samyukta Agama/Samyutta Nikaya as the first collection compiled in First Council is just an opinion held by Sarvastivadins. Why this is regarded as of great importance than other sects account of First Council? Perhaps, the English translation of Master Yinshun’s finding will make light of this for Western scholars…

No, it is not “just an opinion help by Sarvastivadins”, according to the findings of Yinshun. The Sarvativadins do not have the view of “SA/SN as the first collection compiled in First Council”.

So what is the finding of Yinshun? (Sorry my English is not very good) :grin:

The Sarvativadins do not have the view of “SA/SN as the first collection compiled in First Council”. SA/SN as the first collection compiled in First Council is not “just an opinion held by Sarvastivadins”.

The argument is quite subtle, but the main point is this.

Asanga in his Yogacarabhumisastra spoke of how the texts were organized primarily based on the Samyukta pattern. (Asanga is technically a Mahayanist, but the relevant section deals only with EBTs, and Asanga in general is sometimes characterized as an “Agamist”; he only introduced Mahayana texts when talking about specifically Mahayana ideas). Asanga’s root Agama texts were from the Sarvastivada ( or a closely related subschool).

The Samyutta, according to him, is comprised of the first three Angas: sutta, gāthā, veyyākaraṇa.

Yin Shun took his ideas seriously and used them to analyse the texts, hypothesizing that this threefold system was the earliest way of organizing the texts. Yin Shun’s analysis has become extremely influential in Taiwanese Buddhism, and among those interested in this area it is virtually the orthodoxy.

The success of the analysis is not just because it has a basis in old texts, but because it enables a clear and informative way of understanding the formation of the early text collections.

In my A History of Mindfulness I developed Yin Shun’s ideas further, especially challenging the identification of the veyyākaraṇa Anga. Yin Shun followed Asanga in identifying this with the minor samyutta collections. However, I believe that it means the discourses in “Q & A” format within the major samyuttas (and of course elsewhere).

This analysis allows us to make sense of many odd characteristics of the early texts. For example, the Bala Samyutta in SN is almost residual; the texts are little more than repetition series. The expected substantial texts on the balas are instead found in AN. But—and this is just my memory!—SA has more substantial section on balas. So the hypothesis would be that at an earlier time (as recorded in SA), the substantial bala texts were found in the samyutta, then in the Pali tradition were later removed to AN (presumably because the doctrinal content is similar to the Indriya Samyutta, so it is more useful for the AN reciters to learn it).

My hypothesis was that SA generally speaking retained a structure that remained closer to an ancestral samyutta. A few caveats:

  • this doesn’t tell us anything about the age of the content, only the structure in which the content was placed
  • there doesn’t have to be just one ancestral collection; on the contrary there will have always been some variation (as there is even within the Pali collection today!)
  • it doesn’t mean the structure of SA is always older.

I don’t regard this analysis as proven; I think it’s likely, and a statistical analysis of the structural variations might serve to either confirm or deny it.

I went into some detail as to the relations between chunks of texts in SN and SA, and showed that the structural similarities were not merely on a samyutta level, but often on a vagga or sutta level. This analysis of the Samyutta was largely informed by Rod Bucknell’s work, itself based on Yin Shun.

Under this analysis, the cores of AN, MN, and DN were originally seeded from texts found within the Samyutta. This makes sense in cases like, say, the first chapter of DN, where all the texts have the same theme (threefold training), a major topic that is not found in the samyutta.

However there are many texts and features of the collections that are not explained by this hypothesis. For example, how do the long narrative suttas fit it, especially those that include discussions on many different topics? Or what of the many numerical suttas in AN that deal with minor miscellaneous matters?

Clearly it is not a complete theory, but it is a way to get a handle on how the canon may have been formed.


According Sarvastivada Vinaya, in the First Council Ananda first recited Dharmacakrapravartana Sutra and others which “all classified in proper forms according to the subject: for example, Sutras which treated the five Skandhas were grouped under the heading of Skandha, those which treated the six Âyatanas or the eighteen Dhâtus were classified under the Âyatana or Dhatu; and so on with the (twelve) Chains of Causation, the (four) Noble Truths, the speeches of Sravakas, the speeches of Buddha, the (four) subjects of Recollection, the (four kinds of) Right Effort, the (four) Supernatural Powers, the (five) Indriyas, the (five) Balas, and the (eight) Bodhyangas. Those Sutras which are in coincidence with the Gathas (verse parts), were called the Coincidence [Samyukta] Agama; those which consist of lengthy teachings, the Longer [Dirgha] Agama; those which are of medium length, the Middling [Madhyama] Agama; those in which the subjects are numerically arranged, the Agama Increasing by One [Ekottarika].”

This is different from Theravadin version of First Council which is said Ananda first recited Brahmajala Sutta of Digha Nikaya.

For more information about different accounts of First Council from different schools, see here: The First Buddhist Council


Therefore, Sarvastivada tradition also considers all four agamas compiled in the first council.

Yes, all Buddhist traditions believe all early Buddhist texts were compiled in the First Buddhist Council, but they are in diferrent opinion of which text is first recited. Historically, scholars don’t regard all early Buddhist are compiled in the same time.

Suzuki translated that passage from the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya by Yijing. The older Ten Recitation Vinaya that’s Sarvastivada doesn’t go into detail about the Agamas, unfortunately.

I’ve seen a couple claims here and there about the order the Agamas were recited in by Ananda. The Ekottarika itself has an account of the First Council in its introduction and claims that it was the first Agama collection compiled, on account of it being easier to memorize numerically. In its case, that would make sense given all the lore that it contains that ended up in the Theravada’s Vinaya rather than the sutras. It also says that Ananda then recited the Madhyama, Dirgha, and Samyukta.

Kumarajiva’s commentary on the Prajna Sutra also has an account, which was probably the Sarvastivada version since all the lore in that Commentary seems to be from that school, says that the order was: Ekottarika, Madhyama, Dirgha, and Samyukta.

… which agree with the Ekottarika! I never actually checked that until now and realized it. Huh.


The different orders proposed by the different accounts all have a certain logic behind them.

  • Start with the Ones—because it’s One, and it’s simple
  • Start with the Samyutta—because that is formed around the Dhammacakka, the first sermon
  • Start with Digha—because that begins with the refutation of wrong views (which was the issue at the Third Council)

There’s no particular reason why any one of these rationales should not have been applied at the actual Council, but clearly not all of them could have been.


Yes, it sounds like after-the-fact rationalizing. Perhaps some traditions taught one or the other collection first when learning the canon, and then these narratives were added to the stories of the first council.

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Indeed. I’m sympathetic to the idea that these specifics were sectarian, added after the Second Council, but it is extreme to then dismiss the historicity of the Council in toto. An implicit agreement is often more important than an explicit disagreement; and everyone agrees that there was a Council.