Are Chinese Agamas less reliable than Pali Nikayas?

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.


Perhaps you want to make some remarks about historicity of First Council here, bhante:


Many thanks for your reply on this issue. Your viewpoint on the structure of SA/SN is certainly very useful for the historical textual study of EBTs.

Is it possible you could ask Bhikkhu Analayo to join in this forum for this particular discussion topic (the structure of SA/SN)? I think it will be useful for all.

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I don’t think you’d have much luck with that. He typically spends five days of every week in retreat and spends the remaining two days producing either a new article or a book chapter. The only variations to this schedule is when once (sometimes twice) a year he’s in retreat for three months and the two times a year that he teaches a week-long course. His schedule is pretty strict and leaves very little time for anything else.


Your memory is spot on. SA 11, the Bala samyukta, has 60 sutras, and the majority have their Pali parallels are in the Anguttara Nikaya. There’s a couple other cases like that. There’s also a case of a Pali samyutta (SN 55 Stream Entry) that appears to collect suttas from other places. SA doesn’t have a stream entry samyukta, but it has parallels for SN 55 in several other samyuktas. Overall, the two collections have one-to-one parallels between samyuktas/samyuttas, but they are arranged in a different order. At some point, I’m going to be more systematic in studying these issues, but translation doesn’t offer much spare time for that. If I do both, I won’t get much of either done.


Very Good! It seems Bhikkhu Analayo should be able to have sufficient time to study the Chinese books written by Master Yinshun on the structure of SA/SN.

I think SA does have a stream entry for SN 55. See pp. 19, 228-235, 246 in Choong Mun-keat’s Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism.

You’re partly right. Choong doesn’t make it very clear in that chart in the back of the book, but the Unbroken Purity Saṃyukta is in two different places in Yinshun’s CSA (SA 16 and 40), so it is basically two Saṃyukta with the same name. SN 55 also has parallels in the Mahānāma Saṃyukta, so that’s three different places it’s suttas are found in SA. It does seem like the Unbroken Purity Saṃyukta is equivalent to SN 55, but it’s split in half by Yinshun. I have a chart of the Saṃyuktas and their main parallels at the wiki I started where you can see the layout of SA in the CSA better. I’m scrapping the confusion caused by the Taisho and Foguang editions and using Yinshun’s now.

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Yes, but the SA text does not originally in the Taisho has the individual names of the collection (which is different from the SN tradition). Yinshun presents the same name with different classifications in his CSA.

Right. It’s not a contiguous part of the Taisho, though.

The first Unbroken Purity Saṃyukta is Taisho sutras 803-860 in fascicle 30 (the second half).

The second Unbroken Purity Saṃyukta is drawn from two parts: sutras 902-904 at the end of fascicle 32, and sutras 1121-1135 in fascicle 41.

It’s interesting to look at exactly how Yinshun thought out rearranging the Taisho version of SA. Essentially, the fascicles were shuffled like a deck of cards. It wasn’t obvious for a long time because there are no section headings, as you rightly point out. The first saṃyukta, however, has section uddanas every 10 sutras or so. It’s really large (5 or 6 fascicles long), so you can see sutra sections span from the end of one fascicle to the next fascicle. They didn’t match in the Taisho, but you can objectively figure out the right order by looking at the titles in the uddanas and the sutras that should be at the end of the previous fascicle.

Unfortunately, the rest of SA doesn’t have those uddanas to use as evidence for the correct order. So, Yinshun was forced to use the outlines he found in the Yogâcārabhūmi and other places and try to match the subjects of the sutras fascicle by fascicle. That had to be quite a task. Luckily, most samyuktas aren’t as large as the first two, so he was only needing to match the end and beginning of two fascicles when a samyukta spanned them.

The problem with SA 16 and SA 40 is that they have other saṃyuktas in between them in fascicle 31 and 32. Fascicle 41 fits the end of fascicle 32, though, so he moved it to create a single Unbroken Purity saṃyukta (SA 40) in that case.


Ven. Anālayo just published an article: ‘Mūlasarvāstivādin and Sarvāstivādin’: Oral Transmission Lineages of Āgama Texts. It’s in the collection Research on the Saṃyukta-āgama , Dhammadinnā (ed.), 2020, 387–426, Taipei: Dharma Drum Corporation. Here’s the abstract:

This article argues for the meaningfulness of distinguishing between Mūlasarvāstivāda and Sarvāstivāda oral transmission lineages of Āgama texts. It begins by taking up relevant observations by Hartmann (2020) and Enomoto (2000). This leads on to exploring the significance of the term nikāya and its relation to the recital of the monastic code of rules. Next the relationship in general between Vinaya and Āgama texts comes into view, followed by an examination of differences between Madhyama-āgama discourses and their parallels in quotations in Śamathadeva’s Abhidharmakośopāyikā-ṭīkā and in the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya. A brief consideration of the term Theravāda serves to provide an additional perspective on the question of oral transmission lineages vis-à-vis nikāyas, and the apparent provenance of the Saṃyukta-āgama (T 99) from Sri Lanka. The overall conclusions are that differences between the Madhyama-āgama and the Saṃyukta-āgama extant in Chinese translation point to distinct transmission lineages. The identification of such distinct transmission lineages makes it reasonable to employ the term Mūlasarvāstivāda to refer to the Saṃyukta-āgama extant in Chinese translation as T 99, as its transmission lineage appears to be close to quotations in the Abhidharmakośopāyikā-ṭīkā and in the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya.


So far, I haven’t found a way to buy this book from the US. They only list the Taiwan website as a seller, and I can’t register with a US address. Anyone know of any other place to purchase it? We may have to wait until they offer it elsewhere, it seems.

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Perhaps contacting the Āgama Research Group?

Āgama Research Group
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tel.: +886-(0)2-2498-0707 ext. 2381 (English)


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According to Choong Mun-keat, Mulasarvastivada is not a different school from Sarvastivada. SA (T 99) belongs to Sarvastivada school. See p. 890, note 7 in “Ācāriya Buddhaghosa and Master Yinshun 印順 on the Three-aṅga Structure of Early Buddhist Texts”.