Authenticity of Atanatiya sutta

Dear Venerables,

I read the Atanatiya sutta today. In it a Yakka asks the Buddha whether he can teach the Buddha a chant to protect his disciples from yakkas, and the Buddha consents in silence. :fearful:

Could you please elucidate the authenticity of this sutta?

With metta

Matheesha

In a word: not very.

3 Likes

Dear Ajhan Sujato,

What criteria do you apply to determine the authenticity of a sutta and how do they apply to the Atanatiya sutta?

With metta

Matheesha

Hi Mat, to answer your first question, have a read of this. Ven Brahmali and I discussed these issues in some detail, so this should give you some background.

authenticity.pdf (626.4 KB)

If this doesn’t answer your second question, get back to me when you’ve read it.

3 Likes

Dear Ven Sujato,

I read The Authenticity of the Early Buddhist Texts. From what I gather the Atanatiya sutta…:

  • doesn’t follow the general structure in its body, of the early buddhist texts (EBT)s.
  • contains numerous flowery descriptions suggesting that it is more in line with a non-EBT than an EBT text.
  • is not in line with the dhamma-vinaya -metta is the method of choice in dealing with aggressive supernatural entities. Also ‘word-perfect’ chants (paritta) are found nowhere else in the EBTs.
  • The inclusion of Buddha (and his final approval) is a device used to authenticate non-EBT suttas, so its inclusion isn’t a sign of authenticity.
  • EBT deities do not have ‘vehicles’, unlike Hindu deities. I think this might be a distinguishing feature.

For:
Catumaharajika gods are part of the EBT heavenly realms. These, including Kuvera, are Vedic in origin.

It would be impossible to find any sutta which was completely devoid of any evidence, but on balance this sutta seems to be non-EBT. We could wonder if it was an early attempt to include the prevalent supernatural beliefs into the fold of the scriptures.

with metta,

Mat
ps- it would be very interesting if there were a comparative study between EBT deities and deities of other Indian religions.

6 Likes

Excellent, that’s a nice analysis. Given that it’s mostly verse, metre should also be considered, although i admit no expertise there.

As far as comparative studies of deities, indeed that would be nice, let me know if you find anything.

2 Likes

Dear Ajhan Sujato,

Thanks. I found this: Marasinghe, M.M.J. (2009). Gods in Buddhism. Sarasavi Publishers. p. 87. ISBN 9789555738019, but have no access to it.

With metta

Mat

1 Like

Atanatiya is good chant for protection from bad parasitics spirits, that sucks your vitial energy (jivitindiya) and disturb your body and mind when you trying to meditate. Actually parasitic spirits don’t like, when you practice your meditation, so they will shake your body to not let you practice meditation. And even your metta will not help you against those evil spirits. I don’t care about this modern western materialistic approach to suttas, all i care, is real experience from my life.

1 Like

Hi @kheminda12,

No one is questioning the effectiveness of the thing, but its authenticity and from a very specific and technical standpoint of what could be considered a early record of the Buddha’s teaching or not. Please do not feel offended.

When it comes to paritta chants I have as well experienced things which make me understand the place and relevance of it as a tool to deal with challenges of the contemplative life.

In my case, I am particularly found of the Khandha Paritta, found in the Jatakas:

"He [the Bodhisatta] summoned all the ascetics to meet him, and thus addressed them: “If you showed goodwill to the four royal races of snakes, no serpents would bite you. Therefore from this time forward do you show goodwill to the four royal races.” Then he added this verse—

“Virupakkha snakes I love,
Erapatha snakes I love,
Chabbyaputta snakes I love,
Kanhagotamas I love.”
(…)

“Creatures all beneath the sun,
Two feet, four feet, more, or none—
How I love you, every one!”
(…)

“Creatures all, two feet or four,
You with none, and you with more,
Do not hurt me, I implore!”
(…)

“All ye creatures that have birth,
Breathe, and move upon the earth,
Happy be ye, one and all,
Never into mischief fall.”
(…)

“Now I am guarded safe, and fenced around;
Now let all creatures leave nee to my ground.
All honour to the Blessed One I pay,
And the seven Buddhas who have passed away.”

When you are staying in a forest hermitage and have to go to toilet some 30 meters away from your hut in the middle of the night with pythons and king cobras roaming free (and possibly “hangry”) these verses definetely help you feel confident enough to not have to wait until dawn to relief yourself! :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:

3 Likes

The mahāsamaya sutta also mentions about a god named kuvera. I always felt skeptical about these gods who appear in the suttas very rarely. Majority of traditional Buddhists believe in such mythology but, from a critical point of view such cultural baggage should be put aside. Many Buddhists from srilanka worship such gods and sometimes they consider gods to be superior than the buddha. Mahasamaya sutta cannot be considered as a later development since it has many parallel versions in the Chinese agamas etc…But they contain traces of peculiar stuff that cannot be considered as budda vacana .So my question is, how did mythology invade the EBT’s ?

1 Like

Hi Kheminda

Would you say:

  1. I can’t say for sure spirits exist
  2. I can’t say for sure spirits don’t exist.

But that your shaking gets better with chanting the Atanatiya sutta is certain. The Buddha would probably say that this grounds enough to use it.

Having said that everything that protects a person doesn’t have to be proclaimed by the Buddha. Mosquito repellent was not mentioned by the Buddha, nor was pepper spray!

With metta

Matheesha

4 Likes

to be honest as monk I used to think the same…i/we chant parittas all the time and yet there where wild yakkhas running wild everywhere all the time too! but one evening after the puja I remember looking over at a fellow monk and seeing his radiant complexsion, it made me accept there’s probably sth to it

1 Like

Maybe he just washed his face and was happy?!

With metta

I don’t think this is a valid enough criteria to say that a sutta is EBT. The divergence between sects occur after several decades of common development during which introduction of new material has occured either as whole new suttas or adding material to original suttas. The collection into the Pali nikayas and the agama sets occur after these corruptions had already occured. Of course more corruptions occured later on and in this case comparing Pali and agama versions are very useful to detect these specific corruptions but not the ones that occured before sects split.

2 Likes

The “Yakka” is a tribe of people in the island of Sri Lanka. The picture below depict the tribe with 3 references from the Tripitaka, Mahavamsa and Lankavatara Suthra.

More …

If yakkas and devas are humans, deva loka must be manussa loka.

There are 3 types of devas.

  • The conventional Devas - These people lived in the Deva area in the map above. Its similar to “Lordship” concept in Britain. They were the Brahmins, scholars, teachers and the like. Ordinary Sinhala people still refer to people of higher stature as “දෙවි හාමුරුදුවනේ” (Devi Hamuduruwo). This is similar referring to someone as “your Lordship”. Katharagama and Saman Devas are conventional Devas.
  • The Deva Realm - These are beings made of fine matter . They are born and come to an end spontaneously.
  • The Arihath - When a human being becomes enlightened he/she was also refered to as Deva at times.

Similar ambiguity exists with Naga too. A person who belong to the Naga tribe was referred as a Naga. King Dutugamunu father was a Naga. The Naga is also used to refer to a snake. Although a Yakka is always a human being.

You distinguish the type of being from the context.