Every now and then we come across suttas that contain ‘before my enlightenment, while I was still a bodhisatta…’ I was interested in their occurrences in the nikayas…
Digha Nikaya, 0x
Majjhima Nikaya, 8x
MN 4, MN 14, MN 19, MN 26, MN 36, MN 85, MN 100, MN 128
Samyutta Nikaya, 10x
SN 12.10, SN 12.65, SN 14.31, SN 22.26, SN 35.13 (SN 35.14), SN 35.117, SN 36.24, SN 51.11, SN 51.21, SN 54.8
Anguttara Nikaya, 4x
AN 3.103, AN 5.68, AN 8.64, AN 9.41
Even without going into the content I think the numbers have something to say. The frequent appearance of the formula in the MN can not be a coincidence. Here 8 of 152 suttas have it, whereas the Samyutta and Anguttara have respectively +2000 suttas. The Digha doesn’t have the formula at all.
This can mean several things. It could be that it was an important criteria for suttas to be included in the MN. Or it was included in some cases to give the sutta a more pedagogic spin. Or both.
Following my impression that the MN was meant as a best-of- collection for monastics it might have served the purpose of encouragement - “The Lord Buddha was a normal human too, he was not always enlightened, you can get there with practice as well”.
On the other hand, if the Digha was used more for lay people or as an aid for missionaries in order to captivate a population that was listening to maybe contemporary stories of the ramayana, mahabharata and puranas - then it makes sense not to point out that the Buddha was a normal human being, but rather the opposite.
Some other thoughts on this?