Chinese T 6, Sanskrit SF 245, and the term "Sanskrit"


Hello all.

I have some questions about two versions of Mahāparinibbāna Sutta DN 16: T 6 in Chinese and SF 245 in Sanskrit.

I don’t know any ancient Buddhist languages, but I’m still very much interested in parallel versions since they help broaden my knowledge in EBT and knowing more than one version of a text is better I think. So, with the Chinese lookup tool, which is awesome, I could find at least 8 things in T 6 that are in common with DN 16 and DA 2 such as: the four sacred places, the teachings have no distinction of inside and outside, noble ones are only found in the noble eightfold path, etc. There are also at least three things that T 6 has in common with SF 245: causes of earthquake, the more down-to-earth depiction of the fetching the water story, and the lack of Ven Ananda’s questions about what to do with women.

Now there’s one passage that I couldn’t find in T 6 but occurs in both DN 16 and DA 2: the passage about giving the Buddha the highest worship.

In DN 16 it goes like this: "Any monk or nun or male or female lay follower who practices in line with the teachings, practicing properly, living in line with the teachings—they honor, respect, revere, venerate, and esteem the Realized One with the highest honor. " (Ven Sujato’s translation).
In DA 2, I think it’s this sentence: “佛語阿難:「人能受法,能行法者,斯乃名 曰供養如來。」”

I have been trying to find a similar passage in T 6 but to no avail. Since there is no Sanskrit lookup tool, SF 245 is also out of the question as well. So, could anyone who knows Buddhist Chinese please confirm that such passage is indeed absent in T 6 or if it is actually my ignorance of Buddhist Chinese that prevents me from finding it? If there is also someone who knows Sanskrit, could you please tell me if a similar passage also occurs in SF 245 and point to it? I find it hard to believe that such a practical and sensible instruction only occurs in Vibhajjavadin versions.

Another question that I have is about the term “Sanskrit”. From what I know, Mahavastu is actually in BHS (Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit), but its language is still referred to as Sanskrit. Indic Sarvastivadin texts, like the Udanavarga and the Dirghagama, according to some scholars (such as Eli Franco, Franklin Edgerton, and a Japanese scholar whose name I regrettably can’t recall) are also more or less BHS. Yet, they are still referred to as Sanskrit. Is it that the word “Sanskrit” is used as an umbrella term like how the word “Sarvastivada” is used in the same way for Buddhist schools that are related to it? I’m not challenging its usage; I’m genuinely curious.

*If you are going to answer my questions, please carefully read them first, refrain from giving unrelated answers, and please do not go off-topic. Thank you very much.

(Edit: why is my topic moved from Q&A to Discussion? This is not meant to be a discussion topic at all. I simply asked specific questions and would like to get answers to them. My questions are neither open-ended nor primarily opinion-based.)


Not sure if this is helpful; but I recently learned that in the Ancient World, “grammar” didn’t mean what it means today. It didn’t mean just syntax rules, it was almost an exalted concept, something like “perfecting language”. This applied to latin, the common people spoke “vulgar latin” (sermo vulgaris) while the academics studied latin/grammar as an exercise in “perfecting language”. I think this same idea applies to saṃskṛta.

The vedas are recorded in “vedic sanskrit” which is like a primitive form, and it’s not until the classical period of the Epics (ramayana, mahabharata) that it reaches what linguists might call it’s beautiful splendour. As a side note, much of the later yogic literature is basically written in “barbarian” sanskrit, quite ugly to a brahmanical sophisto.


As well as most of the tantras.


Thanks for the interesting question!

Mark Allon translated the Sanskrit text many years ago, but it was a student work and he does not want to publish it. Nevertheless, I hope to make my own translation in time.

Quickly checking SF 245, it does not appear to contain this passage. As in the Pali, The Buddha calls Ananda to go to the twin sal trees, where they set up the cot and the Buddha lies down. In the Pali, this then goes to the episode where the divine flowers are sprinkled on the Buddha, and he says this is not how to worship the Buddha. The Sanskrit, instead, goes staight to Ananda’s lament that they will no longer see the Buddha.

In this text, the Pali displays features that suggest it has been elaborated more than the Sanskrit.

Perhaps it was only needed there? But without a closer study, I am not sure that we can conclude very much.

That’s correct. It is just for convenience. In fact the Buddhist texts display a variety of Sanskritic forms, from pretty straight Paninian Sanskrit through to various Prakrit-influenced forms, to BHS, which is thoroughly mixed.


The narratives really are not that parallel in T 5-7. The main events are the same of course, but it’s not that easy to sort out because material is sometimes placed differently. Looking at T6, it looks like the material in Pali between laying down between the sala trees and Ananda going somewhere private to lament is not in the Chinese.

Instead, there’s a different episode. The Buddha stops because of a back ache and lays down. This is after crossing the Hirannavati. He asks Ananda to give a discourse on the seven factors of awakening. After Ananda is finished, the Buddha commends him, then gets up and gives a set of gathas on the subject. Then he tells Ananda to set up a bed between the sala trees facing north, and Ananda’s lamentations is next in the sequence.



Thank you Ven Sujato and cdpatton for your answers.

@cdpatton, if you don’t mind me asking further, is the mentioned passage from my post also absent in T 5 and T 7? The passage has such a “Buddha flavor” that its absence in other versions except the Theravada and Dharmaguptaka is really surprising.


Normally the northern texts tend to be a bit simpler, but this case shows how tenuous such generalizations are. There are several features that show that this material is more developed in the Pali. For example, in the Skt Mpv sutra, the Mahasudassana story is much shorter and included in the sutta, whereas in the Pali it has been extended so much it was made into a separate long sutta of its own.

If you haven’t already, you might want to read my essay on the Digha, which surveys the texts of the Mahaparinibbana cycle.