Date range for EBT?

“EBT” seems to refer to written-down suttas? From Sujato’s reply (above), and inklings from other sources, it would seem they (at least the Theravadan) were written down, say, ca. 200 BCE to ca. 0 CE or s/w later. A memorable passage in A History of Mindfulness, after pages of weighing the evidence, pegs, more or less for the sake of convenience, the Mahasattipathana Sutta [DN22] to, if I recall, 20 BCE, and as a relatively late stage of sutta composition.

Then recently I ran across the Wikipedia article on ‘Buddhavacana’, where (as of “25 May 2015, at 15:14”) is stated:
“The oral tradition of the Theravadin recension of Buddhist texts dates back to the time of the Buddha but was not written down until 29 BCE, with continuous revisions up to about 500 CE, taking its present form.”

That seems to indicate the writing-down happened from 29 BCE (stated with curious precision) up to (about) 471 CE (did Buddhaghosa close the door there?).

  1. A question: What’s the truth here? Or, perhaps more reasonably, where can I look (bibliography) for sound evidence and reasoning on the matter? I have a couple of yards of books on the shelf here, and many more in PDF form, but hopefully people here can offer some heuristics to help optimize a potentially laborious research project.

The Wikipedia article refers to (only) two articles, both by Etienne Lamotte (1984 and 1985) – both of which I found on-line, and which appear to be wholly different articles, though bearing exactly the same title. But I also recall reading s/w that Lamotte’s interpretations may not questionable.

  1. I gather that “teachings” (as in ‘EBT’) and “words” (as in Buddhavacana) mean about the same. Where can I find good critique of this terminological issue?

  2. The Wikipedia article I attempted to add to (" 29 BC? That’s a lot of writing to do in one year – get serious about time frames here."), which may have not been very elegant or diplomatic, but it was instantly deleted, probably automatically. Looking further, that page is under the control of “WikiProjctBuddhism”, which consists of some 180 or so “users”, mostly with rather strange user names, and none of which I could recognize as a known authority. Anybody here know how
    that actually works (control of Buddhism content in Wikipedia)?

Written down currently, yes, but originally oral. One crucial fact that many commentators on this issue ignore: oral tradition is just as reliable as written. There is, so far as I know, no evidence whatsoever that preserving a text in oral form results in more changes to the text than written transmission, and much evidence that oral transmission, especially in the Indian context, is a highly reliable way of transmitting texts in a letter-perfect form for thousands of years (cf the Rig Veda). Even when the texts were written down, the reason was not so that the transmission would be more accurate, but because it would be more robust in the face of dangers like war and famine.

Careful analysis of texts shows that mistakes are made both in oral recitation and written transmission. In some cases scholars can identify the source of an error. For example, in certain scripts some letters have a similar shape, and can be mistaken for one another. Such errors are very likely to be a result of written transmission, not oral.

These days we work with digital texts, and this medium introduces its own possibilities of corruption and error. Any medium is imperfect.

This is one of the few dates in Indian history that can be pinpointed. It is mentioned in the Mahavamsa, and we can correlate the dates because of the general historical reliability of that text, and because it relates to the dates of Ashoka, whose dates are fairly precise because of the western contemporaries he mentions, among other things.

Of course that doesn’t mean this date is the be all and end all: it merely records the date that the Mahavamsa claims the Pali Tipitaka was written down. How much was written at this date, how much earlier, and how much later, are all open questions. However, since we have considerable evidence for writing of Suttas on the mainland shortly after this, we generally take this date as a convenient yardstick for writing of suttas in India generally. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good by the standards of ancient Indian history.

For more info, may I suggest The Authenticity of the early Buddhist Texts by Brahmali and myself. It contains a wide range of references.

Kind of, but it depends who uses it. Buddhavacana is typically used within Buddhist communities to describe the works that they take as authentic, which would include the EBTs but usually would also include much else. The whole Pali canon, for example, would typically be regarded as buddhavacana, but not all of it is EBTs. However, this would not be uniform within Buddhist communities, and some (reformist) groups would restrict Buddhavacana to the EBTs. This is basically why we use the modern term of EBT.

I don’t know much about it, but on the whole the Buddhist content on Wikipedia is not very good. I just briefly looked at the page on Buddhist Mythology, for example, which didn’t exist last time I checked. Astonishingly, the page has nothing whatsoever about myths found in Buddhism. It just discusses some Tibetan deities and some cosmology. Nothing of the Buddha’s life, the Jatakas, the role that myths play in Buddhist communities, the development of the myths, similarities and differences between traditions, traditions of myth interpretation, or, really, anything at all of use or interest regarding mythology. *sighs*


bhante, please excuse me asking

are monastics currently observing vassa and are they allowed to communicate with the outside world?

your good self could make away with this shortcoming

Yes and yes. Vassa just means you don’t travel, basically. Currently I’m on Qimei doing my translations.


I could make a start, but it would take a lot of time…

Having read Authenticity of the EBT, I’m getting used to the usage of “text” to include orally transmitted material. From earlier post-graduate work and other historical studies, there seemed to be an assumption that “text” referred to some form of “hard-copy”.

From reading A History of Mindfulness earlier, and that discussion tentatively dating the Mahasatipatthanasutta, and it’s being a “late” sutta, I had been assuming the writting-down of canonical material started much earlier. Thanks for straightening that out.

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Where can this be found?

Much Metta…

e.g. here:
but yes, why not to include it in some download section on SC or on discourse?

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It would also be really helpful to have it in an easily linkable format for referencing, as suttas are on SC. PDF files are unwieldy.

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