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Dating the Buddha (563 BCE), EBT milestones and abhidhamma


#1

Here is a rough time line of dates to get some sense of proportion as to the earliness of EBT works, such as the approximate dates of the Agama parallels. We’re also interested in rough milestones in the Abhidhamma, since some early Dhamma is coherent with EBT, and when it does diverge, it’s helpful to have an idea when that happened, and how long of a period that’s been going on.

(Anyone is welcome to edit this wiki page, but don’t edit anything below this line since it is a ‘cut and paste’ of data from a spreadsheet updated periodically)


Table of Contents

Timeline of important EBT events

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Important dates related to EBT events. This article will also include such works that are only partially EBT, for the purpose of getting a relative sense of time of how EBT diverged from core principles. For example, early Abhidhamma works often are very congruent and compatible with core EBT principles, while late Abhidhamma can diverge greatly.

CE definition

CE = Common Era, and counts by increments of "years" forward. Example: Today is year 2017 CE, next year is 2018, previous year was 2016 CE.

BCE definition

BCE = Before common era, and counts in increments going backwards in time but expressed as a positive integer equal to the distance from year CE 1. I'm not sure how the exact border condition works. Is there a BCE 0 and CE 0? Is the amount of time between BCE 1 and CE 1 two years, or one year? Will have to research this later.

example

The Buddha's birthdate was 480 BCE. So that was 481 years before the year one CE.

History of the use of the CE/BCE abbreviation

Wikipedia syas: Although Jews have their own Hebrew calendar, they often use the Gregorian calendar.[43]
As early as 1825, the abbreviation VE (for Vulgar Era) was in use among Jews to denote years in the Western calendar.[44]
Common Era notation has also been in use for Hebrew lessons for "more than a century".[45] Some Jewish academics were already using the CE and BCE abbreviations by the mid-19th century, such as in 1856, when Rabbi and historian Morris Jacob Raphall used the abbreviation in his book Post-Biblical History of The Jews.[46][f]

”EBT age” definition

Using the date of Buddha’s parinibbana as a reference point, “EBT age” is the number of years elapsed from that time.

references

https://discourse.suttacentral.net/t/dating-the-buddha-563-bce-ebt-milestones-and-abhidhamma/5517
Sujato and Brahmali: Authenticity of Buddhist Texts
Sujato: Sects and Sectarianism

BCE milestone EBT events

480 BCE: Birth of the Buddha

He taught for 45 years, so that would put the time of his Nibbāna realization around age 35.

400 BCE: Pari-nibbāna of the Buddha

350 BCE: AN 5.50/EA 32.7

EBT age (in years)
50
near BCE 350: Sutta with King Munda (AN 5.50) may mark final date acknowledged in EBTs.

237 BCE: KN Ps = Paṭi-sambhidā-magga

EBT age (in years)
163
around BCE 237: KN Ps = Paṭi-sambhidā-magga (discrimination-path)
Composed perhaps after sabbatthivada schism.

101 BCE(?) KN Pe = Peṭakopadesa

EBT age (in years)
299
Included in the Tipitaka as canonical in Burma, but not in Sri Lanka.
Composition date: Perhaps as late as KN Mil ( Questions to Milinda )

100 BCE KN Mil = Milinda Pañha

EBT age (in years)
300
(wikipedia says:) Milinda Pañha (Pali: मिलिन्द पञ्ह; translated as "Questions of Milinda") is a Buddhist text which dates from approximately 100 BCE. Milinda Pañha purports to record a dialogue between the Buddhist sage Nāgasena, and the Indo-Greek king Menander I (Pali: Milinda) of Bactria, who reigned from Sagala (modern Sialkot, Pakistan).
Milinda Pañha is included in the Burmese edition of the Pāli Canon of Theravada Buddhism as the book of Khuddaka Nikaya. An abridged version is included as part of Chinese Mahayana translations of the canon. The Milinda Pañha does not appear in the Thai or Sri Lankan versions of the Pāli Canon, however.

CE milestone EBT events

1 CE Vimt. = Vimutti-magga

EBT age (in years)
401
between 40 BCE and 1 CE: Vimt. = Vimutti-magga (liberation-path)
The author, Arahant Upatissa. Ven. Upatissa may have been the first legendary "sariputta", from whom Abhidhamma often attributes authorship of various commentaries.

wikipedia entry

The Vimuttimagga ("Path of Freedom") is a Buddhist practice manual, traditionally attributed to the Arahant Upatissa (c. 1st or 2nd century[1]). It was translated into Chinese in the sixth century as the Jietuo dao lun 解脫道論 by Sanghapala. The original text (possibly Pali or Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit) is no longer extant, but the work has survived in Chinese. The book was probably written in India and then later brought to Sri Lanka.[2] According to Bhikkhu Analayo, some doctrines of the Vimuttimagga seem to be associated with those attributed to the Abhayagiri monastery by Dhammapāla.[3]

500 CE Vism = Visuddhi-magga

EBT age (in years)
900
From 400+ CE: Vism = Visuddhi-magga (purification-path)
Composed by eminent scholar monk Buddhaghosa. More likely he was an editor in chief in charge of scores of scholar monks collating and translating Theravada commentaries and Abhidhamma text, from which Vism. was ultimately based on.

#2

If it’s of interest, here’s the timeline that Ven Brahmali and I used for our book on Authenticity.

And here is an earlier one, from my Sects & Sectarianism, which illustrates details relevant for the emergence of the schools:


#3

MN 115 states there can only be one Self-Enlightened-Buddha in a world-system.

The Old Testament is divided at least between pre-Exilic & post-Exilic teachings. Based on MN 115, the profound shift in the post-Exilic teachings, which include wisdom teachings such as Proverbs & Ecclesiastes, show a Buddhist influence.

In other words, MN 115 would suggest an earlier dating based on the probably accurate dating of the Judaic exile to Babylon .

These deportations are dated to 597 BCE for the first, with others dated at 587/586 BCE, and 582/581 BCE respectively.After the fall of Babylon to the Persian king Cyrus the Great in 539 BCE, exiled Judeans were permitted to return to Judah .According to the biblical book of Ezra, construction of the second temple in Jerusalem began around 537 BCE.

The pre-Exilic (i.e. pre-586 BCE) Old Testament allowed no equals to YHWH in heaven, despite the continued existence of an assembly of subordinate servant-deities. The post-Exilic writers of the Wisdom tradition developed the idea that Wisdom existed before creation and was used by God to create the universe

The “wisdom” genre was widespread throughout the ancient Near East, and reading Proverbs alongside the examples recovered from Egypt and Mesopotamia reveals the common ground shared by international wisdom.

The presence of Persian loan-words and Aramaisms points to a date no earlier than about 450 BCE, while the latest possible date for its composition is 180 BCE, when another Jewish writer, Ben Sira, quotes from it. The dispute as to whether Ecclesiastes belongs to the Persian or the Hellenistic periods (i.e., the earlier or later part of this period) revolves around the degree of Hellenization (influence of Greek culture and thought) present in the book. Scholars arguing for a Persian date (c. 450–330 BCE) hold that there is a complete lack of Greek influence; those who argue for a Hellenistic date (c. 330–180 BCE) argue that it shows internal evidence of Greek thought and social setting


#4

What is the Buddhist influence?


#5

Proverbs has nothing to do with Buddhism. And in any case, its date is utterly uncertain; even the Wikipedia passage that you quote says it could be as late as 180 BCE. Ecclesiastes is in the same boat.

A vague and partial thematic affinity is no basis for historical arguments.


#6

I think a dating must account for the evolution within world religions. What that date is, I cannot suggest. :seedling:

The “wisdom” genre was widespread throughout the ancient Near East, and reading Proverbs alongside the examples recovered from Egypt and Mesopotamia reveals the common ground shared by international wisdom. Wikipedia


#7

Correct, it is a straight substitution. We use BCE and CE just to walk away from the use of a figure in an specific religion which is also of a doubtful existence.

There are several timelines such as the ones presented by Bhante in here, but there is always room for improvements.

Thanks for the effort, I will look into my notes and I’ll post whatever I have, maybe it will help.


#8

Anyone have a date for the composition of Peṭakopadesa?
KN Pe: Peṭakopadesa
This would be considered paracanonical correct?

In my notes I have, they say this work contains the earliest known word by word gloss for the standard jhāna formulas. At least much earlier than Vism.


#9

I doubt if there’s a firm date, but so far as I know it is considered one of the latest texts in the canon, possibly the latest, apart from the Milinda. Of course, it’s not considered strictly canonical in Sri Lanka.

As for the passages on jhana, it’s been a long time since I looked at this text, but you are quite right, it has a lot, doesn’t it? Chapters 6–8 are mostly all on jhanas.


#10

So if I understand what you’re saying: (this is what I’ll be added to the first post wiki)

KN Pe: Peṭakopadesa
Most Orthodox Theravada considers this canonical, but Sri Lanka Theravada does not.
Composition date: Perhaps as late as KN Mil ( Questions to Milinda )

So the obvious follow up question is do we have an approximate date for KN Mil?
Does some portion or all of the KN works follow chronological order in their listing?


#11

I’m keeping track of these milestone dates in a spreadsheet, which has math capability, so I’ve added a cel for each entry to show “EBT age”.

For the reference point, I’m using the Buddha’s pari nibbana date. Does that seem reasonable?

This is the result:

BCE 350: AN 5.50/EA 32.7
EBT age (in years)
50
near BCE 350: Sutta with King Munda (AN 5.50) may mark final date acknowledged in EBTs.

BCE 237: KN Ps Paṭi-sambhidā-magga
EBT age (in years)
163
around BCE 237: KN Ps = Paṭi-sambhidā-magga (discrimination-path)

Composed perhaps after sabbatthivada schism.

CE milestone EBT events

1 CE Vimt. = Vimutti-magga
EBT age (in years)
401
between 40 BCE and 1 CE: Vimt. = Vimutti-magga (liberation-path)

The author, Arahant Upatissa. Ven. Upatissa may have been the first legendary “sariputta”, from whom Abhidhamma often attributes authorship of various commentaries.

wikipedia entry

The Vimuttimagga (“Path of Freedom”) is a Buddhist practice manual, traditionally attributed to the Arahant Upatissa (c. 1st or 2nd century[1]). It was translated into Chinese in the sixth century as the Jietuo dao lun 解脫道論 by Sanghapala. The original text (possibly Pali or Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit) is no longer extant, but the work has survived in Chinese. The book was probably written in India and then later brought to Sri Lanka.[2] According to Bhikkhu Analayo, some doctrines of the Vimuttimagga seem to be associated with those attributed to the Abhayagiri monastery by Dhammapāla.[3]

6 CE Vism = Visuddhi-magga
EBT age (in years)
406
from 5 to 6 CE: Vism = Visuddhi-magga (purification-path)

Composed by eminent scholar monk Buddhaghosa. More likely he was an editor in chief in charge of scores of scholar monks collating and translating Theravada commentaries and Abhidhamma text, from which Vism. was ultimately based on.

What’s surprising to me is how close the composition date Vimt. is to Vism. I know it’s just very approximate guesses, but just by Vimt being such a much smaller work page wise, and how it uses what seems to be a much earlier and simple version of Abhidhamma, I just expected to see a longer distance in time between the two works, like at least 10-15 years.


#12

The date for Vsm is wrong: it’s about 400+ CE (although based on older manuscripts).


#13

Better to say: Included in the Tipitaka as canonical in Burma, but not in Sri Lanka.


#14

Bhanthe, do we know what these manuscripts are, that the Vism and Vimt drew on? It seems unlikely they were the suttas or the abhidhamma. They seem to have been more practice oriented whatever they were. Maybe there were unstructured oral kamatahan (teaching) materials.

with metta


#15

Well, they were the old commentaries. Yes, they included a lot of material from the old oral meditation teachings, but a lot of other things, too: stories, word analysis, and so on.


#16

2 bce by Indian scholar .


#17

Thanks, that makes a lot more sense. I misunderstood the wikipedia entry on Vism., when they said (5th Century), somehow in my mind “Century” translated to 5 CE, instead of 5 multiplied by 100 CE.


#18

I’ve updated the first post, the wiki with new information, and a hyperlinked table of contents. The TOC only works the first time. After the first hyperlink click, If you hit “back” button on your browser or “backspace” on your keyboard to try to jump back to the TOC, it instead exits the discussion thread.

I check the jataka tales in wikipedia, this can’t be right on composition date. 4th century BCE would put that around the time of buddha’s parinibbana.

I’m not going to add KN Ja to this wiki until someone shows evidence of a more realistic composition date, and not until Bhante Sujato adds Ja to the “inauthentic EBT” page.

KN Ja: Jātaka

> wikipedia says: The Jātakas were originally amongst the earliest Buddhist literature, with metrical analysis methods dating their average contents to around the 4th century BCE.[2] The Mahāsāṃghika Caitika sects from the Āndhra region took the Jātakas as canonical literature and are known to have rejected some of the Theravāda Jātakas which dated past the time of King Ashoka.[3] The Caitikas claimed that their own Jātakas represented the original collection before the Buddhist tradition split into various lineages.[2]

#19

Jatakas are not EBTs. The page on authenticity is only for things that are within the normal corpus of EBTs, but are late elements.


#20

So if I ever find a time machine laying around, my best bet is to go back to India 458 BCE.