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Differences between the Pali Suttas and Chinese Agamas?


#1

Hello

As far as I understand it, there are a lot of parallels between the Chinese Agamas and the Pali Suttas. Many suttas are also agamas with only minor variations between the two. So I have a few questions:

  1. Do the agamas contain a parallel piece for everything in the suttas? Or do the suttas have material which is not mirrored in the agamas?

  2. Do the suttas contain a parallel piece for everything in the agamas? Or do the agamas have material which is not mirrored in the suttas?

  3. How similar are the two overall?

Thank you


#2

Do the agamas contain a parallel piece for everything in the suttas?

No, but there’s a lot of overlap

Or do the suttas have material which is not mirrored in the agamas?

Correct

Do the suttas contain a parallel piece for everything in the agamas?

No, but there’s a lot of overlap

Or do the agamas have material which is not mirrored in the suttas?

Correct

How similar are the two overall?

It depends on which collection you are looking at and which parallels you are comparing in particular.

For details, you’ll have to look at the scholarly literature, such as the work of Analayo and so on.


#3

You may read the following books to see and get some ideas regarding the comparison of parallels between the Pali suttas and the Chinese agamas by Choong Mun-keat:

The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism: A Comparative Study Based on the Sutranga portion of the Pali Samyutta-Nikaya and the Chinese Samyuktagama (Series: Beitrage zur Indologie Band 32; Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, 2000).

The Notion of Emptiness in Early Buddhism (1995; second revised edition, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1999).


#4

I highly recommend Analayo Bhikkhu’s comparisons. His Sutta-by-sutta comparison of the MN (part 1 and part 2) is a great place to dive in imo. You’ll see for yourself: there are some minor differences, but very little of doctrinal significance.


#5

Some information on parallels is also found on the SuttaCentral methodology page (access through the right sidebar menu).


#6

Others have answered this well, so thanks.

While the details are important in each case, it is also important to step back and survey generalities from time to time. Ven Thich Ming Chau, who did the first detailed comparison available in English, comparing the Majjhima Nikaya and Madhyama Agama, noted a series of things that are rather consistently different.

  • In cases where MN just has the 4 jhanas, MA usually adds the brahma-viharas
  • Where MA speaks of generosity to mendicants and the poor, MN just has generosity for mendicants
  • MA adds emptiness to the normal three characteristics.

This was some time ago, and more recent research may have nuanced these findings. But it would be interesting, now that we have a fuller picture, to see if there is a birds-eye summary of major differences.


#7

I was particularly curious about the above issues mentioned in Bhante’s post, and so found this link: https://www.amazon.com/Chinese-Madhyama-agama-Majjhima-nikaya/dp/B01K17N1VQ