Discourses Structured According to the Four Noble Truths?

If I am not mistaken, I recall that someone (I believe, Bhante Sujato) wrote something quite some time ago pertaining to discourses which were constructed so that the presentation of the teachings they contained would progress along the lines of the Four Noble Truths. To be clear, I do not simply mean discourses which necessarily teach the Truths (at least, not overtly), but wherein the discourses is divided into (presumably, four) sections which clearly reflect a “phenomenon-cause-liberation-path” structure.

(Just by way of further example, Piya Tan identifies MN 140 and AN 3.61 as discourses which, while not teaching the Four Satipatthanas expressly, structure the presentation of their respective teachings in accordance with a four-fold model of “body-feelings-mind-dhamma”.)

This alleged discussion I rather hazily recall may have been something on-list, or may have been in a book he wrote–and, to be honest, I can’t even say for sure that it was Bhante Sujato who wrote it. I apologize for the vagueness. If anyone has any idea what I might be talking about, any guidance you could offer would be most appreciated. Thank you.

I think you are talking about Bhante Sujato’s “A history of mindfulness”, especially the first 130 pages, where he presents his “GIST”, the General Integrated Sutta Theory.

He suggested that the saṁyutta nikāya is structured along the four noble truths, and that it was the first nikāya to be compiled.


Thank you. Sounds reasonable. I will look into it

Hi Knotty, perhaps you’re thinking of suttas that use the Truths as a template, or mention them in some way. There are many of these

AN4.45 SuttaCentral
SN56.24 SuttaCentral
SN56.20 SuttaCentral
SN56.42 SuttaCentral
SN56.25 SuttaCentral

Bhikkhu Bodhi notes, in his intro to Chapter X of In the Buddha’s Words

The Discourse on Right View (MN10) is intended to elucidate the principles that should be comprehended by conceptual right view and penetrated by experiential right view. Sāriputta expounds these principles under sixteen headings: the wholesome and the unwholesome, the four nutriments of life, the Four Noble Truths, the twelve factors of dependent origination, and the taints. It should be noted that from the second section to the end of the sutta, he frames all his expositions in accordance with the same pattern, a pattern that reveals the principle of conditionality to be the scaffolding for the entire teaching. Whatever phenomenon he takes up, he expounds by bringing to light its individual nature, its arising, its cessation, and the way to its cessation. Since this is the pattern that underlies the Four Noble Truths, I shall call it “the fourtruth pattern.” This pattern recurs throughout the Nikāyas as one of the major templates through which phenomena are to be viewed to arrive at true wisdom. Its application makes it clear that no entity is isolated and self-enclosed but is, rather, inherently linked to other things in a complex web of dependently originated processes. The key to liberation lies in understanding the causes that sustain this web and bringing them to an end within oneself. This is done by practicing the Noble Eightfold Path, the way to extinguish those causes.

MN10 SuttaCentral

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Actually, I think @vimalanyani identified what I was thinking of; though, in my mind, I probably conflated what Bhante wrote about the Samyutta as a whole with the sorts of discourses you referred to:

Definitely more the former than the latter; but, actually, not quite that, either. To return to the example I stated above,

In MN 140, for example, he states that the four sections on

  • Six Elements
  • Six Contact Spheres
  • 18 Mental Investigations
  • 4 Foundations

to actually be sort of Satipatthanas in disguise, so to speak.

I was just wondering if anyone knew of any discourses similarly structured with respect to the Four Noble Truths.

The Sarvastivadins apparently did this, judging by the passages describing SA’s organization in sources like the Yogacarabhumi and their vinaya. The later Abhidharma texts like the Kosa were organized along the lines of the four noble truths like the Samyukta Agama was, too. Which happened first is a good question.


Thanissaro points out how the categories under the fourth foundation relate to the duties appropriate to each noble truth:


Under the topic of the fourth frame of reference, DN 22 lists five sets of categories to keep in mind: the five hindrances, the five clinging-aggregates, the sixfold sense media, the seven factors for awakening, and the four noble truths.
As we have already noted, the four noble truths and their duties form the overarching framework for understanding how right mindfulness should function. The remaining sets of categories fall under these truths and the duties appropriate to them. The hindrances, as a cause of stress, are to be abandoned. The clinging-aggregates, as the primary example of the truth of stress, are to be comprehended to the point of dispassion. As for the sixfold sense-media, the discussion in DN 22 focuses on the fetters that arise in dependence on these media—fetters that as a cause of stress should be abandoned. The seven factors for awakening, as aspects of the path, are to be developed.”—-Thanissaro

“Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before: ‘This is the noble truth of stress’… ‘This noble truth of stress is to be comprehended’ … ‘This noble truth of stress has been comprehended.’ … “‘This is the noble truth of the origination of stress’ … ‘This noble truth of the origination of stress is to be abandoned’ … ‘This noble truth of the origination of stress has been abandoned.’ … “‘This is the noble truth of the cessation of stress’ … ‘This noble truth of the cessation of stress is to be directly experienced’ … ‘This noble truth of the cessation of stress has been directly experienced.’ … “‘This is the noble truth of the way of practice leading to the cessation of stress’ … ‘This noble truth of the way of practice leading to the cessation of stress is to be developed’ … ‘This noble truth of the way of practice leading to the cessation of stress has been developed.’—-SN 56.11

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Thank you once again for all the very helpful responses.

@vimalanyani I read AHoM’s GIST theory a long while back, but I haven’t re-examined it yet. I did, however, just read (albeit rather quickly) the essay where Bhante Sujato discusses the organization of the SN; unfortunately, what I am looking for is something in a “1-2-3-4” order, Bhante’s scheme seems to have the 4NT sort of scattered throughout the SN.

Would you be willing to speak a little more in depth on this? I am very unfamiliar with these exegetical texts, but I would like to explore them more if I could. Also, I assume Yinshun discusses the organization of the SA along the lines of the 4NT in is book?

Yes. A very good question.

I missed where he points out the 3rd NT.

As far as I am aware, the main book in English that covers the original organization of the Samyutta Nikaya and Samyukta Agama, is the one 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


This book is a comparative examination of the main teachings contained in the Sutranga portion of the Pali Samyutta-nikaya (SN) and its counterpart in Chinese canon, a translation of a now lost Sanskrit Samyuktagama (Za-ahan-jing) (SA). The SN and SA are essentially two different versions of the same collection of discourses.This study builds on the work of Yin Shun, which demonstrates the historical importance of SN/SA in the formation of the early Buddhist canon. In particular, it is based on Yin Shun’s recognition of the three-anga structure of SN/SA, and of the status of its Sutranga portion as of prime importance in the historical formation of this nikaya/agama, and as containing the most fundamental teachings of Buddha. The aim of this research is to reveal and clarify the similarities and differences between SN and SA, with regard to the principal Buddhist teachings contained in their Sutranga portion.

It’s been quite awhile since I read through it, but basically one of the main ideas is that there were originally three angas in the SA / SN, which were sutra, geya, and vyakarana. The sutra anga is believed to be the oldest of the three, and originally referred to a subset of the SA / SN.

Edit: Looks like there is already an old thread that has the vaggas of the sutta anga for the SN, that I believe are the ones that generally follow the sequence of the Four Noble Truths:

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Me, too. I’d have to go digging in the basement to find it.

I wonder if it says much about a 4NT structure to the SN/SA.

Also, has this thread become a “Discussion” rather than a “Q&A”?

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I’m not getting that directly from Yinshun. He might touch on it, but I noticed that the core of SA was organized similar to the way the later Abhidharma texts were organized. It’s nothing super obvious unless you compare them. The Kosa didn’t invent it’s organization either, it was an old tradition of arranging the topics in the order it did.

So, you could break the Kosa’s first 6 chapters into the four truths like this:

Chapter Truth
1. Dhatus Truth of Suffering
2. Indriyas
3. Loka
4. Karma Truth of Origin
5. Anusaya Truth of Cessation
6. Paths Truth of the Path

The anusaya chapter details the Sarvastivada theory of how precisely liberation takes place. They substitute the anusayas for the asavas and go through the mental events of realizing all four truths in sixteen steps. That serves pretty well as the truth of cessation. It was invented earlier by Dharmasri in the Abhidharmasara (c.f. T1550-2) according to Frauwallner; Vasubandhu was just carrying it forward. And the Kosa followed Dharmasri’s outline pretty closely, adding a chapter on the World.

With SA, it’s not as clear cut, mainly because there’s no obvious parallel for the third truth like there is in the Abhidharma texts. But I can see three of them in the initial 13 samyuktas as Yinshun rearranged T99 using the lists in the Yogacarabhumi and fitting the fascicles together like a puzzle.

Samyuka Truth
1. Skandhas Truth of Suffering
2. Indriya
3. Causation Truth of Origin
4. Truths
5. Elements
6. Feelings
7. Mindfulness Truth of the Path
8. Effort
9. Abilities
10. Faculties
11. Powers
12. Factors of Bodhi
13. Eightfold Path

The remainder of the Samyukta after SA 13 would be stuff added on after this matrka-like core.


When the seven factors of awakening are brought to their culmination, the third noble truth is experienced. The seven factors of awakening have two stages, development and culmination.

“And how are the seven factors for awakening developed & pursued so as to bring clear knowing & release to their culmination? There is the case where a monk develops mindfulness (and so on) as a factor for awakening dependent on seclusion, dependent on dispassion, dependent on cessation, resulting in relinquishment.”—Anapanasati sutta MN 118

" dependent on dispassion" indicates insight.

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Maybe this will help:

The structure of the Saṃyutta
The Saṁyutta is structured in such a way as to appear to be
the original canonical collection of central doctrines.
The EBTs emphasise the centrality of teachings such as the four
noble truths, dependent origination, and the bodhipakkhiya
dhammas. Th e early community recited and memorised such
teachings, organising them into the ancestor of today’s Saṁyut-
ta/Saṁyuktas. Th e Saṁyutta as a whole is shaped aft er the
pattern of the broadest of all the teaching frameworks, the
four noble truths (mn 28.2/mā 30).
Th e Saṁyutta Nikāya/Āgama collects Suttas (usually) by
topic, and those topics neatly represent the four noble truths:
the aggregates, senses, and elements under the truth of suf-
fering; dependent origination under the truths of origination
and cessation; and the subject of mental development under
the truth of the path [2] [3, 48] [4] [5] [6].
If the Saṁyutta
Nikāya/Āgama is the earliest collection of Suttas—as suggested
by noted scholars such as Yin Shun [3, 23]—from which the
other Nikāyas/Āgamas evolved, then the Saṁyutta structure
may be a literal implementation of Sāriputta’s statement that
all good teachings are included within the four noble truths
(mn 28.2/mā 30).

From p.114, The Authenticity of the early Buddhist texts, by Bhante Sujato and Ajahn Brahmali
References to other works on the topic are given as well.


I think we should not be looking for a section that points directly to the 3rd NT.

Because in the formulation of dependent origination - e.g. in SN12 - the sutta formulas always point to the origination and then the cessation of suffering. I think the right mapping is:

1st NT - aggregates, sense bases
2nd and 3rd NT - dependent origination, (and if I have to put SN 56 on the 4NTs somewhere within rather than outside this structure, this is the best place to fit)
4th NT - various paths

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Note: This consideration about the four noble truths’ teaching frameworks in SA/SN is only the major portion (Sūtra-aṅga) of SA/SN.

According to Yinshun, there are three portions in SA/SN as the foundation for the subsequent expansion of SA/SN yielded the other Agamas/Nikayas in the sequence MA/MN, DA/DN, EA/AN.

Based mainly on the Śrāvaka-bhāṣita (Vyākaraṇa-aṅga) teaching idea of SA/SN, it expanded into MA/MN collection. Based mainly on the Geya-aṅga teaching idea of SA/SN, it expanded into DA/DN collection. Based mainly on Tathāgata-bhāṣita (Vyākaraṇa-aṅga) teaching idea of SA/SN, it expanded into EA/AN collection. See Yinshun 1971 The Formation of Early Buddhist Texts, pp. 788-9; cf. Choong Mun-keat The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism, p. 10.


Thank you t all who contributed to this thread. Every answer was helpful and informative, even if it was not exactly what I was looking for. I think the final conclusion is that, aside from the discourses @mikenz66 lists such as AN 4.45, there are no individual discourses with their contents patterned after the 4NTs in any way like the 4SP examples Piya Tan gives; and that, while the SN/SA collection as a whole may have originally been arranged after such a pattern, due probably to the subsequent expansion and evolution of the collection, that pattern is no longer as obvious as it may once have been.

I consider the question answered, though of course any further contributions anyone might still be motivated to make would be welcomed. Thank you to all.

What are the 4SP examples?

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Sorry, 4SPs =4 satipaṭṭhānas; here is what I was referring to…

I was reviewing notes I took during reading SN/SA. The following suttas may be closed to what you are looking for:

SN35:238 / SA1172 - even though it is in the form of a simile.

SN22:81 / SA57 - the form of the sutta is strange but It mentions the 37 aids to enlightenment and speaks to suffering, and their origination/cessation.

The last section of SN12:65 / SA287 is probably the most succinct version of Buddha’s achievement, in his own words:

“So too, bhikkhus, I saw the ancient path, the ancient road travelled by the Perfectly Enlightened Ones of the past. And what is that ancient path, that ancient road? It is just this Noble Eightfold Path, that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. I followed that path and by doing so I have directly known aging-and-death, its origin, its cessation, and the way leading to its cessation. I have directly known birth … existence … clinging … .craving … feeling … contact … the six sense bases …. name-and-form … consciousness … volitional formations, their origin, their cessation, and the way leading to their cessation. Having directly known them, I have explained them to the bhikkhus, the bhikkhunīs, the male lay followers, and the female lay followers. This holy life, bhikkhus, has become successful and prosperous, extended, popular, widespread, well proclaimed among devas and humans.”

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I just started reading this. Very interesting stuff. Here’s the comparision of the Samyutta Nikaya and Agama:

The overallstructure of the Saṁyutta Nikāya/Āgama corresponds roughly with the four noble truths. Bhikkhu Bodhi notes that this correspondence is more apparent in the Chinese than the Pali. The five aggregates and six sense media pertain to the first noble truth; dependent origination (Nidāna-saṁyutta) to the second and third; and the path is the fourth. We may refer to these fundamental topics in a general sense as the ‘saṁyuttamātikā’. We mentioned above that the backbone of this Magga Vagga is the 37 wings to awakening; in the Chinese these are preserved in an order that more closely follows the standard Sutta sequence. We therefore have a number of indications that the Chinese is more structurally reliable than the Pali: the position of the Bhikkhu-saṁyutta; the overall correspondence with the four noble truths; and the sequence of the wings to awakening.

That’s from pages 48 and 49. https://santifm.org/santipada/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/A_History_of_Mindfulness_Bhikkhu_Sujato.pdf