DN is the earliest Nikaya

@Preston thank you for your comprehensive feedback! You and @Gabriel have given me a lot to chew on! I think I will have to spend some time thinking about my responses so I will do that and reply to your post more thoroughly later. Thanks again!

I second the motion! You cannot test a hypothesis until you have formulated it. That is how progress is made. Testing is through analysis of the text and practice.

This is an interesting theory. My gut reaction is that it seems quite plausible. It explains why the Samyutta Nikaya has some “archaic” features that make it seem like the building blocks of the longer nikayas, while also explaining why it has so much inelegant, vague, and/or repetitive fluff. Sometimes this “fluff” consists on entire samyuttas that actually ought to be dealing with important subjects….why, for example, are the samyuttas on the efforts, five powers, and Jhanas such nothingburgers? Under your theory, that the SN was created to salvage old material, the “fluff” could perhaps be seen as attempts to fill in material that has since unfortunately been lost.

I’m curious how the Anguttara Nikaya would fit into your reconstruction. Bhikkhu Bodhi once pointed out that there is surprisingly little overlap between the Samyutta and Anguttara Nikayas, despite the suttas being of comparable length, suggesting that the redactors of these nikayas deliberately avoided sharing too much material (btw, this could be another reason why the 5 aggregates are so much more emphasized in the SN compared to the AN. Ditto with Dependent Origination, and probably some other things as well). Under your theory, perhaps the SN redactors didn’t feel a need to duplicate all that much from the AN since the whole point of SN was to preserve short material that was not preserved elsewhere. But there could be other explanations, of course.

Keep up the good work, @josephzizys!

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I do, too. If we want to try to work out these issues, we have to go through alternatives and vet them. I was just giving my two cents, having done some of this myself.

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Just to clarify, we need to distinguish between “earliest collection” and “collection with earliest content”. All the collections clearly have content added over time, SN no less than others. When we argue for it being the earliest collection, we mean that the way it is structured and organized was probably the earliest.

Just a few quick points to consider:

  • other accounts of the First Council do not place DN at the start
  • there is much material in DN that is obviously late. So that needs to be considered.
  • You say there’s no abhidharmic tendencies, this is clearly incorrect: DN 22 for a start, but also the last couple of suttas; Sangiti Sutta was even used as the foundation for an Abhidhamma book!
  • Regarding the 10-factored DO, you might be interested in Rod Bucknell’s argument to this effect. I disagree with it, on the basis that you can’t draw historical conclusions from the mere shortness or longness: such conclusions must be triangulated with a range of supporting conditions. (per our method in The Authenticity of the early Buddhist Texts). So if you were to show on other grounds that DN14 was early, the 10-factors might be held to improve the case. Unfortunately, comparative study with the Chinese version reveals the opposite: it has a lot of differences, and is likely to have been a late development.

@sujato I am all a flutter that one of my dhamma-heros has made comment on my work! thank you Bhante! I am so pleased to have gotten so much constructive feedback so quickley on this essay and am inspired to go back and look at many of these aspects and address them, however I must first find the time and right now i really don’t have it, perhaps one day I will have the opportunity to return to full time study and make a proper fist of this, in the meantime thank you very much for your observations and thank you and everyone especially for suttacentral and discuss and discover, they have truly reinvigorated my passion for the dhamma and my practice! Metta!


Here’s a cheeky thought; perhaps SN and AN originate from DN33 and DN34 respectively, and their contemporaneous development explains the tendency to avoid duplication of content.

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this is pretty cool, can you do the same with the DA, or even better the intersection of DN with DA?

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@Njeul I felt woefully unqualified to address even DN, how much less DA - that said I have managed to acquire a copy of the BDK translation of DA so at some point I will attempt some comparisons.

I have read the suggestion somewhere that these two suttas might have been the template for the Anguttara Nikaya specifically, though one (I think 33?) is less sectarian, while the other is more Theravada. I haven’t seen the suggestion that they influenced the SN.

Just adding remark here that BDK translation of Dirgha Agama is poorly translated:


But too bad that they (the Agama Research Group) didn’t continue their new DA translation project with passing away of Prof. Karashima on 2019.


According to Ven. Yinshun, DN/DA was mainly expanded from the geyya (-anga) portion of SN/SA:

“… 將分別抉擇的成果,對外道、婆羅門,而表揚佛是正等覺者,法是善說者,適應天、魔、梵——世俗的宗教意識,與「祇夜」精神相呼應的,集為「長阿含」。” See:

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Thanks for the heads up! I guess I should be using


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I would love some information in English about Yinshun’s views, from what I can decipher using machine translations the quotes you give don’t do much more than restate the assertion that SN was the prior work and that DN and MN grew out of it as their suttas got longer. I would love to know what arguments are given for this thesis and what evidence is presented in support of those arguments.

You really need to study Chinese, not just English, to study and understand the formation of early Buddhist texts. Also, not just Pali Nikayas, but also Chinese Agamas are needed for writing an essay about the formation of early Buddhist texts.

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I think it is a lot to ask of people that in order to practice a religion that one master 3 different languages. I would love to learn Classical Chinese, but I am just beginning to learn Pali, and frankly my English could probably still improve a fair bit :slight_smile:

I am also a bit skeptical about the premise too, I think that a great deal can gained form the study of the pali suttas on thier own terms, I have very little awareness of the abbhidhamma for example, and of course many people would say “oh, you can’t study the suttas without knowing the abbhidhamma!” and then “you cant really understand the abbhidhamma without understanding the commentaries!” and then “you can’t understand the pali without understanding the sanskrit parallels!” and then “you can’t understand the sanskrit without the classical chinese!” and then “now you have to learn classical Tibetan!” “Mahayana!” “Oh, you can’t really understand the philosophy of the Buddha without a grounding in broader Indian Philosophy!” “You can’t understand Indian Philosophy without Western Philosophy” “Philosophy!? to really understand Buddhism you need to study Psychology!” “Neurology!” “a ton of cutting edge research is in Japanese now!” “Thai!” “Burmese”… It can go on forever is my point…

For those people who can’t just quit their day jobs to learn Classical Chinese there is a great need for people who can communicate the research and learning made in Chinese scholarship. simply expecting anyone who wants to understand it to learn the language is unrealistic.

All that said, your excellent contributions promoting the work of Yinshun and others here is one of the reasons I find this forum so valuable, so thank you for your efforts!


No, Chinese is not needed. @josephzizys made clear in his introduction the humble intentions he has. No need to lay-shame anyone here. Anyone with more knowledge in a specific field is welcome to share their findings.

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I wouldn’t try doing that all at once. Especially with a family to run. You will naturally dip into some of those subjects over time anyway.

I am also a bit skeptical about the premise too, I think that a great deal can gained form the study of the pali suttas on thier own terms

This is very true IMO.

Maybe someone here can share their expertise in Khotanese, while we’re at it :smiley:

True, but it really depends on what kind of things you’re interested in. To understand the teachings of early Buddhism, I think the Pali suttas by themselves are just fine. The Chinese mostly serves to reinforce and clarify details, as well as ancillary purposes such as reminding ourselves to not get too attached to the letter.

For historical studies, there are certain kinds of things where the study of the Chinese Agamas is not really required. For example, consider the ancient geography of India. This was established using the accounts of the Chinese pilgrims together with the Pali texts, and knowledge of the Chinese Agamas, again, mostly just reinforces this.

When it comes to the evolution of textual corpuses, however, it really is essential to consider all extant texts, else we will fall into easily-remedied mistakes. As just one example I’ve already mentioned, the Pali Vinaya treats DN as the first nikaya recited at the First Council. And this was indeed one of the reasons why early scholars thought DN might be early. But soon scholars realized that there are many Vinayas, and each gives a different account of what is recited first at the First Council. So it is clear that we cannot naively rely on such accounts by themselves. That doesn’t mean that the accounts are all wrong, or that they are meaningless. It means that they have to be carefully considered in context to understand exactly what they say and what they do not say.

So this is a clear instance where comparative study is essential to ward off mistakes, and to avoid simply repeating mistakes made in the past. We have learned more now, and the field is advanced by building on the work of previous scholars.

There is much to do. IMHO, the “SA theory” offers a compelling case for the primacy of SA/SN as the original core text of Buddhist scripture. However, it offers a much less compelling case for how the rest of the Buddhist texts were formed, especially the relationship between SA/SN and EA/AN. That doesn’t mean its wrong, it means it is a theory, and like all theories it has strengths and weaknesses.

FWIW, Rod Bucknell traveled to Tawian to meet Master Yin Shun and pay respects to him for his work. At that time Yin Shun was very old. Rod asked him some of these questions, seeking his opinion on the question of the origin of the other Nikayas, a topic that is treated somewhat cursorily in his work. Yin Shun didn’t give much of an answer. He did enough, one man cannot solve everything!

I mean, in theory, but people have lives. I’ve been looking forward to seeing English translations of Yin Shun’s work for many years now.

That’s not what anyone’s saying. You don’t have to master any languages to practice a religion. It’s not a matter of having to master everything; it’s about understanding what is important in a given context.

To make a substantial and persuasive argument for the textual origins of a vast corpus of ancient scripture is a complex and specialized research task and it does indeed require detailed expertise in the field.

If I may offer a humble suggestion at this point: give the issues raised in this thread some thought. I think the argument you developed in the OP indicated that you have a talent for reasoned and large-scale thinking, and these are rare gifts. I’ve no doubt that you’ll come up with plenty of interesting ideas to come.