Thank you again Bhante for your kind replies to this thread, along with a talent for large scale thinking I also have a talent for hyperbole which sometimes gets the better of me in conversation
I am certainly planning on spending my weekend looking at the many very helpful observations and critiques that have been given in this thread, although I have also now started trying to read AN from start to finish so running around like a headless chook should probably be added to my list of talents too.
Just to note that my argument re the Cullavagga was meant more as an argument from the Pali tradition, not as any kind of historical argument, simply that at the time of the Cullavagga the Pali Vinaya reciters had DN at the head of the queue, not that DN was actually recited at the first council, as I say, I do not think that there is much reason to think that there where such things as the Nikayas or the Agamas at the time of the Buddhas death.
I guess the argument that DN was the earliest of the Nikayas to form rests quite heavily on the idea that there was no
And that rather there was a literature made up mostly of the short formulas that we see repeated throughout the 4 Nikayas, short formulas with line by line auto commentary which we see preserved in various vibhaṅgasuttas and the short verses. I imagine these where recited by widely scattered communities of followers at the time of the buddhas death and that the Nikayas/Agamas as they stand now represent a later effort to organise and preserve this material.
My feeling is that the Nikayas are so much larger and more “ornate” than the much simpler material they are built up from that it is suggestive that the material cultures that gave rise to them was quite different to the material culture that gave rise to the repeated formula and short verses. I imagine the one being a fairly natural type of literature to flourish in a time when much of the religion was still practiced “nomadically” by smaller groups, and in simpler settings. The Nikayas I imagine would have been produced when there where larger more stable institutions that could support the logistics and pedagogy involved in fixing a canon of many thousands of long and involved Suttas.
So on my speculative view there was likely no Ur text, but as I say, for the reasons I give above, DN was probably the first “canon” to start forming from the background literature, possibly for the very reason that the material was getting long and so was unlikely to be well preserved outside an institutional framework.
Then SN on my view looks older precisely because much of its material is still closer in length and style to the “background literature” but this is not the same as it “being” that background literature.
I guess on reflection I sort of assumed that picture without argument so as to get to my DN stuff, but I probably need to go back and establish my first argument first and then move on to the whole Nikaya/Agama stuff.
while i am babbling here is a quick thumbnail sketch:
Buddha teaches for about half a century maybe 450-400BCE
In that time the formulas, line by line analyses, and short verses are composed, rehearsed and recited, with the Buddhas blessing. By the time of his death there has been a pretty major socio-economic and political shift from small federations towards larger centralised governments and a shift from a religion primarily based on wandering the countryside to one that also features permanent urban centres.
At about the time of the buddhas death there is a council at which many of the formulas are chanted together, and we have no way of knowing much about the order or contents of that beyond guesswork, except that it was not the Nikayas/Agamas as we have them now.
The material wealth and infrastructure of Northern India rapidly accelerates and the Nanda empire forms. The sangha evolves more and more to fixed monastic settings in urban environments as the socio-economic turmoil that characterised the “axial” period in India fades in memory and the vitality of the wandering renunciate movement makes way from more institutional forms of religion. In this period there must have been development of many of the longer works, built out of the formulas, and things like the mahaparinibbana sutta probably began to evolve as independent works.
The Maurya Empire sees another leap forward in terms of the material sophistication of the continent and for Buddhism as an urbanised, materially prosperous and politically important cultural institution. It is at around this period that I imagine that the Nikayas/Agamas as fully fledged official canons become actively developed within large monastic institutions. While there was probably development in the literature in terms of recombination and addition of motifs and so on, the core was extremely conservative and preserves the mileu of the wandering renunciant period. By the time of Asoka something like the Nikayas/Agamas probably exist within the large monastic centers, however they are an “elite” set of artifacts not yet distinguishable from the wider literature by most “ordinary” Buddhists who probably still chant together “indigenous” traditions emanating from the original sutta/vibangha/geyya materials.
The Nikaya/Agamas rapidly come to dominate the institutional and literate Buddhist culture and as writing is made use of at the geographic margins of Indian power the content is rapidly fixed and the canons are more or less closed, Proto-Mahayana arises simultaneously along with written commentarial traditions with distinctions between the two initially more a matter of taste and emphasis than anything.
The Pali Canon, probably more or less as we have it now, is said to be written down in full in Sri Lanka
So there is a quick sketch of my more or less completely made up from stuff I read of the back of cornflakes boxes history of the textual development of Pali Buddhism.
My main point is that there is a long period of immense socio-economic and technological change from the time of the Buddha to even the time of Ashoka, like a complete transformation of practically every aspect of Indian society and government and culture. I think that we can at least plausibly argue the Ashokan era is about the earliest we could realistically argue for the existence of Nikaya/Agamas, and even then only if they where very much elite artifacts that the bulk of buddhists would have been unaware of, so we are looking at hundreds of years of literary evolution in my view.
Anyhoo! This response has turned out to be as much to explore my own thoughts as to reply to anyone else’s, so now I will go away and have a good think about what others have said.
just reflecting on this thread gives me one more reason for my proposal; whenever there is a post that posits something weird and unexpected about Buddhism, if I have to lay a bet on what the source for this wierd or sketchy or unusual interpretation is going to be backed up with, 9 times out of ten its going to be AN, the remaining times 9 times out of ten it will be SN, then the remaining times 9 times out of ten it will be something from the Mahaparinibanna or the Satipathanna.
anyway, I have started collating some notes for an update of the essay that addresses some of the critiques and questions, and have in the meantime found some interesting material including this and this which I am reading now.
Thank you for sharing! I appreciate your thoughts. Many of them are likely.
Just curious, what will you get from DN being the earliest or not?
My view, regarding to know what Gotama the Awakened One actually said and what not, is that sticking to language may not be a good option. Someone said that, hypothetically, if the original DN 1 may form in the first year, MN 1 the second, MN 2 the third, DN 2 the fourth, but the language was later standardized that made DN 1 look like it was formed in the fourth year - the same year as DN 2, while MN 1 was standardized and looked like it was formed in the third year - the same as MN 2, than we may get the impression that MN 1 may be earlier than DN 1.
I prefer content, ideas in a discourse than the language.
Ok now I would like to share a few things different from some of your points:
GRADUAL TRAINING - NOBLE EIGHTFOLD PATH
Are you sure? Is “gradual training” like in DN 2 not the noble eightfold path (given that it may not be called out the name)? Let’s compare:
. 1. RIGHT VIEW:
““There is the case, great king, where a Tathāgata appears in the world, worthy & rightly self-awakened. He teaches the Dhamma admirable in its beginning, admirable in its middle, admirable in its end. He proclaims the holy life both in its particulars and in its essence, entirely perfect, surpassingly pure.*
*“A householder or householder’s son, hearing the Dhamma, gains conviction in the Tathāgata and reflects: ‘Household life is confining, a dusty path. Life gone forth is the open air. It isn’t easy, living at home, to practice the holy life totally perfect, totally pure, a polished shell. What if I, having shaved off my hair & beard and putting on the ochre robe, were to go forth from the household life into homelessness?’” (DN 2 - Thanissaro)
“And what is right view? Knowledge with reference to stress, knowledge with reference to the origination of stress, knowledge with reference to the cessation of stress, knowledge with reference to the way of practice leading to the cessation of stress: This is called right view.” (DN 22 - Thanissaro)
What Gotama the Awakened One said:
“And what is disclosed by me? ‘This is stress,’ is disclosed by me. ‘This is the origination of stress,’ is disclosed by me. ‘This is the cessation of stress,’ is disclosed by me. ‘This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress,’ is disclosed by me.” (MN 63 - Thanissaro).
“Both formerly and now, monks, I declare only stress and the cessation of stress” (MN 22 - Thanissaro).
-so did Gotama teach right view?
-Then, did the householder or householder’s son in DN 2 hear and then gain conviction in right view?
-So, does gradual training have right view?
. 2. RIGHT RESOLVE:
“A householder or householder’s son, hearing the Dhamma, gains conviction in the Tathāgata and reflects: ‘Household life is confining, a dusty path. Life gone forth is the open air. It isn’t easy, living at home, to practice the holy life totally perfect, totally pure, a polished shell. What if I, having shaved off my hair & beard and putting on the ochre robe, were to go forth from the household life into homelessness?’*
“So after some time he abandons his mass of wealth, large or small; leaves his circle of relatives, large or small; shaves off his hair and beard, puts on the ochre robes, and goes forth from the household life into homelessness.”
“When he has thus gone forth, he lives restrained by the rules of the monastic code, seeing danger in the slightest faults. Consummate in his virtue, he guards the doors of his senses, is possessed of mindfulness and alertness, and is content." (DN 2 - Thanissaro)
“And what is right resolve? Resolve for renunciation, resolve for freedom from ill will, resolve for harmlessness: This is called right resolve.” (DN 22 - Thanissaro)
=> So, does gradual training have right resolve?
3. RIGHT SPEECH:
““Abandoning false speech, he abstains from false speech. He speaks the truth, holds to the truth, is firm, reliable, no deceiver of the world. This, too, is part of his virtue.
“Abandoning divisive speech he abstains from divisive speech. What he has heard here he does not tell there to break those people apart from these people here. What he has heard there he does not tell here to break these people apart from those people there. Thus reconciling those who have broken apart or cementing those who are united, he loves concord, delights in concord, enjoys concord, speaks things that create concord. This, too, is part of his virtue.
“Abandoning abusive speech, he abstains from abusive speech. He speaks words that are soothing to the ear, that are affectionate, that go to the heart, that are polite, appealing and pleasing to people at large. This, too, is part of his virtue.*
“Abandoning idle chatter, he abstains from idle chatter. He speaks in season, speaks what is factual, what is in accordance with the goal, the Dhamma, & the Vinaya. He speaks words worth treasuring, seasonable, reasonable, circumscribed, connected with the goal. This, too, is part of his virtue.” (DN 2 - Thanissaro)
“And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter: This is called right speech.”* (DN 22 - Thanissaro)
=> So, does gradual training have right speech?
4. RIGH ACTION:
“And how is a monk consummate in virtue? Abandoning the taking of life, he abstains from the taking of life. He dwells with his rod laid down, his knife laid down, scrupulous, merciful, compassionate for the welfare of all living beings. This is part of his virtue.*
“Abandoning the taking of what is not given, he abstains from taking what is not given. He takes only what is given, accepts only what is given, lives not by stealth but by means of a self that has become pure. This, too, is part of his virtue.
“Abandoning uncelibacy, he lives a celibate life, aloof, refraining from the sexual act that is the villager’s way. This, too, is part of his virtue.” (DN 2 - Thanissaro)
“And what is right action? Abstaining from taking life, from stealing, & from sexual misconduct: This is called right action”* (DN 22 - Thanissaro)
=> So, does gradual training have right action?
5. RIGHT LIVELIHOOD:
“he abstains from wrong livelihood, from “animal” arts such as these. This, too, is part of his virtue.”* (DN 2 - Thanissaro)
“And what is right livelihood? There is the case where a disciple of the noble ones, having abandoned dishonest livelihood, keeps his life going with right livelihood. This is called right livelihood.”* (DN 22 - Thanissaro)
=> So, does gradual training have right livelihood?
. 6. RIGHT EFFORT:
" Sense Restraint*
“And how does a monk guard the doors of his senses? On seeing a form with the eye, he does not grasp at any theme or details by which—if he were to dwell without restraint over the faculty of the eye—evil, unskillful qualities such as greed or distress might assail him"* (DN 2 - Thanissaro)
“And what is right effort? There is the case where a monk generates desire, endeavors, arouses persistence, upholds & exerts his intent for the sake of the non-arising of evil, unskillful qualities that have not yet arisen… for the sake of the abandoning of evil, unskillful qualities that have arisen… for the sake of the arising of skillful qualities that have not yet arisen… (and) for the maintenance, non-confusion, increase, plenitude, development, & culmination of skillful qualities that have arisen. This is called right effort.”* (DN 22 - Thanissaro)
=> So, does gradual training have right effort?
. 7. RIGHT MINDFULNESS:
““And how is a monk possessed of mindfulness & alertness? When going forward & returning, he makes himself alert. When looking toward & looking away.… when bending & extending his limbs.… when carrying his outer cloak, his upper robe, & his bowl.… when eating, drinking, chewing, & tasting.… when urinating & defecating.… when walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, talking, & remaining silent, he makes himself alert. This is how a monk is possessed of mindfulness & alertness.*
Abandoning the Hindrances
“Endowed with this noble aggregate of virtue, this noble restraint over the sense faculties, this noble mindfulness and alertness, and this noble contentment, he seeks out a secluded dwelling: a wilderness, the shade of a tree, a mountain, a glen, a hillside cave, a charnel ground, a forest grove, the open air, a heap of straw. After his meal, returning from his alms round, he sits down, crosses his legs, holds his body erect, and brings mindfulness to the fore.
“Abandoning covetousness with regard to the world, he dwells with an awareness devoid of covetousness. He cleanses his mind of covetousness. Abandoning ill will & anger, he dwells with an awareness devoid of ill will, sympathetic with the welfare of all living beings. He cleanses his mind of ill will & anger. Abandoning sloth & drowsiness, he dwells with an awareness devoid of sloth & drowsiness, mindful, alert, percipient of light. He cleanses his mind of sloth & drowsiness. Abandoning restlessness & anxiety, he dwells undisturbed, his mind inwardly stilled. He cleanses his mind of restlessness & anxiety. Abandoning uncertainty, he dwells having crossed over uncertainty, with no perplexity with regard to skillful qualities. He cleanses his mind of uncertainty.” (DN 2 - Thanissaro)
“And what is right mindfulness? There is the case where a monk remains focused on the body in & of itself—ardent, alert, & mindful—subduing greed & distress with reference to the world. He remains focused on feelings in & of themselves… the mind in & of itself… mental qualities in & of themselves—ardent, alert, & mindful—subduing greed & distress with reference to the world. This is called right mindfulness.”* (DN 22 - Thanissaro)
Four establishings of mindfulness:
" This is the direct path1 for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow & lamentation, for the disappearance of pain & distress, for the attainment of the right method, & for the realization of unbinding—in other words, the four establishings of mindfulness. Which four?
“There is the case where a monk remains focused on the body in & of itself—ardent, alert, & mindful—subduing greed & distress with reference to the world. He remains focused on feelings… mind… mental qualities in & of themselves—ardent,2alert,3& mindful4—subduing greed & distress with reference to the world.5
“And how does a monk remain focused on the body in & of itself?
 “There is the case where a monk—having gone to the wilderness, to the shade of a tree, or to an empty building—sits down folding his legs crosswise, holding his body erect and establishing mindfulness to the fore.6 *Always mindful, he breathes in; mindful he breathes out.
 “And further, when going forward & returning, he makes himself fully alert; when looking toward & looking away… when flexing & extending his limbs… when carrying his outer cloak, his upper robe, & his bowl… when eating, drinking, chewing, & savoring… when urinating & defecating… when walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, talking, & remaining silent, he makes himself fully alert.
This is how a monk remains focused on the body in & of itself.
“And how does a monk remain focused on mental qualities in & of themselves?
 “There is the case where a monk remains focused on mental qualities in & of themselves with reference to the five hindrances. And how does a monk remain focused on mental qualities in & of themselves with reference to the five hindrances? There is the case where, there being sensual desire present within, a monk discerns, ‘There is sensual desire present within me.’ Or, there being no sensual desire present within, he discerns, ‘There is no sensual desire present within me.’ He discerns how there is the arising of unarisen sensual desire. And he discerns how there is the abandoning of sensual desire once it has arisen.15 And he discerns how there is no further appearance in the future of sensual desire that has been abandoned. [The same formula is repeated for the remaining hindrances: ill will, sloth & drowsiness, restlessness & anxiety, and uncertainty.]" (DN 22 - Thanissaro)
-does gradual training have four establishings of mindfulness?
-does four establishings of mindfulness equal right mindfulness?
-Then, does gradual training have right mindfulness?
. 8. RIGHT CONCENTRATION:
“In the same way, when these five hindrances are not abandoned in himself, the monk regards it as a debt, a sickness, a prison, slavery, a road through desolate country… Feeling pleasure, his mind becomes concentrated.
The Four Jhānas
“Quite secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful qualities, he enters and remains in the first jhāna: rapture & pleasure born of seclusion, accompanied by directed thought and evaluation.
“Then, with the stilling of directed thoughts & evaluations, he enters and remains in the second jhāna: rapture & pleasure born of concentration, unification of awareness free from directed thought & evaluation—internal assurance.
“And then, with the fading of rapture, he remains equanimous, mindful, & alert, and senses pleasure with the body. He enters and remains in the third jhāna, of which the noble ones declare, ‘Equanimous & mindful, he has a pleasant abiding.’
“And then, with the abandoning of pleasure & pain—as with the earlier disappearance of elation & distress—he enters and remains in the fourth jhāna: purity of equanimity & mindfulness, neither pleasure nor pain”* (DN 2 - Thanissaro)
“And what is right concentration? There is the case where a monk—quite secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful qualities—enters & remains in the first jhāna: rapture & pleasure born of seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation.
With the stilling of directed thoughts & evaluations, he enters & remains in the second jhāna: rapture & pleasure born of concentration, unification of awareness free from directed thought & evaluation—internal assurance.
With the fading of rapture he remains equanimous, mindful, & alert, and senses pleasure with the body. He enters & remains in the third jhāna, of which the noble ones declare, ‘Equanimous & mindful, he has a pleasant abiding.’
With the abandoning of pleasure & pain—as with the earlier disappearance of elation & distress—he enters & remains in the fourth jhāna: purity of equanimity & mindfulness, neither pleasure nor pain. This is called right concentration.”* (DN 22 - Thanissaro)
=> So, does gradual training have right concentration?
Based on above comparison, does gradual training equal the noble eightfold path?
Thank you for your reply @purifiedpalisutta ! I think your exactly right, the sekkha patipada lines up perfectly with the noble eightfold path. What I am pointing to is just the name “noble eightfold path” not occurring in the description. Similarly suffering, it’s arising, it’s cessation and the way to its cessation are mentioned but not called “the four noble truths”
I am suggesting that those names came later to describe the same things.
To be honest I think I may have overstated my case regarding DN, I actually think that the full picture is much more complicated, with all the Nikayas probably having their roots in material of similar age, and the early parts of DN being in general earlier than the later parts, similarly with MN, but with SN and AN who knows…
I guess my basic position is that the doctrinal formulas as individual units, like the jhana formula and so on are probably all earlier than all the Nikayas, and while it’s fun to puzzle over the development of the canon the fundamentals of the teaching are there in the formulas and it’s not really necessary to know what the order of development is to practice.
That said a lot of people seem to me to promote pretty “sariputta-esque” formulaic readings of Buddhism that seem to me to lack a certain flavour of spontaneity and simplicity that I find in some of the material such as the sekkha patipada.
“Then the Buddha taught him step by step, with a talk on giving, ethical conduct, and heaven. He explained the drawbacks of sensual pleasures, so sordid and corrupt, and the benefit of renunciation. And when the Buddha knew that Pokkharasāti’s mind was ready, pliable, rid of hindrances, elated, and confident he explained the special teaching of the Buddhas: suffering, its origin, its cessation, and the path.” (DN 3 - Sujato).
Do you think that the quoted “step by step” teaching is the gradual training?
“With release, there is the knowledge, ‘Released.’ He discerns that ‘Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.’ This, too, great king, is a fruit of the contemplative life, visible here & now, more excellent than the previous ones and more sublime. And as for another visible fruit of the contemplative life, higher and more sublime than this, there is none.”” (DN 2 - Thanissaro)
-Is the gradual training in DN 2 a fruit of contemplative life?
-Is benefit of renunciation a fruit of the contemplative life?
-If so, was gradual training mentioned in the step by step teaching?
-Does this mean gradual training was taught as preparatory before teaching the four noble truths?
I do not htink so. I think Buddha present here a big picture. I think that big picture is very important. I think he transfers the big picture of a beginningless samsara, of merit of demerit and their results, how this relates to the continuation of birth. How craving for sensual pleasure is a risk because it latches the mind on birth in kama loka. He talked about how beings roam in samsara, seeking for happiness but not finding it. Seeking in a wrong way based on wrong ideas about what happiness is and how the reach that. He talked about the benefits of renunciation and working towards Nibbana.
I think he transmitted the big picture which is a summary of all the Buddha saw: no discernable beginning of samsara, evolution of cosmos, former lives, kamma-vision-rebirth, how any rebirth means suffering, lower and higher realms, the asava’s as cause for rebirth and therefor continuation of suffering. Ending of rebirth and suffering.
Transfering this big picture is not the same as teaching a gradual training.
Hi Preston, I am still working on an update to this essay very much inspired by your feedback, so thank you! I just thought I would address this one point about why I think there may have been a pedagogical impetus behind moving from a 10 link DO to a 12 link one.
SO just to recap;
In Snp 4.11 which some people say seems to use an earlier form of Pali there is a 6 link dependent origination, although it isn’t called that;
name and form
whereas in DN, which I claim to originate in an earlier time than SN there is a 10 link DO:
name and form
name and form
where name and form and consciousness are mutually dependent, like the A frame of a house where one part leans on the other.
In MN and SN we have a 12 link DO:
name and form
My claim is that 10DO is probably earlier than 12DO (and of course probably later than 6DO).
I also claim that 10DO (and 6DO) are open to “annihilationist criticism”.
And that this may have led to developing the 12DO.
What I mean by that is that in 10DO the argument is that name-and-form depends on consciousness and consciousness depends on name-and-form, so that it is open to someone to argue that with the destruction of either of those, suffering and death is destroyed in one fell swoop, i.e suicide as enlightenment. However, if Ignorance is placed at the base underneath consciousness, then we cannot escape suffering and death until ignorance is eradicated so the formulation evades the annhiliationist critique.
So that in a nutshell is my argument for 12DO being later.
In DN15 this dependency is explained. I understand it this way:
Rebirth-vinnana conditions namarupa
rebirth or patisandhi-vinnana (not sense-vinnana) conditions nama-rupa. How? Nama rupa, ie, the person to become (mind and body) will not develop if a rebirth -vinnana does not come into the womb. It seems to suggest the firtilized egg will not develop into a foetus and baby without this aspect of a former life which mixes up, somehow, with the egg. Some call this the gandhabba. Then it seen as a kind of very subtle mental body which also contains the kammic blueprint for the life to develop.
Namarupa conditions rebirth-vinnana
Rebirth -vinnana neads a resting place. Without restingplace in the namarupa there would be no birth. This rebirth consciousness or gandhabba would be in paralowa, or in between bhava, all the time and we would not see any coming to birth of beings.
You and i can kill ourselves but because of present anusaya, asava and tanha there wil arise a rebirth vinnana again. That will find a resting place again in namarupa somewhere. So , birth, decay and death continues. So it goes on.
This cylce is called uppatti akusala paticca samuppada. There is also a cycle in real time.
There is no annihilation implied in Paticca Samuppada, also not in 10 version. One has to understand what is meant by vinnana.