Enumeration passages really "EBT"?

“EBT” if I recall stands for “Early Buddhist Texts”, and could probably be said also as “Early recorded Buddha Teachings”, as, if I recall, the idea is to identify the texts actually representing the words of the Buddha or his direct disciples – i.e. what he actually taught.

In that perspective, I would imagine ideally teachings that read as if spoken, and in the contexts they were delivered. It would seem that he would use lists of alternatives at times, and s/t exhaustive of possibilities, but not getting carried away with it, keeping it relative to making vivid some important point of dhamma. But often when I read in sutta texts often laborious lists of this or that, they seem more products of the later tendency to use numbered lists as mnemonic devices to support the oral process of transmission. They sound more so than the how the Buddha would actually deliver in teaching.

So the point raised here is whether such passages should be considered direct teachings from the Buddha (as a sense of “EBT”).

The issue has been raised before that it s/t seems the penchant for using named numbered groupings of teachings – the 3 characteristics, the 4 NT, etc. – is more a later development, an artifact of the natural tendency, as was brought up recently here somewhere, for people to use verbal short-cuts.

As crucial as standardized numbered lists are for later oral transmission, I can’t imagine the Buddha himself routinely using such shortcuts, but rather spelling-out the teachings, and often using synonyms for variety and vivid emphasis. (A vivid example of this came to light recently but I can’t track it down at the moment – will patch it in here when I find it.)

As another angle of looking at this issue, consider the Anguttara Nikiya. According to Wikipedia, the title means “increased by One Collection”. The corresponding collection “Ekottara Agama” would seem to reflect that etymology in the title, but the closest I could find (PTS dictionary) for “anguttara” was “anguttha” and some related words, all apparently referring to something to do with the “digits” – fingers or toes. (Think the “teaching” mudra in Buddha statuary.)

The AN is positioned as the 4th (last major) Nikiya, and (also from wikipedia):
"According to Keown, ‘there is considerable disparity between the Pāli and the Sarvāstivādin versions, with more than two-thirds of the sūtras found in one but not the other compilation, which suggests that much of this portion of the Sūtra Piṭaka was not formed until a fairly late date.’ " (emphasis added)

Now numbered lists in oral traditions appears across cultures in the comparable period (late BCE into CE), e.g. in classical Chinese medicine. But the oldest texts tend to spell-out lists that later are more often referred to as a named list. Again, the texts in this tradition were mainly mnemonic aids to a fundamentally oral transmission.

From what I’ve seen (e.g. in Jurewicz’ “Fire and Cognition in the RGVeda”), the ur-vedic texts (anonymous oral poetry) doesn’t feature such numbered lists. Perhaps they did start to emerge in the later Upanishad texts, which recorded teachings of named authors – to which period the Buddha belongs. I suspect, however, not so extensively as in Indic, Buddhist, Chinese etc. traditions centuries later.

Yet another angle: lists, further becoming lists of lists (matika) form the backbone of the abhidhamma literature, some of which may date relatively early, but (other than mythical – special teachings for Sariputta and other close students) are not generally held to be the Buddha’s own words. Enumerating analysis perhaps firmly grounded in his teachings, but difficult to imagine as how he himself expressed his teachings verbally.

In contrast, reading some texts considered quite “early”, one hears the Buddha voice, e.g. in dialogs answering questions from Brahmans in the SuttaNipata’s Atthaka Vagga (“chapter of eights”), as well as other sutta-s containing similar dialog.

This would seem an important aspect of the venture of establishing the EBT – to open the possibility of having that kind of more direct experience of the Buddha delivering his teachings. Similar, perhaps, to that much later convention (I think read somewhere in “A History of Mindfulness”) where some Mahayana tradition(s) cultivated having visions of the Buddha addressing them directly – an attempt to reestablish the authenticity otherwise available only to those who lived in the Buddha’s presence, many centuries earlier.

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