Explaining the astounding lack of interest by other schools in the Parayanavagga

The Atthakavagga and the Parayanavagga are widely accepted as very old Buddhist texts. That brings with it the expectation that they would be found in every other Buddhist school with surviving texts. This is certainly true of the Atthakavagga, but not true of the Parayanavagga.

Only three suttas in the Parayanavagga have verses with parallels in texts of other Buddhist schools. Those are Snp 5.2, Snp 5.14, and Snp 5.16. The verses in Snp 5.16 that appear in other schools text, appear to have gotten there on the back of the Dharmmapada which has parallels to the verses. The interest was in the Dharmmapada, not the Parayanavagga.

The verses found in Snp 5.2 and Snp 5.14 that have parallels in texts by other schools of Buddhism are only found in the Yogācārabhūmi which appears to be a relatively recent compendium stuffed with material from all over.

So why the lack of interest in the Parayanavagga outside Theravada Buddhism? Is anyone aware of scholarly works about this? Does anyone have any thoughts about this.

Also, does anyone know much about the Yogācārabhūmi and why of all places it would have parallel verses? The few verses appear to be about the cessation of consciousness. Is it possible these were just generic verses that could have come from sources other than the Parayanavagga and just happen to resemble them?

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If I recall Venerable Chandrakirti references it in one of his commentaries on Venerable Nāgārjuna’s works. Interestingly he also references Iti 44, meaning that it did have a parallel once.

Iti 44 is part of the Pali canon so it would Theravadin. I will look up the commentary you mentioned. Thanks.

Is the commentary you mentioned this.

The non-Pali traditions that we have are almost all northern in origin. That’s why they have Upagupta (from Mathura), while we have the Parayanavagga and Atthakavagga.


Bhante, could you elaborate on this?

My understanding is that Upagupta was a person unassociated with any particular, specific text/collection. I don’t understand how he would ‘replace’ the Pārāyana/Atthakavagga.

Mettā :slight_smile:

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Given that the KN and Snp appear to be later compilations, I am assuming that we have to look at the Atthakavagga and the Parayanavagga as smaller independent collections to explain why the Atthakavagga travelled further than the the Parayanavagga. Geography may have been the deciding factor, but not if they both originated in the same region which seems to be likely. Parts of both use the same unique meter and I would argue that the later parts of the Atthakavagga, at least Snp 4.11, appear to know about and be a rebuttal to the Parayanavagga.

Could the Parayanavagga have been less well received outside their place of origin for doctrinal reasons? Another possibility is that they did not originate in the same region despite the reasons for thinking they did. Likewise, one may have been significantly later than the other despite reasons for thinking they were contemporaries.

So I am not disputing that the Snp was compiled in the south. I am looking to get a better understanding about why the Parayanavagga did not spread as far as the Atthakavagga. It seems to me that this would be something scholars would have debated and published about. Do you know of anything about inquiries along these lines? Do you have your own theory for it?

Sorry, I shouldn’t have mentioned the Atthakavagga here, I wrote too hastily.

Not that he replaced anything, just that he was northern so he ended up in the north.

The Atthakavagga isn’t as strongly bound to the south.

No, not really. I think geography would play a role, but it’s far from black and white; a bunch of texts got taken to China from Sri Lanka, for a start.

Sometimes it’s just chance.


I think I must be missing some of what you mean, bhante. That Upagupta was in the North doesn’t seem directly relevant to the question of why the Pārāyana does not have the same support and prominence there. Upagupta could easily just have had access to and spread the Pārāyana, so his existence or prominence is no explanation for its lack. Considering Moggaliputtatissa is acredited the author of the Kathāvatthu and a major Theravada figure, and both he and Upagupta lived in the same location (or potentially were the same person lol), then it doesn’t seem like there’s any reason Upagupta shouldn’t have the Pārāyana either if it were a prominent early collection in the same way as the Atthakavagga.

In brief, it seems an idea like “The Pārāyana is in the South, but Upagupta’s in the North, so this makes sense” doesn’t read as a coherent explanation to the question on the Parayana.

Am I misunderstanding? :pray: Sorry for the confusion :laughing:

All I’m saying is that texts that originated in the north end up in northern collections, while texts that originate in the south end up in southern collections. It’s not that deep!


Ah, I see! So you are saying that the Pārāyana may be a text originating in the South rather than a text originating in the middle area during the life of the Buddha and common to the whole tradition (as opposed to say the Atthakavagga)? Would you consider the Pārāyana more specifically regional?

My thought is that we don’t have a full canon from any school of early Buddhism other than that of the surviving Theravada school. So, it’s only a partial record of what existed in the past. Very partial. There were at least a half dozen different early Buddhist schools with their own canons, but only some pieces of a three or four of them other than Theravadins still exist. The apparent lack of interest may just be that we’ve lost the texts that would show the interest.


8 verses of the Parayanavagga are found on an old Gandharan scroll. It was a part of a commentary on different verses. So it was definitely known in (somewhat) Northern regions [link].

And it is mentioned in the Mahasanghika Vinaya as a text that “serves for the instruction of novices”.



Thanks, yes. It clearly has links to the south, but that doesn’t mean it is restricted there. There are plenty of stories of events in the north in the Pali texts, too. Geography is just one factor. But it does seem that the Parayanavagga served as a conversion text for the south, which eplains its prominence there as evidenced by the existence of the Niddesa.


As “widely accepted” as it is, the idea that the Aṭṭhakavagga and the Pārāyanavagga are old is based on a series of assumptions that resemble a house of cards. I wrote a critical essay on this last year: Some Issues of Pāli Chronology (30 September 2022)

For every line of evidence that has been used to argue for the antiquity of these texts, I can easily show that there is another plausible reading, usually some form of regional variation. The fact that no other versions of those texts exists for other schools is consistent with them being regional rather than chronological variants.

The idea that something is true because it is “widely accepted” is called the bandwagon fallacy. I’ve had too many experiences of this being utterly wrong in Buddhist Studies to give “widely accepted” any credence whatever. Part of why the old pārāyanavagga idea seems plausible is because of European biases with respect to texts. All of our methods derive from Christian or legal textual studies, both of which entail an obsession with origins for similar reasons (since God’s word is law). In this view, the past is defined Whiggishly as “when things were simpler”. And it leads to misconceptions.

For example, the Heart Sutra is a Chinese text composed in the mid 650s CE and the Sanskrit text is a back-translation from Chinese that contains Chinese idioms literally translated into Sanskrit (aka calques). What was widely accepted about the text, over many centuries, was so far off beam that it wasn’t even wrong.

Regarding the Dhammapada, as Roy Norman said in his notes on Dhp, the verses found there were drawn from a common (generic) pool of such verses that was also drawn on by both Jains and Brahmins. That some verses appear here and there is pretty much what we expect for Indian religious texts.

Do you have anything to show that the Pārāyanavagga was of any interest to Theravāda Buddhism before the Pali Text Society was founded in 1881? AIUI, Theravāda as an historical Buddhist school was largely focused on medieval commentaries on Abhidhamma rather than the Nikāyas. Sure they chanted suttas as parittā, but did they actually talk much about them? I can’t find references to Suttanipāta in Visuddhimagga for example (though I didn’t look that hard).

You must be aware that not everything in the Pāli canon is directly related to the Theravāda school. They preserved numerous texts that are clearly not Theravādin in outlook: c.f. the Mahāvedella Sutta (MN 43).

BTW, as I understand the word “consciousness”, it does not cease in the nirodha-samāpati. What ceases is what we would call the content of consciousness, i.e. in Buddhist terms what ceases are the khandhas, āyatanas, and dhātus (and everything associated with them). The mental state following cessation, i.e. suññatā-vihāra (a state of absence [of sensory experience]), is clearly a conscious state rather than an unconscious one. Indeed, that we are conscious during cessation is a crucial feature of the state of absence and what makes it different from mere unconsciousness (or death).


I agree that just because something is widely accepted does not mean that it is true. That said, there are many scholars who do accept that both are very old whether they are right or not.

Possible is not probable. All our arguments here are inductive. We are always arguing about probabilities and explanatory power. You can say that everything can be explained by regional differences, but you need to demonstrate that it is more likely than the other alternatives by showing that it explains the evidence better.

The PTS pulled together documents that existed prior to it. Its not like they were part of a hoax. With regard to modern and medieval Buddhism, I am not interested in them that much. If we are going to be radically skeptical, how do you know what was medieval? Couldn’t it have been all regional differences.

The Pali Canon is a mess. It is like going to a garage sale and paying five cents for a bag that says puzzle and finding out that there are pieces from several puzzles and some of them have missing pieces. That said, there are many places that reference or allude to the Atthakavagga and Parayanavagga which is more than you can say about many suttas or sub collections.

I am saying “cessation of consciousness” because that is how the translator translated it. Consciousness has many different usages. What I think is a hard sell is saying that the consciousness in Snp 5.2 is the same as sanna in Snp 4.2 or Snp 4.11.

Some general remarks:

  1. Saying what appears as chronology can always be regional differences seems to imply the ideas didn’t migrate implying a timeline. Sometimes ideas are thought of independently by different people, but relying on that for everything strains credulity.
  2. Ideas do develop over time. Finer distinctions and clarifications are made because over time the need for them does. Ideas collide and debates require everyone be one the same page as imperfectly as that may be done.

The Parayana is a ghostly text in northern sources compared to the Atthakavagga, but the two do get mentioned in the same breath by a couple Sarvastivada sources. So, a text or collection with the same title existed in at least one other Buddhist canon. That’s not the case with the Atthakavagga, however. A good case can be made that it existed in multiple traditions and is indeed very old.

I took the time to summarize a bunch of references to these two texts in Chinese Buddhist sources (i.e., Indic texts translated to Chinese) in another thread. One of that things that’s hard for me to ignore are the Vinaya stories depicting disciples reciting the Atthakavagga parallels during the Buddha’s time. At the very least, it means it was old enough that Buddhists in the 4th c. considered it as old as the Buddha.


Hey Jayarava, welcome, in fine form as always. I must say, I found that your linked page was urgently factual … in that it linked to global atmospheric CO2. The rest, not so much unfortunately. If you don’t have empathy for your subject, you will end up with ashes.

Thanks, that’s handy.


Is much known about how big a part the doctrine of anatta played in those other traditions and, if so, what flavor of anatta were they concerned with?

What I mean by what flavor is were they concerned about not self or not Self. I see this distinction as being the biggest doctrinal difference between the Atthakavagga and the Parayanavagga. The Atthakavagga is interested in the cessation of sanna and, to put it in the words of Ud 1.10, “self in that” where the Parayanavagga is interested in the cessation of vinnana and Self.

The two texts are clearly addressing different types of themes and audiences. But is there a doctrinal difference, or just a difference in emphasis?

First, we can look to the might MN 43 and read:

“Feeling, perception, and consciousness—these things are mixed, not separate. And you can never completely dissect them so as to describe the difference between them.”

But we may not be satisfied if we think that it is a generalization or a less authoritative statement when it comes to these two texts. Where else can we look then?

Well, we know that in the Pārāyanavagga, the whole point is about brahmins wanting to be free from nāmarūpa. The normal way to do this is to free the ātman — say, a sheer mass of consciousness — out of nāmarūpa leaving only eternal bliss outside of the manifest world; brahman.

What the Buddha discovered is that nāmarūpa and viññāna mutually condition one another. The freedom from nāmarūpa, its cessation, is only to be found in the cessation of its condition: consciousness. So to these brahmins and contemplatives in the audience of the Pārāyana, this is the right material to offer them. It is also consistent with the Buddha’s teachings on causality found in every tradition of early Buddhism, all over the nikāyas/āgamas. In fact, the mutual conditionality between nāmarūpa and viññāna seems to perhaps be an older version of dependent origination that is directly connected to or associated with the Buddha’s awakening in some way.

What do I mean? In the standard story, the Buddha realized all 12 links. But interestingly enough, at SN 12.65, the Buddha gives an autobiography of his practice to awakening. Note that this sutta is actually put on the lips of the Buddha, whereas the story of e.g. Ud 1.1-3 is just narrated by someone else. Here, the Buddha says he realized the mutual conditionality and that was his key insight.

At DN 14, a neat little easter egg is hiding in the story about Vipassī Buddha: He too based his core insight on the mutual conditionality between name-&-form and consciousness! Why would tradition specify this chain? Well, we know that the Past Buddhas are all meant to follow the same patterns as our Buddha, with two chief disciples of the same type, etc. etc. in a cosmic universe. So it seems they are pointing to something they knew about the Buddha’s awakening.

Briefly, we can note that this is how the Buddha presents the complex theme of dependent origination at DN 15 — the longest discourse on the subject in the canon, with several parallels, all sharing this feature. Namely, the explanation culminating in the mutual conditionality between name-&-form and consciousness. Note too that in some parallels, such as DA 13 I believe, there are layers to the text: in the introduction, they added a reference to “these 12 dependent arising” for the standard 12 links, and yet the actual sutta only explains the normal 9! So tradition recognized this lack, and in some cases tried to level it out later on. We also have outside discussions of it such as at SN 12.67, and at MN 38 — the other long explanation of dependent arising — the Buddha starts his actual, every-day example of dependent origination with consciousness and name-&-form.

Of course, even in the standard 12 links shared in every tradition, consciousness is conditioned and in relationship to name-&-form. So not only is this an extremely prevalent, common, and core essential doctrine of Early Buddhism, but it is also explicitly put on the lips of the Buddha and in the stories of past Buddhas several times in significant scenarios.

But wait, there’s more! We know that this question of the cessation of name-&-form as well as consciousness is extremely important to the contemplative Brahmanical groups of the time. We have confirmation of this outside the Buddhist texts in the Brāhmanas and Upanisads by the way continuing for centuries. But we also know that these contemplatives were doing practices that the Buddha himself is also recorded as having done! The Pārāyana talks about the attainment of nothingness several times, precisely what the bodhisatta practiced before his awakening under apparently contemplative Brahmanical-based teachers!

The point is this: the teachings of the Pārāyana are confirmed time and again, from independent sources, internal and external, up the wazoo in the Early Texts. It’s actually astonishing.

So what about the cessation of perception? Well, DN 9 is a good place to start. Here we learn that there were a bunch of contemplatives, ascetics, and religious philosophers of the time with all kinds of different opinions on perception. It was an important subject — the refinement, the limits, the happiness or suffering to be found in saññā (perception). Indeed, when we look at Early Buddhist meditation and contemplation practices, they are also all about perception.

Perceiving impermanence, anattā, dukkha, asubha; perceiving the breath; perceiving earth, forest, the elements, space, the immaterial attainments. Even at DN 15, a text linked to the teachings of the Pārāyana and strikingly similar to Snp 4.11 — in the Atthakavagga!! Seriously, compare Snp 4.11 to DN 15 — we see that there are a class of “non-percepient beings” associated with the 4th jhāna, and there is a refinement of perception up to the cessation of perception and feeling.

At DN 9, the golden sutta on perception, it too leads to the cessation of perception and feeling. This speaks nothing of consciousness/name-&-form, and yet it goes to the same place: the cessation of all experience, which, if one does not grasp to anything afterwards, is equivalent to nibbāna and the same goal as the cessation of consciousness.

We can see that the practices and topics of the Atthakavagga are associated with general sramanas and contemplatives. Different experimental practices and observances (sīla/vata), different views, different ideas on perception, notions of purity, debates and arguments. These are classic descriptions of the contemplative scene of the day and we see in the Atthakavagga a text that talks about navigating this scene. The Pārāyana addresses the other half of the story: Brahmanical philosophy that adapted itself into salvific and metaphysical thought. All throughout the discourses, we see the Buddha is a mastermind in managing both of these camps in very detailed, nuanced ways. It is not contradictory or mutually exclusive.

So when talking to contemplatives interested in perception, the Buddha did so. When talking to those interested in consciousness, he did so. He used some of their own terminology and worked with it in both cases, and yet ended up at the same place. Not only that, but the ideas are consistent with the heartwood of Early Buddhism found elsewhere, and we even see overlap between these approaches at DN 15. Perception, views, and contact are all related in EB discourse. And yet the cessation of contact/perception ends up being the same as the cessation of consciousness. The needs of the audience and subject matter seem to call for different teachings, but on closer inspection, they culminate in the same place.

None of this is to even mention that Snp 4 is all about the types of grasping (upādāna) and how it leads to entanglement in the world → rebirth. So many of the texts in the Atthakavagga talk about ending rebirth by not being established anywhere in perceptions, which means the cessation / non-planting of consciousness. The non-establishment and involvement of consciousness in the other aggregates is a major theme, if not the major theme, of Buddhism itself, summarized in the four noble truths.

There’s a lot to say on this, but I think this is sufficient. The post has gotten quite long. People have been making all kinds of claims about the Atthakavagga ever since the West got a hold of it it seems. Most of them are just wishful thinking. I really appreciate your interest and enthusiasm in looking into this topic more! :smiley:


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