Have there been any studies on Anachronism in the Pali Canon? Has anyone made a list of them?

There are a number of words, phrases, or formulae in the Pali Canon that are anachronistic—their existence in the text of the Pali Canon is at odds with known historical facts, linguistic patterns or archaeological findings.

Each of the anachronisms is a word, phrase, artifact, or other concept that mainstream historians, archaeologists, or linguists believe did not exist in India during the time period in which the Narrators or the Compilers claim to have recorded.

Is there any studies on Anachronism in the Pali Canon available at present? I notice that some Buddhist Historians mention them here & there in their works, but I haven’t found any summaries or in-depth studies of this phenomenon, or any more comprehensive lists of them available. So if anyone on our forum have more information on this please share here with all of us, great many thanks in advanced. I believe the findings of those anachronisms will be extremely helpful & important in dating and identifying the Narrators or the Compilers of the Pali Canon, and the monastic and social environment that they were surrounded with. Also will be very valuable for the student of Buddhism History in general. Thank you.


The Visuddhimagga states the limbs of the body are set in motion by air pumped through the veins. Majjhima Nikaya 140 states " winds that course through the body." The Anapanasati first tetrad proceeds from recognizing the breath to “sensitivity to the entire body.” Conclusions can be drawn.


I’ve heard notable teachers like Ajahn Brahm and Bhikkhu Bodhi mention that nobody today believes that the Pali canon is somehow “inspired” or that every word in it goes back to the historical Buddha. Especially since what makes up these texts has been transmitted orally before being written down on palm leafs.

In comparison to Christianity, it seems that there has not been the same amount of historical-critical research of texts done within Buddhism in the last 150 years or so. This might be attributable to the tolerance or even encouragment for different personal views within Buddhism (something which other religions would do well to mirror).

I am reading multiple chapters in the Anguttara Nikaya every day and often come across apparent contraditons. Eg. one text would say that suffering can not be escaped entirely, while another would ascertain exactly that. These im(h)o can not be overlooked.

According to Bhikkhu Bodhi (who nevertheless in his teachings seems to stay adamantly true to the official Theravada tradition), it is the repeated stock passages that appear in all the Nikayas and other traditions that form the earliest layer of Buddhist teachings. It would be nice to have all these compiled at some point, as an equivalent to the Christian hypothetic “Q”-Source.

In the end, we may be lucky to not have the same amount of research done like in Christianity, because there, the theories of hundreds of researchers are so diverse that they leave one puzzled at most and really seem to add to scepticism more than anything.


do you have any references for these? it seems unusual that a sutta would say that suffering cannot be escaped entirely

I’m sorry, it’s been a while, can’t come up with it quickly. Let’s leave open the possibility that I read something into it that isn’t there.

Are there links to what the bhikkus said ? I once heard a catholic priest say he thought only about 20% of what Jesus was supposed to have said was actually said by him. That said, I think less has to be assumed about the man and more needs to be analyzed about what was said and what makes sense.

With regard to the apparent contradiction, I think there is plenty of evidence that the canon evolved. I think it would be worthwhile to look for it. I spend most of my study time on cross checking. I think it is telling that the Atthakavagga and Parayanavagga differ on what is required for liberation. The first requires the cessation of sanna Snp 4.2 and Snp 4.11, and the second requires the cessation of vinnana or or nothingness Snp 5.2 and Snp 5.7. DN, SN, AN, and MN are a grab bag. That said the parable of the two arrows does seem to indicate that mental suffering can be dealt with, but not physical suffering. This would seem to support what you believe the one sutta said.

Ah, shouldn’t have chatted out of the box :wink:

Anyway, something’s here (starting at around 21:00, property of Kheramato Bhikku’s Open University project) and here.

The “synoptic problem” (the question which of the four gospels came first and who copied what from whom) is hotly debated. Most liberal scholars think that there was a sayings source, “Q”, now lost, that was available to some of the gospel writers. It’s been hypothetically reconstructed and even split into three layers. The earliest layer is the most likely candidate for containing authentic words of the historical Jesus (if he existed). Interestingly, it contains many of his most well loved sayings that are cherished even by non-doctrinal Christians.

I used to read one Sutta in all eleven books of the AN each morning. At the end of each book I would start over again. That way I would never read that exact combination of Suttas again (I “stole” that system from a Christian bible teacher). But also this makes it impossible for me to reconstruct the contradicting Suttas (or the ones that appeared to me at that time to be contradictory, justified or not). I have since fallen out of love with the AN.