Hinayana, Google and The Buddha

When would you say that the Chinese tradition stopped reading the Agamas?


My impression is that they had fallen into obscurity for centuries, yes. I mean, they still existed in the official canons, so somebody probably read them from time to time. Intelligent people would have known that many texts cited by the Dazhidulun, a very influential primer on Buddhism, were in the Agamas. But they weren’t something the luminaries wrote about. All the exegesis after the Tang Dynasty is on the major Mahayana sutras.

The East Asian way of organizing the Buddhist canon placed Mahayana sutras first, but the Japanese Taisho editors took the Western historical approach and placed the Agamas first. That by itself is symbolic of the Westernization that was taking place in East Asia, and Japan was the leader. And that was driven by the desperation of a couple hundred years of having European colonial powers walking on them militarily and economically. The modern history of East Asia is all about defending themselves from the West by adopting Western ways yet somehow maintaining their own identities. Yet, the colonialism also created this synergy of connecting regions of the world together. It’s hard to separate the good from the bad sometimes.


This also led to Theravada Buddhists traveling to Mahayana countries, and vice versa, which may have had an impact as well.

Incidentally, the study of the suttas seems to have also fallen out of favor in Theravada lands until the rise of the Buddhist modernism of people like King Mongkut. It seems like both major Buddhist traditions began to “rediscover” the suttas at around the same time, and mainly due to Western scholarship’s influence.


However, Western scholars of early Buddhism are likely now far behind, because they simply ignore the relevant findings of Yinshun. As Choong Mun-keat states thus (p. 911):

“At the outset I drew attention to a widespread failure, among Western scholars of early Buddhism, to take due account of the very substantial research findings of Master Yinshun. My hope is that the present paper will help to eliminate this blind spot by providing a brief but thought-provoking glimpse at the work of this still seriously underrated Chinese scholar.” (“Ācāriya Buddhaghosa and Master Yinshun 印順 on the Three-aṅga Structure of Early Buddhist Texts”, Research on the Saṃyukta-āgama , pp. 883-932).

I think scholars of early Buddhism in today urgently need to draw scholarly attention to the significance of the historical findings on the formation of early Buddhist texts and on the foundation of early Buddhist teachings suggested by Yinshun.

To date, the findings have been reviewed only in Japan, and therefore require further scholarly discussion, particularly from the West.

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Probably. Chinese is hard. I can only think of one Western scholar with mastery of the Agamas and the Pali material (Analayo).

And perhaps our very own Charles Patton? (if I’m not being presumptuous)

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Unfortunately Analayo also ignores the relevant findings of Yinshun. Possibly, he is unable to read the Chinese writings by Yinshun. See Analayo in the same volume presents a section (pp. 983-997) in response to Choong Mun-keat’s criticism in “Ācāriya Buddhaghosa and Master Yinshun 印順 on the Three-aṅga Structure of Early Buddhist Texts” in Research on the Saṃyukta-āgama (pp. 883-932).

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I don’t know anything about how Ven. Analayo learned Chinese, but it’s possible he simply taught himself to read the Buddhist Hybrid Chinese of the Agamas. That wouldn’t be very useful in understanding modern Chinese, especially sophisticated modern literary Chinese (which is the style Ven. Yinshun’s books are probably written in). While I don’t doubt Ven. Analayo is capable of learning enough modern Chinese to understand Ven. Yinshun’s books, he probably doesn’t think it’s worth the time or effort.

By the way, are any of Ven. Yinshun’s books available electronically?

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Yes. Check:


If you read Analayo’s Comparative Study of Majjhima Nikaya, Analayo does know the Yin Shun findings, but he disagrees with Yin Shun’s hypothesis that the SA or SN is formed from three early angas and therefore is ancestor of other Agamas or Nikayas.


So the disagreement is about historical precedence rather than Dhamma?

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Well, Yinshun was a Mahayanist, so I’m sure they’d disagree on various other issues.


Disagreement of significance of SA as three first angas discussed here:


Ah OK, thanks!

I’ve tried to read Yin Shun through the garbled lens of Google Translate and it’s simply too much work to glean anything. :see_no_evil:

Thank you. Apparently there is some disagreement about “importance” of MN, etc. Overall, the lengthy comment seems (?) to be a “chicken vs. egg” discussion without any dispute that chickens and eggs are useful in conjunction.

Cool. It’s interesting that Ven. Yinshun also supports “getting back to basics”. It’s almost H***yana.

If we forget about this essential true meaning [of self-discipline and purification], we cannot be regarded as universally applying Buddhism in daily life even though we may engage in the promotion of the dharma to benefit sentient beings through cultural, charitable, educational, and international Buddhist activities.

(wow. D&D would have me as reading your post before you posted it. :laughing:)

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There are some translated things. Including his “The way to Buddhahood” which has been published. This a standard Mahayana introduction though, not just EBT based.

Other scholarship on Yinshun translates short passages and discusses his work in general.

edit: There’s also some content in english here: English Publications Regarding Venerable Yinshun’s Works|印順文教基金會


I cannot read Chinese, but I found this Yin Shun’s work regarding the formation of Buddhist canon. Using Google translate, it seems contain Yin Shun hypothesis of SA/SN as ancestor of other Agamas/Nikayas:



It’s ironic that arguably the most comprehensive, insightful, and interesting takes on the Suttas from mid-period Indian Buddhism come from Asanga, Vasubandhu, and Nagarjuna. The Sravakayana schools seem to have gone completely over to Abhidhamma by then. If we look to the inspiration behind Buddhaghosa’s work on Sutta commentaries, apart from native Sinhalese sources, the closest seems to be Asanga.

Of course there is much material lost, and much that I am not familiar with, but that’s how it seems to me.


That’s the way seems to me, too. I’ve looked at some of the Abhidharma texts in Chinese like the Satyasiddha and Abhidharma-sara, and those authors complain in their introductions about everyone reading “treatises” by teachers who are not, well, up to snuff. It does sound like the sutras had been largely passed over in favor Abhidharma texts that tried to summarize and systematize them.


I think cdpatton responded to the issue very insightful and useful: Are Chinese Agamas less reliable than Pali Nikayas? - #112 by cdpatton

See also other following discussions: Are Chinese Agamas less reliable than Pali Nikayas? - #113 by thomaslaw

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I read a little earlier another post from you that showed great awareness of the effect that a reader/listener’s conditioning has on how a message can be received. It’s often pointed out how the Buddha skilfully adapted his teaching to the needs of the people he was talking to.

We we speak with people we know, we also adjust our message to some extent, and this is what makes online communications so hard. We write something with a particular person or group in mind, and then heaps of other people read it and misunderstand the intention unintentionally.

Is this list (as is or slightly amended) firm enough to place somewhere more prominent? It’s very useful for reference. (Will catch up on this Monks in CS soon.)


Is it not the case that at this point schools were not thoroughly divided by -yana? Even in the Nara period in Japan (710 to 794CE) there were still multiple -yanas in the Dharmaguptaka tradition. Especially in the case of Nagarjuna, he was a luminary and a Mahayanist, but most people in his school, or even his home monastery, likely were not Mahayanist.

And of course until the 12th century there were Sri Lankan maha- and vajra- yanists in the Abhayagiri Vihara, which was Theravada.

To me, taking the historical stance that the Mahayana Sutras were original compositions authored by human beings centuries after the Buddha’s death, it makes sense that their authors would be persons who had extensive experience with the historical suttas. This comparison sometimes gets used derisively, but really, it seems similar to the authorship of fan fiction - if you see someone has authored a work using pre-existing characters and similar style, you wouldn’t be surprised to discover they had read the originals extensively and written about them.