How to fully know the four noble truths between SN and SA traditions

I previously posted the following question in two sites (see below: suttacentral and dhammawheel). But I think it may be useful to post it here as an individual discussion topic:

Regarding how to fully know the four noble truths, there is a disagreement between SN and SA traditions. According to SN 56.30 (no SA counterpart) and SA 435-437 (SN 56.44 = SA 436-437), the SN version indicates that to know one of the four noble truths is also to know the rest of them, but the SA version indicates that the four must be known in sequence (see p. 239 in Choong Mun-keat’s Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism).

Which tradition is correct?

To my mind this disagreement could be cleared up by reading SN 56.30 as figurative speech acts and not as literal statements. In other words, ‘seeing’ here doesn’t mean a singular act of eye consciousness, but rather figuratively points towards wisdom and knowledge. The supposition is that if a worthy one completely sees, fully knows, wholly understands, totally realizes, one of the truths, then knowledge of the others is conjoined? :pray:

Because SA 435-437 & SN 56.44 are variants of the same sutta, and because it makes logical sense to recognize the existence of dukkha before investigating about its source and cessation, and the path leading to its cessation, it makes sense to take the sequential approach as valid.

The other view in SN 56.30 (one who knows dukkha also knows its origin, its end and the path leading to the end) doesnt mean that all of them are realized simultaneously by a beginner.

It rather probably means that one who knows the nature of dukkha must know the other three (i.e. its origin, cessation and the path leading to it) as well, until then one cannot say that one has truly understood dukkha properly.


The SA version (SA 435-437) regarding that one must come to fully know the four noble truths in sequence, step by step , is not clearly found in SN or other Pali collections.

SA 436:



SA 437:




On SN 56.30 (“Bhikkhus, one who sees suffering also sees the origin of suffering …”), Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi’s footnote 390 writes:

"The passage quoted is not found elsewhere in the Nikayas but is cited at VSM 690 (Ppn22:93) to prove that path knowledge performs four functions at a single moment. See Kv 220.”

Probably both views are different sides of a sectarian disagreement. The Sarvastivadins believed that the four noble truths are realized in 16 separate thoughts, four for each truth. Theravadins (and others) held that they are realized all at once. This is an issue that appears in the Katthavatthu and in Sarvastivada Abhidharma. So, I think it’s a case of sectarian philosophers splitting hairs and disagreeing about how they split. Probably the Buddha would have taught that realizing the four noble truths leads to awakening and left it at that.

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