Is the eightfold path early or late ebt?

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I am now moving on to yet another sacred cow, the eightfold path.
As usual my research is mostly pasting things into DPR, so if I have made any errors or omissions please point them out.
As usual what I am hoping to derive is a list of all the times the buddha gives the teaching where the parallel is in the same collection in the agamas as in the nikayas.

The eightfold path is first mentioned in DN at DN6 which has no agama counterpart.
It is next at DN8, where the parallel, DA25 omits the eightfold path.
We next see it at DN16 (DA2), which we take to be editorially open late, and by definition not a direct teaching of the Buddha. We will put this to one side for now.
(DN18 paralleled at DA4 gives 7 of the steps calling them satta samādhiparikkhārā)
Next it occurs at DN19, again, the parallel at DA3 omits the eightfold path.
Next it occurs at DN22, which again has no agama counterpart in DA.
At DN23 the eight steps are given, but the parallel at DA7 omits them
Next we have a Sariputta sutta DN28, which has the parallel DA18 both mention the eightfold path in the standard aids to enlightenment list as in:

the four kinds of mindfulness meditation, the four right efforts, the four bases of psychic power, the five faculties, the five powers, the seven awakening factors, and the noble eightfold path.
cattāro satipaṭṭhānā, cattāro sammappadhānā, cattāro iddhipādā, pañcindriyāni, pañca balāni, satta bojjhaṅgā, ariyo aṭṭhaṅgiko maggo.

Next we have DN29 paralleled at DA17, here again we have the aids to enlightenment pericope.
DN33 another Sariputta sutta also mentions each of the eight steps of the path but refers to them as aṭṭha sammattā
Finally we have DN34 paralleled at DA10, Another Sariputta Sutta.

So in summary, in the 6 occurrences in DN where the Buddha speaks of “the eightfold path” 4 of the agama parallels omit the eightfold path, and 1 of the agama parallels are simply the bodhipakkhiyādhammā pericope, leaving only Dn29 and the parinibanna sutta;

DN16 DN29

MN up next…

MN3 paralleled at MA88 the eightfold path is given by Sariputta
MN8 lists the 8 steps, the parallel at MA91 omits them.
MN9 paralleled at MA29 is a Sariputta sutta.
MN10 we will leave aside for now.
MN19 paralleled at MA102 contains the eightfold path.
MN24 MA102 is a Sariputta Sutta.
MN33 no parallel in MA.
MN36 no parallel in MA.
MN44 no parallel in MA (or the Agamas).
MN65 (MA194) gives all 8 steps, with two more, calling them “dasahi dhammehi”.
MN77 gives the eightfold path and the eight steps MA207 omits both.
MN78 gives the tenfold list, paralleled at MA179.
MN83 gives the eightfold path and so does the parallel MA67.
MN103 no parallel in MA, no agama parallel.
MN104 and the parallel MA196 both have the eightfold path.
MN117 has the steps, includes right knowledge freedom, MA189 has the 8 lacks the 2 extra?
MN118 parallel not in MA.
MN126 gives the steps as does MA173.
MN139 gives the eightfold path and the steps as does MA169.
MN141 (MA31) is a Sariputta sutta.
MN149 has it’s parallel outside MA.
MN150 has it’s parallel outside MA.
MN151 has it’s parallel outside MA.

So in summary, MN has 23 suttas that mention either the eightfold path, or the steps. 4 of them are Sariputta, leaving 19, of those 19, 3 list ten steps not eight and call the list by another name, leaving 16, of those 16, 8 are not paralleled in MA leaving 8, 2 of the MA parallels omit the trope leaving 6;

MN10, MN19, MN83, MN104, MN126, MN139.

Next we will do AN…

AN3.61 parallel not in EA
AN3.62 parallel at SA758 not in EA.
AN3.71 paralleled at SA207 SA973 not in EA.
AN4.33 no parallel.
AN4.34 the parallel at EA21.1 omits the eightfold path.
AN4.89 no parallel
AN4.205 no parallel
AN4.216 no parallel
AN4.226 no parallel
AN5.32 suttacentral gives EA21.1 as the parallel here too, which as noted, lacks the eightfold path.
AN5.196 no parallel.
AN6.63 parallel not in EA
AN7.45 (requisites of immersion) no parallel
AN7.71 parallel not in EA
AN8.19 parallel at 42.4 has the bodhipakkhiyādhammā.
AN8.28 no parallel in EA.
AN8.34 no parallel.
AN10.90 no parallel in EA.
AN10.145 gives the steps, no parallel.
AN11.17 gives the eightfold path and is paralleled at EA49.1.

So we have;

AN8.19 AN11.17

Now lets do SN;

SN3.18 SA1238 and SA2-65 both omit the eightfold path

Prose SN:
SN12.27 no parallel.
SN12.28 eightfold path paralleled at SA355.
SN12.33 parallel SA356 omits the eightfold path.
SN22.56 eightfold path paralleled at SA41.
SN22.57 eightfold path paralleled at SA42 and SA3-27.
SN22.78 no parallel.
SN22.81 and parallel at SA57 has the bodhipakkhiyādhammā.
SN22.84 the parallel SA271 omits the eightfold path.
SN22.101 has bodhipakkhiyādhammā as does SA263

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Some prominent scholars are of the oppinion that the historical Buddha may well have been an early Skeptic.

This makes a lot of sense from, per example, MN63, where the Buddha is making a classic Skeptical argument (namely that human life is to short too reach absolute metaphysical conclusions).

It would also make sense in that one is said to take refuge to the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha - maybe not so much from your mother-in-law’s dinner invitation, but from metaphysical speculation?

If such was indeed the case, then the eightfold path as the Buddha’s basic ethical instructions would have to have been VERY early, if not historical.

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FWIW, I believe that just like the 4FNTs was an elaboration of a key phrase regarding the complete understanding of sanna from Snp 4.2, the 8FP is a mnemonic device for key phrases or themes found in what I will call “the raft”, that is, Snp 4.2, 4.3, 4.4, and 4.5.

  1. Views - The cleansed one has no formulated view at all in the world about the different realms.
  2. Intention -
    a. Renunciation - do not cling to the seen and the heard.
    b. No harm - do not get involved in disputes
  3. Speech
    a. When disputes come up a sage does not get involved
    b. They do not speak on themselves of their own accord
  4. Actions
    a. they don’t make things up or promote them,
    b. and don’t subscribe to any of the doctrines.
  5. Livelihood
    a. The brahmin has no need to be led by precept or vow;
  6. Effort
    a person should train in this life
  7. Mindfulness - Completed Understanding of Contact
  8. Concentration - Complete Understanding of Perception

In short, I think that the 4NTs and the 8FP date back to the earliest form of Buddhism, even if they may have been adapted to later doctrinal beliefs.


Thanks @Raftafarian I think you are absolutely right, but i think we are talking about two different things.

What I am intersted in is interrogating the prose collections to try and see if we can discern if any of the terms and phrasings are identifiably later or earlier.

So for example we have “suffering, arising, ceasing, path” and we have “the noble truth of suffering, the noble truth of arising, the noble truth of ceasing, the noble truth of the path”.

Did “suffering” come first and “noble truth of suffering” come later? Did noble truth come first and get shortened? Where both used at the same time? If so was it because different groups called them differently or did the same group use the different terms in different contexts?

I think, as i have mentioned repeatedly, that apart from pernicious readings of the anatta doctrine as a metaphysical absolutism, the early buddhist texts present a remarkably consistent idea, all the way from the poetry to the last page of the prose.

However, I think there is good evidence that in the prose collections the jhana trope predates the aggregates trope, and i think it may be possible to figure out more such dependencies.

So i figure i will go throught various tropes and make a table, and ive done aggregates and jhana, and the eightfold path and the eight steps are another easy one as there are readily identifiable terms to put in DPR.

I figure even people hostile to my thesis may appreciate the handy refrence of say, where the eightfold path in the Nikaya is also in the equivilent sutta in the agamas.


You may want to read The Four Noble Truths ( if you have not already. K.R. Norman argues that the word “truth” did not originally appear in the Four Noble Truths based on grammatical issues and actual textual variants.

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