I’ve recently had a closer look at the Girimānanda Sutta (AN10.60), a popular paritta and often quoted sutta. I am now wondering if this sutta is relatively late, perhaps post-dating the Buddha by as much as a few centuries. Here are my reasons for thinking this:
- The sutta features the otherwise unknown monk Girimānanda.
- The sutta is recited to heal the sick. Usually this is restricted to the bojjhaṅgas (the awakening factors). There is no other case of the recitation of perceptions being used in this way, and there is no obvious link between these perceptions and the bojjhaṅgas.
- The sutta consists of ten elements with no apparent logical sequence. This is contrary to the normally careful sequential structure of suttas spoken by the Buddha.
- The sutta gives a number of definitions that are not found elsewhere in the suttas. It thus has a certain commentarial feel to it. It would seem that at a certain point a need was felt to clarify how these various perceptions should be understood.
- It calls a mindfulness of breathing a “perception”, which is otherwise unheard of in the Pali suttas.
- It describes the “perception of impermanence in all conditioned phenomena” as being “repelled, humiliated, and disgusted by all conditioned phenomena.” This is unusual since such an emotional reaction might be the result of cultivating such a perception, but not constitute the perception itself. Indeed, it seems the textual tradition had problems with this since in some manuscripts “impermance” (anicca) is replaced by “non-desire” (anicchā). However, there is no mention anywhere else in the suttas of a perception of non-desire, and so I take this to be a mistake caused by trying to make sense of the unusual definition.
- The perception of impermanence appears twice in the list, under slightly varying names: “the perception of impermanence” and “the perception of impermanence in all conditioned phenomena.” I cannot see that there is any difference between these apart from the name, especially since “the perception of impermanence” is defined as seeing the khandhas as impermanent. The five khandhas are equivalent to “all conditioned phenomena.”
- The sutta has no Chinese parallels, but a Tibetan one. But since the Tibetans made collections of parittas, it is not clear whether this is a parallel in the true sense.
None of the above is a “killer” argument, and every one of them could be explained in a different way. It seems to me, however, that the cumulative effect points to lateness.
Does it make any difference if this sutta is late? The doctrinal content is mostly uncontroversial, and as such the lateness is not of material importance. There are, however, a few details that seem to be unique to this sutta, such as the description of ānāpānasati (mindfulness of breathing) as a perception. Another is the description of the perception of impermanence in all conditioned phenomena as being “repelled, humiliated, and disgusted by all conditioned phenomena.” Both of these details are arguably in accordance with the suttas as a whole, and as such they are unproblematic. One should, however, be careful not to make too much of these rarities.
I also feel it is useful to consider the elements that make for lateness in their own right. This has the potential for giving us a clearer overall picture of which suttas do not go back to the Buddha.