Is the Girimānanda Sutta Late?

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:

  1. The sutta features the otherwise unknown monk Girimānanda.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. It calls a mindfulness of breathing a “perception”, which is otherwise unheard of in the Pali suttas.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.”
  8. 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.


Sounds plausible to me. It seems particularly unlikely that any new doctrinal formulations should appear only in the context of a text recited for a sick monk.

On the other hand, the text does include a mention of the fact that not all illnesses are caused by kamma, so in that respect, at least, it was not influenced by later doctrines.

Not quite true. He has a set of verses at Thag 5.3. However these are very much stock Theragatha style verses, and do not reveal much of the person behind them.

The verses sing of his joy at meditating in a covered hut. The commentary to this links the verses with the prose sutta. From DPPN:

He was the son of King Bimbisāra’s chaplain and, having seen the might of the Buddha when the Buddha entered Rājagaha, joined the Order. He lived in a village studying, but one day, when he came to Rājagaha to visit the Buddha, the king asked him to remain, promising to look after him. The king, however, forgot his promise, and Girimānanda had to live in the open. The gods, fearing to wet him, stopped rain from falling. The king, observing the drought and discovering the reason for it, built him a hermitage wherein the Thera put forth effort and became an arahant.

I guess it was while staying in the open that he became ill! Not entirely plausible, grant you. I find it difficult to believe that any monk, let alone the son of a prominent member of the royal court, should be forced to stay outdoors while living in Rajagaha. But anyway, that’s what we’ve got.

A Sri Lankan monk visited Tibet in, if I recall, around the 12th century, and some Tibetan texts are translated from his Pali versions, notably one of the Dhammacakkas. It’s quite possible that the Girimananda is one of these; this will be discussed in Skilling’s Mahasutras, I suppose.

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This idea of mindfulness of breathing as a perception reminds me of the probably-later MN 124, where Bakkula also emphasizes a ‘wholesome perception’ series while also making sure a question is put into terms of perception.

Ok, but some of the verses in the Theragātha are late, I understand. Some of them were added at the time of Ashoka, possibly later. So this doesn’t really change anything.

Skilling does not mention the Girimānanada Sutta, which I found strange.

They’re just as likely to have been added in order to give some more substance to the monk.

Indeed. I guess it falls outside the Mahasutra set.

I have nothing to add to this other then to say thank you to both Bhantes for providing these kind of thought provoking posts, especially with regards to the various factors that point to time periods. All of these text analysis and Pali related content has been very beneficial to me, although I post very little.

It is very rare on the Internet to see two monastics together like this and it is appreciated.


Thank you, your kind words are appreciated. I hope that Ven Brahmali and myself are able to give an example of good friends who are more than willing to disagree with each other from time to time! If everyone agreed on everything, the world would be such a boring place.


Are the Bojjhanga parittas early? I’m talking about those very short suttas, in the bojjhanga samyutta i believe, where the buddha recites just the mere names of the 7 bojjhangas, and it’s enough to cure a deadly illness for the patient who is already an arahant and obviously would himself not only know the names of the 7 factors but how to put it into practice. In one of those bojjhanga suttas, even the Buddha was the sick one and asked a monk to recite the 7 for him, and he was instantly cured! That just makes no sense at all. if the buddha was well enough to talk and request a monk to recite the 7 names, he was certainly capable of saying those 7 names himself.

I’d always assumed the bojjhanga parittas were very late inventions because they don’t make any sense from a dhamma point of view. They seem like an invention that arose from the desire of the laity to have protection from illness wanting a simple magic mantra.

I read Bhante Gunaratanas recent book which is a cmy on the girimananda sutta, and in it he attempts to explain the protective power of those bojjhanga parittas. i have to assume he believes what he is saying, but to me his arguments sound like someone who is forced to try to defend Theravada and slowly convinces himself . i don’t blame him, it’s a tough position to be in.

one of the things i really love about the girimananda sutta is it’s like a care package of most of the critical meditatve practices a monk should be well versed in, and it makes total sense for that situation when a monk is near death. suppose girimananda had died and was reborn in a deva realm. having those 10 perceptions in mind, he’s off and running and continues in his practice toward arahantship. an ordinary monk not holding on tight to those 10 perceptions might get distracted by the pleasures of the deva world. So either way, if girimananda survived the illness, great, if not, he’s ready to finish the job in the next life. if it’s in a human realm he’s reborn in and he forgets those 10 perceptions, then at least he probably still has a strong inclination towards dhamma and truth, and a sharp B.S. detector to weed out false doctrines and ordain soon on the right path.

To me, the girimananda sutta woudl have been more inspiring if he died at the end and either attained arahantship in antarabhava state or arahantship soon in the deva realm, withtout any help of others , just using those 10 perceptions. It’s like a hollywood producer stepped in and said, “You can’t kill off the hero in the end! we need to sell tickets! We need a happy ending!” .

BTW I think anapansasti as a “perception” is just a convenience for this context. instead of 10 perceptions, the buddha probably could have called them 10 mindfulness practices, 10 samadhis, or 10 recollections right? Maybe the point of using different terms is so later generations don’t get too caught up and assume too much from the label of a “samadhi” or a “sanna”. In the anapana samyutta, after the first 10 suttas I think the buddha afterwards starts calling anapanasati anapanasati-samadhi, but referring to the exact same 16 steps. But in the girimananda sutta case I think it’s just for convenience and easy of the sutta reciters to memorize the text. if they had to distinguish anapanasati as something other than a perception, they’d probably stutter while trying to remember what it was.

on the relationship beween anicca and perceptions of foulness,
i noticed this about two interesting passages.

in AN 9.1 or 10.1 I think, where it talks about 4 types of meditative practices we should do and for what reason we do it,
asubha bhavetabba, kaama-raaga pahaanaya
mettaa bhaavetabba, byaapaada pahaanaya
anapanasati bhavetabba, vittak-upacheddaya (?) (cutting off thinking)
anicca-sanni bhavetabba, asmi-mana-samuggataya (removing self-ego conceit)

in that passsage it shows show the anicca-sanni leads to arahantship, but without specificying what the meditative practice of anicca is. In AN 6.29, the 9 corpse contempations are described as a practice that leads to “asmi-mana-samuggataya”, so it seems to be a strong connection between anicca, mindfulness of death, stages of corpse decay, etc.

The more I study the suttas, the harder it is to see clear divisions between things such as satipatthana, jhana, aataapi, viriya, samatha, vipassana. similarly, i think the same idea apply with anicca, asubha, etc. Early in my buddhist studies and practice i’d assumed anicca meditation was a more analytical one for those who lacked sufficient samadhi, and for one with samadhi something to be done while observing rise and fall of 5 khandhas. but with so much emphasis in the dhamma on asubha, i can’t help to think the buddha really emphasized that aspect above the others, since that visceral constant attention to foulness is so helpful to correcting inverted perceptions of reality. Even for ariya, the impression from the suttas is if you’re not an arahant, asubha and anicca of corpse decay are still really important .

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Yeah, I have often wondered about this myself. However, there does not seem to be anything in particular about these suttas that mark them out as late, and so I am not sure what to make of them. In the end, I just tend to keep an open mind. The world is full of weird and wonderful phenomena.

This is why I said “every one of them could be explained in a different way”. I don’t think describing ānāpānasati as a perception is wrong, but it certainly is unusual. The question is whether it belongs to this set at all. The Buddha tends to be very systematic in the way he teaches.

This too is unusual, and for that reason I would not read too much into it. The main purpose of corpse contemplation is presumably to get rid of attachment to the body. This is why it is part of the first satipaṭṭhāna, which is the most basic level of that practice. I would therefore suppose that what is meant here is primarily asmimāna in relation to the body. Later on one deepens this to encompass all the five groups of personalty (khandhas).

Thanks for this. I enjoy constructive arguments, and that’s why I like the occasional debate with Bhante Sujato.

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Yes, again it is not a question of it being particularly significant in and of itself, but when it is arrayed alongside a number of other factors.

Incidentally, another set of suttas that I just translated that come across as very late are the “Great Question” suttas (AN 10.27, etc.) and also the Ajitasutta at AN 10.116. In both cases, in addition to a number of other artificial features, we see the Buddha says he’s about to address a particular topic, then, well, just doesn’t. This is so unusual that it must surely be a red flag.

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This is why I said “every one of them could be explained in a different way”. I don’t think describing ānāpānasati as a perception is wrong, but it certainly is unusual. The question is whether it belongs to this set at all. The Buddha tends to be very systematic in the way he teaches.

Hi Bhante

I noticed that this is not the only sutta which uses saññā in an unusual fashion. In MN 18, we have this -

Yathāvādī kho, āvuso, sadevake loke samārake sabrahmake ­sassama­ṇab­rāhma­ṇiyā pajāya sade­va­manus­sāya na kenaci loke viggayha tiṭṭhati, yathā ca pana kāmehi visaṃyuttaṃ viharantaṃ taṃ brāhmaṇaṃ akathaṃkathiṃ chinna­kukkuc­caṃ bhavābhave vītataṇhaṃ saññā nānusenti—evaṃvādī kho ahaṃ, āvuso, evamakkhāyī”ti.

Friend, I assert and proclaim such [a teaching] that one does not quarrel with anyone in the world with its gods, its Maras, and its Brahmas, in this generation with its recluses and brahmins, its princes and its people; such [a teaching] that perceptions no more underlie that brahmin who abides detached from sensual pleasures, without perplexity, shorn of worry, free from craving for any kind of being.
per MLDB.

As far as I can tell, the only thing that really anuseti would be anusayas. That would be a sankhāra and would not fall within the saññā aggregate.

Is it a coincidence that all of the 10 saññā in AN 10.60 look like activities that spring from sankhārā ?

I find it interesting that there are different assessments of ‘diverging’ passages. On the one hand we can say ‘they are not in accord with the other texts - when we look for authenticity let us focus on passages that are repeated similarly in different nikayas (for example)’.

On the other hand there is the argument ‘That a diverging text is transmitted is actually a sign of authenticity. All monks responsible for transmission and canonisation knew the stock formula etc. Why else would the include a diverging passage if it wasn’t authentic?’

Especially texts like the ones Ajahn Sujato mentioned - where the Buddha doesn’t address topics he announced he would - how many monks must have been there in history to resist the temptation to insert a plausible passage from another sutta? and probably they did in many other cases, and somehow this one survived in a raw unsatisfying form.

I’m not sure that I found a simple way to deal with these diversions for myself. Sometimes they’re just too odd, sometimes they offer an interesting perspective. But mostly I’m sad that the pali canon is such a copy+paste monster with not enough signs of a ‘living-breathing’ text from the mouth of the Buddha - embedded in the gratitude for what we have of course :slight_smile:

i think it is a matter of scaling, first the common content is looked at to isolate the core teachings for example, then refinement of that isolated content is done by looking at the divergences between them to isolate the likely original formulation of that core teaching

This is one method, and should be used with as many approaches as possible.

The basic principle I keep emphasizing: look for multiple converging lines of inference. Just one indication could be interpreted many ways, as @Gabriel says. Only when we have multiple indications all pointing the same way do we have a solid ground.

Why do you say they are sankhāras? I would rather argue as follows. Attending to something in a certain way may result in the activation of the underlying tendencies. Attention is a sankhāra. The way the underlying tendencies manifest will involve many mental qualities, of which perception (saññā) would seem to be an important and fundamental one. So it seems to me that this can be viewed as sankhāra giving rise to perception, a perception that is in part determined by the underlying tendencies.

I do agree with you that the usage of perception at MN 18 is quite perplexing. The only way I can make sense of it is that it really refers to defiled perception. These perceptions no longer occur when the underlying tendencies are eliminated.

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Re. point 8:

I have now been able to ascertain that this sutta does not have any ancient parallels. According to Peter Skilling, the leading scholar in this area, the existing Tibetan parallel was translated from the Pali Canon in the thirteenth or fourteenth century. His article is found in the Journal of the Pali Text Society, volume 19.


This is such an abhidhamma way of thinking! The suttas don’t treat sankhara as a grab bag that fits other things “in” it. Sankhara simply means intention.

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Thanks Bhante!

Just so that we are clear, when I said that “they” would be sankhāras, I was referring to the anusayas, not to the saññā mentioned in MN 18’s saññā nānusenti (perceptions do not anuseti) . This stems from what I think SN 12.38 - 40 are saying. The 3 verbs in those suttas all appear to point to sankhāras manifesting in one form or another, with the most subtle being anuseti.