On the absence of outside samanas: a teaching to Subhadda in DN 16

The Buddha’s last direct disciple, Subhadda, asks whether any of the other ascetics at the time are enlightened, to which the Buddha says no. The passage is a difficult one, here I will discuss a few textual issues.

It starts here.

what lines are verse?

The lines from Ekūnatiṁso up till: Ito bahiddhā samaṇopi natthi. are in verse.

The following lines are sometimes rendered in verse (per Walshe, see his footnote) and sometimes in prose, as in the Mahasangiti edition which we follow.

It seems that the Mahasangiti is correct:

  • Anandajoti does not format as verse (he is one of the few people who really understands Pali verse!)
  • The later lines are not metrical, or at least not the same metre.
  • The Sanskrit version stops at the same place.
  • the Sanskrit also does not treat the “first … second … third … fourth ascetic” passage as verse.

missing text in Pali

The Sanskrit passage also adds two lines that are not found in the Pali. The Pali has six lines rather than the normal eight, and it is really hard to make sense of the translation where the lines are missing. Translations are borderline incoherent at this point; there is no proper transition to introduce the second verse. For example, here’s Anandajoti:

(At) twenty-nine years, Subhadda,
I went forth a seeker of what is good,
More than fifty years ago,
Wherefore I am (truly) gone forth, Subhadda.

Existing in the realm of the right Teaching
Outside of this there is no (true) ascetic,

So I think the Sanskrit here is correct and the Pali has dropped two lines by mistake. Here is the translated second verse in Sanskrit, with portions missing in the Pali in bold:

śīlaṁ samādhiś caraṇaṁ ca vidyā
Ethics, immersion, conduct, and knowledge,
caikāgratā cetaso bhāvitā me
and unification of mind have been developed by me,
āryasya dharmasya pradeśavaktā
teacher of the references for the noble teaching.
ito bahirdhā śramaṇo hi nāsti
Outside of here there is no true ascetic.

Note that much of missing lines is reconstructed in the Sanskrit, which typically means they are found in the Tibetan.

what is padesavattī?

The Pali padesavattī is difficult; it is a unique term in Pali. You can see from Anandajoti’s translation he takes padesa as “realm” and vattī as “existing”.

Again I think the Sanskrit is correct here. It has pradeśavaktā, i.e. “speaker of the padesa”.

I think we should interpret padesa in context of the sutta, where the four mahāpadesa have just been taught: padesa is a callback to the four mahāpadesa. The Buddha is saying that his teaching is grounded on his own experience, and that he has taught the way to understand different interpretations going forward.

what is suññā parappavādā samaṇebhi aññehi?

I have up until now unconsciously followed the earlier rendering of Walshe (and probably Rhys Davids).

Other sects are empty of ascetics.

Bhikkhu Bodhi at AN 4.241 has a similar rendering.

But “other” (aññehi) can’t be construed with “sects”, it is instrumental/ablative plural and agrees with “ascetics”. Bodhi in his note indicates that he accepts the variant reading here, anne. But this creates another confusion, because para- also has the sense of “other”. It is odd to tack a synonym at the end of the sentence, if that is what it is doing.

Anandajoti on the other hand accepts aññehi, but I think he misconstrues another aspect by including ime ca Subhadda, at the end of the same phrase, whereas it belongs with the next line. He has:

Suññā parappavādā samaṇebhi aññehi ime ca Subhadda
Void are the outside doctrines of these other ascetics, Subhadda,

But ime is not instrumental/ablative, it doesn’t agree with “other ascetics” (and anyway it’s unidiomatic to end a sentence like this; the pronoun and vocative go at the start). Decisively, where this phrase appears elsewhere the sentence clearly concludes with aññehi (an4.241:1.2, mn11:2.2).

Instead, ime agrees with bhikkhū in the next sentence. The Mahasangiti has this right:

Suññā parappavādā samaṇebhi aññehi.
Ime ca, subhadda, bhikkhū sammā vihareyyuṁ …

Now, the commentary agrees, saying that ime refers to the “twelve bhikkhus”, which it has previously explained as the four practicing vipassana for realizing the paths, the four on the paths, and the four on the fruit. It’s expanded from the text, but sure. This may be correct, but I think the Buddha is, rather, pointing to the monks who are present and saying “if these monks practice well, the world won’t be short of arahants.”

In any case, the commentary, against Anandajoti, clearly links ime with bhikkhū.

Ok, so that sorts out the second part starting with ime ca, but we have still not determined the grammar for Suññā parappavādā samaṇebhi aññehi.

Notably, the commentary omits aññehi entirely. The passage recurs in MN 11 and AN 4.241, where the commentary does quote the text with aññehi, but nowhere does it actually comment on it. Note that the text in both these cases presents the saying as a quote, and the commentary seems to assume that DN 16 is the original form; if this is true, then both the suttas must postdate the Buddha.

Note too that, while the ablative plural agrees with samaṇebhi, the form differs, using the standard -ehi rather than the rarer -ebhi. There are variant readings, but this is rather odd; in fact I think this is a unique case in the Pali canon, using both forms beside each other. The variants reflect the tension, supplying both samaṇehi aññehi and samaṇehi aññebhi. Here the more difficult reading should be preferred.

As noted above, Bodhi accepts the variant anne, which is favored in PTS and BJT editions. The sanskrit text has no equivalent:

śūnyāḥ parapravacanāḥ śramaṇair vā brāhmaṇair vā

Given that:

  • it is absent from the Sanskrit
  • it is not commented on
  • it is grammatically ambiguous
  • and the simplest grammatical resolution effectively dissolves the word into a synonym

I think it’s likely anne(hi) is an extraneous addition to the text and can be effectively ignored.


Amazing how much those two little lines change the meaning of “Outside of this…”

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I’m trying to avoid reading into it (because it’s an ideologically tricky passage), but could you say what the difference is?

Elsewhere when asked the same question the Buddha answered enigmatically that all beings who do get enlightened do so via the Noble Eightfold Path. I find this a most satisfying answer as it avoids tribalism and points to what is essential.

In light of that passage, I’d be inclined to read this as saying essentially the same thing: outside of developing śīlaṁ samādhiś caraṇaṁ ca vidyā there is no enlightenment.


Right, thanks, that’s what I thought too. Thanks for confirming!

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