Our transmission was Brahmin/Buddhist?


Here we will compare two parallel suttas that show how a sutta might have gone from a sort of Jataka sutta to the one in Pali.

I will just quote the major differences. Which makes me wonder if we have a mixed transmission.

First up is from the Chinese agama
8. The Discourse on Seven Suns

never experienced, seen, or known the world’s [cyclic] creation and destruction, on seeing that great fire will all be terrified, with their hair standing on end, and will think: “The fire will not reach up to here, will it? The fire will not reach up to here, will it?” Those who were born as gods at an earlier time and have experienced, seen, and known the world’s [cyclic] creation and destruction will, on seeing that great fire, calm the distress of those gods, telling them, “Don’t be afraid!

Typical funny scenario not in Pali

Later, I developed and cultivated loving-kindness and, having developed and cultivated loving-kindness, at the end of life attained rebirth among the gods of radiance. The practice of the path by me and my disciples was not in vain; we obtained great reward.

In here Buddha is retelling a story of a former life.

Now let’s go over to the Pali version

Then Sunetta developed love for seven years. Having done so he did not return to this world for seven eons of cosmic expansion and contraction. As the cosmos contracted he went to the realm of streaming radiance. As it expanded he was reborn in an empty mansion of Brahmā. There he was Brahmā, the Great Brahmā, the undefeated, the champion, the universal seer, the wielder of power. He was Sakka, lord of gods, thirty-six times. Many hundreds of times he was a king, a wheel-turning monarch, a just and principled king. His dominion extended to all four sides, he achieved stability in the country, and he possessed the seven treasures. He had over a thousand sons who were valiant and heroic, crushing the armies of his enemies. After conquering this land girt by sea, he reigned by principle, without rod or sword.

But in Pali version it’s not mentioned as Buddha past life. In Pali sunneta becomes a Great Brahmā. Makes it sound great. Buddha also is said to have become many of the major gods in Pali. Which for me those thing are mentioned because it’s Brahmin/Buddhist transmission from Ashoka time ?

But why I ask this question is because I have noticed some places in the nikayas, even in Sutta Nipata which is more strange one , where Buddha is questioned as he is Brahmā. But one thing people are discussing a lot on internet is that he taught to union with Brahmā. But for example in the above sutta of agama is used that Buddha when he was Sunneta taught the way to the Brahmā world. But same as in Pali scriptures the 4 Brahmaviharas is the way.

Did maybe Ashoka unifying Sangha with Brahmins and then that is the kind of mixed transmission we got?

Thanks for the question, these are interesting passages.

I would caution you about listening to chat on the internet about Buddhism and Brahmanism: almost all of it is driven by ideology and has no historical basis. But anyway, you’ve come here to discuss it, so that is good!

Also, just to note, it’s really helpful if you give the exact reference! In this case AN 7.66.

Okay so the lively passage with the gods being afraid is as you say a funny one! It sounds like it may be an embellishment, but that is just an initial impression.

Regarding Sunetta, he is also mentioned in AN 6.54. The commentaries do not identify Sunetta as a bodhisattva (or the bodhisattva) in either passage, which I find a little surprising. In this case I would assume the Chinese text is elaborated compared to the Pali.

Not really. Despite the title, “Mahabrahma” is actually one of the lower brahmas; he’s merely the foremost of the brahmas in the first jhana realm. When the Chinese says he was reborn among the gods of radiance, this is the same as the Pali, which says he was reborn in the “realm of streaming radiance”.

However the Pali does add the subsequent passage about being reborn in the realm of Mahabrahma, and the subsequent rebirths. Since this is a stock passage, it may have been added later.

Nothing about this particularly suggests any brahmanical influence. These are just the ordinary variations you find in the texts. The addition of the Bodhisattva and some narrative details suggests the Chinese text was elaborated somewhat later than the Pali. But such elaboration lies well within the normal context of Buddhist doctrinal development.

Ashoka did not unify the Sangha with brahmins, this is conspiracy theory nonsense. The texts speak only of him identifying the false members of the Sangha and expelling them.


I’m careful Bhante. Thank you. I did read your post once in the past.

Maybe not unifying as bring together but because he wanted religions to live in peace and then sects are more in peace with each other. That’s what I meant. I do not agree that Chinese version story came later fully. Here is how I see it. This obviously is from later translation but the story is just before Ashoka send the missionaries to Sri Lanka, which he being a king and his children are ordained had a tradition that is traditionaly mixed. But I read somewhere else that during Ashoka reign Sarvastivada was already very active and popular. So I’m coming to conclusion that what happened was that in Ashoka missionary work the transmission was close to what was common in that time. But it’s made shorter with unnecessary details omitted. It was necessary so as to make no mistake and go straight to the point of a sutta or they just decided to make it like that. If Bhante see the beginning suttas of the Agama of Sarvāstivādins. I mean small things that might have been omitted in Sri Lanka to keep a well organized Canon. They had already a lot writing skills in Sri Lanka they are good in making books. So they knew how to keep stories shorter, while further suttas in the Sarvāstivādins agama you can see the starting point of change in Buddhism. But also I said it wrong but when what I meant was that verses like that of practicing love for 7 years and then get reborn as Great Brahmā was a way implemented maybe by ex Brahmins converts. Also for example many people do this. They talk against their former beliefs and also try to make others that still have their former belief become parts of what they believe. That’s not our style anymore nowadays. But in Pali the story of Great Brahmā thinking he was who he was. And Buddha telling a story that can inspire some to still also practice loving-kindness to aim to that maybe. And others understand that it is not the highest liberation and become monks nuns. For me not thinking what I read in scholars book but remembering what I read in suttas has away to be aiming at two kind of audience. Brahmaviharas for the Brahmins mainly . And full awakening for Buddhist.

But a theory I have is that the early transmission got changed during the period that Mahavihara lost power in Sri Lanka and we have is the last suttas that got transmitted a new when Mahavihara got the power again. Since we do not have the manuscript of the early phase it’s again very hard to know.

Back to my topic. I want to say that the sutta in the agama version doesn’t give the impression like it’s like a Jataka like we know it. Just Buddha saying that it was him. I think this is the way jataka stories slowly developed to it’s final stage . Which was the common after in it’s final stage with Bodhisattva title. But some in Agamas just the way Buddha ends it you know it’s him. If Buddha told his past lives we don’t know. But the phase of the beginning of birth stories we don’t have. But the following phases we have. The way you know the difference between Pali version and Agamas must be easy for Bhante. I don’t understand how Bhante does not see it yet. For example there many suttas that makes more sense in a person compare with a open mind. One might say the theme is the same. But in Pali it’s always not complete stories. I can’t say why but maybe you can maybe tell me. Just giving some examples how I do this. Kalamas sutta talks about

‘If it turns out that bad things don’t happen to people who do bad things, then I still see myself pure on both sides.’ This is the fourth consolation they’ve won.

But in the Agama version it actually say what are the both sides.
And in the
Ghaṭikāra story.

Anyone reading the story in Pali version will say why Buddha ignores who he himself was in the story. But in Agamas version it says at least more about himself. Why tell it was you and only tell about the friend who convinced you to ordain.

So that the way that Pali version suttas was made shorter. I don’t know if it was because lack of palm leaves. We can’t know.


Ohh, okay, I see your point better now.

I’ll confess, I’m not entirely following your argument here, so forgive me if I misunderstand it. But let me just make a few points.

First thing is, I think you are overly interpreting sectarian doctrines in the EBTs. You say:

There are many statements to that effect these days, so I can see why you’d think it. But it is not true. There is no serious evidence that any of the schools existed in the time of Ashoka. I studied this exact point in detail in my Sects & Sectarianism. The evidence strongly suggests that the first schism, between the Sthaviras and Mahasanghikas, happened some time after Ashoka. The Sarvastivadins developed some time later, perhaps a century or so after Ashoka, probably based on the local community at Mathura founded by Sanavasin and Upagupta.

In textual studies, there is a strong tendency for things to be added. Only rarely do we find that things are taken away. If you want to argue that something has been taken away, you need a much stronger basis. How you do this is that you look for multiple independent criteria.

For example, if you find that a certain passage has a late vocabulary; mentions places unknown in the early texts; has clumsy narrative connection with the rest of the text; and shares something in common with a known late text, then you can conclude it is likely to be late.

Just relying on one or other of these things is too subjective. If I seem reluctant to accept your arguments, don’t assume it’s because I just don’t see them. It’s because I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’ve seen lots of theories come and go, and I have a good sense for what is likely to stick.


So things are normally added. Then a lot to be memorized by reciters. Than the Collection of books becomes larger. What I normally do after writing notes that has become too much I make it shorter. So it can be that after all the new stuff was added in Theravada during Mahayana influence to have their own response to the changes going on. Suttas had to be revised to match with the new added literature of Theravada. In Mahavastu Buddha gets a prediction by Buddha Kassapa.
In Agamas Buddha didn’t reach full liberation while a monk under Buddha Kassapa. He gets no prediction. But it seems he like he became Buddha by surprise.
In Pali it just ends like all these stories with Buddha confirming it was him in past life. I still don’t understand the reason for ending it that way. Very strange