Parallels to the similes in AN 5.28?

In the Pali texts, there are some very vivid similes in AN 5.28 about noble right samadhi with five factors. These include a simile about bath powder, a lotus root deep in the water, etc. But I’m looking at parallels… None.

These have always struck me as interesting but also kind of odd. I say odd because if such similes were present or current among the Sarvastivadins, etc., I would have expected them to have been referenced here or there in Chinese Buddhism, or in classical meditation manuals. Yet I have not seen the Pali similes in that context.

However, the Sarvastivadins did use a simile about a lotus root for the Third Dhyana in a different sense when referring to the breath going through the pores of the body. That one was passed down in the Mahavibhasa and other later texts. Also, in the Sarvastivada / Mulasarvastivada text, Sutra on Entering the Womb, the pores of a developing fetus are compared with the holes of a lotus root.

A cursory look through the agamas for references to lotus roots did not seem to yield anything directly related. So I’m throwing out a broader net… Is anyone else aware of parallels to the similes in AN 5.28 ?


The bath powder simile occurs in 5 Suttas of the Pali canon, and so do the other similes.


I can’t answer your question about the agamas, but it’s not quite accurate to say that the simile is about “a lotus root deep in the water.” The image is of complete lotus plants in a pond, and "From the tip to the root they’re drenched, steeped, filled, and soaked with cool water. "


Thanks very much for that. I’m now finding some nice parallels in the agamas. :+1:

At a minimum, we have:

MA 81


MA 98


That’s enough to establish that these are shared similes across the nikayas and agamas.

Actually, they are remarkably similar. These are great.

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Glad if I could help! :pray:

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@cdpatton just so happens to have some nice translations of these MA sutras available as well:

It’s interesting to see these textual traditions separated by more than 2000 years and still using common similes and formulas. Sometimes I’m surprised by differences, but other times surprised at how similar these texts can be. The history of Buddhism is quite remarkable.


One of things I’ve been noticing lately, more so now that I’ve been carefully comparing the different versions of the Sangiti Sutta, is that the Theravada canon appears to incorporate alot of Sarvastivada material. It also has material from the other traditions, as though at some point they attempted to gather up all the dharmas, perhaps when Buddhism had declined in India, to preserve them all. It’s interesting.

The oddity I recall about these similes is that the Theravada explicitly equates them with the four jhanas, but the Madhyama Agama doesn’t go that far and includes them in the Abodes of Mindfulness Sutra.


Can you give an example for that? How do you determine which school created the material?


Usually I have to couch my impressions with “probably” and “perhaps” and “possibly,” but I’ve been studying the Sangiti Sutta very closely recently, and it’s quite interesting to compare the four versions against each other. Of course, this is just this one sutta, and I wouldn’t extrapolate that to everything in the Theravada canon. It’s more complex than that. They all have old and new material in them.

One example is the two versions of three samadhis that are found in DN 33. The first version agrees with the three samadhis that are in DA 9 and T 12, and the second three samadhis is the version found in the Sarvâstivāda’s Saṃgītiparyāya (T1536). It’s similar with the three fires. The first version is found in all four versions of the sutta, but the second three fires is only shared with the Sarvâstivāda version.

Sometimes it looks like a progressive growth of lists, like with the three lists of three elements in DN 33. T 12 and DA 9 only have one each (and different ones), while the Sarvâstivāda has both of those two, and one more is added in DN 33. The three lists of three cravings are like that too. T 12 and DA 9 have one list each (different from each other), T1536 has both of those lists, and DN 33 adds a third list to make three.

Overall, there’s much more material that’s in DN 33 but not in DA 9/T 12 that matches with the Sarvâstivāda version than vice versa. So DA 9 and T 12 are on the whole smaller collections, and DN 33 is a bit larger than T1536 in terms of the total number of lists because it has some unique lists that seem extraneous, like someone was attempting to be super-comprehensive.

I plan to present a study of the parallels, but not until I’ve written it up and analyzed it fully. It’s complex but also quite interesting given that we have two commentaries (Theravada and Sarvâstivāda) and most of a third one from the Dharmaguptaka that was discovered in Gandhari.

In any case, the similes that OP in this thread was asking about seems like a similar situation, but I’m not aware of direct parallels to check that aren’t Sarvâstivāda. The similes don’t occur in DA or EA that I know of, which are the two non-Sarvâstivāda Agamas that we have. But that’s often the situation; not having much of the other Agama canons, it’s hard to know exactly how different they were.


I’m not sure if it’s relevant or realistic, but it may be worth considering some closely related monastic sects as well. In particular, we know that some Mahisasaka were absorbed into the Theravada in Sri Lanka. Faxian also found a copy of the Mahisasaka Vinaya at Abhayagiri Vihara.

While the Sarvastivadins are known for being sort of a dominant monastic sect in the north and northwest, the Mahisasaka stretched from the northwest down to the south, and evidently into Sri Lanka. They may have transmitted some texts very similar to those of the Sarvastivadins.

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Yeah, it’d be an interesting subject to try to track down. There may be other parallels that exist that could be associated with other sects. I’m just only aware of them in the Theravada and Sarvâstivāda canon.

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I’ve discovered these analogies are also in the Dirgha Agama, in the Dharmaguptaka version of the Ambaṭṭha sutta (DN 3). They are directly associated with the four dhyanas like they are in the Theravada’s Mindfulness of Body Sutta (MN 119). The passage begins at T1.85b11.

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