Peter Jackson's note on the canonicity of the Netti and other late books in Burma

Ven Brahmali just shared with me this note on the canonical status of certain of the late books in the Khuddhaka Nikaya.

The author is Peter Jackson, and it’s from the Journal of the Pali Text Society, vol. XXVIII, 2006:

The Canonicity of the Netti and Other Works

In her book The Pali Literature of Burma[1] Mabel Bode has the following statement:

Burmese tradition adds to the fifteen ancient texts of the Khuddakanikāya four other works — the Milindapaṇha [sic], the Suttasaṅgaha, the Peṭakopadesa, and the Netti or Nettipakaraṇa.

Duroiselle,[2] reviewing this book, criticizes her statement:

No educated Burman, lay or monk, ever included these four works among the Piṭaka books of the Khuddakanikāya. …

This is a very sweeping generalization, and therefore it would be very difficult to prove, but quite easy to disprove, which latter is my object here.

In the introduction to the Sumaṅgalavilāsinī, in the account of the First Council, Buddhaghosa has a section on the minor books, including the following words:[3]

Jātakaṃ Mahāniddeso Cūlaniddeso Paṭisambhidāmaggo Suttanipāto Dhammapadaṃ Udānaṃ Itivuttakaṃ Vimāna-Petavatthu Thera-Therigāthā ti imaṃ tantiṃ saṃgāyitvā Khuddakagantho nāma ayan ti ca vatvā … Dīghabhāṇakā vadanti, Majjhimabhāṇakā pana Cariyāpiṭaka- Apadāna-Buddhavaṃsesu saddhiṃ sabbam pi taṃ Khuddakaganthaṃ … ti vadanti.
“‘Jātaka, Mahāniddesa, Cūlaniddesa, Paṭisambhidāmagga, Suttanipāta, Dhammapada, Udāna, Itivuttaka, Vimāna-Petavatthu, Thera-Therigāthā’ – having chanted together this text, having said, ‘This is named Khuddakagantha’ …” — thus say the Dīgha reciters, but the Majjhima reciters say, “Together with Cariyāpiṭaka, Apadāna, and Buddhavaṃsa, all that is also Khuddakagantha …”

Thus there appears to be a difference of opinion between the reciters on whether the Cariyāpiṭaka, etc., are canonical.[4]

On this point, Ñāṇābhivaṃsa, who was Mahāsaṅgharājā of Burma[5] at an early age, in his Sīlakkhandhavagga-abhinavaṭīkā (on D I, completed, according to the closing verses, in 2345 B.E.), has this comment:[6]

Cariyāpiṭaka-Buddhavaṃsānañ c’ ettha aggahaṇaṃ Jātakagatikattā, Netti-Peṭakopadesādīnañ ca Niddesa-Paṭisambhidāmaggagatikattā.
And here Cariyāpiṭaka and Buddhavaṃsa are not taken because they go under Jātaka; and Netti, Peṭakopadesa, and so on, because they go under Niddesa and/or Paṭisambhidāmagga.

In the first half of the sentence, which is carried over from the old ṭīkā,[7] Ñāṇābhivaṃsa is claiming that there was no substantive difference on the contents of the Canon between the reciters: that the Dīgha reciters really did recognize e.g. the Cariyāpiṭaka as canonical, but counted it as part of the Jātaka rather than a separate book. Similarly, in the second half he is claiming that Buddhaghosa and all the other classical authorities considered the Netti to be canonical, but counted it as part of the Niddesa or Paṭisambhidāmagga when they listed the books of the Khuddakanikāya.

I think it is clear from this that Ñāṇābhivaṃsa considers the Netti and Peṭakopadesa to be just as canonical as the Cariyāpiṭaka and Buddhavaṃsa.

Peter Jackson

[1] Royal Asiatic Society, 1909, pp. 4f.

[2] Journal of the Burma Research Society 1.1 (1911), p. 121.

[3] Sv I 15.

[4] This has been mentioned by various writers before, of course.

[5] My thanks to Lance Cousins for drawing my attention to this last fact.

[6] Introduction, Section 17, Chaṭṭha Saṅgāyana CD-ROM, Version 3.0 (Igatpuri: Vipassana Research Institute, 1999).

[7] Sv-pṭ I 29. There are textual variations, but they do not affect my argument.


what is 2345 B.E.? Is that a year in Buddhist Era? What year is that in BCE or CE?

Is there any conclusion that we can draw from that that article, other than disproving the first statement that no educated Burmese consider the 4 works canonical? The Theravada lineages aside from Burma consider those 4 works paracanonical?

I’m glad that he could take a break from directing those gigantic Lord of the Rings films to do write such an informative note!


Yes, it’s “Buddhist Era”, and is the official calendar in Thailand, and widely used elsewhere:

You can convert dates here:

That’s right. The point is simply that some Burmese take these to be fully canonical.

That’s correct.

The texts in question are included on SC, as we inherited them from the Burmese Sixth Council edition.


Neat! I should bookmark this :slight_smile: .


It is from the latter date that we take the Buddhist Era (Thailand dates it as year 1, Sri Lanka as year zero). (After entering dates:) for years in the Thai calendar subtract one year.

Wait, won’t we want to add a year? Or subtract one to get Sri Lanka’s, since the display is the Thai?