Question about three MĀ texts

i’ve found three madhyama āgamas that do not have pāli parallels. i want to know if these are considered early buddhist texts, like other suttas and āgamas that do have parallels?

i was considering reading them in my sutta group, but i would prefer to make sure we are only reading the EBTs

curious about these as well:

also DĀ #30

No one knows exactly which sutras are the earliest among the Nikayas and Agamas. People certainly have opinions that are reasoned out in different ways, but we have little historical evidence to confirm or disprove different theories. Nor do we understand exactly how and when different ideas developed and became popular in the first couple centuries of Buddhism. The textual history of Buddhism prior to the classical period (after say 200 AD) is murky and uncertain. We have a basic idea about how different schools of Buddhism arose and which were the most influential, but only a fraction of the texts that they had in their different canons still exist.

The idea that a sutra is “early” only if it has parallels is a misconception that oversimplifies the problem. People like black and white rules, but they rarely discern reality using them. So a person should ask themselves if they are interested in knowing reality or if they are interested in telling themselves a comforting story. Either is valid, I really do believe, but a person should be clear in their own minds about what it is they are doing with ancient texts. Then there will be less opportunity for self-delusion.

Parallels are useful when we compare them and note the differences and similarities between versions of a text. It tells us about how one school of Buddhism composed and maintained its texts and perhaps which parts of those texts that existed before the later schools arose. When there are no parallels, the text is sometimes a question mark; it’s history may be impossible to determine. Sometimes they actually do have parallels in the form of similar content or passages. MA 80, for example, is largely a retelling of the gradual path, so it has multiple parallels. It’s just the background story that lacks a parallel, as far as I know.

Other texts, like DA 30 are uncertain because modern Buddhists tend to think mythology is later material, even though mythologies are some of the oldest forms of religious text. Some Buddhist myths, such as the myth of the wheel-turning king, retell stories that may predate Buddhism by centuries. Some borrow parts of the most ancient myths that predate Buddhism by millennia, such as the myth of the great flood or the god Yama. Some may have been created by Buddhists to adapt local folklore. Again, the exact history is difficult to know for sure.

The content of DA 30 existed in different forms in other Buddhist schools - the Sarvastivadins placed the same material in their Abhidharma. There were several parallel texts translated to Chinese as well, so DA 30 certainly does have several different parallels. They just weren’t in the Theravada Tipitaka, so they don’t appear in SuttaCentral’s parallel lists. The Theravada-centric bias continues to be a problem in this way. Theravadins want to read parallels of this or that Pali sutta, but not parallels of a Chinese text, so the parallel lists on SC are missing data.

I would suggest being open-minded and aware of the uncertainties of ancient history and the biases of the scholarship to date. I consider all the Nikayas and Agamas to be early-to-middle era Buddhist scriptures. Until someone takes the time to study them all as a whole in a detailed, analytical, and unbiased fashion - which has only just begun in a halting fashion - the jury is still out on which are the earliest sutras and which are not. In my opinion, at least, for what it’s worth. I’ve been translating EBTs and looking at parallels fulltime for five years now, but apparently most of my opinions are dross according to the Internet. So much for opinions!


@cdpatton your opinion isn’t dross to me. I’m really interested in your reply and in your work in general.
The past two weeks in my sutta group we actually read DĀ 1, and it generated a lot of discussion. For most it was their first time reading an āgama.
I must admit I really have no idea what constitutes authenticity and have mostly relied on hearsay and a few lines from the authenticity paper by venerables sujato and brahmali.

I’ve mostly just assumed the suttas were all authentic because I’ve needed to have faith in them. True enough, I have to rely on practice to determine truth but will take any help I can get


How early is considered early ?

Thanks for your explanation. I feel like we are now doomed to have to repeat this endlessly so folks will understand.


I am looking for those sayings that occurred in the first five hundred years. According to one sutta, the dhamma would be uncorrupted for five hundred years, but after that would be the introduction of fake gold, of counterfeit dhamma.

I’ve been able to use the suttas provisionally but I’d like to have a firmer understanding of what I actually place my faith in, you know?

Buddhaghosa calls the Dīgha-Nikāya as the “Dīghāgama” (Dīgha-āgama) right at the opening part of his DN commentary – “tattha dīghāgamo nāma sīlakkhandhavaggo, mahāvaggo, pāthikavaggoti vaggato tivaggo hoti”. At various other places too in the commentaries and the subcommentaries, the same name is used, for example

  • dīghāgama-varassa dasabala, guṇagaṇaparidīpanassa aṭṭhakathaṃ”;
  • “aṭṭhakathāya vijānatha, dīghāgamanissitaṃ atthanti”
  • “sattapaññāsa suttāni, honti aṅguttarāgame
  • “majjhimapamāṇasuttaṅkitassa idha majjhimāgamavarassa”
  • “saṃyuttavaggasuttādivasena saṃyuttāgamassa vibhāgaṃ dassetuṃ”
  • “āyasmatā kāmabhūtherena puṭṭho saṃyuttāgamavare saḷāyatanavagge”
  • “tattha aṅguttarāgamo nāma ekakanipāto dukanipāto tikanipāto…”
  • “idañhi majjhimāgame mūlapaṇṇāsake cūḷasāropamasutta”

So if your group have read the Pali canon, they very likely have read āgama texts before.

I’m no kind of expert on Buddhaghosa, but he is most certainly not talking about the texts we now refer to as the DA.

I wasn’t saying he was. What I’m saying is – he’s referring to the Pali “Nikāyas” as the “Āgamas”. So the word Āgama is not limited to non-Pāli EBTs.

But what is your point? Clearly when @Sovatthika said

he was referring to what we now call agamas. This has nothing to do with the way the term may be used by Buddhaghosa.

My point is, the Nikāyas are also Āgamas, they are the āgamas of the Pāli tradition, and it’s not a personal idiosyncrasy of Buddhaghosa either, it was a widely used term among traditional pre-western pali traditions.

Sovatthika would have meant it in the sense that Āgamas ipso facto are something other than the Pali Nikāyas. I was suggesting that the word āgama is not traditionally meant to be used in that limited sense in which modern western Buddhists use it.

But that’s not the point of his question or this topic. It just adds unnecessary confusion and wasted time. If you want to make a point about the use of the term “āgama” then you can start a new post.

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I wasn’t expecting to get into a to and fro discussion (or to start a separate discussion) about my comment rather than about the main topic. Just a short note/clarification that āgama doesnt necessarily exclude the Pāli Nikāyas.

actually after Buddha passing away after the first 100 years it seems the dhamma already started get corrupted which happened at the second council .

Wonderful! This is main reason I translate these texts; so that people can appreciate them and discover that they exist. They’ve been left ignored for too long. Academic study is one thing, but I’ve never been terribly interested in the ivory tower scene. I just have to involve myself in it to ensure I know what I am doing as a translator.

Of the sutras you’ve asked about, I think MA 7 is the most mysterious - I’m not aware of any parallels that fit its content. MA 176 seems to be a technical sutra about moving from one meditation stage or attainment to the next. It’s kind fascinating in that it describes meditation on a more practical level than sutras usually do, but then it’s also very mechanical and esoteric. It seems only a couple lines are really important; the rest is standard repetitions. MA 80 is parallel with other sutras that lay out the gradual path like DN 2 does. This one is the Sarvastivada version.

DA 11 and 12 are variations on sutras like DA 9 and 10 - the Sangiti and Dasottara Sutras. DA 11 is the Dasottara Sutra cut in half by omitting five of the ten questions. The content is exactly the same otherwise. DA 12 is another apparently unique sutra. I’m not aware of another sutra that organizes teachings along the lines of whether they lead to good rebirth, bad rebirth, or nirvana.

DA 30 has numerous parallels in Pali suttas that scholars haven’t taken the time to document. There are sections in SN containing much of the chapter on Nagas and Garudas (Nagas in SN 28, and Supannas in SN 29), and passages found in the chapter on the Hells can be found in MN suttas like MN 130. It’s clearly an old and shared mythological literature. I think in Pali there is a paracanonical collection of myths bearing the same title as this sutra, but I have not been able to find the text itself or a translation. It would be interesting to compare it to the other sources that exist. There is also a Tibetan translation of the Sarvastivada version of DA 30, but I’ve no access to it either. It one of those texts that no one studies and requires some cooperation to bring material in three different languages together. So, they remain siloed in their respective traditions.


Can I add that I took The Related Discourses | 1. The Aggregates | 48 (265). Bubbles and Foam (parallel to SN22.95) to my sutta group and it also generated a great conversation. Thanks Charles!

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Ah, but how can we be sure that sutta was from the first five hundred years :joy: :pray: