Reading SN 12.15 in light of its parallel SA 301

SN 12.15 has always appeared to me to be awkwardly structured. When I read it in light of its parallel SA 301, I believe that this is so because a redactor moved a paragraph from its rightful place in order to insert a paragraph not found in SA 301. I know the Pali probably came earlier than the Chinese, but interpolations in SN 12.15 could have occured after SA 301. There are other additions and subtractions as well, but I will get to them later.

SA 301 is much more logically arranged than SN 12.15. The flow is much more natural and easy to understand. Hence, I will do a comparison of analogs in the order as laid out in SA 301.

First we hear the introduction:

Other than that they appear to have been given in different places, I do not see an issue here. I know some will say that the differences are just due to different recitations. In either case, the order in SA 301 appears more intelligible.

Next we hear the question being asked.

This may just be a difference between how things were translated, but as they are translated, SA 301 appears to be asking about how to get into a mental state called ‘right view’ where SN 12.15 appears to be asking about a concept called ‘right view’.

Next we hear the Buddha start by introducing the two extremes that the middle way avoids.

Note that in SA 301 we see the phrase “people in the world”. I believe ‘people in the world’ includes both average people and asthetics who have not realized the middle way. ‘People in the world’ also brings up associations with Ud 1.10 “you won’t be ‘in that’”. The two bases are what people in the world adhere to. They are the extremes. This appears to be more experiential and less conceptual than SN 12.15 which talks about the world relying on to notions or concepts.

Now we get to a very interesting difference. SA 301 segways very nicely into an alternative to the extremes.

The idea is to drop our attachment to self. When we do that suffering will arise, but not linger. This brings to mind the parable of the two arrows, to me anyway.

SN 12.15 has in place of the seqway to the alternative something that comes in later and more naturally in SA 301.

I will discuss this when we get to where it occurs in SA 301.

The above quote from SN 12.15 is followed by what appears to be the analog of the second sentence of the quote above from SA 301

SN 12.15 appears to be inserting a paragraph between the two sentences of the quote from SA 301 where it does not belong.

Next SA 301 tells us that the alternative is the middle way

SN 12.15 says only

Next SA 301 appears to tell us that the trick to finding the alternative of not being attached to self. It is found in the transition between not the world and the world or the transition between the world and not the world. That new found state would be a world without self.

The analog for this in SN 12.15 was what was stuffed in between the two sentences that I mentioned earlier where it seemed like a non-sequitur to me.

SA 301 then goes on to confirm the state found in between when transitioning between the extremes is in fact the middle way

SN12.15 ends by inserting the following not found in SA 301

and then seems to confirm that the state found by the right transitions is the middle way. Remember that the paragraph this relies on was stuffed between two sentences that were together in SA 301.

I am curious if other find SA 301 more clear and meaningful that SN 12.15 and if they think passages were moved around and inserted later in SN 12.15.

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Hi. In Dhamma, the arising of self-view is the arising of suffering. In Dhamma, suffering cannot arise without self-view. Thus, the SN 12.15 text here is accurate.

Yes, however the above seems to be the same meaning as SN 12.15. I recall suggesting in a related topic that ‘existence’ & ‘non-existence’ are the wrong views of the unenlightened.

SN 12.15 revolves around the Pali terms ‘atthita’ & ‘natthita’, which seem to have no relationship to the Bahiya Sutta.

‘Atthita’ seems to mean things are held to inherently exist, such as ‘my mother’ has a fixed existence.

‘Natthita’ seems to mean, in this context, that existent things (such as ‘my mother’) can then ‘not-exist’, such as my mother dying. This is ‘non-existence’. Therefore, even for years after my mother has died, she still ‘exists’ as a fixed entity in my mind, even though she is gone. Thus the fixed entity or thing is subjected to ‘non-existence’ to the fact of deeming its ‘fixed existence’. In short, this is how the world thinks. Things are taken to be real & fixed, if when they are gone.

Where as with Dependent Origination, it seems ‘my mother’ is merely a conditioned idea, arising & passing via ignorance & self-views arising & passing. With Dependent Origination, it seems while there is a biological mother, there is no real existent ‘entity’, ‘self’ or ‘being’ that is “my mother”. The idea of “my mother” is merely “upadana” & “bhava”; at best “convention” (per SN 5.10).

Mmm… there generally cannot be a “world” (“loka”) without “self” because generally in dhamma the word “loka” is synonymous with “self” per SN 12.44.

Actually, I agree with the above. :smiley: :smiley: :+1:t2: :+1:t2:

In the previous topic, I suggested “the world” in the 2nd paragraph referred to “the world” as defined unusually in SN 35.82.

But now I think “the world” in SN 12.15 merely has a very ordinary conventional meaning, such as in SN 12.10.

Thus, if we reorder the sentences, SN 12.15 is saying:

  1. This world of ordinary people rely on the ideas of atthita & natthita.
  2. This world of ordinary people are shackled by self-views.
  3. But the one with right view has no self-views because they see the arising of self-view is the arising of suffering; they see the cessation of self-view is the cessation of suffering.
  4. Therefore, when the arising of how ‘the world of the unenlightened think’ is seen with right wisdom, the notion of natthita will not occur.
  5. When the cessation of how ‘the world of the unenlightened think’ is seen with right wisdom, the notion of atthita will not occur.

:sunny: :surfing_man:t2:

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Thanks for the analysis:

We discussed the loss of that line by the Northern schools some time ago.

Here’s a quote from Sylvester:

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Sir. As I am ignorant of the various Buddhist schools, could you kindly explain the meaning of the Upanisadic “sarvaṃ asti” and why is it unrelated to the Sarvastivadin motif. Thank you :saluting_face:

Sarvāstivāda is a Sanskrit term that can be glossed as: “the theory of all that exists”. The Sarvāstivāda argued that all dhammas exist in the past, present and future, the “three times”. Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakośakārikā states, "He who affirms the existence of the dharmas of the three time periods [past, present and future] is held to be a Sarvāstivādin.

The Sarvāstivāda (Sanskrit and Pali: 𑀲𑀩𑁆𑀩𑀢𑁆𑀣𑀺𑀯𑀸𑀤, Chinese: 說一切有部; pinyin: Shuō Yīqièyǒu Bù ) was one of the early Buddhist schools established around the reign of Ashoka (3rd century BCE).[2] It was particularly known as an Abhidharma tradition, with a unique set of seven Abhidharma works.

I suppose I am leading to the question: could SN 12.15, SN 12.47 and SN 12.48 be late suttas for the purpose of refuting the Sarvāstivāda school? :thinking:

To add, the Patisambhidhamagga contains the following paragraph:

So he knows, sees, recognizes, penetrates, the four generalizations [of past cause, present result, present cause, future result], the three periods of time, and the dependent origination with three links, doing so in these twenty modes [with five modes in each generalization].

While not exactly on-topic, why or not in your opinion does the above paragraph reflect the Sarvāstivāda school? Thanks :pray:t2:

Thanks for pointing me to this dharmawheel thread. I think I may join the forum there.

I am not so sure that the northern school dropped the ‘all exists’ and ‘all does not exist’. I think it is more plausible that it was added later to the Pali. It is totally unnecessary.

With regard to Bhante Bodhi’s remarks about the Buddha not hesitating to talk about ontology, I don’t buy that. That is why I think so much of the canon is secondary. What makes Snp 4.3 so extraordinary is it’s dismissal of theories. Snp 4.2 describes a framework for liberation in this life. Again, something truly extraordinary. How do we accommodate these suttas. Did they drop material as well? That would seem hard to believe given the constraints of the verse.

Possibly we can consider translating a little differently, such as:

  1. The All has existence
  2. The All has non-existence.

For me, it makes no difference because the core matter of this sutta is the meaning of atthita & natthita; which are wrong views, both in whole & in part.

But it seems not about ontology. The All is ontology. But regarding The All as characterized by ‘existence’ & ‘non-existence’ is phenomenology. The primary matter here is understanding ‘atthita’ & ‘natthita’ are a type of view (ditthi; phenomenology). ‘Atthita’ seems not to be a statement about ontology.

I think how you put it makes more sense. I think it is more inline with Snp 4.11 ‘s last three verses. That said, the order still does not make sense so I am inclined to believe it came later, a clumsy interpolation.

The terms, sabbam atthiti ‘everything exists’ (cf. Skt. sarvam asti ‘all exists’) and sabbam natthiti, ‘everything does not exist’ added in SN 12.15 (cf. SN 12.47 and SN 12.48, no SA counterparts), refer to the present time.

Cf. the following texts in SA/SN:

Pages 71-2 from The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism Choong Mun-keat 2000.pdf (141.3 KB)
Pages 103-5 from The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism Choong Mun-keat 2000-2.pdf (198.8 KB)

SN12.15 = SA 301:
Pages 192-5 from The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism Choong Mun-keat 2000.pdf (274.5 KB)

Sarvastivadin = Sarva-asti-vada. They literally were called “the proponents of everything exists.” So, yeah, I can imagine some doctrinal controversies have found their way into these sutras. One of the specific controversies Sarvastivadins and other Buddhists went round and around about was whether the past and future exist or not. Sarvastivadins broke with tradition by creating a theory that they do, in some potential fashion, which other Buddhists took issue with. But they forged ahead regardless and build a philosophical edifice that culminated in texts like the Mahavibhasa, Abhidharma-kosa, and Yogacarabhumi.

What I’d find very interesting is if there’s any parallels in the Dharmaguptaka texts that survive. My offhand suspicion would be that it would look like the Theravada version, but it would also show us what the Theravadins may have added or changed over time.

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Note: it is a book, and was his doctoral dissertation submitted in 1998 at University of Queensland.

The following is his recent article on this issue, such as the so-called ‘sutra-anga’ protion of SA/SN:

“Ācāriya Buddhaghosa and Master Yinshun 印順 on the Three-aṅga Structure of Early Buddhist Texts”, Research on the Saṃyukta-āgama (Dharma Drum Institute of Liberal Arts, Research Series 8; edited by Dhammadinnā), Taiwan: Dharma Drum Corporation, August 2020, pp. 883-932.

@CurlyCarl ,

My question to you is do you read this sutta as being about extremes of philosophical positions or extremes of states of mind?

I read it as being about states of mind.

Any ideas where those texts can be found on line?

Also, a question on the Chinese source for SA 301. Does the word for consciousness appear in the text? The translation below does not explicitly mention it, but it does say “and so on …” I am curious what the Chinese is actually saying.

SA 301
“That is called avoiding the two extremes, and teaching the middle way, namely: Because this exists, that exists; because this arises, that arises. That is, conditioned by ignorance, activities arise, and so on …, and thus this whole mass of suffering arises. When ignorance ceases, activities cease, and so on …, and thus this whole mass of suffering ceases.”

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The beginning already of this, I read first time, that is already so Indian. Thats why I sometimes doubt some of pali was earlier.

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Unfortunately, we don’t have much of the Dharmaguptaka sutra pitaka, just the Dirgha Agama in Chinese and some fragments that have been discovered in Gandhari finds. We do have their Vinaya and most of their Abhidharma in Chinese and Gandhari. It would require searching for sutra quotes in the other two pitakas.

The twelve links of dependent origination have been abbreviated. The expanded passage would list them all.


There are different versions of different lengths of the links of dependent arising. Why do you think it is the an abbreviation of the twelve?

When I read the Chinese English translation

I read the third and forth paragraph in my quote as the explanation ("Why is this?) for the first and second paragraphs. It seems to me to be explaning how dropping the attachment to self leads to the end of suffering in this life.

Is it outside the realm of possibility that what the translator has as

actually means

Is there really the equivalent of “etc …” in the Chinese or is that assumed? What tells you the list is abbreviated?

Sorry to beat a dead horse, but I think it is important when trying to understand the point of the sutta. Is the middle way living in the world without attachment to self which eliminates suffering now or is the middle way a lesson in the twelve links of arising?

I assume it’s all twelve because it begins with ignorance and volition and ends with the formation of the whole mass of suffering. So, it would also include the finale of “grief, sorrow, trouble, and pain” too. That would be the common understanding of the abbreviation, I would think. If it was something nonstandard, I doubt that it would have been abbreviated.

The Chinese abbreviations are handled the same way as in Pali, the word “up to” (乃至) is inserted to stand for what’s skipped over, and that’s the case here. It functions like an ellipsis. In this passage, the abbreviated list reads:

無明、行…乃至 …純大苦聚集
Ignorance, volition … up to … the whole mass of suffering forms.

Sometimes, abbreviations aren’t marked, such as when a list of items like the five aggregates are treated with the same sentence over and over. Then, the Chinese requires a little interpretation, but it’s usually obvious that a sentence is being omitted for all but the last item.

Well, I think two different things are being talked about at the same time. In this sutra, right view involves dropping the worldly views of existence and nonexistence, and then the middle way is brought up as the alternative to those extremes, which is the Buddha’s idea of dependent origination. Things exist temporarily based on circumstances. This is where writers like Nagarjuna get their argument that:

the middle way => dependent origination => emptiness

All three of these concepts are more or less synonymous to Nagarjuna because they refer to the Buddhist concept of an in-between reality of neither-existing-nor-not-existing. Mahayanists use reams and reams of tree bark and paper talking about this idea ad nauseum.


Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that for them neither-existing-nor-not-existing doesn’t apply either?

I don’t doubt that you are correct. It is interesting that “Things exist temporarily based on circumstances.” seems to be one of those things the Buddha will not declare in

Bhante @sujato translates ‘loko’ to cosmos, but it can mean world.

The Chinese parallels to MN 63 are not translated to English here at SuttaCentral. I take it they have do not declare if the world is eternal or not.

Interesting. How do you account for the following:

This seems to imply “you” is gone, but the world remains. There is a seen, heard, etc… without you.