SA 79 vs SN 22.62

SA 79 states each of the five aggregates exists in the past, in the future, and in the present , but SN 22.62 states each of the five aggregates existed (ahosi) in the past, will exist (bhavissati) in the future, and exists (atthi) in the present :

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

Which one is correct?

The pali sutta, i would say means that the concepts of past and future exist as thoughts within the present moment. They do not exist in a concrete sense separate from the present. Rather, they are thoughts designated as “memory” or “imagination” in relation to the present. They ‘are’.

These designations of past and future thoughts are real phenomena that arise and cease in the present.

This is relevant because some individuals attempt to deny or ignore these thoughts in an effort to live shamelessly (without the weight of responsibility of their actions) in the present moment. Attempting to avoid guilt, shame, or anxiety associated with present and past actions and future consequences. However, denying the reality of past, future, or even the present itself as an illusion is not a practical solution to overcoming suffering. It is an attempt to escape suffering by disregarding one’s existence and treating it all as a mere illusion…while at the same time affirming its reality. A contradiction which only fuels the dukkha.

In the pali sutta referenced, even the significant ascetics and brahmins with mistaken views did not go so far as to deny the existence of past, future, or present designations. The past and future, although existing as thoughts, are relevant phenomena that should not be dismissed or denied as illusions. They provide valuable information about one’s actions and the potential consequences one may face.

To deny these thoughts based on their nature as mere designations is a product of suffering and an attempt to escape it by presently indulging in craving-driven actions and ignoring the greater context of consequences. It becomes a vicious cycle, as one avoids acknowledging that one’s craving-based actions directly nourish suffering. Instead, one tries to deny the reality of everything, including time, and continues blindly pursuing desires driven by craving.

The perspective of “only the present moment exists” and disregarding the past and future as unreal is often propagated by certain contemporary ascetics and brahmins. Such a viewpoint fails to recognize the complexity of actions and their consequences and therefore will perpetuate unwholesome behavior driven by craving leaving the individual liable to suffering just like before.

“Only the present moment exists! Now is the knowing, past is JUST a memory, future is yet to to come…so dont worry about it just flow with the knowing! I.e do whatever you find pleasurable as long as you know it it’s all good because nothing is real anyway.” …so say some ascetics and brahmins.

This is an example of a sectarian controversy causing sutras to be rewritten to match a school’s beliefs. SA 79 is Sarvastivadin, and they believed things have a latent existence in the past and future. Non-Sarvastivadins generally reject that idea. Past things have ceased and future things haven’t arisen yet.

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Similarly the passage in SN12.15 Kaccānagotta Sutta

‘All exists’: this is one extreme.
‘All does not exist’: this is the second extreme.

is not there in parallels such as SA301: SuttaCentral

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It seems both (SA 79 and SN 22.62) are not correct, if according to the middle way teachings based on SN12.15 and SA301. The five aggregates are empty of both existence and non-existence, empty of self or of anything belonging to self:

Pages 192-5 from The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism Choong Mun-keat 2000.pdf (274.5 KB)

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Yes, exactly. These are not too uncommon in the Sarvastivadin agamas. The foundational doctrine of the Sarvastivada concerns the existence of dharmas of the past, present, and future. The division of dharmas into past, present, and future, was worked into some of their agama texts.

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The sutta is referring to the ‘designations’ of “was, will be and is”, not to the state of the aggregates.

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Is there some reason to believe the causation couldn’t have gone the other way? I can easily imagine a change in their version of the sutta causing their school to have a different belief…

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This is what Ven. Saṃghabhadra said, that due to a difference between different versions of suttas/sutras in the different schools whole doctrines were made.

It seems Mahayana ‘emptiness’ teachings follow the middle way teachings essentially based on the SA/SN sutras, such as SA301 = SN 12.15 (but not SA 79 and SN 22.62).

I find these cases very interesting. It would be cool to find more instances of stuff like this.

One more which comes to find is the Mahānidāna-sutta. Vetter wrote a paper on it arguing that the Pali version has significant additions in comparison to the Agama versions, but its in German.

Vetter, Tillman 1994b: “Zwei schwierige Stellen im Mahānidānasutta, zur
Qualität der Überlieferung im Pāli-Kanon”, Wiener Zeitschrift
für die Kunde Südasiens und Archiv für Indische Philosophie,
38: 137–160.

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It probably would depend on what we’re talking about since it’s not necessary for one sectarian belief have arisen in the same way as all others did. Could Sarvastivadins have based their entire identity around a textual corruption? I’ve seen strange enough things in my work with Chinese sources that nothing would surprise me. But even if that were true, they did some editing later on to support the position further. I mean, could all the sutra passages that support their theory be random textual errors?

Sometimes these sectarian differences are a bit too elaborate to believe they could be random chance. Take for example the way gifts the Buddha are handled in different school’s canons. There’s conscious editing taking place.

Another example that comes to mind is the parables of the soap maker, et al. Theravadins happily copied them into numerous MN suttas as illustrations of the four jhanas, but they are missing from the parallels in MA. And in MA 81, where the parables were left in place, the dhyana formulas were instead erased almost entirely. Sarvastivadins didn’t think the two things were associated. One or both sides was doing some editing.

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Possibly because it suited Sutrantika arguments, having them associated?

It seems “all exists” or “everything exists” (Skt. sarvam asti, P. sabbam atthīti) can refer to both the existence in the present time and the existence of all three times (past, present, and future). Cf.:
Pages 103-5 from The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism Choong Mun-keat 2000-2.pdf (198.8 KB)

So, the expression “All exists … All does not exist …” shown only in SN 12.15 does not present clearly as a sectarian view.

but that is not at all what the ebts say when this issue comes up, rather the discussion is framed in such a way as to make the distinction between past present and future:

Citta, suppose they were to ask you,
Sace taṁ, citta, evaṁ puccheyyuṁ:
‘Did you exist in the past? This anticipates one of the great philosophical debates of sectarian Buddhists which gave rise to the Sarvāstivāda, the school whose core doctrine was that “all exists (in the past, future, and present)”. The Buddha describes past, future, and present with the three grammatical tenses.
‘ahosi tvaṁ atītamaddhānaṁ, na tvaṁ nāhosi;
Will you exist in the future?
bhavissasi tvaṁ anāgatamaddhānaṁ, na tvaṁ na bhavissasi;
Do you exist now?’
atthi tvaṁ etarahi, na tvaṁ natthī’ti.
How would you answer?”
Evaṁ puṭṭho tvaṁ, citta, kinti byākareyyāsī”ti?

“Sir, if they were to ask me this,
“Sace maṁ, bhante, evaṁ puccheyyuṁ:
‘ahosi tvaṁ atītamaddhānaṁ, na tvaṁ na ahosi;
bhavissasi tvaṁ anāgatamaddhānaṁ, na tvaṁ na bhavissasi;
atthi tvaṁ etarahi, na tvaṁ natthī’ti.
I’d answer like this,
Evaṁ puṭṭho ahaṁ, bhante, evaṁ byākareyyaṁ:
‘I did exist in the past.
‘ahosāhaṁ atītamaddhānaṁ, nāhaṁ na ahosiṁ;
I will exist in the future.
bhavissāmahaṁ anāgatamaddhānaṁ, nāhaṁ na bhavissāmi;
I do exist now.’
atthāhaṁ etarahi, nāhaṁ natthī’ti.
That’s how I’d answer.”
Evaṁ puṭṭho ahaṁ, bhante, evaṁ byākareyyan”ti.

“But Citta, suppose they were to ask you,
“Sace pana taṁ, citta, evaṁ puccheyyuṁ:
‘Is the reincarnation you had in the past your only real one, and those of the future and present fictitious?
‘yo te ahosi atīto attapaṭilābho, sova te attapaṭilābho sacco, mogho anāgato, mogho paccuppanno? Variant: sova → svera (bj, pts1ed); soyeva (sya-all); so ca (mr)
Is the reincarnation you will have in the future your only real one, and those of the past and present fictitious?
Yo te bhavissati anāgato attapaṭilābho, sova te attapaṭilābho sacco, mogho atīto, mogho paccuppanno? Variant: Yo → yo va (pts1ed)
Is the reincarnation you have now your only real one, and those of the past and future fictitious?’
Yo te etarahi paccuppanno attapaṭilābho, sova te attapaṭilābho sacco, mogho atīto, mogho anāgato’ti.
How would you answer?”
Evaṁ puṭṭho tvaṁ, citta, kinti byākareyyāsī”ti?

“Sir, if they were to ask me this,
“Sace pana maṁ, bhante, evaṁ puccheyyuṁ:
‘yo te ahosi atīto attapaṭilābho, sova te attapaṭilābho sacco, mogho anāgato, mogho paccuppanno.
Yo te bhavissati anāgato attapaṭilābho, sova te attapaṭilābho sacco, mogho atīto, mogho paccuppanno.
Yo te etarahi paccuppanno attapaṭilābho, sova te attapaṭilābho sacco, mogho atīto, mogho anāgato’ti.
I’d answer like this,
Evaṁ puṭṭho ahaṁ, bhante, evaṁ byākareyyaṁ:
‘The reincarnation I had in the past was real at that time, and those of the future and present fictitious.
‘yo me ahosi atīto attapaṭilābho, sova me attapaṭilābho tasmiṁ samaye sacco ahosi, mogho anāgato, mogho paccuppanno.
The reincarnation I will have in the future will be real at the time, and those of the past and present fictitious.
Yo me bhavissati anāgato attapaṭilābho, sova me attapaṭilābho tasmiṁ samaye sacco bhavissati, mogho atīto, mogho paccuppanno.
The reincarnation I have now is real at this time, and those of the past and future fictitious.’
Yo me etarahi paccuppanno attapaṭilābho, sova me attapaṭilābho sacco, mogho atīto, mogho anāgato’ti.
That’s how I’d answer.”
Evaṁ puṭṭho ahaṁ, bhante, evaṁ byākareyyan”ti.

“In the same way, while in any one of the three reincarnations, it’s not referred to as the other two, only under its own name.
“Evameva kho, citta, yasmiṁ samaye oḷāriko attapaṭilābho hoti, neva tasmiṁ samaye manomayo attapaṭilābhoti saṅkhaṁ gacchati, na arūpo attapaṭilābhoti saṅkhaṁ gacchati.
Oḷāriko attapaṭilābhotveva tasmiṁ samaye saṅkhaṁ gacchati.
Yasmiṁ, citta, samaye manomayo attapaṭilābho hoti …pe…
yasmiṁ, citta, samaye arūpo attapaṭilābho hoti, neva tasmiṁ samaye oḷāriko attapaṭilābhoti saṅkhaṁ gacchati, na manomayo attapaṭilābhoti saṅkhaṁ gacchati;
arūpo attapaṭilābhotveva tasmiṁ samaye saṅkhaṁ gacchati.

From a cow comes milk, from milk comes curds, from curds come butter, from butter comes ghee, and from ghee comes cream of ghee. And the cream of ghee is said to be the best of these.
Seyyathāpi, citta, gavā khīraṁ, khīramhā dadhi, dadhimhā navanītaṁ, navanītamhā sappi, sappimhā sappimaṇḍo.
While it’s milk, it’s not referred to as curds, butter, ghee, or cream of ghee.
Yasmiṁ samaye khīraṁ hoti, neva tasmiṁ samaye dadhīti saṅkhaṁ gacchati, na navanītanti saṅkhaṁ gacchati, na sappīti saṅkhaṁ gacchati, na sappimaṇḍoti saṅkhaṁ gacchati;
It’s only referred to as milk.
khīrantveva tasmiṁ samaye saṅkhaṁ gacchati.
While it’s curd
Yasmiṁ samaye dadhi hoti …pe…
or butter
navanītaṁ hoti …
or ghee
sappi hoti …
or cream of ghee, it’s not referred to as anything else,
sappimaṇḍo hoti, neva tasmiṁ samaye khīranti saṅkhaṁ gacchati, na dadhīti saṅkhaṁ gacchati, na navanītanti saṅkhaṁ gacchati, na sappīti saṅkhaṁ gacchati;
only under its own name.
sappimaṇḍotveva tasmiṁ samaye saṅkhaṁ gacchati.
In the same way, while in any one of the three reincarnations, it’s not referred to as the other two, only under its own name.
Evameva kho, citta, yasmiṁ samaye oḷāriko attapaṭilābho hoti …pe…
yasmiṁ, citta, samaye manomayo attapaṭilābho hoti …pe…
yasmiṁ, citta, samaye arūpo attapaṭilābho hoti, neva tasmiṁ samaye oḷāriko attapaṭilābhoti saṅkhaṁ gacchati, na manomayo attapaṭilābhoti saṅkhaṁ gacchati;
arūpo attapaṭilābhotveva tasmiṁ samaye saṅkhaṁ gacchati.
These are the world’s usages, terms, expressions, and descriptions, which the Realized One uses without misapprehending them.” This is a succinct expression of one of the key insights of the Buddha’s teaching. Words such as “self” have a conventional usage and in that context are perfectly fine. But what that “self” refers to is constantly changing, as it is reincarnated in different states. It is like a river which keeps the same name even though the water is always changing. If, driven by attachment, we assume there is a metaphysical reality underlying the conventional “self”, we step beyond what can be empirically verified. Note, however, that the Buddha is not asserting that there are two levels of truth, conventional and ultimate, a distinction not found in early Buddhism.
Imā kho, citta, lokasamaññā lokaniruttiyo lokavohārā lokapaññattiyo, yāhi tathāgato voharati aparāmasan”ti.

so to say that the past is unreal is to completely miss the point of DN9, where the conditional truth of statements about past present and future are made explicit.

I was past me
i am present me
i will be future me

all those italiced terms are equally not real, not unreal, not both, not otherwise.

that one can only logically refer to one of them at a time is explained by the analogy, again, the Buddha is OBVIOUSLY not saying that milk is an illusion, curds are real, and ghee is an illusion.

that is, again obviously, a ridiculous reading of the passage.

so the sarvastivadans and the non sarvastivadans have all obviously wandered off the path and into the wilderness of unsustainable metaphysics.

It is genuinely staggering how much mental gymnastics are required to make of early buddhism a classical metaphysics of time and space, and how persistently sectarian schools have ignore the major texts they claim to follow in favour of cryptic and scanty passages combined with endless exegesis when there is a perfectly sensible critical metaphysics repeatedly and explicitly outlined in the longest, most revered and most detailed texts that all the schools throughout almost the entire history of buddhism have acknowledged as the foundational documents of the teaching.

and that is i guess because milk and ghee only exist in the mind whereas curds are real and mind independent?

nonsense.

you can’t have an unreal past causing a real present or a real present as the cause of an unreal future.

the whole point is to confine the relation between phenomena such that one is not forced into a position of the reality or otherwise of a temporal frame, as that would force one to adopt either a externalism or an annihilationism with regard to “moments” that is demonstrably paradoxical.

It’s not that the past and future was unreal to other Buddhists, but they don’t exist. The Sarvastivadin idea is like the modern scifi idea that we could make a time machine and visit the past and future, as though they exist in some other dimension, or something. Early Buddhists considered the past and future mainly as part of a causal chain, but Sarvastivadins decided that they have to actually exist at all times for that to work. It just made their philosophical theories easier to construct. Karma, for instance, is greatly simplified. A past event continues to exist to cause the future result to manifest when the present reaches that point in time. Other Buddhists thought that was ridiculous. I’ve read the anti-Sarvastivada tracts.

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It’s possible the “All exists, doesn’t exist” is referring to Atman/Brahman. Atman/Brahman being the “All” or “Totality”. Gonda pointed this out.

If the Sarvastivadins were around today they there would be claims of how true Buddhism is because of how it foreshadowed certain scientific theories, or perhaps rather philosophical interpretations of those theories (the block time of Einstein). Problem is of course the Buddha wasn’t teaching science, or philosophy.

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