This article is collaboratively authored by Bhikkhu Sujato and Bhikkhu Brahmali. It is a work in progress.
Those who come to the early Buddhist texts often ask how they are to know what passages can be regarded as authentic or inauthentic. By “authentic” we mean that texts that claim to be spoken by the Buddha or his direct disciples were in fact spoken by them. Authenticity does not imply literal word-for-word identity, but that the substance of the text, and much of the wording, is what it says it is: the teachings of the Buddha.
As per our book, The Authenticity of the Early Buddhist Texts, we believe that most of the texts included in what we call the early Buddhist Texts (EBTs) can be regarded as authentic. These texts are:
- The 4 main nikayas in Pali
- The six early books of the Khuddaka (Dhammapada, Udāna, Itivuttaka, Thera- and Therīgāthā, and Sutta Nipāta)
- The Vinaya (especially the patimokkha and portions of the Khandhakas; but excluding the Parivāra, a later addition)
- Such parallels to these texts as are found in Chinese, Sanskrit, Tibetan, etc.
All other Buddhist texts are later, and where they contain genuine words of the Buddha, these are quotes from the EBTs. In saying that these later texts are inauthentic, we are merely acknowledging the historical facts of their provenance. Whether such texts are true or beneficial expressions of the Dhamma is an entirely different matter.
Now, while all of our authentic sources are found in the EBTs, not everything in the EBTs is authentic. All scholars in the field admit that there are significant passages that must be regarded as later additions. Given the scope of the field, the paucity of scholarship, and the uncertainty of methodology, it is not possible to identify all authentic passages with any certainty.
It is, however, we believe possible to identify some passages as inauthentic with a fair degree of confidence. This is in cases where a series of independent criteria taken together all point in the same direction, with no counter-evidence. In this post we will assemble a list of such passages, together with a summary of why they are inauthentic. It is not exhaustive or authoritative. It is simply a convenient place to note significant discourses or passages that are likely to be inauthentic.
If you wish to suggest any passages to add to this list, please do so in the comments. If we both agree, we will add it.
###MN 111 Anupada
While including some early material, such as the jhana formula, the discourse as a whole appears to be a late composition.
- Speaker: attributed to disciple
- No Parallels
- Vocabulary: abhidhamma style terminology
- Abhidhamma: in addition, the overall manner of the discourse is very abhidhammic
- Style: main list of dhammas is patched together as evidenced by two separate styles.
###DN 22 Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna
Most of the content is early, but the text as a whole is a late composite expanded from MN 10, which itself is somewhat late.
- Structure: a duplicated discourse, made by combining MN 10 and the extended passage on the truths from MN 141
- Form: hardly any discourses of this length are given as direct teachings, rather than Q&A.
- Parallels: there are several parallels, and none of them have the extended noble truths section.
- Abhidhamma: includes a long list of dhammas in Abhidhamma style.
###DN 30 Lakkhaṇa
An elaboration of the 32 marks of the Great Man, almost the entire discourse is very late.
- Subject: the 32 marks of the great man, while included in a number of EBT texts, have dubious relevance for the Dhamma and claim a brahmanical provenance that is not supported by brahmanical texts.
- Meter: Much of the text is verse, and the metrical styles are all late.
- Parallels: There is no real parallel; the partial parallel at MA 59 merely gives the stock passage on the marks and has none of the extra explanation.
- Doctrine: The detailed linking of sopecific deeds with specific results, while having some precedent in the EBTs, became a favorite doctrine later.
- Style: The verses are unusually flowery.
###SA 604, SA 640, SA 641
These passages are not sutras at all, but rather passages from the Aśokavadāna. They were added by mistake to the Chinese text of the Saṁyuktāgama (SA = Taishō vol. 2, sutra 99), probably through a filing error.