SuttaCentral

Some inauthentic passages in the Early Buddhist Texts

Bhante, what to say about the concept of a definitive liberation (nippariyāyenā nibbānaṃ) lying beyond the threshold of attainment and transcending of the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception (neva­saññā­nā­sañ­ñāyata­naṃ), as found in AN9.47 and other suttas of AN’s 9th chapter?

Is it there just to support the model of Buddha’s parinibbana found in the DN16?

2 Likes

I would say this is just one particular way of looking at the process of liberation, that is, by focusing on samatha. None of these attainments is actually required, apart from the ending of the corruptions (the āsavās) at the very end. Yet going though the immaterial attainments seems to be a valid way of reaching the end of the path. Somewhere along the way you are likely to become a stream-enterer, but the particular point at which this happens will depend on the nature of your spiritual qualities. The combination of stream-entry and taking samatha to its peak will then enable you to attain the end of perception and feeling (saññā-vedayita-nirodha) and also the end of the āsavas.

It is interesting that the end of perception and feeling almost invariably is paired with the end of the āsavas in the suttas. You get the impression that seeing everything cease is a very powerful foundation for insight, as one would expect. Yet despite this strong correlation between the two, it does not seem to be absolute. There is at least one sutta (AN 5.166) where the end of perception of feeling does not immediately lead to the end of the āsavas, but instead you go on to another rebirth. But this sutta is really just minor variation. Overall it is clear that the end of perception and feeling is a very profound attainment that will normally result in the deepest possible insight.

So no, I don’t think it is there just to support the description of the Buddha’s final passing away in DN 16.

5 Likes

Thank you for you detailed and insightful reply Bhante. :anjal:

Indeed, we better not assume absolute causation when we find textual correlation.

Nevertheless, would it be right to say that there are more textual occurrences in which he end of perception and feeling correlates with the end of the āsavas than any other attainment?

1 Like

Bhante, Is the realm that they’re born into a non-returner brahma realm? In other words, if one is able to enter and emerge from SVN (perceptions feelings cessation), the possibilities are:

  1. they immediately become an arahant
  2. they immediately become a non-returner, and may attain arahantship in the rest of their human life
  3. neither case 1 or 2, they are reborn in a brahma realm where they are not a non-returner or ariya

Is case 3 possible?
I’m seen plenty of passages where after emerging from SVN, asavas are destroyed (arahantship). There are plenty of passages where nothing is stated about what happens after emerging from SVN.

I think from Bodhi’s footnotes, the only possibilites are arahantship or non-returner. Is this true according to EBT, or is that based on commentaries?

AN 5.166

Then the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus: “Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu accomplished in virtuous behavior, concentration, and wisdom might enter and emerge from the cessation of perception and feeling. If he does not reach final knowledge in this very life, then, having been reborn among a certain group of mind-made [deities] that transcend the company of devas that subsist on edible food, he might [again] enter and emerge from the cessation of perception and feeling. There is this possibility.” This is what the Blessed One said. Having said this, the Fortunate One got up from his seat and entered his dwelling. [195]

1 Like

For @brahmali, I’m translating DN 21 and would like to add this:

###DN 21 Sakkapañha

The sutta is an unusual combination of elaborate fantasy and basic doctrine. It was evidently popular, as shown by the significant number of parallels. Nevertheless, the background narrative is probably late, and the doctrinal material is largely adopted from elsewhere.

  • Intertextual borrowing: Much of the doctrinal passage is shared with MN 114. Normally Sakka addresses the Buddha with mārisa. During this passage, however, he shifts with no apparent cause to bhante and then back to mārisa. This is a copy-paste error: text was lifted directly from MN 114, where bhante is used throughout.
  • Narrative plausibility: While the conceit of using a love song to get the Buddha’s attention is a charming one, the fact that Sakka felt he had to resort to this because Buddha’s are hard to approach does not agree with the rest of the suttas, where gods including Sakka approach the Buddha easily.
  • Belabored form: Evidently striving for prestige, the text uses unusual and heavy-handed formulas for straightforward exposition, such as the repeated interludes stating Sakka’s response to the Buddha’s questions.
  • Unnecessary magic: When the gods appear, not only does their light shed over the whole region, they magically cause the cave to become smooth and spacious. (This is, of course, an etiological myth to explain the appearance of the sacred cave.)
  • Immediate rebirth: The text claims that when two gods gained mindfulness they were immediately reborn in a higher realm. No other text supports this possibility.
  • Gendered rebirth: While the story of Gopaka stops short of explicitly saying that male rebirth is better than female, this is clearly implied. Such a notion, however, is found nowhere else in the EBTs.
7 Likes

I would suggest, “This is a copy-paste anomaly” instead. “Error” makes it sound as if they did a mistake, but such anomalies are frequent and it seems the editors were not concerned about making things look authentic.

“Buddhas”

While this is true, it has hard to imagine the whole thing has just been made up. This narrative is verging on a Buddhist equivalent of blasphemy. I would suggest it harks back to a distorted memory of a real event, possibly a conflation of two different occasions. It is a kind of narrative version of the principle of lectio difficilior.

And it gives the impression that mindfulness is sufficient for rebirth in the Brahmā world.

3 Likes

Are they? I mean, it’s all relative, but normally the texts are pretty well edited.

I very much doubt it! The whole thing appears very much like a literary conceit, and likely draws on literary antecedents, not real life ones.

Yes. But I didn’t mention this because I am not so convinced this is an obvious doctrinal contradiction. First, in such a loose narrative, “mindfulness” could just be a shorthand for “meditation”. But also, there are a few cases where even merit seems to be enough to get you reborn in the Brahma realm. Sure, I think these are also likely confused in some way, but I wanted to avoid unclear points.

2 Likes

I haven’t actually counted the occurrences, but so it seems. I think we should be aware, however, of a general tendency in the suttas to normalise the content. In other words, things often get padded out, so that similar passages often become identical over time. An example of this is the enumeration of all three _tevijjā_s in all versions of the gradual training in the Pali canon. In the Āgamas translated into Chinese, the gradual training sometimes only has the last of the _tevijjā_s , which of course is sufficient for awakening.

2 Likes

Well, there are the obvious cases of the narrative bhadante vs. the usual bhante, and bhikkhave vs. bhikkhavo. I do believe there are more such cases, but I would have to get back to you on this.

1 Like

But that’s different; they are merely alternative forms found in different strata, and used in a fairly consistent way. The situation with the vocatives in DN 21, where the shift happens for no other reason than copy-paste, is, I think, unusual. There are probably some other cases, but I can’t think of any.

1 Like

Sakkha panha sutta (DN21) is quite flowery reminds me somewhat of the Atanatiya sutta with its somewhat elaborate cosmology. I don’t think it adds anything unique, though I maybe wrong. It does detract as it is more supernatural that the reader then has to switch gears and take on faith or treat at myth or a later composition. :anjal:

with metta

1 Like

Well, it depends on what the editing principles were. What I mean is that it is quite possible that they have been both well edited and that such inconsistencies have been left unchanged. In fact, such inconsistencies are precisely one of the criteria for deciding whether a text is a composite. MN 111 is an obvious example: the text duplicates some of the jhāna factors. This must have been fairly obvious, yet they decided not to edit it out.

But to be a bit more specific, we find an inconsistency similar to the one at DN 21 at MN 47. Here the Buddha is first referred to as “the Tathāgata”, then as “this Venerable.” Apparently the version in Chinese has “this Venerable” throughout. It is hard to imagine that this obvious inconsistency is simply an oversight. I would suggest editorial policy is the most likely explanation.

But don’t you think they would have needed an excuse to include this in the sutta? Drawing on “literary antecedents” is what you would expect in the Jātakas, but not in the EBTs. It seems to me that the EBTs are generally limited to real events, or what was perceived as real events. Perhaps this is an exception, but how can we be sure?

Well, the sutta itself says nothing about anāgāmīs (non-returners), but rebirth in the brahmāloka (the brahmā world) seems implied by the word “mind-made”: “having been reborn among a certain group of mind-made [deities] that transcend the company of devas that subsist on edible food.” Moreover, the description “accomplished in … wisdom” normally refers to stream-enterers. (In fact I am not aware that it can refer to anything else.) And any ariyan who gets reborn in the brahmā world is at the very least a jhānānāgāmī. (These are non-returners because of jhāna attainment, not the usual kind of non-returners who have eliminated the five lower fetters.) So it looks like case 3 is possible.

It seems to be commentarial. Yet if the suttas limit case 3 to the jhānānāgāmīs, then this very close to the commentarial position.

3 Likes

Similar, but not really identical. At MN 47, the shift accompanies a change in phrasing for that section. And the text makes it clear that it is not incidental: as well as using “venerable”, it also uses bhikkhu, so it is clearly deliberately phrased as applying to any mendicant rather than just the Buddha. In this way, regardless of whether it is original or not, it is a meaningful difference and thus it is reasonable to assume it was deliberate.

Now, this may have been a feature of the original text; not every quirk is a sign of lateness. So far as I know, the different passage doesn’t correspond to any specific other text. So I don’t have any particular opinion in this case; it could have been a simple shift in phrasing, or it could be a sign of a patchwork text.

In DN 23 we have the specific case that the difference is meaningless: Sakka just shifts from one vocative to the other and then back again. Sometimes such a shift might happen as someone, say, gains greater faith in the Buddha. But if that was the case, they wouldn’t revert. In addition to being obviously arbitrary, it also corresponds with an exact parallel in another sutta.

Taken together, I still maintain that this is simply an editing error, and that such errors are quite unusual.

We can be sure because of this case. It’s obviously a literary conceit, and thus proof that these are found in the EBTs. The lateness of the text is not in doubt; in addition to the factors I mentioned, there’s bunches of other stuff, I couldn’t put in every detail. But the legendary suttas of the Digha clearly constitute a later strata, which is where outright fantasy begins to take flight.

2 Likes

I am not going to insist on a particular take, but I am still not entirely happy with this. There are some really odd quirks in the Pali of MN 47. Here is the passage I was referring to, with Ven. Bodhi’s translation:

Yato naṃ samannesamāno evaṃ jānāti: ‘ye vodātā cak­khu­sota­viññeyyā dhammā, saṃvijjanti te tathāgatassā’ti, tato naṃ uttariṃ samannesati: ‘dīgharattaṃ samāpanno ayamāyasmā imaṃ kusalaṃ dhammaṃ, udāhu ittara­samā­panno’ti? Tamenaṃ samannesamāno evaṃ jānāti: ‘dīgharattaṃ samāpanno ayamāyasmā imaṃ kusalaṃ dhammaṃ, nāyamāyasmā ittara­samā­panno’ti.

When he comes to know this, he investigates him further thus: ‘Has this venerable one attained this wholesome state over a long time or did he attain it recently?’ When he investigates him, he comes to know: ‘This venerable one has attained this wholesome state over a long time; he did not attain it only recently.’

You will no doubt have noticed the inconsistencies here: “investigates him further” clearly refers back to the Tathāgata of the previous paragraph, yet the text then says “this venerable one.” Bhikkhu is only mentioned in the next paragraph, but here too we find the expression “investigates him further.” This still looks like an editing issue to me. But whatever the case, I think we agree that DN 21 is late, and that is what matters.

For now I don’t have any answer to this, and so I am happy to go with your opinion.

5 Likes

Dear Bh. Sujato

Does ‘low-hanging fruit’, mean ‘likely late’, or the opposite?

I’m compiling a list with reasons for considering suttas inauthentic mostly based on the info in this discussion.

To be posted shortly for comment/improvement/additions.

best wishes

Low hanging fruit means texts that are obviously late, or include late portions, judged by multiple independent criteria, as agreed by Ven Brahmali and myself.

You’re most welcome to post suggestions here, or, if you prefer, develop your own list.

1 Like

Hi Alaber

thanks for that post

I agree that attainments 5-9 are not part of the path and 9 is not Nibbāna. For me cessation of perception and feeling is against the First Noble Truth, in that, I understand it to teach that clinging to the aggregates is suffering, not the aggregates themselves. Also that cessation of perception and feeling is against other suttas that teach the ending of all activities is not the Buddha’s teaching.

I do think the Buddha encouraged the development of the 5-9, if one has time and the inclination, as long as one did not cling to them as the goal, as they had recouperative properties, just like the body goes into a coma to try to repair itself. I see cessation of perception and feeling as a self-induced coma.

best wishes

1 Like

great thanks.

I’ll add the entries and hope the reasons are supplied later.

Sure, that sounds good. This will be a slow project, and maybe will not come to anything. But at least it’s a start!

1 Like

Well I’ve worked on it for a couple of hours and came up with this:

any suggestions as to how best to make it a public document that other’s can change/add to?