Some inauthentic passages in the Early Buddhist Texts


As an update to Suttacentral, could I suggest that there be colour coding in the background of the texts? The normal white background for early/authentic material, and for example a light blue background for material which is known to be later, and for example a light pink background for material which is considered probably later but still uncertain. And perhaps a system where the reasoning behind the certainty or possibility of that part of the text being inauthentic, is made visible also, by a link or a clickable popup explanation or something? Thus you can have sections of different colours even within one sutta, for example.

That way, the reader can easily see visually how much certainty or not, to put into the text she is reading. Rather than to only know by having to traul endlessly through scholarly writing on the matter (or to consult this wonderful list you have compiled) to try to find if anyone has the answer. That is, this would put the great work of scholars in an accessible and highly useful form for readers of the suttas/vinaya to integrate into their reading of the teachings.


I’m in favor of shining the light on truth and exposing everything. As long as the list is clear exactly which part is not authentic EBT, people can use their own judgement on the suitability of the entire sutta, or the parts of it that are still valid. MN 117 is a sutta I like very much also, but I believe we should include that on the list and point out the parts that are not EBT.

Kasina in Suttas, particularly MN 77

Thank you! :anjal:


To specify degrees of authenticity seems to be better than just making a clear cut division within the Four Great Nikayas between “authentic” and “unauthentic”. After all, you may be mistaken in your classification, and create more confusion than enlightenment in your readers. Please also always specify the reason, why a certain text section should be regarded as “unauthentic”.
I agree with your selection of only six authentic EBT texts in KhN (without Vv, Pv, Ja). But there are Jaataka stories in the four Nikaayas, and in the Vinaya Pi.taka?


You certainly could. And i could equally well say no! SuttaCentral is for transmitting the texts, not for offering opinions on them. That’s what Discourse is for.


Suggestions, pending @brahmali’s approval.

###DN 16 Mahāparinibbāna

Much of this text presents a realistic account of the Buddha’s last days. It is presumably based on the recollections by Ānanda following the Buddha’s death. As it stands, however, it is a highly composite text, with many later additions. The length and complexity of the text, as well as the wealth of parallels, make it hard to generalize. However, later portions include:

  • Certain extensions to the doctrinal passages appear to have had extra material added from elsewhere in the nikayas, such as the lists of things preventing decline and the lists of “eights” following the causes of earthquakes.
  • The Buddha’s predictions about Pataliputa seem a little too politically convenient, as well as being uncharacteristic.
  • The section on the Buddha’s hints to Ānanda has been expanded with many places added.
  • The miracle of the Buddha’s transfiguration is probably late.
  • The summary verse at the end of various sections are certainly late additions by the redactors: DN 16#428-429, DN 16#463, DN 16#466-468.
  • The Buddha’s advice to Ānanda on women is late. See Sujato’s note here.
  • The story of Mahākassapa’s late arrival appears to have been inserted to provide mythic authority for him as the transmitter of the Dhamma.
  • The closing verses, which introduce the tooth relic, are certainly a late addition, as stated by the commentary.

###DN 17 Mahāsudassana

This discourse was expanded from the small core on King Mahāsudassana found in DN 16#541-544.

  • Style: elaborate and fanciful, reminiscent of later literature.
  • Parallels: The Sanskrit text of this is much shorter, and remains within the Mahāparinirvāna Sūtra itself. Note that the Pali text has significant parallels within the Pali canon, notably SN 22.96.
  • Genre: The expanded text has been made into a Jātaka.
  • Trumpishness: Okay, this is not normally a textual criterion, but seriously, all that gold and silver? So tacky!

###DN 18 Janavasabha

Like DN 17, this has been expanded from a short passage in DN 16, namely the explanation of the rebirths of the people of Nādika. (DN 16#165ff) Again like DN 17, this has a parallel in the Samyutta, namely SN 55.8.

  • Doctrine: The basic idea seems odd to start with, as the Buddha is not usually depicted making such wholesale statements about rebirth destinies. But DN 18 expands this to extremes.
  • Geography: Contains an unusual description of ten janapadas. While staying within the realm of the EBTs, this indicates a more precise and comprehensive geography than we normally find.
  • Vocabulary: uses the term paricāraka to describe lay followers, which is apparently unique in the EBTs. The term means “servant”, “devotee” and expresses a different attitude to the lay community than does upāsaka, “one who sits close”. The parallels in DN 16 and SN 55.8 use upāsaka.
  • Narrative: the narrative structure is clumsy and labored.
  • Consistency: As noted by Maurice Walshe, the Buddha makes heavy weather of answering questions that elsewhere in the suttas he answers immediately.
  • Coherence: Despite the laborious narrative setting up a simple question, the fate of the Magadhan devotees is not actually answered. The text diverts into a lengthy discussion among the gods.


If the Mahāsudassana is taken as having been composed as a meditation text, as proposed by Rupert Gethin*, then I think a bit of “Trumpishness” might be excused. :lotus:



Well, to be sure, even today probably most Indians would find it lovely!

As to the idea of the Mahasudassana as a meditation text, I think it’d be reductive to say that that is what it “is”. One of (very many) problems I have with modern scholarly discussions of myth in Buddhism—insofar as they exist at all—is that they take an overly reductive approach, whereas myth itself is expansive. As opposed to doctrinal passages, myth aims to open up meaning and encourage a subjective response. It’s about creating an emotional connection, a sense of meaning, rather than making a definitive point. Another problem is that, to me, the Mahāsudassana is not really a mythic text proper, more of a fable or allegory. Real myths are much messier, more organic.

Having said which, Gethin does nicely draw connections that point to a contemplative dimension to the text.

One thing he doesn’t mention: if we are to take this seriously, might there be a connection with the otherwise unexplained meditation: subhanteva adhimutto hoti?


What about the walking & talking Buddha baby in MN 123, which contradicts MN 64, which states a new born child cannot have self-identity.

Also, MN 135, which states an evil action can result in a ‘human birth’ without going to ‘hell’. This contradicts the mass of suttas which state evil action brings an evil result, however temporary.


I’ve restarted the server so your changes show up.
I also added the new entries to the sutta.csv table so it shows up in the list.

Notes, as we have them on the site now, only appear in the parallel-table and only if there is a parallel listed, which for SA 604, there isn’t. As it is a portion of the Aśokavadāna, should there not also be some mention of a parallel for this?

Of course on the polymer site notes will be handled differently.


I respect that. I hope you don’t mind if I say a few words on this more. I honestly think it’s very hard for almost all ordinary people to be able to integrate scholarship of what is early or not, into their reading of texts. I assume the purpose of creating this wonderful list of known inauthentic passages is to make this information all in one place, easy to find and easy to check. If we take that motivation further, it is a giant leap forward to be able to access that information directly as one reads the texts.

I totally respect your decision to reject this idea, but perhaps if it is adjusted it would be more appealing to you…? Perhaps there is a way of combining the motivation for transmitting the texts, with scholarship.

One example of this is the ‘controls’ sidebar which allows textual informatoin to be displayed. There could be an option there to colour code the text (or whatever visual display system you think is suitable). I would think that at least for those passages which we know to be inauthentic, that could be really good information to at least give the option for the reader to see. That way, for those who don’t want any opinions, even if there is academic concensus on an issue, they don’t have to have it. But for those interested in Early Budshism, and getting to know the Buddha as closely as they can, this could be fantastic!

I’m saying this though you have rejected the idea, but in the hope that with this revision you might fall in love with the idea :slight_smile: And, on that basis, I will add another idea to this:

The sidebar could also have an option to display text or links or something like that, to commentaries on passages. I know that not many are translated yet, but they could be added as they get translated. And at least the Pāli can be made accessible in this way. Here is an example of a very useful website on the Quran:

It shows the particular verse from the Quran selected. And it has a button for the ‘roots’ (linguistic analysis - grammar) and ‘tafsirs’ (traditional commentaries) of that verse. I am not saying their way of doing it is the best. But I can say that while researching the Quran, I simply stopped using other websites with multiple translations (I always chose sites with multiple translations) because this one had more functionality. I could easily consult the extra information about the text if I wanted to. And I think a website with significantly more functionality like that, would be amazing for the Buddhist world and would likely become the number one source for consulting the suttas.

There’s so much information out there. The key I think is in making it accessible, which can very usefully involve bringing sources of information together as an integrated network of easily accessible information. In fact that’s why I came to be using Suttacentral - because I can flip from the Pāli to the English, and because the references (sutta numbering and naming) for the suttas are easy to see and understand. It is that multifunctionality, that coming together of several types of information on the texts in one place, that makes it so useful for me.

This Discourse site is amazing. But may I call us, a ‘small band of hardcore geeks’? I think the idea I have shared above about making the information on consensus abou authenticity of passages accessible, could be a way of sharing the beautiful fruits of this Discourse community, wih the wider community. :slight_smile:


That is a nicely done site, so thanks for sharing. But they are giving grammatical analysis and commentaries, not passing opinions on what they think is authentic, which is a very different matter. We too do something like grammatical analysis, albeit very primitively, in the Pali lookup. And supplying commentaries is something I have put on our to-do list, although it is not a priority.

But the problem with displaying inauthentic text is that we have not even close to a comprehensive or authoritative list of such passages. Here on Discourse we are merely mentioning a few obvious cases. Now, to some extent, this will serve the purpose already, because these discussions will show up in the sidebar. If we start marking such text on the main site, we will inevitably be subject to criticism, and quite rightly so. The field is simply not sure enough to make these kinds of judgments.

For an example of the kinds of problems this would entail, see the Jesus seminar:

They had a team of recognized scholars, and a long term, systematic process for evaluating the authenticity of Gospel passages. We have nothing even close to that; and we have many more texts to deal with. And they never presumed to impose their ideas on the central, mainstream Bible editions. Even so, their work was broadly criticized.

We have a responsibility to the Buddhist community to pass down their scriptures. We must do so accurately and in an unbiased way. That is why we have separated footnotes and essays from text, and keep our opinions strictly here, on a site for discussion.


[quote=“sujato, post:1, topic:5795”]
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.[/quote]

In MN 10, the phrase ‘sikkhati’ only occurs in relation to the 3rd & 4th stage of anapanasati and appears absent throughout the remainder of the sutta.




Perhaps something for the future then, or it could be put in place and added to gradually, since it seems that at least some are expressed on this current list as being clear.

That sounds like a great project!
I wonder if it failed in part due to the nature of Christianity - that it is based on blind faith, that checking and examining the teachings objectively is fairly widely discouraged, and that renouncing blind faith results in eternal damnation. I would hope that Buddhists would be more open minded about discussing authenticity of texts and passages.

And, though there is a lot of blind faith in Asia which may be similar to Christian blind faith (I find it bizarre that there are people who believe tthe Abhidhamma was taught by the Buddha, or the Mahayana sutras!), my sense is that the English-reading Theravada community (or Buddhist community interested in the EBTs) would not react in the same way as the Christian community, but, rather that the majority of people who use this site - which means they are 1) English reading, 2) Interested in the early Buddhist teachings, and 3) Computer literate - would either a) have no interest in the added functoinality, in which case they would not even see it, or b) they would love it, and through it would deepen their understanding of the Buddha and his teachings, through deepending their understanding of Early Buddhism.

I was merely suggesting a way in which the information could be easily made accessible, by making skillful use of the way the information is conveyed visually. That is to say, by giving the option of seeing the information (whether that be footnotes, well researched issues of authenticity, or commentaries) about a text on the same page as the text itself, so that the information can be easily received and processed by the reader (and indeed to make the reader aware that there is information about the text she’s reading - and then only if they have conciously decided to switch that button on), rather than them having to search each time through masses of information, which indeed I am fairly sure almost everyone will not do, since it takes too much time and is too difficult for almost everyone.

Another way of looking at this might be that past communities of Buddhists found it to be their responsibility not to merely pass down the scriptures in an unbiased way, but to pass them down with commentaries. Early on, this seems to have led to commentaries even being absorbed into suttas. Or new suttas entirely. Then we have the abhidhamma, which tries to explain the teachings, and was passed down with them. And the commentaries and so forth, which seem perhaps to be more treasured and taught than the suttas in some communities.

So it could be interesting to continue the long tradition of passing down the suttas with commentaries, and so I think it is wonderful that you intend to do that here - and I think this digital medium in which commentaries can be directly linked to the texts has the potential to make them far more accessible than they have been traditionally, so I see this as a wonderful improvement on tradition.

But I feel that modern scholarship is also commentary. I would not personally feel that a commentary is more worthy of being passed down simply because it is older. I deeply value Bhikkhu Anālayo’s commentaries on the satipatthāna suttas. And the scholarly works which help us understand metaphors the Buddha used or about the upanishads he quoted, which was not even understood by the traditional commentarial tradition. I wonder if responsibility could be expanded to include these things also. It would be very sad for the wonderful modern commentarial tradition to dissapear into the obscure pages of forgotten journals, or kept alive by a tiny handful of extreme specialists, rather than the potential for widespread interconnected accessibility which the digital age provides the opportunity for.


No, this is a scholarly dispute. It’s not fair to paint all Christians with the same brush. Sure, there are plenty of fundamentalists. But text scholarship in Christianity is far more sophisticated and advanced than it is in Buddhism. It’s like a century or more ahead of where we are at. We don’t even have modern, accurate translations of most EBTs! This is why this idea will not work. Allow me to rephrase:

Even in the context of Bible studies, which are far more advanced than Buddhist text studies, and deal with a much smaller corpus, the attempt to do this kind of work at any scale has been greeted with strong skepticism and criticism by other experienced scholars.

No-one in the field of early Buddhist studies would imagine that such a thing is possible. That is why Ven Brahmali and I have chosen to do a much more limited and achievable task. Even then, it is controversial, and I find I am spending my time justifying why we are doing it, rather than doing my actual work! :wink:

Yes, that is what we are doing here on Discourse. One of the admirable things about the Theravadin tradition, and one of the main reasons we have such confidence in the texts, is that the commentators did not try to impose their views on the texts. The text and commentaries were passed down in separate manuscripts. There is nothing like the modern tradition where notes are inserted in the text itself (except for rare mistakes).

If someone thinks this is a worthwhile project, they are most welcome to fork our data and do the work themselves.



No need, it is not an EBT.[quote=“Vimala, post:31, topic:5795”]
on the polymer site notes will be handled differently.

okay, but will this issue be solvable? I.e. can we include notes for texts that have no parallels. It seems to me we should be able to!


Interesting pick. :slight_smile: In all other occurrences the sikkhati shows up earlier right? What could be the implications of this?


For me, sikkhati is an important phrase, because it seems to imply the ‘three trainings’ (higher morality, higher mind & higher wisdom in AN 3.88) are occurring. Sikkhati is not found in the first two stages of Anapanasati Sutta but found in each of the later fourteen stages. At least for me, it implies the Anapanasati Sutta (MN 118) is possibly both a higher level of training & more authentic.


You created the suttaplex design to include this :smile:


Isn’t that already a feature in the CST 4.0 digital edition of the Pali Canon?

There are buttons across the top for “Mūla”, “Aţţhakathā”, and “Ţikā”, which are active/inactive according to momentary context (the whole text displayed or a specific text selection). The functionality is nicely implemented: upon clicking those buttons separate windows are opened to the appropriate text, and one can go both up and down the hierarchy using multiple windows.

Even if translations (into whatever language) aren’t yet available, doing this from a translation through the levels of Pali sources might be helpful, as one could attempt translation ad hoc to specific places of interest.

(Having no idea, however, whether this might be a huge undertaking. Or as to priority…)