Some inauthentic passages in the Early Buddhist Texts


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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!


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?


the links to suttas do not word wrap

I think google docs might be the way to go for open additions

the links wrap in google docs

I’ve set the share features so anyone with the link can edit


Hi all

I’m marking up MN Suttas. The most recent one is MN57. I propose there are inauthentic sections in this sutta.

  1. (Dhamma) At the end of this sutta Seniya the unclothed canine ascetic takes refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Bhikkhu-Saṅgha: Pali: It appears ‘saraṇaṃ gacchāmi dhammañca bhikkhusaṅghañca’ occurs around: 12 times in the DN, 16 times in the MN, 13 times in the SN and 10 times in the AN. The reflection on Sangha for developing unshakable faith, is about the Noble Disciples (Sangha), not the Bhikkhu Sangha, as I understand it.

  2. (Dhamma) The fourth type of action seems to promote the goal of his teaching is to end all action, not just unwholesome action.

  3. (Vinaya and consistency) Four month probation is mentioned for those from other religions, but then it seems the Buddha ordained him immediately, saying ‘differences among individuals are known to me’. This seems to be against other texts I remember reading where the Buddha is represented as saying something like ‘I don’t make allowances for personal difference’ (ref?)

please comment

best wishes


The three things you mention here are all standard, and not a sign of lateness as far as I’m concerned.


Thanks Bh. Sujato for the clarification of your position. I’ll make a note of that in the spreadsheet.