SuttaCentral

Suttas in a chronological order?


#1

Dhamma Greetings,

does anyone know of attempts to put the Suttas in a chronological order?

Metta,
Mirco


#2

What do you mean by that? Chronological order?
:anjal:


#3

Dhamma Greetings Gabriel,

yup, exactly.

Metta, Mirco


#4

It’s not quite clear what you’re asking. Do you mean the order in which the Buddha taught them? Or do you mean the order of their dates of composition according to modern theories of stratification of the canon?


#5

Dhamma Greetings Venerable,

I mean the order in which the Buddha taught them.
I was asking myself if it is possible to know that order.

Best Whishes,
Mirco


#6

If we confine ourselves to the self-referential content of the suttas themselves, then I believe it is only a very tiny number of them whose approximate time of delivery can be ascertained (assuming of course that one accepts the self-referential content as trustworthy). These would comprise a handful delivered in the earliest period of the Buddha’s teaching career and whose order can be found in the Vinaya’s Mahāvagga; a couple relating to the time of the Parinibbāna; and a few given by disciples after the Parinibbāna. Besides these there are also some suttas where one can make reasonable inferences from what one knows about the characters in them. For example, if Devadatta puts in an appearance and is represented as a monk in good standing, then one can take it that it pertains to a time before the errant disciple’s schism.

For those who trust them, the commentaries to the suttas occasionally contain statements to the effect that “this was taught in such and such year after the Buddha’s awakening” or “… in the first/middle/last period after the Buddha’s awakening”, but such statements are rather infrequent and certainly not sufficient to permit a chronology of the suttas as a whole.


#7

As someone coming from the not so trusting side on this particular point, is there any foundation on which to ground trust here?


#8

Thank you. :pray:


#9

Bhikkhu Nanamoli made this sort of attempt in his “The Life of the Buddha: According to the Pali Canon”.


#10

Thanks a lot :pray:


#11

The Life of the Buddha.pdf (2.4 MB)


#12

The chronology of the suttāni is a tricky business, especially when one is dealing with more than one recension of Buddhavacana. As I recall, in this thread, it led to an interesting discussion around dating suttāni, as the āgama and nikāya accounts give different details as to the circumstances of the Fire Sermon.

IMO it makes the most sense to just use the Pāli tradition as-is, for dating suttāni etc, even if it is not as “provably exact” as we moderns would like our history to be. Why? Because we lack a major school of Buddhism that has flourished solely on the teachings in the āgama-recensions. There are some insights about them to be gleaned from Mahāyāna writers, but on a whole, in their "native"Mahāyāna setting, they are generally under-read, and when they are, they are “read through the lens” of later Mahāyāna sūtrāṇi. Given this, I think it is best to stick with the Pāli tradition, since more attention and focus has been spent on the Pāli suttāni, not to denigrate the work of the Chinese āgama translators and preservers.

If fact, I think it is in those small details, like where this happened, when that happened, who did this, who spoke that, that account for most of the difference between Buddhavacana recension, moreso than the Dharma content of those diverse recensions.


#13

I don’t know whether there is or not. I suppose one would need to check whether the Pali commentaries’ list of where the Buddha spent his 45 rains retreats, what year he returned to Kapilavatthu, what year he taught Bāhiya, etc., etc., finds any corroboration in non-Theravādin sources. But I’ve never undertaken such research and I don’t know of anyone else who has.


#14

Dear Bhante,

Would you please provide Pali wording of such statements?


#15

Below are some of the key terms. You might find more if you check out the entry for Gotama Buddha in the Dictionary of Proper Names and chase up the references.

Three divisions of the Buddha’s post-awakening life

paá¹­hamabodhi
majjhimabodhi
pacchimabodhi

(Several Vinaya ṭīkās report a difference of opinion over how the years of these periods are to be counted. One opinion was that they were three periods of fifteen years each. Another was that the paṭhamabodhi was twenty years, the pacchimabodhi just the months leading up to the Parinibbāna, and everything in between was the majjhimabodhi. In ṭīkās (occasionally) and in SE Asian Buddha biographies (very frequently) one also meets with paṭhamabodhikāla, majjhimabodhikāla, and pacchimabodhikāla).

Ten divisions of the Buddha’s whole life

gabbhokkanti-samaya
jāti-samaya
saṃvega-samaya
abhinikkhamana-samaya
dukkarakārika-samaya
māravijaya-samaya
abhisambodhi-samaya
diṭṭhadhammasukhavihāra-samaya
desanā-samaya
parinibbāna-samaya

Where the Buddha spent his forty-five rains residences

Kadā desito ti bhagavā hi paṭhamabodhiyaṃ vīsativassāni anibaddhavāso hutvā yattha yattha phāsukaṃ hoti, tattha tattheva gantvā vasi. Kathaṃ?
Paṭhamaṃ vassaṃ isipatane dhammacakkaṃ pavattetvā aṭṭhārasa brahmakoṭiyo amatapānaṃ pāyetvā bārāṇasiṃ upanissāya isipatane migadāye vasi.
Dutiyaṃ vassaṃ rājagahaṃ upanissāya veḷuvane mahāvihāre.
Tatiyacatutthāni pi tattheva.
Pañcamaṃ vesāliṃ upanissāya mahāvane kūṭāgārasālāyaṃ.
Chaṭṭhaṃ makulapabbate.
Sattamaṃ tāvatiṃsabhavane.
Aṭṭhamaṃ bhaggesu saṃsumāragiriṃ upanissāya bhesakaḷāvane.
Navamaṃ kosambiyaṃ.
Dasamaṃ pālileyyakavanasaṇḍe.
Ekādasamaṃ nāḷāyaṃ brāhmaṇagāme.
Dvādasamaṃ verañjāyaṃ.
Terasamaṃ cāliyapabbate.
Cuddasamaṃ jetavanamahāvihāre.
Pañcadasamaṃ kapilavatthumahānagare.
Soḷasamaṃ āḷavakaṃ dametvā caturāsītipāṇasahassāni amatapānaṃ pāyetvā āḷaviyaṃ.
Sattarasamaṃ rājagaheyeva.
Aṭṭhārasamaṃ cāliyapabbateyeva.
Tathā, ekūnavīsatimaṃ vīsatimaṃ pana vassaṃ rājagaheyeva vasi.

Tena vuttaṃ: “bhagavā hi paṭhamabodhiyaṃ vīsativassāni anibaddhavāso hutvā yattha yattha phāsukaṃ hoti, tattha tattheva gantvā vasī” ti. Tato paṭṭhāya pana sāvatthiṃyeva upanissāya jetavanamahāvihāre ca pubbārāme ca dhuvaparibhogavasena vasi.
(Bv-a. 3-4)

Other terms

ordinal number in the masc. sg. loc. case + saṃvacchare
abhisambodhiṃ patvā/patto/pāpuṇitvā: “after attaining supreme awakening…”
abhisambodhito…: “from [the time of] supreme awakening…”
abhisambodhito paṭṭhāya…: “reckoning from [the time of] supreme awakening…”


#16

I’ve heard that SN 56.11 was the first sermon given by the Buddha; SN 22.59 is said to be the second. Is there a specific canonical / commentarial source where this chronology is described? If not, why is one said to be first, and the other said to be second? Is it just based on an assessment of their content? Does “The Life of the Buddha” contain this chronology? (It’s on my list of texts to buy…)


#17

That chronology can be found in the Vinaya


#18

@AlexM Great, where?


#19

#20

Perfect, thanks @Aminah. I’ve saved a copy.