Suttas organized by date?

Does anyone know of a guide or resource organizing the suttas by date?


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Hi ShweKalaylay, here is some discussion about that:

The link in that thread seems broken, though. Here is another link (to a freely offered PDF):


Thank you, I will look at that. To be clear, I mean the date of when a sutta was authored (according to historical investigation), not the chronology of Buddha’s life.


By authored you mean committed to writing? Something like, “Sutta 1 in the Majjhima Nikāya was written down in year X, while sutta 2 in the Dīgha Nikāya was written down in year Y”? Sadly, I don’t think there’s any way to know that. I think the best we can do is say, based on linguistic analysis, certain parts are later additions. Bhikkhu Analayo might have made guesses about the age of the Agamas in relation to the Pali texts in his research, though. All the research he did on that is available for free online.


I will look into Bikkhu Analayo. Thanks.

Yes, I mean when they were authored as in written down. Obviously exact dates cannot be known but in many cases chronology is roughly established. We know the Mahayana suttas came later, etc. I’m looking for good resources or books on this.


The topic is to tricky and complex, with so many variables that I would abandon hope to get certainty about it. Also specialists don’t know for sure. The traditional account is that they were all written down at the same time, about 100 BCE in Sri Lanka. But then again ‘authored’ is not the same as ‘written down’.

And when you look at individual suttas, the longer ones were probably not authored ‘in one piece’ but consist of elements that have been arranged and put together. So that within a sutta you have older and later elements. Wherever we look we find more evolution than creation: kathikas, dharas, and bhanakas were collecting, arranging, and rearranging the texts and the books until their final form.

Still, if one defines criteria for old and new then a collection of old suttas / sutta-elements could be arranged. This has been done in the past - but, of course scholars don’t agree on the criteria. So, again, however you look at it, you only get relative results.

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I realize that, thank you. That’s why I’m looking for good resources on this topic. Bikkhu Analayo has some publications that explore this. I was hoping for some kind of list with suttas and their estimated authorship of their sections or chronology with other texts, and date of earliest known archeological copy.

Again, unfortunately you won’t find reliable lists that are agreed upon. Apart from Analayo’s work surely Sujato’s ‘The Authenticity of the Early Buddhist Texts’ is worth a read, even though I’m at several places personally skeptical about its interpretations.

Suttanipata, books 4 and 5 (excluding the introduction to 5) are agreed as old. Several suttas can be excluded through text-critical work, but it’s more difficult to do the affirmative. From here on you will find rather individual opinions. I personally would for example include the first three chapters of the Samyutta Nikaya.

Estimated authorship is, depending who you ask: Buddha, Ananda, or someone else. Oliver Freiberger has written about a possible lineage of Mahakassapa ascetics within the nikayas (I think in ‘Early Buddhism Asceticism and the Politics of the Middle Way’).

I personally think that there is a case for the Mathura-based Mahakaccana and his followers to have authored numerous suttas (but I don’t think there are publications about it)

The by far earliest archaeological suttas are found in the Gandhara texts from the 1st cBCE, best described in Richard Salomon’s recent publication “The Buddhist Literature of Ancient Gandhara” (there are also a few threads to this topic here).

Also generally, it’s worth reading the article of Salomon’s collaborator Mark Allon “The Oral Composition and Transmission of Early Buddhist Texts”, or even his study “Style and Function”.


Thanks for the book.

I think the main person who has done research into the different strata of EBT’s and who has developed theories with significant explanatory power is Yin Shun. His works are not available in English, though.

Some summaries of Yin Shun’s methods and findings have been published by Choong Mun-keat. From the forward by Roderick S. Bucknell to The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism, by Choong Mun-keat:

Briefly put, Yin Shun’s claim is that the distribution of the sutras into four nikāyas/āgamas did not take place at the First Council; initially the sutras were grouped in a single collection, whose structure is largely preserved in the extant SN and SA. The other three principal nikāyas/āgamas were developed subsequently, probably at the Second Council, in response to a substantial increase in the number and size of the remembered sutras that had taken place during the intervening century. These conclusions are based in large part on a demonstration that the contents of SN/SA fit the first, second, and third categories in the traditional aṅga classification (sūtra, geya, vyākaraṇa), i.e. that SN/SA is structurally archaic. It follows that SN and SA are of special significance both historically and doctrinally — which helps explain why the author of the Yogācārabhūmiśāstra saw fit to include in his great treatise a lengthy commentary on the sutra-aṅga portion of SA.

Actually developing a timeline that tentatively places dates on these collections would be interesting. Maybe a good project for members of the forum here? There might just be two dates to start out with (i.e. First Council and Second Council).

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Have you seen this series Early Buddhism Course Workshop2 Session 2 - YouTube? In that Early Buddhism series, they mention a book my A.K. Warder that might be what you’re after. You probably know about A.K. Warder, but maybe you don’t know about his research of Pali verse and metre? There’s a link to the PDF of the book here A. K. Warder - Wikipedia. Ajahn Brahmali mentions that A.K. Warder analyzed parts of the Pali canon based on metre and came to the conclusion that some parts were earlier than others. I haven’t read the book, but it might have information relevant to your question.

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Ven. Dhammanando has described essential guidelines for the research of this question:

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See also a detailed description of the Buddha’s life in the Dictionary of Pāli Proper Names:

Another approach is of course not to go by sutta, but to find sutta-material which gets repeated again and again in all four major nikayas…