Suttas the words of the buddha?


I made a calculation:

The Digha Nikaya has 34 Suttas, that are about 80 minutes long, according to pali audio. Majjhima Nikaya, 152 suttas that are 60 minutes, Samyutta Nikaya 2000 suttas, 10 Minutes, and Anguttara Nikaya 10.000 suttas, 2 minutes. This is 866 hours of speaking time. When the Buddha taught for 44 years he would speak 1hour of teaching every 19 days. How does that make sense?

Why arent there more or longer suttas? Do you think the suttas are words of the buddha?

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The Cūḷasuññata Sutta (MN 121) suggests not every single Dhamma talk was recorded.

Do you think the suttas are words of the buddha?

Mostly yes.


Thanks, can you show me the part, where it talks about dhamma talks not being recorded?

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No such sutta detailing that teaching. I believe Vasubandhu used this sutta as part of his argument that because not all teachings were recorded in the sutras there was validity to the Mahayana texts. In other words, there could be secret or alternative teachings not recorded in the sutta/sutras.


There are no esoteric teachings:

“What more does the Saṅgha of monks want from me, Ānanda? I have taught the Dhamma without making an inside or outside (version).21 The Tathāgata has no closed fist with regard to teachings.22—- DN 16, Maha Parinibbana sutta


  1. In other words, the Buddha had no esoteric version of the Dhamma that he taught only to an inner circle or a select class of privileged beings. The Dhamma that he taught to his close disciples was consistent with the Dhamma he taught at large.

  2. In other words, he did not hold back any teachings from his students until he was about to die. As the narrative of this sutta makes clear, the teachings he taught up to the night of his unbinding were identical to the teachings he had taught for his entire career.

The teaching has an internal integrity which is available to those who study the suttas :

Ven. Sariputta: “Lord, I don’t have knowledge of the awareness of the worthy ones, the rightly self-awakened ones of the past, future, & present, but I have known the consistency of the Dhamma. It’s as if there were a royal frontier city with strong ramparts, strong walls & arches, and a single gate. In it would be a wise, competent, & intelligent gatekeeper to keep out those he didn’t know and to let in those he did. Walking along the path encircling the city, he wouldn’t see a crack or an opening in the walls big enough for even a cat to slip through. The thought would occur to him: ‘Whatever large creatures enter or leave the city all enter or leave it through this gate.’12—-DN 16

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I agree. I was merely stating part of Vasubandhu’s argument, as I understand it.


Given that the teaching is self-contained, why would practitioners waste time on extraneous material?


I suspect one factor is that he must have repeated himself a lot. The same questions and topics come up repeatedly for any teacher. Especially back in those days with oral transmission being the only way to spread teachings.

I don’t know. How much does it matter? The suttas are close enough, otherwise we wouldn’t have noble disciples alive today.


I’m not a follower of Mahayana so I can’t possibly say.

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I think you are possibly mistaking an argument from Ven Bhāvaviveka for one from Ven Vasubandhu. Ven Bhāvaviveka cites an untraced parallel to the Simsapasutta, saying that the Buddha did not teach Vens Ānanda et al. the Mahāyāna because it was not useful “to them.” I had conversation with Ven Dhammanando concerning this here on the forum. Give me a second to link to it.


“Hearing (or reading) the Dhamma, he remembers it. Remembering it, he penetrates the meaning of those dhammas. Penetrating the meaning, he comes to an agreement through pondering those dhammas. There being an agreement through pondering those dhammas, desire arises. With the arising of desire, he becomes willing. Willing, he contemplates (lit: “weighs,” “compares”). Contemplating, he makes an exertion. Exerting himself, he both realizes the ultimate meaning of the truth with his body and sees by penetrating it with discernment.”—-MN 95

In developing a practice an essential skill is coming to an agreement between the meaning of a sutta which is already understood, with new information from another sutta. In this way is built up a network of meaning between a cluster of suttas which form the nucleus of a particular stage of practice. So it is not necessary to understand all suttas, only those relevant. This is progress by understanding. One reason the Anapanasati and Satipatthana suttas are considered important is because they readily form a core with reference to the understanding of other suttas, and also have a practice orientation.

What happens in practice is very different, less ordered to how it is described in the suttas, nevertheless the underlying principles should be regularly seen, recognized and developed. That’s the function of mindfulness, to understand what is being thought at a particular time with reference to the meditation domain. To be aware of the meditation domain demands establishing some knowledge of the suttas.

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I think of the Buddhas teachings as a ‘curriculum’ in the method to attain Nibbana. Once the curriculum contains all of the necessary material, it is just a matter of repeating it for each new ‘student’, who then has to train themselves to a level of competence, based on the materials provided.

At one time the Buddha was staying near Kosambī in a rosewood forest. Then the Buddha picked up a few rosewood leaves in his hand and addressed the mendicants: “What do you think, mendicants? Which is more: the few leaves in my hand, or those in the forest above me?”

“Sir, the few leaves in your hand are a tiny amount. There are far more leaves in the forest above.”

“In the same way, there is much more that I have directly known but have not explained to you. What I have explained is a tiny amount. And why haven’t I explained it? Because it’s not beneficial or relevant to the fundamentals of the spiritual life. It doesn’t lead to disillusionment, dispassion, cessation, peace, insight, awakening, and extinguishment. That’s why I haven’t explained it.

And what have I explained? I have explained: ‘This is suffering’ … ‘This is the origin of suffering’ … ‘This is the cessation of suffering’ … ‘This is the practice that leads to the cessation of suffering’.

And why have I explained this? Because it’s beneficial and relevant to the fundamentals of the spiritual life. It leads to disillusionment, dispassion, cessation, peace, insight, awakening, and extinguishment. That’s why I’ve explained it.

That’s why you should practice meditation …”


Rosewood: Dalbergia sissoo - Wikipedia

This is probably the tree also referred to when “heartwood and sapwood” is mentioned, such as MN 30.

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It was actually at Dhamma Wheel.

  1. Reasons given by mainstream Indian Buddhists for rejecting Mahayana sutras

  2. Bhāvaviveka’s attempted rebuttal

In another [rebuttal] he quotes the Simsapa Sutta in an attempt to impugn the authority of the [First] Council. In this sutta the Buddha admits that he hasn’t revealed all that he knows to the bhikkhus and so Bhāvaviveka concludes that it’s irrelevant if Mahayana sutras weren’t recited at the Council. All it means is that Mahayana sutras are like the simsapa leaves on the trees rather than the ones the Buddha was holding in his hand. Unfortunately Bhāvaviveka seems to have shot himself in the foot with this particular argument, for to say that Mahayana sutras are like the leaves on the trees is tantamount to admitting that they are not of any soteriological importance — which is precisely what his opponents are claiming.


So too, bhikkhus, the things I have directly known but have not taught you are numerous, while the things I have taught you are few. And why, bhikkhus, have I not taught those many things? Because they are unbeneficial, irrelevant to the fundamentals of the holy life, and do not lead to revulsion, to dispassion, to cessation, to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbāna.


Hmmm… at the risk of being skewered as a heretic, I’m going to put the cat amongst the pigeons! :slightly_smiling_face:

Let’s compare the 866 hours of speaking time for the suttas with the record of Ajahn Chah. He spent a prolific amount of time giving Dhamma talks (sometimes night long!), most of which were recorded using modern equipment. His disciples have since collected all the available Ajahn Chah Dhamma talks and they run to 693 pages! :nerd_face: That’s way, way less than the number of suttas.

Perhaps the question should be “How come the Buddha’s disciples were able to record and pass onto us so many suttas?”

I will be eternally grateful for the untold number of monks who dedicated their lives, generation after generation, to memorizing and passing on the Teaching. If I know anything of Dhamma at all, it is because I stand on the shoulders of these giants. :anjal: :anjal: :anjal:


Thanks, that is helpful.

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Thank you, Bhante. Because the parallel is completely untraced and untraceable until the event of some archaeological manuscript find, it becomes impossible to objectively establish whether Ven Bhāvaviveka is selectively (mis)quoting a legitimate śrāvaka scripture or paraphrasing it in such a way as to introduce something not in the original. Ven Bhāvaviveka has the sutta as a dialogue between Ven Ānanda and the Buddha I believe you said, which is unlike either the Sarvāstivādin or Theravādin versions of the sutta. It could be the śrāvaka sutta of another non-Sthaviravada sect like the Mahasamghikas. That is of course a speculation and not a real argument. But the speculation would be that non-Sthaviravada sects might be expected to have more divergence in their scriptures when compared with Theravāda than when Theravādin suttas are compared with Sarvāstivādin and Dharmaguptaka.

Ven Bhāvaviveka could be a bad paraphraser with an obvious agenda.


Do we know what text his quotation is found? The Sarvastivada version agrees in meaning with the Theravada but the wording is quite different, suggesting to me it’s not that old.

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Since you read Chinese you might like to check the Vijñānakāya of the Sarvāstivādin Abhidharma Piṭaka. I understand from Lance Cousins’ article, Person and Self, that in the debate on the pudgala the Pudgalavādin makes an analogous use of the siṃsapa simile, centuries before Bhāvaviveka and (perhaps) quoting from the version in the Sammitīya or Vatsiputrīya canon.

L.S. Cousins:

Let us illustrate the Vijñānakāya debate with one example. The protagonists are the Personalist and the follower of the emptiness teaching (Suññatavāda). We will call the latter the Voidist. The Personalist asks what is the object of loving-kindness. The Voidist replies that it is the five aggregates given the label of ‘being’. The Personalist, not unreasonably, suggests that this is not in harmony with the suttas which recommend loving-kindness towards living beings rather than aggregates. The Voidist counters with reference to the six classes of consciousness. The object of visual consciousness is visual form. The cases of hearing, smelling, tasting and touching are similar. The object of mental consciousness is dhammas. In none of these cases would lovingkindness have a being as its object.

It follows therefore that the Personalist must affirm a seventh class of consciousness [i.e., one that can cognize a *pudgala* ]. The Voidist then argues that this is equivalent to accusing the Buddha of ignorance.

The Personalist replies that the Buddha certainly knew it, even if he didn’t proclaim it. The Voidist counters with the well-known saying that the Buddha did not have the ‘closed fist’ of a teacher who holds back some of his teachings from his advanced disciples. The Personalist replies with the equally well-known simile which compares the leaves on a single siṃsapā tree with those on the trees of the forest to illustrate the difference between the teachings which the Buddha actually taught and those which he knew but did not teach. However, the Voidist gets the last word by pointing out that the truths which the Buddha knew but did not proclaim were precisely those which were not conducive to following the path to enlightenment. If therefore the pudgala exists, it is not conducive to the path!


There’s a couple different places we can find this simile interpreted in Chinese sources. It comes up in the Mahayana Parinirvāṇa Sutra (T374-5) and also in a text called the Sarvâstivāda Vinaya Vibhāṣā (T1440). Neither of them bring up this point about what the Buddha didn’t teach wasn’t conducive, but unfortunately, they don’t quote the sutra verbatim, so that we can’t see what they were reading in their canons. In fact, in T1440 (at 504a05), the author claims that the Buddha didn’t teach everything because sentient beings couldn’t accept everything.

I decided today to translate SA 404 so we can see it in English. It has that same caveat that rules out the validity of what the Buddha knew but didn’t teach as is found in the Pali version. So, I can see why Sarvastivadins could make these arguments.