Thag 17.1: Phussattheragtha

Bhante @sujato G’day :anjal:

I hope you’re well Bhante :slight_smile:

I recently read the verses of Phussa from the Theragatha, beautifully translated Bhante, thank you!

I read the bit’s below:

and remembered reading this in the intro to Sects and Sectarianism

I haven’t actually read the whole book yet Bhante, but I understand roughly that the splits into the different sects didn’t happen until a while after the Buddha’s passing.

Still I couldn’t help noticing the reference to the different colored robes and was curious if there’s any connection at all?

Is Phussa referring to Buddhist monastics who have split into different sects?

If so does that mean this (the whole Thag 17.1 sutta, or the bits that are referring to different colored robes) is a later addition?

Thanks in advance Bhante :anjal:

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Well spotted! It does seem to be talking about the same phenomenon. I would agree that this sutta is late, and this is one reason for that.

The Saripurapariprccha is basically an early post-canonical text, probably not long after Ashoka, so the period of composition is not so different than the latest portions of the Thag/Thig. You’d have to look more widely at the Ashokan era texts, but on the face of it it does look like they are talking about the same thing.

If we take it on face value, the Mahisasakas wore blue robes. They were probably based in Mahissati in Avanti. The basis Sri Lankan Theravada, i.e. the Mahaviharavasins, also probably hailed from Avanti, although they are usually associated with Ujjeni further north.

Now, the school we know as Theravada were commonly called Tamrapaniya, “those from the copper-leaf land”, i.e. Sri Lanka. But the meaning of “copper-leaf” seems uncertain. Perhaps it came from the robe color (“copper-plumed”)? Or perhaps the meaning always had multiple senses?

Regardless, the Theravadins were complaining about “blue robed” monks, and the Sariputrapariprccha says there were blue-robed monks probably in the same region, which does suggest it was a real thing. Perhaps the community established by Mahakaccana split along these lines, the blue-robed monks of the southern capital Mahissati, and the ochre-robed monks of the northern capital Ujjeni.

I remember long ago having a conversation with @llt about this, and he argued that it was likely a genuine description, while I thought it was likely just a fable. Maybe I was wrong?


A further note, the names of the monk Phussa and the hermit Paṇḍarasagotta, or perhaps more likely the BJT variant paṇḍarassa gotto “whose clan was Paṇḍara” are only found here, further attesting to the lateness.

Now, the name Paṇḍara means “white, pale”, and could have a number of implications. The Paṇḍavas were the ancient protagonists of the Mahabharata. But consider the similarly-named Pāṇḍyas:

They were a powerful kingdom, attested for this time by Megasthenes, and located in the Dakkhiṇāpatha (Deccan), i.e. not far from Mahissati in Avanti. Perhaps this noteworthy gentleman was, rather, of the Pāṇḍya clan, rather than Paṇḍara, which seems to be otherwise unattested as a clan name.


Awesome :slight_smile:, thanks so much Bhante for your well-thought out answer and for getting back to me, much gratitude :anjal:

I have much to learn :grin: