I wanted to make an outline of just the Saṁyutta Nikāya and what the original groupings were according to the aṅga theory of Yin Shun. As a source, I used some comparative diagrams from The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism, by Mun-keat Choong.
I included just the contents of the Saṁyutta Nikāya, and left out correspondences to the Saṃyukta Āgama. I have also fixed a few mistakes in the saṁyutta names and numbers as printed in the book.
The highest organization principle is the aṅga. These in turn are divided into vagga, and then each vagga contains saṁyutta. These saṁyutta are simply groups of topics. I have marked the vaggas with “-V” to distinguish them clearly from the other categories. The numbering is following the numbers of the saṁyuttas as found in the received Saṁyutta Nikāya.
As Ajahn Sujato has pointed out in The Authenticity of the Early Buddhist Texts, the vaggas are clearly forming an outline of the Four Noble Truths. Unfortunately the Pali vaggas likely do not quite retain the original names, because there is a “mahā” vagga, rather than “magga” vagga as we see in the Chinese version. In the outline below, I have used the designation “magga” rather than “mahā”.
- khanda-V: suffering
- saḷāyatana-V: suffering
- nidāna-V: arising & cessation
- magga-V: the path
The resulting divisions are quite clear, and give an interesting look into how the early Buddhist texts developed and evolved over time. The Sutta and Geyya sections are very similar between the Chinese and Pali versions, while the Veyyākaraṇa sections differ more. The basic theory of Yin Shun is that the Sutta section is the oldest collection, which is why the Yogācārabhūmi commentaries only address the sutta aṅga.
8. vangīsa thera
That’s interesting. Bhikkhu Bodhi sent me an almost identical list when I asked him how to approach the SN some years ago:
I suggest you might take [the Samyutta Nikaya] in
what seems to me to be the original order, the most reasonable order,
preserved better in the Sarvastivada school (in Chinese
translation). In the Pali tradition, it seems, the books of the
Samyutta were re-arranged and as a result one loses sight of the
underlying groundplan. As I see it from the Chinese Samyukta Agama,
this collection attempted, in broad terms, to mirror the pattern of
the four noble truths.
One should begin with Part III (of the Pali),
22-the Khandha-samyutta, followed by Part IV, 35-the
Salayatana-samyutta and 36-Vedana-samyutta. These were to represent
the noble truth of suffering.
Then take Part II, the Nidana-samyutta . This represents the noble
truths of the origin and cessation of suffering. You can also look at
Part IV-43 and 44-which again relate to the truth of cessation.
Then take Part V [45-56], just about all the chapters are
important. This is called in Pali the Mahavagga, the large
compilation, but in the Chinese Samyukta Agama it was called
Margavagga, the compilation on the path; for it represents the fourth
truth, the way to the cessation of suffering.
Thereafter you can take any of the minor chapters that catch your
interest. Part I, the collection with verses, can be taken last. In
the Samyukta Agama it was in fact put at the end, as a kind of
supplement to the original Samyutta collection, but for some reason
the early elders of the Theravada tradition moved it to the beginning,
where it has effectively discouraged many brave souls who were intent
on reading the Samyutta from proceeding further.
Thanks for this. There is a passage related to this in A History of Mindfulness, which goes into the organization of the Pali and Chinese versions as well. Starting on page 48, we see:
The overall structure of the Saṁyutta Nikāya/Āgama corresponds roughly with the four noble truths. Bhikkhu Bodhi notes that this correspondence is more apparent in the Chinese than the Pali. The five aggregates and six sense media pertain to the first noble truth; dependent origination (Nidāna-saṁyutta) to the second and third; and the path is the fourth. We may refer to these fundamental topics in a general sense as the ‘saṁyutta-mātikā’. We mentioned above that the backbone of this Magga Vagga is the 37 wings to awakening; in the Chinese these are preserved in an order that more closely follows the standard Sutta sequence. We therefore have a number of indications that the Chinese is more structurally reliable than the Pali: the position of the Bhikkhu-saṁyutta; the overall correspondence with the four noble truths; and the sequence of the wings to awakening.
There have been some new printings of the Āgamas in Chinese that are now in the correct order. I wonder if the Saṁyutta Nikāya will be similarly organized and “cleaned up” in the future? That would be the closest thing to the original Buddhist suttas in their proper order.
And here’s a part of the Introduction from Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation:
The organization of SN, from Parts II to V, might be seen as corresponding roughly to the pattern established by the Four Noble Truths. The Nidānavagga, which focuses on dependent origination, lays bare the causal genesis of suffering, and is thus an amplification of the second noble truth. The Khandhavagga and the Saḷāyatanavagga highlight the first noble truth, the truth of suffering; for in the deepest sense this truth encompasses all the elements of existence comprised by the five aggregates and the six internal and external sense bases (see 56:13, 14). The Asaṅkhatasaṃyutta (43), coming towards the end of the Saḷāyatanavagga, discusses the unconditioned, a term for the third noble truth, Nibbāna, the cessation of suffering. Finally, the Mahāvagga, dealing with the path of practice, makes known the way to the cessation of suffering, hence the fourth noble truth. If we follow the Chinese translation of the Skt Saṃyuktāgama, the parallelism is still more obvious, for this version places the Khandhavagga first and the Saḷāyatanavagga second, followed by the Nidānavagga, thus paralleling the first and second truths in their proper sequence. But this version assigns the Asaṅkhatasaṃyutta to the end of the Mahāvagga, perhaps to show the realization of the unconditioned as the fruit of fulfilling the practice.
Is it possible to provide a link or edition name for the “cleaned up” Chinese Āgamas? I’d like to see one.
Hi Jacqueline, do you mean an outline of the angas, vaggas, and samyuttas, like the one above?
Or do you mean the texts themselves? And if so, Chinese or English?
The “new printings”? In Chinese?
Oh, right. Yes, all three volumes are freely available online. They are accompanied by the Yogācārabhūmi commentaries as well:
The title is something like Saṃyukta Āgama Sūtra and Śāstra Combined Edition.
Ah! So it was Master Yinshun who rearranged it! Many thanks.
Thanks for this. I wonder, is this edition edited at all? Is the text changed from the CBETA edition, or is it merely in a different order?
Just to note, Yin Shun’s reconstruction was done based on his analysis of the Pali and Chinese. Unknown to him, in the same period, sanskrit texts of the SA were recovered, from Dunhuaang, I believe, and studied by German scholars. They discovered a new sequence of texts which was, as it happens, virtually identical with Yin Shun’s hypothesized version. Neither group knew of each other’s work, and it was Rod Bucknell who noticed this. It is an excellent example of independent confirmation of the results of text-critical work. But also, a salutary reminder of the extent to which Buddhist studies in the European and Asian worlds often pass each other by.
According to the introduction (雜阿含經論會編（上）自序) the variant characters/misprints were edited and punctuation was added.
Oh, thanks. @llt,
I wonder whether this would be a better source for us than CBETA?
I just checked, and they have no Taisho line numbers, so unfortunately not very useful for us. Yet another case where standoff properties would be great, we could import both versions and match them purely on the text.
That’s interesting about the other sequence being found, and so true about how research gets ignored or overlooked due to the language barriers.
One small thing I noticed is that with the sequence given in Yin Shun’s book, there is no “nutriment” saṃyukta, but one is shown in Wikipedia. The nutriment saṃyukta is very small, only about eight sūtras, but they are all obviously about the four nutriments. Maybe the list has been revised a bit since the 1980’s.