Was the Suttanipāta compiled in the south?

Normally we assume that the EBT collections were compiled in the central regions of the Middle Country, around Rajagaha, etc. But the Suttanipāta is somewhat unusual, in that it has no counterpart in the northern collections. Certain portions of it are found, but as independent texts, and there seems to be no equivalent to the text as a whole.

One of the most striking portions of the text is the Vatthugatha of the final chapter, which is set in Assaka, which is further south than anywhere else in the EBTs. This then traces a journey back to the middle country, naming several places long the way, such as Ujjenī, the capital of Avantī. So we know that the most geographically prominent location is in the far south. The location is, however, only specified in the Vatthugatha introduction, which is known to be late. It seems likely that this text served as a conversion narrative for the region, showing that the prominent brahmin teachers all became Buddhists. The area is still known for its long association with brahmin sages.

The relation of the Aṭṭhakavagga to the south is less apparent. But it is cited twice elsewhere in the canon, once by Mahākaccāna and once by his student Soṇa. Now, Mahākaccāna was living in Avantī at the time, and it seems that he was the monk who introduced Buddhism to the area, and he used the Aṭṭhakavagga as a core text. Soṇa’s long journey from Avantī to see the Buddha perhaps served as a model for the journey of the sixteen brahmins in the Pārāyanavagga.

We find a couple of other southern connections as well. The Dhaniyasutta ([snp1.2]) is set on the banks of the Mahī river, which is presumably near the Mahissati mentioned in the Pārāyanavagga.

The Kasibhāradvājasutta is located in the “southern hills”, which while still within Magadha, lay towards the southern extreme of the Buddha’s normal domain, around 500 kilometres to the south-west of Rājagaha, along the road towards Avantī. The southern hills are also where the laywoman Nandamātā recited the Pārāyana in the early dawn before the visit of Sāriputta and Moggallāna. It should be noted that the southern hills were a remote and rare destination at that time, mentioned in only one other Sutta and three Vinaya passages. It was such an outlying district that the lay folk complained about how rarely it was visited by the Buddha and his mendicants ([pli-tv-kd1:53.1.3]).

There are, to be sure, plenty of other locations mentioned which lie within the normal middle country. Still, it seems to me that there is a definite tendency to emphasize the south. It even seems as if there is a somewhat systematic attempt to provide conversion narratives for the various stages along the southern road.

Could it be that the collection was compiled in the south, perhaps by Mahākaccāna’s students? And that it served as a primary text especially for brahmanical conversion? Further, since Mahinda lived in Avantī only a few generations later, could he have been educated in the same system, which is where he learned the text before introducing it to Sri Lanka?

The Suttanipāta is quoted a few times in the Milindapañha, which is of course of northern origin. However the core text was greatly expanded, and the quotes are in the expanded portions. Could this also be a sign that these passages were added in the south, either in Avantī or even later in Sri Lanka?


Fascinating theory bhante!

I wonder then, would it be still considered an “EBT”? I guess it raises the question, how many generations removed from the Buddha is a text allowed to be before we say it’s not “EBT” anymore.

Can this hypothesis also account for the more archaic language of the Snp? Or is the poetic purpose of the language a sufficient hypothesis? :saluting_face:

The Sutta Nipāta is divided into five sections. According to Ven. YinShun in his book The Formation of Early Buddhist Texts, in Chapter 11 (第十一章 小部與雜藏), Section 4 (第四項 經集)(https://cbetaonline.dila.edu.tw/zh/Y0033_011), the five sections of Sutta Nipāta were developed and expanded in different times. Some texts of the sections were composed early during the period of the collection of the Geya (Geyya) portion of SA/SN, some texts were collected later after the Early Buddhism period, and added in the south (“這由於阿育王(Aśoka)以後,說一切有部向西北發展;恒河(Gaṅgā)一帶與南方,都屬分別說系與大眾系的化區。凡佛傳偈頌,與《大事》相近而不同說一切有部的傳說,大抵為成立於阿育王時代以後。”).

In general, most of the texts of the Sutta Nipāta can be regarded as being compiled during the period of Early Buddhism (“大多數是成立於部派分裂以後的。雖成立的時代,先後不一,而從多數來說,《經集》所集的諸經,是可以看作原始佛教時代的聖典的。”)

Well, we have to be clear to make a distinction between texts and collections. Bhante is talking about the Snp as a collection here, and not about its individual suttas.

The Norton Anthology of English Poetry contains some very old poems, despite being a modern collection (for example).



No, and it is not correct to say that the Snp as a collection has archaic language.

Certain portions of Snp use language and literary forms that are probably as old as anything else found in the canon (not older!). Other portions, notably the Vatthugatha of the Parayanavagga, are among the latest portions within the EBTs.

It bears repeating that Warder, the founder of the modern historical theory of dating by meter, was of the opinion that “parts of this vast collection [the Sagāthāvagga of the Samyuttanikāya] may be at least as old as anything in the Suttanipāta”.

There’s no real reason to think that any of the verse collections are meaningfully older than the bulk of the prose nikayas.

Interesting. Does Yin Shun say anything more specific about this? Is he referring only to the Parayanavagga, or is there more to it?


Yin Shun in the book’s section 3 (第三項 波羅延) (i.e. Pārāyaṇa) mentions the Parayana-vagga in connection with “the south” for the possible location’s name of the editor (s); e.g. : “而且序偈所說的南方地名,可解說為與序偈編集者的區域有關。序偈與結說,稱賓祇耶為「大仙」,也似乎不適當。總之,序偈與結說,是屬於部派的[13]”

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For the benefit of the masses:

Moreover, the southern place names mentioned in the preface can be explained as being connected to the region of the redactors of the preface. In the preface and the conclusion, the use of term “great seer” for Piṅgiya also comes across as inappropriate. What we can conclude from this is that the preface and the conclusion are sectarian.


I think that the Snp is an odd choice of material for a primary text aimed at brahmanical conversion if its oldest material is no older than the bulk of the canon. If you are looking to convert brahmans, why not include any of the suttas specifically on Anatta? They would be far more to the point of refuting the Atman. The Parayanavagga, with its emphasis on the cessation of consciousness would serve this purpose to some extent as the cessation of consciousness with no residue would “prove” that Atman does not exist provided one is capable of the prescribed meditation.

Arguments found elsewhere to refute Atman that emphasize the ever changing five aggregates or our inability to be complete master over them would seem called for as the meditative states that would demonstrate them would be far more easily attained.

The Atthakavagga, with its emphasis on having no views with regard the world or other realms (Snp 4.3), would be of little value in converting brahmans. It contains no refutation of Atman, only exhortations not to have views. The level of samadhi prescribed only goes as far as a cessation of sense perception if we are to believe Snp 4.11. While Snp 4.11 does say

Snp 4.11
“Without normal perception or distorted perception;
not lacking perception, nor perceiving what has disappeared.
That’s how to proceed so that form disappears:
for concepts of identity due to proliferation spring from perception.”

The refutation of self does not apply to Atman, but a more visceral personal identity. Talk of the importance of the cessation of consciousness is derided as depending on views according to Bhikkhu Boddhi’s book “The Suttanipata” and the translation by Mills. This appears to be a rebuttal to the Parayanavagga which most definitely does promote views and indicates that Snp 4.11 was added later and that the two (the Atthakavagga and Parayanavagga) are in conflict. Why air dirty laundry to potential converts?

One of the version of the story involving Sona and Mahakaccana is The Story of Kotikarna, the first chapter of Divyavadana. Because Divyavadana is compiled by Sarvastivada which generally reside in the north, we can see how the story differ, or how the legend is recorded in the north.

Given the opportunity by the Blessed One, the venerable Śroṇa, following the Aśmāparāntaka intonation,) recited passages at length and out loud) from The Inspired Utterances (Udāna), The Farther Shore (Pārāyaṇa), and Discerning the Truth (Satyadṛś), as well as The Verses of Śaila (Śailagāthā), The Sage’s Verses (Munigāthā), and Discourses Concerning the Goal (Arthavargīya Sūtras)

Gilgit Manuscript variant: “as well as The Verses of Śaila , The Sage’s Verses , The Elder Monk’s Verses , The Elder Nun’s Verses , and Discourses Concerning the Goal(śailagāthāmunigāthāsthaviragāthāsthavirīgāthārthavargīyāṇi ca sutrāṇi) .

I think Arthavargīya Sūtra is another variant name for Aṭṭhakavagga?

But according to this version, Sona already know Parayana, so he can’t be the model for it. Of course, this story is from later text, so it can’t be relied fully.

The narrative of the story though, involve the story about meeting with many hungry ghost. Since this is the story intended to convert general populace, maybe it emphasize more about making merit.
The other part of the story is about how it is difficult to gather monks and ordain new monks. So Sona went to the Buddha to ask for permission, to reduce the quorum.

“I give my permission as follows,” the Blessed One said
[1] In the lands beyond the border, ordinations may be performed by five monks, if at least one of them is a master of the monastic discipline.

And other things related to Vinaya. The matter of Sona asking the matter related to Vinaya is also recorded in Pali sources.
In contrast, the sages in Parayanavagga asked the matter of subtle doctrine.

I think it is unlikely that Sona story became the prototype of Parayanavagga. The theme is just too different. Sure, it is possible that it became the model, just that I find it is unlikely.

Anyway, here is the part where Mahakaccana send Sona in Divyavadana:

At that time Śroṇa Koṭikarṇa was seated in the venerable Mahākātyāyana’s assembly. As one of those assembled,[ the venerable Śroṇa Koṭikarṇa got up from his seat, properly arranged his robe on one shoulder, kneeled with his right knee on the ground, bowed toward the venerable Mahākātyāyana with his hands respectfully folded, and said this to the venerable Mahākātyāyana: “Thanks to you, my instructor, I have seen the Blessed One through his dharmic form but not through his physical form. I too am going, my instructor. I shall see the Blessed One through his physical form as well.”

“You may do so, my child,” he said. “For it is as difficult to get a glimpse of perfectly awakened tathāgata arhats, my child, as it is of a flower from an udumbara tree. On my behalf, venerate with your head the feet of the Blessed One, and ask him whether he is healthy and so on, and whether he is comfortable and at ease. Then ask him these five questions:

[1] In the region of Aśmāparāntaka, Bhadanta, there are very few monks. A quorum of ten monks can only be filled with difficulty. Considering this, how should we proceed [with the ordination process]?

[2] The ground is rough with the prickly grains of the cattle-thorn bush.

[3] In the region of Aśmāparāntaka, such things are used for mats and rugs as sheepskin, cowhide, deerskin, and goatskin. In other regions, such things are used for mats and rugs as eraka grass, tree bark, silk, and cotton. In the very same way, [as it has already been said], in the region of Aśmāparāntaka,such things are used for mats and rugs as sheepskin and so on.

[4] People there are truly devoted to water and are preoccupied with bathing.

[5] If a monk sends another monk robes, once they’ve been sent off from here and if they are not delivered to their intended recipient [in the requisite time], for whom do these robes cause a serious misdeed involving forfeiture?

Oh thanks, so he was referring specifically to the Parayana.

I’m not sure this argument has any weight, given that there are multiple discourses in the Snp that are obviously addressed to brahmins and have nothing or little to say about not-self.

I don’t know how you arrived at this conclusion, but for the record, I edited Mills’ translation and it is not very good. Don’t rely on it for difficult passages. In this case, what he rendered as “cessation of perception” should be translated “perception of what has disappeared”, referring to the “form” of the four jhanas.

This is a difficult passage, and honestly I only felt like I understood it properly a couple of weeks ago.

Thanks for the quotes, that’s really interesting. Clearly Divy has expanded the earlier Vinaya passage. My understanding is that the Vinayas all? or most? include the Atthakavagga only. But I should check that.


In case some reading this thread didn’t see it, Bhante discussed the Pārāyanavagga and it’s history in this series of talks he gave a few months ago:
It’s great to see more discussion about this fascinating text!

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I just noticed a small and possibly related detail. Did you ever notice how many times a “flood” was mentioned in the Parayanavagga? It’s a lot! 14 times, as compared to 4 times in the Aṭṭhakavagga. It’s probably not too much of a reach to say that the flood is the primary image of fear in the Parayanavagga.

Notably, the sixteen brahmins are said to have lived by the banks of the Godhāvarī, which is said to have the greatest flood flows in all of India.

It would make sense that flooding was a serious threat to those living on its banks. But what is interesting about this is that there is nowhere in the actual sixteen questions that establishes the place of the brahmins. This is done solely in the Introduction.

The importance of the flood is, admittedly, only circumstantial evidence. But sometimes that is all we have.

And I think it goes beyond that. The idea of the flood is closely linked to the idea of the “far shore” to which one can escape—and which gives the whole chapter its name. The concluding verses emphasize this imagery even further:

Lying floundering in the mud,
I drifted from island to island.
Then I saw the Buddha,
the undefiled one who has crossed the flood.


I think there are quite a few suggestive points here, one more I would add, which speaks more to temporal/doctrinal matters but may support the notion that the collection was put together later and therefore perhaps further away, is the anxiety about saññāvedayitanirodhaṃ at Snp4.11:

“Without normal perception or distorted perception;
“Na saññasaññī na visaññasaññī,
not lacking perception, nor perceiving what has disappeared.
Nopi asaññī na vibhūtasaññī;
That’s how to proceed so that form disappears:
Evaṁ sametassa vibhoti rūpaṁ,
for concepts of identity due to proliferation spring from perception.”
Saññānidānā hi papañcasaṅkhā”.

“Whatever I asked you have explained to me.
“Yaṁ taṁ apucchimha akittayī no,
I ask you once more, please tell me this:
Aññaṁ taṁ pucchāma tadiṅgha brūhi;
Do some astute folk here say that this is the extent
Ettāvataggaṁ nu vadanti heke,
of purification of the spirit?
Yakkhassa suddhiṁ idha paṇḍitāse;
Or do they say it is something else?”
Udāhu aññampi vadanti etto”.

“Some astute folk do say that this is the highest extent
“Ettāvataggampi vadanti heke,
of purification of the spirit.
Yakkhassa suddhiṁ idha paṇḍitāse;
But some of them, claiming to be experts,
Tesaṁ paneke samayaṁ vadanti,
speak of a time when nothing remains.
Anupādisese kusalā vadānā.

If we take Na saññasaññī na visaññasaññī to refer to nevasañ­ñā­nāsa­ñ­ñāya­tana and Anupādisese kusalā vadānā to refer to saññāvedayitanirodho then the poem appears to betray an anxiety about the legitimacy of this meditative attainment, somewhat reminiscent of AN9.36 where we have, after a detailed Vibhanga style analysis (i.e featuring the phrase “that’s what I said but why did i say it?”) analysing the jhanas and ayatanas as basis for the ending of defilements:

In the same way, take a mendicant who, going totally beyond the dimension of infinite consciousness, aware that ‘there is nothing at all’, enters and remains in the dimension of nothingness.
evamevaṁ kho, bhikkhave, bhikkhu sabbaso viññāṇañcāyatanaṁ samatikkamma ‘natthi kiñcī’ti ākiñcaññāyatanaṁ upasampajja viharati.
They contemplate the phenomena there—included in feeling, perception, choices, and consciousness—as impermanent, as suffering, as diseased, as an abscess, as a dart, as misery, as an affliction, as alien, as falling apart, as empty, as not-self.
So yadeva tattha hoti vedanāgataṁ saññāgataṁ saṅkhāragataṁ viññāṇagataṁ, te dhamme aniccato dukkhato rogato gaṇḍato sallato aghato ābādhato parato palokato suññato anattato samanupassati.
They turn their mind away from those things,
So tehi dhammehi cittaṁ paṭivāpeti.
and apply it to the deathless:
So tehi dhammehi cittaṁ paṭivāpetvā amatāya dhātuyā cittaṁ upasaṁharati:
‘This is peaceful; this is sublime—that is, the stilling of all activities, the letting go of all attachments, the ending of craving, fading away, cessation, extinguishment.’
‘etaṁ santaṁ etaṁ paṇītaṁ yadidaṁ sabbasaṅkhārasamatho sabbū­pa­dhi­­paṭinissaggo taṇhākkhayo virāgo nirodho nibbānan’ti.
Abiding in that they attain the ending of defilements.
So tattha ṭhito āsavānaṁ khayaṁ pāpuṇāti.
If they don’t attain the ending of defilements, with the ending of the five lower fetters they’re reborn spontaneously, because of their passion and love for that meditation. They are extinguished there, and are not liable to return from that world.
No ce āsavānaṁ khayaṁ pāpuṇāti, teneva dhammarāgena tāya dhammanandiyā pañcannaṁ orambhāgiyānaṁ saṁyojanānaṁ parikkhayā opapātiko hoti tattha parinibbāyī anāvattidhammo tasmā lokā.
‘The dimension of nothingness is a basis for ending the defilements.’
‘­Ākiñcaññā­yata­na­m­pā­ha­ṁ, nissāya āsavānaṁ khayaṁ vadāmī’ti,
That’s what I said, and this is why I said it.
iti yaṁ taṁ vuttaṁ, idametaṁ paṭicca vuttaṁ.

And so, mendicants, penetration to enlightenment extends as far as attainments with perception.
Iti kho, bhikkhave, yāvatā saññāsamāpatti tāvatā aññāpaṭivedho.
But the two dimensions that depend on these—
Yāni ca kho imāni, bhikkhave, nissāya dve āyatanāni—
the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception, and the cessation of perception and feeling—are properly explained by mendicants who are skilled in these attainments and skilled in emerging from them, after they’ve entered them and emerged from them.”
nevasañ­ñā­nāsa­ñ­ñāya­tana­samā­patti ca saññāvedayitanirodho ca, jhāyīhete, bhikkhave, samāpattikusalehi samā­patti­vuṭṭhā­na­kusalehi samāpajjitvā vuṭṭhahitvā sammā akkhātabbānīti vadāmī”ti.

Again we have a sutta, where the speaker is implied to be the Buddha, where a kind of anxiety about saññāvedayitanirodho (and now nevasañ­ñā­nāsa­ñ­ñāya­tana as well) is evident, for who would be better to explain such things than the Buddha?

So one explanation for the ambivalence in Snp and the silence in AN may be that these particular texts are from a point in time when the meditative attainments in question had become more or less lost to the communities that redacted them as well understood phenomena, either through temporal or geographical distance or both.


Yes, there are multiple discourses in the Snp that addressed to brahmans and they do not address anatta. That is precisely the problem. What I said was

The problem is not that it could have been a primary text aimed at brahmanical conversion, but that you are saying the material in the Snp is no older than the rest of the canon. If the Snp was aimed at brahmanical conversion and the material on anatta was available, it would have been included. It would have been instrumental in convincing brahmans that the idea of Atman was flawed. This material was not included, because it did not exist at the time.

I think its an interesting idea, but I think the answer is found in the text of Snp 4.11. Whether or not a state without form or a state where there is nothing at all is a higher attainment is dependent on views and the Athakavagga exhorts no views. If you believe that consciousness will perish after death anyway, the cessation of consciousness does not get you much. If you believe in infinite rebirth which you regard as undesirable than the cessation of consciousness is a higher attainment. The Athakavagga proposes a solution that works in either case. The practitioner does not desire either extinguishment or rebirth and all that is required is the to see the world of the senses come and go and to see it when not “on the cushion” without a sense of being in it, which operationally means without attachments to what is in the world, which is effectively percepts. Bare knowledge of forms (as opposed to fully fleshed out percepts) enables you to function in the world without suffering in the world.

PS. I do not dispute that an understanding of meditation was lost over time. I just don’t think it is the culprit in Snp 4.11.

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As you probably know @Raftafarian I am very sympathetic to the view that the atthakavagga, parayanavagga and sekka patipada make up a very early stratum of the buddhist texts, and that there is significant development of doctrine (imv more in terms of presentation than in terms of fundamental content) that can be seen even within the 4 principle Nikayas.

I also tend to think that DN and MN “start” earlier than SN, and that SN most likely occurred in response to the DN/MN material becoming unwieldy and to some extent degraded. SN is thus a reformist text imv, and forms a kind of bridge between what I take to be earlier narrative material and what is universally agreed to be later abbhidhammic material.

I think that this is suggested by the “structural” nature of SN, it being more likely that unstructured material comes first and structure is imposed later, and by the preponderance of “mechanical permutation” in SN, where I think in contrast, the early suttas (and here I mean numerically early) of DN/MN tend not to “mix” or permutatively combine disparate formulas, again, this seems to my mind well explained by appeal to the idea that particular formulas came first, and the mechanical combination of them most likely comes later, as it depends on the pre-existence of the individual formulas.

All that said, it does appear that the 5th Nikaya, and the Suttanipatta within it pose some conundrums, it (the Khuddaka) was not considered as being of the same status (i.e a Nikaya) by the Sarvāstivāda, and so the question does arise as to how to explain the relation between it’s materials and the other 4.

One possibility is that the Suttanipatta is both early and late, i.e that it was learned by monastics very early, they went off to the south and became separated for a long time from the bulk of the monastic community, eventually contact was reestablished, and the redactors said, “well, we’ve already settled our 4 main volumes, maybe we can squeeze your stuff here in the miscellany”.

I like to play devils advocate because I find that holding many possibilities in mind and admitting to ones uncertainty when it comes to naturalistic explanations is very healthy and invigorating, so I wanted to attempt to provide @sujato with more grist for their mill so to speak.

I also tend to think that all these pictures and theories are more like “just so stories” and that the actual relation between temporal, geographic, doctrinal and proto-sectarian factors, and even other influences like weather and material culture and political support and economics etc etc and the formation of theses texts in the after all HUNDREDS of years for which we have really very little information outside of the texts as we have them now themselves, will probably never be known with certainty, and having a level of sympathy for the possibility that one’s own view is mistaken and the views opposed to it may in fact be correct, is only healthy and intellectually honest.

Finally, as to your explanation of the particular feature I point out in Snp I am not sure that it succeeds, my point is not so much that differing attainments might be prefered by differing practitioners based on their preferred ontological commitments, rather it is that the text admits of any uncertainty at all, this seems to me a very unusual feature of early Indian material, which is usually pretty definite in its opinions or at least in its refusal to give them - Jayatilleke has great fun pointing out the anxiety the few skeptical passages in the Rg Veda provoke in it’s commentators, and I struggle to think of any other passages in the EBT’s where the Buddha is implied to say anything like “some say there is a higher attainment” or “questions about these attainments should be directed to the experts” as in the AN passage.

It is the apparent uncertainty that strikes me as unusual, not the attainments or ontologies underneath them.


Ahh, but if we don’t? (It’s a difficult passage, and I’ll be posting an essay on it soon.)

This is a kind of language that some scholars are apt to use, but to my mind it’s a misleading imposition. Anxiety is where you feel a degree of internal stress and turmoil, and that has nothing to do with this passage. Sometimes, I agree, there is a persistent worrying at a point, so that the issue is ever bounced around and never quite resolved, such as the question of the bodhisatta’s leaving his wife and child behind. But that is not the case here. To treat every qualification as “anxiety” is too blunt an instrument.

This passage making a subtle distinction in the roles played by extremely elevated meditation states. It’s like saying that if a physicist says that “noble gasses are defined by their lack of reactivity in normal conditions, except for certain cases involving xenon”, then they have “a kind of anxiety” about xenon and whether it is really a noble gas. It’s not anxiety, it’s an understanding that there is nuance and complexity in the world, and that simple generalizations made in one place sometimes have to be qualified when looked at more closely.

You’re making all kinds of assumptions based on a particular idea of what brahmins were. The theory of atman is by no means fundamental to brahmanism. It was a philosophical speculation that developed among certain of the contemplative and reflective members of the community not long before the Buddha. Most of the things brahmins believed and did were to do with sacrifice, recitation, caste, the gods, and so on, none of which really has anything to do with the atman. So far as I know, atman doesn’t even occur in its philosophical sense in the Vedas, which are overwhelmingly the brahmanical text of reference for the suttas. Some of the texts aimed at brahmins in the suttas discuss the atman theory, others don’t.


Bhante, the suttas of the Pārāyanavagga don’t seem to mention atman, but they do mention the immaterial attainments, which I understood were taught by the Buddha’s teachers, who may well have followed the atman doctrine (and were not in the South…).

SNP5.7: The Questions of Upasiva

“Mindfully contemplating nothingness,”
“Ākiñcaññaṁ pekkhamāno satimā,
replied the Buddha,
(upasīvāti bhagavā)
depending on the perception ‘there is nothing’, cross the flood.
[Sujato: This is an abbreviated form of the phrase natthi kiñcī’ti that normally marks the dimension of nothingness.]
Natthīti nissāya tarassu oghaṁ;

Indeed yes, I discuss this at length in the essay I am endeavoring to finish! Neither here nor in the prose account of the Buddha’s former teachers is the doctrine of atman explicitly mentioned, except for one sutta of the Parayana.

Honestly, we should chill out about the whole self/not self thing. It’s just one of a whole range of topics. Empathetic reading listens to what texts are actually saying, rather than judging them because what they do not say doesn’t fit my idea of what they should say.

Again, it’s like someone talks to a physicist and afterwards they say, “But they didn’t mention anything about quantum ambiguity. What are they afraid of?” I dunno, physicists talk about all sorts of things?