I'm trying to work out the significance of the following passage from DN16.
Is there some lesson to be learned from it? Why would the Buddha drop hints, only to effectively go "too bad, so sad" once Ananda worked out what the Buddha was hinting about.
I don't see the sense in it, and am confused here about the Buddha's intentions (assuming of course that it is a legitimate passage... Maurice Walshe raises some serious doubts about the legitimacy of certain passages of this sutta).
I think that analyzing the suttas too much can lead one to doubt their veracity or the Buddha's virtue. However, with the great preponderance of humor and satire, in sharp contrast to the later Buddhist writings, it seems plausible that much of the suttas were not historically accurate but neither were they intentional lies either.
To explain what I mean, it's important to understand the mindset of early human beings. Early in human history, there wasn't a very sharp distinction between fiction and non-fiction. When people would write stuff down or create stories, they would blend fact with fiction, not for malicious reasons but because that's just the way things were. Either fiction was passed off as fact because it was something received by word-of-mouth and subject to exaggeration, or they intentionally engaged in creative improvement of what they already knew... to make the stories better or to glorify the subject matter. What they were doing may have actually been known but nobody cared because it was a good story
. Aside from Buddhist texts, you see examples of this in the Bible and among the Greek poets.
And the telling of stories serves an important social role that cannot be fulfilled if such stories are strictly fiction or non-fiction. If the stories we share are strictly fiction, they aren't taken as seriously; they aren't regarded as applicable to experience. But if such stories are strictly fiction, they do not catch the reader's attention, there may be substance lacking, so the message isn't as clear. Imagine how the world might be a bit different if people regarded Aesop's fables as fact. But on the other hand, let's imagine how the world's religions might be a bit different if they were aware of any of the flaws of their founders or the various inaccuracies there might be.
Fictional media, like books and media, serves a similar role of defining virtues, creating a framework for worldview, and a path for self-fulfillment, but it's often not quite specifically targeted at that (think of how many movies are crap) and even if it is, it isn't taken as seriously because it's seen as mere entertainment. Non-fiction, though, is generally boring and depressing.
A person might find fault with this, saying that the truth is the truth is the truth, and yet psychologists will tell you that the faculty of memory is as much a creative process as it is recollective. Should we be as neurotically obsessed over "what really happened," with regards to our personal lives too? That is, can we not trust or value the human memory because memories are at least partly re-created and not merely recalled?
Lastly, the Digha Nikaya seems to be particularly reflective of this sort of thing. The other collections are somewhat more literal, or so I've heard. But regarding the suttas as entirely literally true is dubious and trying to reconstruct the past history is probably a waste of time.