Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

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Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Aug 26, 2009 5:03 am

Greetings,

I'm currently embarking on a reading of the Digha Nikaya, so I thought it timely to ask a question based on something I once heard (sorry I can't recall the source).

I've heard it said that as a general rule, the longer the sutta, the less likely it is, that the sutta is an historically accurate sutta.

Reasons for this include:

* Increased likelihood of it being cobbled together from various disparate sources
* Increased likelihood of additional details being added posthumously by those who never met the Buddha
* Suttas started out shorter, and over time expanded in length (compare the length of the average Samyutta Nikaya sutta to that of a Mahayana Sutra for example)

Do you think this is an accurate rule-of-thumb (if so, how accurate?) or are there other rules-of-thumb which provide a better pointer as to the accuracy of suttas and their legitimacy as artefacts that genuinely reflect the word of Buddha?

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


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One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

Postby gavesako » Wed Aug 26, 2009 6:33 am

Another way to check for authenticity would be to compare the Sutta in question with a counterpart in the Chinese Agamas for example. Often interesting things can come out of such comparisons, and one can speculate what the original pre-sectarian version of the Sutta was like.
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Re: Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

Postby Cittasanto » Wed Aug 26, 2009 8:03 am

Hi Retro
* Increased likelihood of it being cobbled together from various disparate sources
* Increased likelihood of additional details being added posthumously by those who never met the Buddha
* Suttas started out shorter, and over time expanded in length (compare the length of the average Samyutta Nikaya sutta to that of a Mahayana Sutra for example)

I think no1 is a possibility in some cases but it could also be reversed smaller suttas could of been made from larger ones, and this doesn't make them any less authentic only not originally seperate from the larger one, and a quote which the 'monks' found useful to remember,

there has been a discussion on another group between a member and myself about the satipatthana sutta both of us agree that it is (a possibility) that it is made up from other suttas but our angle of finding this valid is different, one being the reason behind the bringing together the smaller ones.

all I will say on the second point is that it is still a possibility even if it wasn't made up from smaller ones.

the third point I think could be valid but also could be complete rubish at the same time, neither true or false, not every conversation or teaching I have had is 30minuets or longer, some have been only a few minuets long or less than a minuet.
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Re: Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

Postby Cittasanto » Wed Aug 26, 2009 8:11 am

hi Bhante
gavesako wrote:Another way to check for authenticity would be to compare the Sutta in question with a counterpart in the Chinese Agamas for example. Often interesting things can come out of such comparisons, and one can speculate what the original pre-sectarian version of the Sutta was like.

Ven. Succato has done this in history of mindfulness, except I believe he has compared the pali satipatthana suttas to a different sutta,
I have attached a document I found in a link posted here a while ago which compared the different satipatthana suttas
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
With Metta
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Blog, - Some Suttas Translated, Ajahn Chah.
"Others will misconstrue reality due to their personal perspectives, doggedly holding onto and not easily discarding them; We shall not misconstrue reality due to our own personal perspectives, nor doggedly holding onto them, but will discard them easily. This effacement shall be done."
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Re: Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

Postby Dmytro » Wed Aug 26, 2009 9:37 am

Hi Retro,

Do you think this is an accurate rule-of-thumb (if so, how accurate?) or are there other rules-of-thumb which provide a better pointer as to the accuracy of suttas and their legitimacy as artefacts that genuinely reflect the word of Buddha?


In my opinion, this rule is misleading. There are far better ways. For example, there are words which occur almost exclusively in later texts:

ānubhāva
kilesa
bhāva
mālaka
yujjhati
yogin
rasmi
laddhi
vaḍḍhaki
vasabha
viññāṇaka
vimāna
vetulla

Prefixes:
ava-
samabhi-

Grammatical forms:
plural form of "citta"
yuvassa

There are detailed studies on this subject:

STUDIES IN THE ORIGINS OF BUDDHISM
by GOVIND CHANDRA PANDE

http://www.exoticindiaart.com/book/details/IDC304/

The Mind in Early Buddhism
Bhikkhu Thich Minh Thanh

http://www.budsas.org/ebud/mind/00_toc.htm

CHRONOLOGY OF THE PALI CANON
DR. BIMALA CHURN LAW

http://ccbs.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-ENG/bcl.htm

Inducing a Chronology of the Pali Canon
Paul Kingsbury

http://www.ling.upenn.edu/~kingsbur/inducing.pdf

Metta, Dmytro
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Re: Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

Postby Mawkish1983 » Wed Aug 26, 2009 9:59 am

Dmytro wrote:there are words which occur almost exclusively in later texts:

ānubhāva
kilesa
bhāva

mālaka
yujjhati
yogin
rasmi
laddhi
vaḍḍhaki
vasabha
viññāṇaka
vimāna
vetulla

Bhāva? What about punarbhāva? I rather think the idea of punarbhāva is great but if the word itself wasn't uttered by the Buddha what about the concept? I suppose I'm wondering, if a text is older, what does it mean for us as theravadin practitioners today?

Sorry, off topic, I'll start a new topic when I get around to it :)
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Re: Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

Postby gavesako » Wed Aug 26, 2009 10:17 am

Beware: bhāva is not the same as bhava, although for English speakers the pronunciation often gets muddled. (The Pali word is punabbhava.)
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Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26)

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Re: Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

Postby Mawkish1983 » Wed Aug 26, 2009 11:35 am

gavesako wrote:Beware: bhāva is not the same as bhava, although for English speakers the pronunciation often gets muddled.

Aaaah, my mistake... sorry.
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Re: Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

Postby David N. Snyder » Wed Aug 26, 2009 2:51 pm

I like Dmytro's analysis for determining the age and/or authenticity. I have heard that used by some scholar-monks and it seems to fit well with Rhys Davids analysis:

Thomas William Rhys Davids in his Buddhist India (p. 188) has given a chronological table of Buddhist literature from the time of the Buddha to the time of Ashoka which is as follows:

1. The simple statements of Buddhist doctrine now found, in identical words, in paragraphs or verses recurring in all the books.

2. Episodes found, in identical words, in two or more of the existing books.

3. The Silas, the Parayana, the Octades, the Patimokkha.

4. The Digha, Majjhima, Anguttara, and Samyutta Nikayas.

5. The Sutta Nipata, the Thera and Theri Gathas, the Udanas, and the Khuddaka Patha.

6. The Sutta Vibhanga, and Khandhkas.

7. The Jatakas and the Dhammapadas.

8. The Niddesa, the Itivuttakas and the Patisambbhida.

9. The Peta and Vimana-Vatthus, the Apadana, the Cariya-Pitaka, and the Buddhavamsa.

10. The Abhidhamma books; the last of which is the Katha-Vatthu, and the earliest probably the Puggala-Pannatti.

Those listed at the top or near the top, such as numbers one to five, are considered the earliest, oldest texts.

Since there is a lot of repetition in the Canon, it is not hard to find many teachings that match #1 above.
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Re: Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Aug 27, 2009 12:22 am

Greetings,

This morning I read the following sutta, which in some ways typifies my concerns about some parts of the Digha Nikaya...

DN 5: Kutadanta Sutta (A Bloodless Sacrifice)
http://www.mahindarama.com/e-tipitaka/D ... a/dn-5.htm

As pointed out by Maurice Walshe in the footnotes... http://www.mahindarama.com/e-tipitaka/D ... dn-5.htm#2

His name means "Sharp-tooth," and RD is almost certainly right in considering this an invented story. Apart from anything else, no Brahmin would have consulted the Buddha, of all people, about how to perform a sacrifice which was supposed to be their speciality. But at SN 3.1.9 we have the presumably historical story of how King Pasenadi of Kosala planned a great sacrifice [though of only 500, not 700 bulls, etc], with the Buddha's versified comments. From the commentary, though not the text, we hear that the King finally desisted from his intention. Perhaps the Buddha told the King this story on that occasion and the incident was later tactfully transferred from the King of Kosala to an imaginary Brahmin "with royal powers" living in the neighbouring kingdom of Magadha.


There are vasts tracts of text, for which none of the attendees at the First Council could possibly have heard (unless they were followers of Kutadanta who joined the Sangha and attained arahantship). There are not insignificant slabs of texts, duplicated verbatim here as they exist elsewhere. Furthermore, the sutta also ends up becoming a Jataka story, detailing one of the Buddha's previous lives. Finally, it falls into the common polemnical theme of the Digha Nikaya... many of these suttas, seemingly "constructed" with the purpose of countering the views of Brahmins, Jains and wanderers of other sects.

I'm not saying it's not a good sutta, and that it doesn't contain some good Dhamma... but there's cause enough for concern that perhaps this is not the word of the Buddha, despite being in the Sutta Pitaka.

Metta,
Retro. :)

P.S. Thanks for the excellent reply, Dmytro. I'll be sure to investigate further!
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

Postby BlackBird » Thu Aug 27, 2009 7:52 am

Just Off topic here for a second. Really enjoying Maurice Walsh's translation.
the Digha Nikaya isn't perfect, but it's pretty darn good.
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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Re: Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

Postby David N. Snyder » Thu Aug 27, 2009 2:26 pm

retrofuturist wrote:I've heard it said that as a general rule, the longer the sutta, the less likely it is, that the sutta is an historically accurate sutta.


Or maybe those specific teachings just needed longer explanations, for example the 62 kinds of wrong view (Digha Nikaya 1).

From Wikipedia:

Correspondence with the Dīrgha Āgama

The Digha Nikaya corresponds to the Dīrgha Āgama found in the Sutra Pitikas of various Sanskritic early Buddhists schools, fragments of which survive in Sanskrit. A complete version of the Dīrgha Āgama of the Dharmagupta school survives in Chinese translation by the name Cháng Ahánjīng 長阿含經. It contains 30 sūtras in contrast to the 34 suttas of the Theravadin Dīgha Nikāya. In addition, portions of the Sarvāstivādin school's Dīrgha Āgama survive in Sanskrit and in Tibetan translation.

==================================================================================================

In my opinion, there are enough parallels with the other texts and enough repetition in the other Nikayas not to suspect it.
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Re: Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

Postby gavesako » Thu Aug 27, 2009 3:39 pm

Bhikkhu Gavesako
Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26)

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Re: Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

Postby Mawkish1983 » Thu Aug 27, 2009 10:10 pm

I touched on this earlier but I'm not sure if it's off-topic... if texts in the canon are deemed unauthentic, how does that affect us? What does it mean for modern theravada?
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Re: Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

Postby David N. Snyder » Thu Aug 27, 2009 10:22 pm

Mawkish1983 wrote:I touched on this earlier but I'm not sure if it's off-topic... if texts in the canon are deemed unauthentic, how does that affect us? What does it mean for modern theravada?


I don't think any texts can or should be deemed inauthentic. But scholars and amateurs like us can discuss them and see what we might think to be better seen as a later text and possibly more of a commentary, than a Buddhavacana. If we decide for our own personal use to see a certain text as more of a commentary, we can still value those texts and just place more of the priority to the earliest texts which we know to be Buddhavacana. But that would ultimately be a personal decision.
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Re: Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

Postby Dan74 » Fri Aug 28, 2009 1:25 am

I think there is a saying (in a Sutta - citation?) to the effect of "anything that leads to relinquishing delusion is a word of the Buddha." Or "whatever is well-spoken is a word of the Buddha." If we had to be really concerned about the texts being the literal word of the Buddha, doubts would never cease. Luckily the Dhamma is a raft, not the shore.

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Re: Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Aug 28, 2009 1:34 am

Greetings Dan,

I think a lot of what we see in the Tipitaka is there because it is "well spoken" rather than the literal word of Buddha.

My concerns are that we're then relying on someone else's (other than the Buddha's) assessment that the comment is indeed "well spoken". Some things may seem "well spoken" on one level, but may not turn out to be so "well spoken" after all when viewed in light of other, more "well spoken" comments.

I'm happy to read and take on board that which is "well spoken" but I do have a definitive preference for knowing who in fact spoke it, as this influences my certainty that it truly is "well spoken" on the most deep and profound of levels.

To me, this is one of the main drawcards of Theravada Buddhism. That is, more direct (though not perfect, of course) access to the teachings of the historical Buddha, than things "well spoken" in his name by people who weren't Buddhas.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

Postby jcsuperstar » Sun Aug 30, 2009 12:02 am

i have a sutra i bought when i was still studying zen that is as long as the entire middle length discourses of the buddha book i have. when i sat them on the shelf next to each other i asked myself if it was reasonable to think that this could have been spoken by the buddha and remembered by ananda and transmitted over centuries. i have many doubts that this could be true, but also there are people who know the bible by heart, the epic of gilgamesh was oral for thousands of years and basicaly unchanged etc. so who knows.

also as to whether a pali sutta is real or not doesnt mean too much to me, the parts that were added or whatever are almost always the parts that dont really transmit the dhamma, they are almost always the story parts (like in the post above) the teachings are always similar to other suttas., i've noticed this from the few agama sutras i've read as well, the stories sometimes are different but the teaching is spot on the same as i've heard time and time again so it leaves little room for doubt as to what the "core" of buddhism is.
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Re: Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

Postby suanck » Wed Feb 10, 2010 3:07 am

Dmytro wrote:
Inducing a Chronology of the Pali Canon, Paul Kingsbury

http://www.ling.upenn.edu/~kingsbur/inducing.pdf

Metta, Dmytro


I could not access to this link. Does anyone know other links where I can download that PDF file?

Thanks
Suan.
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Re: Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

Postby seanpdx » Wed Feb 10, 2010 4:20 am

David N. Snyder wrote:In my opinion, there are enough parallels with the other texts and enough repetition in the other Nikayas not to suspect it.


Unfortunately, this really has very little bearing on whether a text is authentic. An inauthentic text/teaching, introduced early enough, would still have parallels between sects.
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