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Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity - Dhamma Wheel

Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths. What can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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retrofuturist
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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. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead" - Thomas Paine

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

- Theravada texts
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Re: Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

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



He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them.
But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion …
...
He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them … he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.

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Re: Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

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



He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them.
But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion …
...
He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them … he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.

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Re: Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

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



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Re: Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

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


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

- Theravada texts
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Re: Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

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


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David N. Snyder
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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

"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead" - Thomas Paine

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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." -

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Re: Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

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

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gavesako
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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)

- Theravada texts
- Translations and history of Pali texts
- Sutta translations

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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

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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. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead" - Thomas Paine

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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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the mountain may be heavy in and of itself, but if you're not trying to carry it it's not heavy to you- Ajaan Suwat

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Re: Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

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


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Re: Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

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