Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

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Re: Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

Postby seanpdx » Wed Feb 10, 2010 4:24 am

retrofuturist wrote: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. :)


Too true. Too true.
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Re: Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

Postby seanpdx » Wed Feb 10, 2010 4:28 am

suanck wrote:
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.


Yeah, the link died a few (?) weeks ago or so. Copy and paste the link over at archive.org and you can view/save an "older version" of the URL -- when the file still existed. =)
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Re: Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

Postby suanck » Wed Feb 10, 2010 5:27 am

seanpdx wrote:
suanck wrote:
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.


Yeah, the link died a few (?) weeks ago or so. Copy and paste the link over at archive.org and you can view/save an "older version" of the URL -- when the file still existed. =)


Got it. Thanks a lot!

Suan.
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Re: Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

Postby nowheat » Thu Feb 11, 2010 7:25 am

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

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


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



Yeah, the link died a few (?) weeks ago or so. Copy and paste the link over at archive.org and you can view/save an "older version" of the URL -- when the file still existed. =)

For those coming along later, try: http://tinyurl.com/yhh4nbg and use the "Print" option on the upper left which will allow you to save the file as a PDF.

Thanks for the reference to this, really interesting!

:namaste:
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Re: Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

Postby David N. Snyder » Sun Feb 14, 2010 1:07 am

seanpdx wrote:
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.


Why would there be parallels and still be inauthentic? Of course, that could be possible, but that wouldn't make it definite. There would have to be a vast conspiracy network to all agree to put in inauthentic material.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reproducibility
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corroboration

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 nowheat » Sun Feb 14, 2010 12:51 pm

David N. Snyder wrote:Why would there be parallels and still be inauthentic? Of course, that could be possible, but that wouldn't make it definite. There would have to be a vast conspiracy network to all agree to put in inauthentic material.

I think it's a case of history going to the winners. Considering that the suttas did not get written down for almost 500 years after the Buddha lived, and then they were written down by one particular school (in Sri Lanka, I believe), all it would take would be for that one particular school to have, sometime in its history, misconceived a notion or two, and that would be what would be passed on. It takes no conspiracy at all, simply the normal human way of having meaning and understanding shift over time.

Then, you have the written versions on which our suttas are based. My understanding is that our oldest copies are 500 years back, which puts it at about 1500 C.E., first written copies at 100 C.E., so we have 1,400 years of hand-copying. It would not surprise me if several times in those 1,400 years, the number of monastics doing the copying became severely limited (especially in the centuries when the tradition was being persecuted by other religions that attempted to drive the Buddha's teachings into extinction). Only one school's copies may have survived. We know there were many different schools of thought in just the century or two after the Buddha's death, as there are references to their being several schools extant then, only one of which seems to have survived in anything approximating its original form. Surely that process continued? Schools splitting off, dying away, the strongest surviving, again and again in those 500 years?

It also takes no intent on the part of anyone for one meaning to overtake others. All it takes is the vicissitudes of time and human thought. In those times when the number of monastics narrowed to too few to manage to make fresh copies of everything that needed copying, only the highest priority items would be saved -- those that were clearest; the suttas that seemed confusing or contradictory would be less likely to be preserved. Every time a page came to be copied that had portions that were unreadable, large or small, those filling in the blanks would fill them in from their own understanding of the teachings, from what their teachers had taught them, and from unreliable memory -- which is part of the reason we get so many repeated pericopes, sometimes in places where they don't make sense (evidence that they are drop ins from elsewhere -- such dropins that do make sense may well have blurred what was being said in places, but we can't always tell anymore what's original and where the blurring comes in). In the "oral transmission" days every time one forgot what came next, something that was easily remembered, or available from frequent repetition in other suttas, would get inserted. These would have the effect, over time, of bringing what was being said into conformity with whatever the current school believed was the correct teaching.

We humans are far too unreliable to have passed the Buddha's teachings on with anything close to perfect accuracy of the thoughts, never mind the words (imho).

:namaste:
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Re: Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

Postby Paññāsikhara » Sun Feb 14, 2010 1:00 pm

Nowheat,
That is why comparisons should be made with all Buddhist materials, not just Theravada ones. Parallels are then quite possibly traceable to the time of Asoka, when most of the early schools parted company, probably only a little over 100 yrs after the parinirvana.
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Re: Sutta length as a proxy for authenticity

Postby Alex123 » Thu Mar 11, 2010 11:34 pm

retrofuturist wrote: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. :)


Another point of view.

It is harder to "sneak in" larger sutta than a small sutta. So it is not certain either way. Personally I believe very much in 4NT and that cessation of craving leads to cessation of suffering/mental discomfort.




With metta,

Alex
”Even the water melting from the snow-capped peaks finds its way to the ocean."
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