Is the Sutta Nipata the oldest and therefore the only truly reliable text in the canon?

Textual analysis and comparative discussion on early Buddhist sects and texts.
zan
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Is the Sutta Nipata the oldest and therefore the only truly reliable text in the canon?

Post by zan » Tue Sep 10, 2019 2:23 am

Does it even cover the bulk of the Dhamma?

If all we can be confident of actually going back to the Buddha himself is a relatively short collection of poems, what is left of the Dhamma?

I was under the impression that the oldest text was the Samyutta Nikaya, and if we had to say that's the only reliable text for that reason then no problem! It's MASSIVE and covers most, if not all topics, and the other Nikayas contain suttas that are partly built from Samyutta suttas.
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Re: Is the Sutta Nipata the oldest and therefore the only truly reliable text in the canon?

Post by thomaslaw » Tue Sep 10, 2019 2:45 am

zan wrote:
Tue Sep 10, 2019 2:23 am
Does it even cover the bulk of the Dhamma?

If all we can be confident of actually going back to the Buddha himself is a relatively short collection of poems, what is left of the Dhamma?

I was under the impression that the oldest text was the Samyutta Nikaya, and if we had to say that's the only reliable text for that reason then no problem! It's MASSIVE and covers most, if not all topics, and the other Nikayas contain suttas that are partly built from Samyutta suttas.
No, Sutta Nipata is not oldest and is not the only truly reliable text in the canon. I think it is correct to say the oldest text was the Samyutta Nikaya.

Certain texts of Sutta Nipata correspond to the Gatha anga (no. 4 anga). The Udana anga (no. 5) is Dhammapada. Both compiled in the Khuddaka-nikaya rather than being made part of the four basic Agamas/Nikayas, according to Yin Shun.

See p. 10, note 34 in Choong Mun-keat, The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism: A Comparative Study Based on the Sutra anga portion of the Pali Samyutta-Nikaya and the Chinese Samyuktagama (Series: Beitrage zur Indologie Band 32; Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, 2000). The first three angas (Sutra/Sutta, Geya/Geyya, Vyakarana/Veyyakarana) are found in the Samyutta/Samyukta collection, according to Yin Shun.

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Re: Is the Sutta Nipata the oldest and therefore the only truly reliable text in the canon?

Post by zan » Tue Sep 10, 2019 2:54 am

thomaslaw wrote:
Tue Sep 10, 2019 2:45 am
zan wrote:
Tue Sep 10, 2019 2:23 am
Does it even cover the bulk of the Dhamma?

If all we can be confident of actually going back to the Buddha himself is a relatively short collection of poems, what is left of the Dhamma?

I was under the impression that the oldest text was the Samyutta Nikaya, and if we had to say that's the only reliable text for that reason then no problem! It's MASSIVE and covers most, if not all topics, and the other Nikayas contain suttas that are partly built from Samyutta suttas.
No, Sutta Nipata is not oldest and is not the only truly reliable text in the canon. I think it is correct to say the oldest text was the Samyutta Nikaya.

Certain texts of Sutta Nipata correspond to the Gatha anga (no. 4 anga). The Udana anga (no. 5) is Dhammapada. Both compiled in the Khuddaka-nikaya rather than being made part of the four basic Agamas/Nikayas, according to Yin Shun.

See p. 10, note 34 in Choong Mun-keat, The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism: A Comparative Study Based on the Sutra anga portion of the Pali Samyutta-Nikaya and the Chinese Samyuktagama (Series: Beitrage zur Indologie Band 32; Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, 2000).
Thanks. Do you know where it is stated that Samyutta is oldest, maybe a quote?
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Re: Is the Sutta Nipata the oldest and therefore the only truly reliable text in the canon?

Post by thomaslaw » Tue Sep 10, 2019 2:59 am

I think you may have to read the mentioned book (pp. 9-10).

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Re: Is the Sutta Nipata the oldest and therefore the only truly reliable text in the canon?

Post by retrofuturist » Tue Sep 10, 2019 3:07 am

Greetings Zan

It's been a while since I looked into these matters of chronology, but regardless of where you try to place it, you can certainly regard Sutta Nipata as old suttas.

So old in fact that it provides a more "pre-systematized" account of the Dhamma, before certain classification schemes, groupings and "boilerplate text" became common features of the suttas. Frankly, I think the progressive systematization of the Dhamma over the centuries since it was first taught has done something of a disservice to it, and created a certain mental rigidity in many adherents. To that effect, a reading of the Sutta Nipata can help to cut through some of the frameworks and scaffolding that surrounds the Dhamma, and help us cut through to some deep truths. It is not surprising (to me at least) that ven. Nanananda makes such heavy use of the Sutta Nipata in his expositions, as sometimes the analogies, similies, double-entendres, allusions and prose can help to undercut the tendency to reify classification schemes.

:reading:

As for your question of what's "reliable", I defer to what ven. Nanavira wrote in the preface to his Notes on Dhamma...
Nanavira Thera wrote:These books of the Pali Canon correctly represent the Buddha's Teaching, and can be regarded as trustworthy throughout. (Vinayapitaka:) Suttavibhanga, Mahāvagga, Cūlavagga; (Suttapitaka:) Dīghanikāya, Majjhimanikāya, Samyuttanikāya, Anguttaranikāya, Suttanipāta, Dhammapada, Udāna, Itivuttaka, Theratherīgāthā. (The Jātaka verses may be authentic, but they do not come within the scope of these Notes.) No other Pali books whatsoever should be taken as authoritative; and ignorance of them (and particularly of the traditional Commentaries) may be counted a positive advantage, as leaving less to be unlearned.
Metta,
Paul. :)
"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"It is natural that one who knows and sees things as they really are is disenchanted and dispassionate." (AN 10.2)

“Truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” (Flannery O'Connor)

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Re: Is the Sutta Nipata the oldest and therefore the only truly reliable text in the canon?

Post by zan » Tue Sep 10, 2019 3:19 am

thomaslaw wrote:
Tue Sep 10, 2019 2:59 am
I think you may have to read the mentioned book (pp. 9-10).
Agh. I don't have that one. Oh well. Thanks anyway.
Never read anything I write as an accurate statement about anything whatsoever. First, look to wiser ones than I. Look to wise texts. Unless you can confirm their accuracy from a reliable source, treat my writings like word games, nothing more.

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Re: Is the Sutta Nipata the oldest and therefore the only truly reliable text in the canon?

Post by zan » Tue Sep 10, 2019 3:25 am

retrofuturist wrote:
Tue Sep 10, 2019 3:07 am
Greetings Zan

It's been a while since I looked into these matters of chronology, but regardless of where you try to place it, you can certainly regard Sutta Nipata as old suttas.

So old in fact that it provides a more "pre-systematized" account of the Dhamma, before certain classification schemes, groupings and "boilerplate text" became common features of the suttas. Frankly, I think the progressive systematization of the Dhamma over the centuries since it was first taught has done something of a disservice to it, and created a certain mental rigidity in many adherents. To that effect, a reading of the Sutta Nipata can help to cut through some of the frameworks and scaffording that surrounds the Dhamma, and help us cut through to some deep truths. It is not surprising (to me at least) that ven. Nanananda makes such heavy use of the Sutta Nipata in his expositions, as sometimes the analogies, similies, double-entendres, allusions and prose can help to undercut the tendency to reify classification schemes.

:reading:

As for your question of what's "reliable", I defer to what ven. Nanavira wrote in the preface to his Notes on Dhamma...
Nanavira Thera wrote:These books of the Pali Canon correctly represent the Buddha's Teaching, and can be regarded as trustworthy throughout. (Vinayapitaka:) Suttavibhanga, Mahāvagga, Cūlavagga; (Suttapitaka:) Dīghanikāya, Majjhimanikāya, Samyuttanikāya, Anguttaranikāya, Suttanipāta, Dhammapada, Udāna, Itivuttaka, Theratherīgāthā. (The Jātaka verses may be authentic, but they do not come within the scope of these Notes.) No other Pali books whatsoever should be taken as authoritative; and ignorance of them (and particularly of the traditional Commentaries) may be counted a positive advantage, as leaving less to be unlearned.
Metta,
Paul. :)
Thank you. That is reassuring. Also "...less to be unlearned." is a poignant and undervalued lesson!
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Re: Is the Sutta Nipata the oldest and therefore the only truly reliable text in the canon?

Post by DooDoot » Tue Sep 10, 2019 3:27 am

My intuition is the Sutta Nipata contains newer teachings, such as the Metta Sutta and Maha-Mangala Sutta, which appear to use a different style of language or speaking that, at least to my intuition, sounds belated.

As for many other suttas that are discussions between the Buddha & others, I personally tend to ignore these suttas. They don't sound reliable to me, particularly the language, which appears sort of primitive to me.

My sense is suttas will have doctrinal or language problems about meaning when the discussion is initiated by an outsider or non-Buddhist that uses their own linguistic nuances. This, to me, makes the sutta unreliable because the Buddha is mirroring the language & terms of others (rather than using his own language & terms).

Imo. Regards :smile:
Last edited by DooDoot on Tue Sep 10, 2019 3:29 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Is the Sutta Nipata the oldest and therefore the only truly reliable text in the canon?

Post by zan » Tue Sep 10, 2019 3:28 am

DooDoot wrote:
Tue Sep 10, 2019 3:27 am
My intuition is the Sutta Nipata contains newer teachings, such as the Metta Sutta and Maha-Mangala Sutta, which appear to use a different style of language or speaking that, at least to my intuition, sounds belated.

As for many other suttas that are discussions between the Buddha & others, I personally tend to ignore these suttas. They don't sound reliable to me, particularly the language, which appears sort of primitive to me.

Imo. Regards :smile:
Interesting. Thanks for sharing.
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Re: Is the Sutta Nipata the oldest and therefore the only truly reliable text in the canon?

Post by zan » Wed Sep 11, 2019 1:39 am

I just read the relevant sections in "A History of Mindfulness" by Bhikkhu Sujato.

He disagrees about the conclusions drawn by some on the Sutta Nipata and finds that there are some suttas that are earliest and a collection that is earliest:
...all of
the texts identified as earliest discourses are found in the Saṁyutta, the
earliest collection.
-A History of Mindfulness, Bhikkhu Sujato
This is refreshing and heartening! The Samyutta Nikaya contains almost everything you could possibly want to learn of the dhamma. The bulk of the dhamma is present in the Samyutta Nikaya. So, not that we should say this, but just as a hypothetical: if we say that the oldest texts are the most likely to go back to the Buddha himself and are therefore the most reliable, and that these texts are the Samyutta Nikaya, then we are on firm ground: the bulk of the dhamma can reasonably be counted on as reliable. Doubly fantastic when we notice that the other Nikayas have many suttas that seem to be built by piecing together suttas from the Samyutta. Even if these suttas seem late, if they are built largely of early material, then they have similar reliability.

If it was just the Sutta Nipata, we'd be up a creek because there's just not enough of the vast information of the dhamma preserved within. So we would have to say the bulk of the dhamma is of questionable dating and may not go back to the Buddha, and therefore the bulk of the dhamma would have to be said to be of questionable reliability (if we use the above parameters, which, again, it's not to say that we should use such parameters at all).

I imagine the other three Nikayas are considered largely early for the reason I wrote above: largely built of early material shared with the Samyutta, and probably with some material that may not be from the Samyutta but is considered early for other reasons.

What a relief! I have been barbed by this Sutta Nipata opinion for years and it's nice to finally have discussed it and come to a reasonable and satisfying conclusion.

Side note: To be fair, this is not necessarily the most reasonable attitude because even the latest material that doesn't go back to the Buddha could have been composed by an arahant or other wise practitioner and therefore be just as useful as early material. That's why I have clarified that I'm not saying we should use the parameters of early is reliable, late is unreliable.
Never read anything I write as an accurate statement about anything whatsoever. First, look to wiser ones than I. Look to wise texts. Unless you can confirm their accuracy from a reliable source, treat my writings like word games, nothing more.

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Re: Is the Sutta Nipata the oldest and therefore the only truly reliable text in the canon?

Post by thomaslaw » Wed Sep 11, 2019 2:08 am

Zan,

Yes, I agree with you. :meditate:

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Re: Is the Sutta Nipata the oldest and therefore the only truly reliable text in the canon?

Post by retrofuturist » Wed Sep 11, 2019 2:39 am

Greetings Zan,

I'm not sure you can take each entire Nikaya and attribute it to a single point in time. I think it's more likely that the development of each Nikaya spans a particular time-range and that these time-ranges overlap significantly.

Nonetheless, do not let me discourage you from heaping praise upon the Samyutta Nikaya! It is my personal favourite sutta collection, and this discussion has prompted me to ensure it is the first nikaya that I re-read. The sequencing of the groupings is also rather profound, and I think it would make a big difference to the way many people approach the Dhamma, if they actually understood and comprehended the Nidana-vagga (SN12 - SN21) first before moving onto later vaggas about the aggregates and the sense-bases. It is context, which if fully appreciated, would greatly enhance their reading and appreciation of those latter sections.

(Similarly with the Mūlapariyāya Vagga of the Majjhima Nikaya and the benefit of it as 'pre-reading' and context for what follows).

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

"It is natural that one who knows and sees things as they really are is disenchanted and dispassionate." (AN 10.2)

“Truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” (Flannery O'Connor)

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Re: Is the Sutta Nipata the oldest and therefore the only truly reliable text in the canon?

Post by zan » Wed Sep 11, 2019 3:14 am

retrofuturist wrote:
Wed Sep 11, 2019 2:39 am
Greetings Zan,

I'm not sure you can take each entire Nikaya and attribute it to a single point in time. I think it's more likely that the development of each Nikaya spans a particular time-range and that these time-ranges overlap significantly.

Nonetheless, do not let me discourage you from heaping praise upon the Samyutta Nikaya! It is my personal favourite sutta collection, and this discussion has prompted me to ensure it is the first nikaya that I re-read. The sequencing of the groupings is also rather profound, and I think it would make a big difference to the way many people approach the Dhamma, if they actually understood and comprehended the Nidana-vagga (SN12 - SN21) first before moving onto later vaggas about the aggregates and the sense-bases. It is context, which if fully appreciated, would greatly enhance their reading and appreciation of those latter sections.

(Similarly with the Mūlapariyāya Vagga of the Majjhima Nikaya and the benefit of it as 'pre-reading' and context for what follows).

Metta,
Paul. :)
That makes sense, thanks.

As to the importance of comprehending the Nidana-vagga, it has been a long time since I've sat down with the Samyutta Nikaya and upon your advice I believe I'll read the sections you recommend. Much appreciated.
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Re: Is the Sutta Nipata the oldest and therefore the only truly reliable text in the canon?

Post by santa100 » Wed Sep 11, 2019 1:36 pm

zan wrote:I was under the impression that the oldest text was the Samyutta Nikaya, and if we had to say that's the only reliable text for that reason then no problem!
While chronology is a factor in determining the reliability of a text, it should not be the only and exclusive one. It's like in martial art, how long a martial art's been around in and of itself does not guarantee survivability in real life combat. So it's perfectly legit. to investigate the whole Nikayas, put those ideas to the tests and metrics in AN 8.53, only until then would one be able to determine their reliability.

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Re: Is the Sutta Nipata the oldest and therefore the only truly reliable text in the canon?

Post by Zom » Wed Sep 11, 2019 6:05 pm

Certain parts of Suttanipata are very old and thus very interesting. Though, as Dhammapada, it does not explain Dhamma fully and in all details. Also some suttas from Suttanipata are very late additions - I guess, added or composed after Buddha's death (or, well, Parinibbana).

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