There is overlap as well, of course, such that the two sources agree with respect to inclusion or exclusion in some cases, but on balance the formless attainments are much more strongly represented on the Indian side of things, and I am more inclined to think that formless talk is developmentally additional, on the one hand, rather than lost, on the other.
Hmm, this smacks of Schopen's levelling hypothesis.
It's theoretically possible that after the 4 main Agamas left India and were closed into Chinese translations during the 4th to 5th centuries, the Indians merrily levelised all their Agama/Nikaya literature. However, I agree with Wynne that that theory is way out there in "cloud cuckooland". I don't know if Schopen reads Chinese or the Chinese Agamas, but I don't see him producing any evidence that this has occurred, other than as a conjecture.
Speaking of Ven Analayo as a source, do you have a reference to page number of his Comparative Study I could refer to? Just skimming over those MN suttas with their Chinese parallels in his essay, I see the formless bits popping up much too frequently to be dismissed. One of the things we have to careful with the MA is that, for whatever reason, the editors worked with slightly different translation conventions. You won't find 非想非非想 (neither perception nor-non-perception, eg used in the SA) used inevitably in the MA (based on a word search on CBeta) but another term is used 無 想 (wuxiang) as a proxy, which is unfortunately often confused with 無相 (animitta
) (because 想 and 相 sound alike). Even in the DA, the term used is 有想無想 for NPNNP, an obvious typo, if compared against MN 1 (see below). Some of the differences could also be accounted for in the transcription process (ie the transcriber misheard the translator, or the translator misheard the reciter of the Prakrit) or even in the type-setting process.
Just doing a quick survey of the MN and its Chinese parallels, we find the formless bits from these suttas paralleled in the Chinese -
MN 1 (where another variant translation is used 非有想非無想, somewhat similar to the DA's)
MN 26, (none for MA 30, given Ven A's explanation that the Pali probably suffered a textual error, where the attainments were described as superior to awakening),
MN 105 (no Chinese parallel),
MN 106 (using 無想, instead of the more standard 非有想非無想)
MN 143 (formless bits missing from the 2 Chinese parallels)
I did this quick survey, using BB's index for NPNNP in his MLBD to locate all the NPNNPs in the MN, and comparing it against Ven Analayo's comparisons, and double-checking against the Taisho.
It would be good if we actually have a more complete qualitative analysis of term frequency in the Nikayas versus the Chinese Agamas, to see just how populated each collection is with the formless bits. For now, I don't think the levelling hypothesis works for the MN and MA on the out-of-India scenario, given how there's only a 16.7% variance (2 out of 12 MN suttas). If you remove MN 26 from the equation, that gives 90% agreement between the 2 collections. By Textual Criticism standards, won't you say that's too much of a coincidence?
This is where one now needs to tackle Wynne's argument that these convergences were very, very early, ie pre-Asokan.
Edit - my bad. Miscalculated. Should have been 25% variance against the MN (3 out of 12). Leaving out MN 26 gives an 82% correspondence.
Plus, perhaps I should not have just relied on the MLDB index for the NPNNP. I think there's at least one sutta that does not employ the 8 attainments model, but uses the saññāsamāpatti
model which has only 7 attainments, culminating in Nothingness.
Dear Mods - this thread has gone off on a textual criticism tangent, when we began discussing the canonicity of the attainment of cessation and formless attainments. Not particularly helpful to the OP. Could those bits be excised and transferred to the Early Buddhism section? Perhaps titled "Doubts about the authenticity of the suttas concerning the Formless Attainments and Attainment of Cessation". Thanks