“But how do we know,” it may be asked, “that with the closing of the First Council the Sutta recension that they compiled remained intact, without additions? For if no additions were made later then, true enough, we would have here the actual Teaching of the Buddha. But what grounds are there for accepting this as so?”
A good and important question. The answer being, that we don’t know that “no additions were made later”: quite the contrary, we do know they were made.
The Canon had been open and growing for nearly a half century. For it to be suddenly closed, and for there to be an immediate acceptance of that closure sufficiently widespread for it to be effective, is contrary to reason. Only when the compilation had come to be generally regarded as sacrosanct could the Canon be successfully closed; and such an attitude necessarily develops gradually. And the evidence of the Suttas themselves supports this view. There are, for example, discourses in which Venerable ānanda appears not as the Buddha’s shadow but quite apart from the Buddha. In these discourses he is regarded, except by Venerable Mahā Kassapa, as a respected elder; he is called mahā-ācariya, “great teacher” in A. X,96 (v,198) and in S. XVI,11 (ii,218) he is said to have been touring the Southern Hills leading a great company of monks. It is clear that at least some of these discourses took place after his attendancy on the Buddha had ended, with the decease of his master. Indeed, two of them — Subha Sutta, D. 10, and Gopaka-Moggallāna Sutta, M. 108 — state specifically in their introductory material (D. i,204 and M. iii,7) that they took place “not long after” the Buddha’s decease. And there are discourses involving monks other than Venerable ānanda in which the text itself informs us that the conversation took place after the Buddha’s passing away. Nor can we reasonably suppose all these talks to have occurred during the few months between the Buddha’s decease and the convening of the First Council. Some of them may have, but Madhurā (of M. 84), for instance, was in Western India, not so far from present-day Delhi but a great distance From Rājagaha, over very bad roads (A. V,220 (iii,256)): even if the discourse itself had originated before the Council met, it could hardly have become known in Rājagaha in such a short time, let alone become popular enough for inclusion in the recension. But even if such is maintained, there still remains the Bakkula Sutta, M. 124 (iii,124-28), in which Venerable Bakkula asserts, at least thirty-three times, that he has been a monk for eighty years.
Now, all accounts agree that the Buddha’s decease took place forty-five years after his awakening. Therefore even if Venerable Bakkula had been ordained very soon after the establishment of the Order, the discourse still had to have taken place at least thirty-five years after the closing of the First Council. And in all likelihood it took place even later than that although Venerable Bakkula could not have been spoken of by the Buddha unless his ordination took place during the Buddha’s lifetime: i.e. the Bakkula Sutta postdates the First Council, but by less than eighty years. We can be quite certain, then, that the First Council did not produce the version of the texts that we now have. But we can be equally certain that the compilation they produced is in no way dramatically different from what we now have. Consider:
If we examine the seven Suttas just referred to, we will notice that they have in common a distinctive feature. Whereas the usual way the discourses begin is: “One time the Exalted One was dwelling at…” these discourses make no mention of where the Buddha dwelt. Rather, they begin: “One time Venerable ānanda (or Venerable Udena, or whoever) was dwelling at…” In other words, by this method they inform us at the very start that they are in fact later additions and are not to be taken as having been part of the First Council’s compilation. There is no attempt to disguise the fact. On the contrary, there is a conscientiousness in its assertion.
And when we look through the Nikāyas we find other discourses which follow this same form: “One time Ven. So-and-so was dwelling at…” Although they do not always otherwise declare themselves to be later additions — for once should be enough — yet often we can find further telltale evidence that this is so. Thus for example in the Dīgha Nikāya aside from the already-mentioned Subha Sutta, there is only one other discourse out of the thirty-four in that collection wherein we are told the dwelling not of the Buddha but of the main individual, Venerable Kumāra Kassapa, in this case. This discourse — the Pāyāsi Sutta, D. 23 (ii,316-58) — involves a long discussion between Venerable Kassapa and the chieftain Pāyāsi, mainly on the subject of rebirth. The chieftain presents a series of thought-out reasonings as evidence that there is no rebirth. Venerable Kassapa presents counter-arguments, primarily in the form of elaborate similes, showing the flaws in Pāyāsi’s theses. In the end although Venerable Kassapa does not actually offer any arguments in favour of rebirth, Pāyāsi declares himself to be both convinced and pleased.
Now, on numerous occasions the Buddha declared that for beings constrained by craving there is rebirth (S. XXII,25 (iii,26) etc). He said that he could remember his own past lives (M. 4 (i,22) etc), that he could see the passing on of beings according to their deeds (M. 4 (i,22-3) etc), and that by means of certain mental practices others could develop these abilities (A. X,102 (v,211) etc), and had done so: e.g. the Venerable Mahā Moggallāna and Anuruddha. But nowhere do the Suttas record the Buddha arguing in favour of rebirth on logical grounds; nor would we expect him to do so for rebirth is not a matter of logic. Yet despite Venerable Kassapa’s assertion that until then he had neither seen nor heard of anyone sharing Pāyāsi’s views, there must have been many sceptics to judge both from the views ascribed by the texts to the various teachers of the day and from the frequency with which the Suttas assert rebirth; and most monks — even among those who had personally achieved complete self-purification — would have had to accept rebirth on the basis of confidence in the Buddha rather than from direct knowledge (see S. XII,70 (ii,122-3), and compare A. VII,54 (iv,78-82)). After the Buddha’s decease, then, there was a strongly felt need for some sort of textual authority to lend support to these monks on the question of rebirth, just as the Madhurā Sutta, mentioned earlier, seems to have been included to lend support to the Buddhist teaching of ethical equality between castes. It matters not at all that Venerable Kassapa’s similes are unlikely to convince a modern sceptic: they were appropriate to their time; they filled an existing need. And that need would have been felt most strongly among the reciters and preservers of the long discourses.
The Pāyāsi Sutta, which is obviously the model for the much later Milindapañha, could have been made much shorter — and hence included in any of the other Nikāyas — by eliminating extraneous introductory and concluding material and some of the more elaborate similes; so it was not only due to considerations of length that it came to be included in the Dīgha Nikāya. Rather, questions about rebirth are more apt to be raised by the laity whose goal is to obtain a good rebirth than by monks whose aim is to transcend rebirth entirely, and in fact the arguments of the Pāyāsi Sutta, concerned as they are with reasoning and simile, are more likely to convince a layperson than a practising monk who — questions of relevance aside — might be better convinced by evidence concerned with direct reflection and perception. Of the four Nikāyas the Dīgha is, for reasons we have already noted, the one most directed to the interests of laypeople, thus lending substantiation to the Commentarial suggestion that Venerable ānanda was primarily responsible for this collection. Hence the monks who would most likely seek textual support on the question of rebirth would be the dīgha-bhānakas, the “reciters of the Dīgha”. There would have developed among the individuals of the various companies who shared the responsibility for various portions of the long discourses a consensus that the Pāyāsi Sutta, until then a part of the peripheral material known by those reciters but not included in their texts, should be formally included in the Nikāya. Since the Dīgha is divided into three Vaggas, or sections, each about a volume in length, and since the Pāyāsi Sutta, is now the last discourse of the second Vagga, the responsibility apparently was assigned to or taken up by those who recited the middle portion of the long discourses. However, it was not always the case that later Suttas came to be placed at the end of a Vagga, as the evidence shows.
The discourse makes no claim to being the ipsissima verba of the Buddha. It presents itself as being, in its central portion, a conversation between a certain fairly obscure monk and a certain layman, apparently mentioned nowhere else in the Suttas; there is no reason not to accept it on those terms. It acknowledges itself to be a later addition as the Commentator Dhammapāla points out at Vimāna Vatthu Commentary, p. 297: indeed, every discourse identified by the traditional commentaries as post-First Council begins, it seems, with the “One time Venerable So-and-so” formula. But it was not a haphazard addition: the mechanism by which the Suttas were passed on necessitated, before the Canon was closed, that additional material could be inserted only when there was a common accord among those who were responsible for a portion of the texts.
Turning now to the Majjhima Nikāya we learn more about the process of adding discourses. Other than those already mentioned there are two discourses in the Majjhima that make no mention of the Buddha’s dwelling place: the Anumāna Sutta, M. 15 (i,95-100) and the Māratajjanīya Sutta, M. 50 (i,332-8). Both begin: “One time Venerable Mahā Moggallāna dwelt in the Bhagga Country…” Since we know from S. XLVII,14 (v,163-5) that both Sāriputta and Mahā Moggallāna predeceased the Buddha, the discourses themselves could not have taken place after the time of the First Council as was evidently the case with the Pāyāsi Sutta; rather they were simply not included in that compilation. But we note that the two Majjhima Suttas have the same venue, and that the Bhagga Country was an out-of-the-way place, at least as measured by the infrequency of its mention in the Suttas. Since Venerable Mahā Moggallāna and Venerable Sāriputta were the two chief disciples of the Buddha, the monks living among the Bhaggas would certainly have remembered the former’s visit to them and would have kept in mind what he had said and done, as part of their local tradition.
There must have been in residence there some companies of majjhima-bhānakas, preserving at least the first third of the Majjhima Nikāya, which today contains 152 Suttas and, like the Dīgha, is divided into three volume-length Vaggas. They would be the ones to have wished to include these two discourses — all the more precious for having taken place there — in their collection, to raise them from the lower status of local tradition and to afford them additional protection against being lost. When meeting with neighbouring majjhima-bhānakas, as they must have done from time to time, not only to recite together, they successfully convinced their fellow-monks to include these two discourses in their own recitations. Thus, due in effect to local boosterism, the Canon grew. And when we look at the Samyutta Nikāya we find further evidence of this.
In the entire Vana Samyutta (IX (i,197-205)) we find no mention of the Buddha. And all but one of these fourteen discourses take place in Kosala. The monks living in the woods (vana) of Kosala apparently managed to get their own local tradition, much involved with deities, included in the Canon. So apparently did the followers of Venerable Sāriputta, for although elsewhere in the Nikāyas he is found frequently in discussion with the Buddha, in the Sāriputta Samyutta (XXVIII (iii,235-40)) none of the ten discourses make mention of the Teacher; nine of them take place in Sāvatthī. Similarly the four consecutive Samyuttas (XXXVIII-XLI) named after, respectively, the wanderers Jambukhādaka and Sāmandaka, each containing sixteen conversations with Venerable Sāriputta, the first set entirely in Magadha, the second among the Vajjians; Venerable Mahā Moggallāna, eleven discourses, all set in Sāvatthī, and the lay disciple Citta, ten discourses, all set at Macchikasanda, are apparently later additions to the Samyutta Nikāya of discourses already in existence when the First Council met, but not compiled by them. It should be noted that the Suttas concerned with Citta clearly reveal attitudes of lay devotees rather than of monks.
And there are further examples in both the Samyutta and Anguttara Nikāyas; but we need not investigate them, for we can see by now that the method whereby any new material could be inserted into the collections had to involve a consensus as to its suitability and also to include in each case a “warning label” — “Venerable So-and-so was dwelling at…” — that the discourse is not part of the original compilation. There are about 200 such discourses, filling roughly 350 pages of print, which is about six per cent of the total.
And by the same evidence we can know that neither was any material lost nor were any of the Suttas arbitrarily altered. For exactly the same mechanism that required consensus in order to add to the Canon would have come into force had any attempt been made to alter a text. And we can well imagine the difficulty, the virtual impossibility from the very outset, of such a consensus being achieved in order to alter what had been laid down by those very monks who were venerated as the founders of the various lineages (see S. XIV,15 (ii,155-7)).
In order for any Sutta or part of a Sutta to have been lost, we should have to suppose either a collective amnesia among all the monks of all the companies who were reciters of that Sutta — hundreds, or more probably thousands of ambulatory amnesiacs! — or else the breaking up and disappearance of every single company responsible for a certain portion of the Suttas — and this in a time when all the evidence indicates that the Order was thriving and growing — together with the refusal or inability of any single monk (or ex-monk) from any of those lost companies to come forward to teach the texts to the surviving groups. A most improbable combination of events! No, the evidence shows clearly that there were additions to the texts, but to suppose either substantial changes or losses is contrary to reason.
It must be emphasized primarily for the benefit of scholarly readers that we did not begin by assuming that Suttas which do not refer to the Buddha in their introductory material are therefore later additions to the Canon. Rather, we first discovered a few Suttas that certainly describe events that had taken place after the Buddha’s decease. Examining them, we noticed that they possessed one feature in common and in distinction to the great majority of discourses. We then looked at other texts which also displayed this feature and found therein further grounds to accept that those texts, too, were probably later additions to the Canon. We described in detail the evidence found in several of these texts and indicated in brief other Suttas providing additional evidence; but we do not propose to present the data to be found in a number of other texts, for to do so would require a very long and technical and uninteresting digression. We will note only that this evidence consists of a large number of small, and a few not-so-small, points, all tending in the same direction, with no cases of an opposite tendency.
For how long did this process of slow accretion continue? We can be quite certain that by the time of the Second Council which met a century after the Buddha’s decease, the process had already ended, the four Nikāyas being regarded as closed, and that this view was ratified and finalized by that Council. The evidence:
All additional Suttas involve “first generation” monks, i.e. contemporaries of the Buddha but who, in some cases, outlived the Teacher. The only instance which can reasonably be considered an exception is that of Venerable Nārada, whose talk with King Munda — Ajātasattu’s great-grandson, according to later accounts — is recorded at A. V,50 (iii,57-62). However, even in this case we have a discourse at S. XII,68 (ii,115-8) — clearly earlier than the Anguttara Sutta, for there he is said to be already a worthy one (arahat), i.e. fully liberated, whereas here he is self-described as not yet arahat, still a sekha — where Venerable ānanda also has a part. So if Venerable Nārada was not contemporaneous with the Buddha, he was at least not far from it. Venerable Nārada’s discourse to King Munda is, as we have it, identical to a discourse to the monks spoken by the Buddha: A. V,48 (iii,54-56).
Later sources tell us that it was during the time of Kālasoka, the third Magadhese king after Munda, that the Second Council convened. The Vinaya’s description of this Council is much more detailed than, and about twice the length of, its report on the First Council. The impetus for the meeting was the exposure and condemnation of certain relaxations of monastic discipline which had arisen among a company of monks centred in Vesālī, the famous “ten points”, the most important of which concerned a relaxation of the prohibition against “accepting, using, or consenting to the deposit of money”. We are told of the politicking that went on before the Council met, and we are introduced to the main players in that drama, the leading monks of the day. Not one of these eight monks nor any of the lesser monks mentioned is known to the four Nikāyas. If the four Nikāyas had been then regarded as open to additional material, surely we would expect to find these monks represented.
What happened is clear: however highly these monks might have been regarded individually, for of course some of them would have achieved full purification, those monks who were not contemporaries of the Buddha could never achieve the distinction of those who had known him personally. Later monks belonged, inevitably, to a particular lineage which (like caste) could not be transcended. Only the founding elders, those who had established the lineages, could be regarded as beyond those lines. If the doings and sayings of these second generation monks were admitted to the Nikāyas, where would it end? The decision that needed to be reached if the Nikāyas were to survive at all was that with the passing of the first generation the collections had to be closed. Had they been left open they would have become amorphous and protean — not to be confused with “rich and varied”! — and would have lost their very purpose. Therefore whatever pressures may have developed to incorporate this or that “second generation” discourse needed to be opposed and obviously were.
27. E.g. the Madhurā Sutta, M. 84 (ii,83-90), with Venerable Mahā Kaccāna and King Avantiputta of Madhurā; the Ghotamukha Sutta, M. 94 (ii,157-63), with Venerable Udena and the brāhmana Ghotamukha. [Back to text]
28. This, however, is unlikely. Venerable Bakkula seems to be mentioned, in the whole of the four Nikāyas, in only one other context: in A. I,14 (i,25) he is declared by the Buddha to be foremost among all monks in respect of good health. [Back to text]
29. Because the Samyutta and Anguttara Nikāyas contain numerous short discourses, therein this formula is often abbreviated or omitted entirely. This almost certainly was done by the later scribes rather than the earlier reciters. In these instances we know that the Buddha is the speaker by his use of the term bhikkhave, the vocative form for “monks”; for in those days all monks addressed one another as āvuso (= “reverend” or “sir”); only the Buddha used the term bhikkhave. [Back to text]
30. This is in distinction to those Suttas, presumably not later additions, in which although the Buddha plays no part whatsoever in the narrative, yet his dwelling place at that time is nevertheless given according to the usual formula. Examples will be found at D. 34; M. 5, 9, 28, 69, 76, 127; S. V,1, VI,3, 6, 9; A. VI,34, etc. A comparison of S. LV,52 (v,405-6) and S. LVI,30 (v,436-7) points up the distinction. In neither case does the Buddha appear “on stage”; in both cases he is quoted; the first discourse begins “One time the Buddha was dwelling at…”; the second begins “One time a number of senior monks were dwelling at…” [Back to text]
31. Like Venerable Bakkula, Venerable Kumāra Kassapa is mentioned elsewhere in the four Nikāyas only at A. I,14 (i,24), where he is declared foremost in respect of embellished speech. Had the Pāyāsi Sutta not been appended to the Canon, we would have had no example of this. He is also mentioned once in the Vinaya. In affirming the validity of his admission to the Order, for which one must be at least twenty years of age, the Buddha stated that age is reckonable not from birth but from conception, declaring that it is in the womb that “the mind (citta) first arises, consciousness (viññāna) first becomes manifest.” — Mahāvagga I,75 (i,92) [Back to text]
32. Nor is length an absolute criterion. There are at least fifteen Suttas in the other three Nikāyas that are longer than the shortest of the Dīgha Suttas. [Back to text]
33. There are a number of other discourses which also begin “One time Ven. So-and-so…” but which similarly must have been delivered during the Buddha’s lifetime. For example there are about 75 such Suttas involving either Ven. Mahā Moggallāna or Ven. Sāriputta or both. There are also two Suttas (S. XLI,9 (iv,300-302) and A. II,36 (i,65-7)) wherein it is specifically stated in the dialogue that the Buddha was then living at Sāvatthī, in the latter instance, but in the former the location is not given. Therefore we cannot assert that all “One time Ven. So-and-so…” discourses were delivered after the Buddha’s decease: only that they came to be included in the Canon at a later date. [Back to text]
34. A number of other “One time Ven. So-and-so…” discourses are also set in remote locales: ālavī, Avantī, Cetī, Madhurā, etc., generally West of the centres where the texts locate, Venerable ānanda: Vesālī, Pātaliputta, Rājagaha, Kosambī. Although during the Buddha’s day the West of India was still “pioneer country” as regards the Teaching, we know (as discussed in the Appendix) that within a century of the First Council these western territories had risen to monastic prominence and, perhaps, cultural importance as well: Taxila was already a centre of learning even in the Buddha’s day: Mahāvagga VIII,1,6-7 (i,269-70). [Back to text]
35. Since this evidence — “One time Venerable so-and-so dwelt at…” — once noted seems obvious, it may be wondered why it has been unreported until now. That the Commentaries should not remark upon it is not remarkable, not only because they lacked in the Fifth Century A.D. the scholarly apparatus available today — word- and name-dictionaries, concordances, indexes, etc. and of course printed editions of the texts, annotated and convenient to use — but also because India has been historically unhistorical-minded (see footnote 15): a concern with dates has traditionally been regarded as secondary to the act of placing one’s faith in a teaching. Historical questions are a particularly Western concern. As to why, therefore, modern scholars have failed to note this evidence, it may be kindest to allow each reader to form his own judgement. [Back to text]
36. A half dozen or so of these later discourses speak only of “a certain (unnamed) monk,” or “a group of monks.” Naturally in these cases we cannot know definitely that the monks were contemporaries of the Buddha. However, there is no reason to suppose otherwise: we find other texts wherein unnamed monks converse with the Buddha. There are another half-dozen or so Suttas involving monks who are mentioned nowhere else in the Canon and whose generation therefore cannot be established except by reference to post-Canonical works. Again, this is a feature found in some Suttas that are not later additions. At any rate, we would expect that were there any Suttas involving second generation monks, at least some of those monks would have been well-known leaders of companies, not the obscure or unnamed. No discourses involving nuns, it seems, are later additions. [Back to text]
37. One of these monks, Venerable Sabbakāmī, has some verses (453-58) in the Theragāthā of the Khuddaka Nikāya (see below) — appropriately enough, on the subject of sensuality (kāma). He is specifically identified in the report of the Second Council as being the oldest monk in the world, 120 years of age, and as having been a pupil of Venerable ānanda.
Westerners sometimes express surprise, or more than surprise, at the number of monks reported to have lived to extreme old age. However, it is recognized that the qualities that are co-adjuncts of mental calmness such as lack of bodily stress, etc. contribute to longevity; and since it is the business of monks to cultivate calmness, though not for the sake of long life, it is to be expected that monks would outlive the general populace. The Suttas tell us — Dh. 109, etc. — that longevity is also linked to respect for one’s elders. However, since this would not seem to be statistically quantifiable it is unlikely that Western medical science will ever be in a position either to confirm or disprove this thesis. [Back to text]
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