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A Study of the Digha Nikaya of the Suttapitaka

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A Study of the Digha Nikaya of the Suttapitaka

TRIPITAKA or Tipitaka as the southern Buddhists call it means three baskets; really it means the three broad divisions into which the literature of the southern Buddhists is dealt with, viz, the Vinaya, the Sutta and the Abhidhamma pitakas.

The Pali Buddhist literature is immense and no systematic attempt has yet been made to treat it.

Undoubtedly it contains the Buddha vacanam which is precious.

The literature is written in Magadhanam bhasa or the dialect of the Magadhas known as Magadhi or Pali.

Suttapitaka is divided into five Nikayas:

I. Digha,

II. Majjhina,

III. Samyutta,

IV. Anguttara and V.


The Digha Nikaya is a collection of long discourses.

It is the first work of the Sutta pitaka and contains thirty-four suttas, each of which deals fully with one or several points of Buddhist doctrine.

The first of these is called the Brahma-jala Sutta which may be translated as the excellent net. Prof. Rhys Davids explains it as the 'Perfect net' or the net whose meshes are so fine that no folly of superstition, however subtle, can slip through. (American Lectures, p. 30).

This sutta is of very great importance for the history not only of Buddhism, but of the whole religious life of ancient India.

It deals with cula-sila,majjhima-sila and maha-sila.

It further deals with

sassata-vada (eternalists),

Khidda-padosika (eternalists and


mano-padosika (semi-eternalists),

antanantika (extentionists),

amara-vikkhepika (eel-wrigglers),

adhicca-samupannika (fortuitous originists),

Uddham-aghatanika (believers in future life),

Uccheda-vada (annihilationists)and ppditthadhamma-nibbana-vada[[ (perfect net).

In dealing with the topics just mentioned, a large number of occupations of Brahmans and ascetics is enumerated and Buddhist monks are asked to refrain therefrom.

Numerous references to precepts, effect of monkhood, miraculous power, knowledge of other people'sformer birth, asceticism, thirty-two signs of a great man, soul, higher morality, true wisdom, duty of spreading truth, arts, handicrafts, sports and pastimes and different kinds of sacrifices are to be found in this sutta.

The second is the Samannaphala Sutta, or 'Discourse on the reward of asceticism.'

It furnishes us with valuable information about the views of a number of non-Buddhistic teachers and founders of sects, viz.,

Purana Kassapa,

Makkhali Gosala,



Sanjaya Belatthiputta and

Nigantha Nathaputta.

Ambattha Sutta

The third is the Ambattha Sutta which deals mainly with the subject of caste.

Thirty-two signs of a great man also find mention in this sutta.

They are detailed in the thirtieth Sutta.

Sonadanda Sutta

The fourth is the Sonadanda Sutta which deals with the question of what constitutes the essential quality which makes a man a Brahman.

Kutadanta Sutta

The fifth is the Kutadanta Sutta in which the Buddha describes the wrong and the right sacrifices to a Brahman.

Mahali Sutta

The sixth is the Mahali Sutta which deals with the means of the attainment of divine eye and ear.

It contains discussions whether body and soul are the same or different.

The Buddha holds that they are different.

Jaliya Sutta

The seventh is the Jaliya Sutta which also contains a discussion on soul and body.

Kassapasihanada Sutta

The eighth is the Kassapasihanada Sutta which contains Buddha's discussion with a naked ascetic regarding asceticism.

Potthapada Sutta

The ninth is the Potthapada Sutta which contains a discussion on the mystery of trance and incidentally deals with the question of soul.

Subha Sutta

The tenth is the Subha Sutta which is a short one and is almost identical with the Samannaphala Sutta, differing with it only in dividing the states of mind under three heads of Sila, Samadhi and Panna.

Kevaddha Sutta

See also  :

The eleventh is the Kevaddha Sutta which deals with the practice of wonders or miracles, and traces the means whereby the manifestation of gods gradually becomes clear to a self-concentrated man.

Lohicca Sutta

The twelfth is the Lohicca Sutta which discusses some points on the ethics of teaching.

Tevijja Sutta

The thirteenth is the Tevijja Sutta in which the Buddha criticises the three Vedas with a view to prove the unsoundness of their contents.

It deals with various kinds of Vedic Brahmans.

The Buddha refutes the three vijjas of Brahmans and explains his own three vijjas.

Mahapadhana Suttanta

The fourteenth is the Mahapadhana Suttanta.

The word Apadana used in the title signifies legend or life-story of a Buddha.

It is also used as the title of the thirteenth book of the Khuddaka Nikaya of the Suttapitaka and it means the legend or life-story of an Arahant.

In later books, Apadana is never used to mean the legend of a Buddha.

The Mahapadhana may mean the story of the Great Ones (seven Buddhas).

It is rendered into English by Rhys Davids as the sublime story.

This suttanta gives an account of the previous Buddhas.

A detailed account of the birth of Buddha Vipassi, thirty-two marks of a great man, explanation of the paticcasamuppada or dependent origination are dealt with herein.

Mahanidana Suttanta

See also  :

The fifteenth is the Mahanidana Suttanta which explains fully the doctrine of paticcasamppada (dependent origination), and discusses soul, seven kinds of beings and eight kinds of vimokkhas.

Maha-parinibbana Suttanta

The sixteenth is the Maha-parinibbana Suttanta which is one of the most important suttas in as much as it furnishes us with Buddha's insight into politics, sociology, ethics and other subjects dealing with the problems of man's every day life.

Buddha himself says that he taught the Vajjians to live in amity and concord which are the colossal columns of a body politic.

The several sets of the seven conditions of the welfare of a community taught by the Buddha to the mendicants bespeak the developed ideas of perfect organizations, in the history of social, political or religious thought at the time of Gautama Buddha.

The Pali passages clothing Buddha's teachings contain reiteration of certain words; but the symphony of these repetitions does not make them an unpleasant reading.

In the third chapter of the Mahaparinibbana Suttanta Buddha gives us a description of his visit to Vaisali.

His explanation of the causes of earthquake is far from satisfactory and reveals his lack of scientific knowledge,

The "figurative expressions," as used by the Buddha, according to Rhys Davids, "have become a fruitful soil for the outgrowth of superstitions and misunderstandings.

The train of early Buddhist speculation in this field has yet to be elucidated." (Dialogues of the Buddha pt.II., p.115, f.n. 2).

The sixth chapter of the Mahaparinibbana Suttanta records the most important of all events affecting the fate of Buddhism.

In it we find the passing away of the Founder of the Faith.

The wailings described in Ch. V of men and women of countries far and near on hearing that the Exalted One would pass away too soon, and the honour with which the relics of Buddha were received and cairns made over them as found in Ch. VI, go to show how deeply were the people moved by the preachings and personality of the Buddha.

The last word of the Tathagata, viz., "Decay is inherent in all component things! Work out your salvation with diligence, " (Vayadhamma Samkhara, appamadena Sampa- dethati; Digha Nikaya, P.T.S, Vol, II, p. 156) strikes the keynote of Buddha's philosophy and mission.

The Mahaparinibbana Suttanta deals with Vassakara Brahman's visit to the Buddha, seven conditions of welfare of the Bhikkhusamgha, lineage of faith, eight causes of earthquake, eight causes of subduing others, Buddha's visit to Cunda, four places of pilgrimage of any faithful householder, efficiency of erecting dhatucaityas, former greatness of Kusinara, visit of Subhadra to Buddha and his conversion by the Lord, passing away of the Lord, homage of the Mallas, cremation of Buddha's dead body, quarrel for the relics, the amicable distribution of relics by Dona and erection of stupas over the relics.

Maha-Sudassana Suttanta

The seventeenth is the Maha-Sudassana Suttanta.

There is a Jataka known as Mahasudassana Jataka no. 95 in Mr. Fausboll's edition of the Jatakas but it differs from the Suttanta in some important particulars.

The Suttanta begins with a long description of the riches and glory of Maha-Sudassana and " reveals in its details," says Rhys Davids, "the instructive fact that the legend is nothing more or lessthan a spiritualisedsun-myth.

"The Maha-Sudassana Suttanta seems to afford a useful example both of the extent to which the theory may be accepted and of the limitations under which it should always be applied.

It must at once be admitted that whether the whole story is based on a sun-story, or whether certain parts or details of it are derived from things first spoken about the sun or not, it is still essentially Buddhistic" (D.B. pt. II. pp. 196- 197).

The Mahasudassana Suttanta is like a fairy tale which describes the greatest glory and majesty of the greatest king, the royal city and its Palace of Righteousness.

It describes the extent of his kingdom, and his enjoyment.

The object of this Suttanta is perhaps to show that all is vanity except righteousness.

To attain this object the author had recourse to rhetorical phrases and other figurative expressions the use whereof was not peculiar to Buddhist literature.

M. Senart in his valuable work, " La Legende du Bouddha," has traced the rhetorical phrases used in the description of the seven treasures mentioned in this Suttanta to their earliest appearance in the Vedic hymns.

But this does not exhaust the interesting bearing of Buddhist literature on the history of Philology so far as Buddhist forms of speech are concerned.

Janavasabha Suttanta

The eighteenth is the Janavasabha Suttanta in which important topics such as rebirths of the faithful upasakas of Gautama, effect of name, great kings of four quarters, joy of the gods, the four ways to iddhi, the three ways to bliss and the seven requisites of Samadhi have been mentioned.

Maha-Govinda Suttanta

The nineteenth is the Maha-Govinda Suttanta which is of great importance from the standpoint of historical and geographical aspects of Ancient India.

It introduces us to the Sudhamma or Mote Hall of the gods of Tavatimsa Heaven, where all the gods with Sakka, king of gods, as President, are found to have assembled and rejoiced at the increase in their numbers "through the appearance, in their midst, of new gods produced by the good Karma of the followers of the new view of life put forward by Gotama." Sakka uttered eight paragraphs in eulogy of the Buddha.

The exchange of views in the Mote Hall of gods regarding the advent of supreme Buddhas in the world, reminds us of the business done in the executive Council of a Government, and speaks of the political development of the age at which the Maha-Govinda Suttanta was composed.

Next we find Maha-Brahma's views of an ideal Brahmin.

The facts of the Maha-Govinda Suttanta are found in different phraseology and order in the Mahavastu (Govinda Sutta).

In the absence of sufficient materials it is still a difficult task for historians of literature to ascertain with exactitude the relation between the Digha Nikaya and the Mahavastu, a Sanskrit Buddhist work.

The possible explanation of the most astounding fact yet known about the Mahavastu is given by Rhys Davids in his Dialogues of the Buddha wherein it is stated,

"Now we do not know exactly when and where Buddhists began to write in Sanskrit, though it was probably in Kashmir sometime before the beginning of our era.

They did not then translate into Sanskrit any Pali book.

They wrote new books.

And the reason for this was twofold. In the first place, they had already come to believe things very different from those contained in the canon; they were no longer in full sympathy with it.

In the second place, though Pali was never the vernacular of Kashmir, it was widely known there and even very probably still used for literary work; translations were therefore not required." (Pt. II. p. 256).

The Mahagovinda Suttanta also deals with Nirvana, the path leading to it, practice of piety, danger of delay, the lower and higher ways, and the great divisions of India by Govinda.

It also gives us an account of Mahagovinda renouncins the world with a large numbers of followers and his seven wives.

Maha Samaya-Suttanta

The twentieth is the Maha Samaya-Suttanta which is of special importance to the historians of religion in so far as it bears testimony to the continual change in animistic belief prevalent in India at the time.

In this connection Dr. Rhys Davids says, " The poem is almost unreadable now. The long list of strange names awakes no interest. And it is somewhat pathetic to notice the hopeless struggle of the author to enliven his unmanageable material with a little poetry. It remains, save here and there, only doggerel still.

There are three parts to the poem * * * The third, the prologue, has been preserved as a separate episode in the Sainyutta, 1, 27.

The way in which the list is fitted into the frame-work in sections 4, 5 and 6 is very confused and awkward; and the grammar of the frame-work is inconsistent with the grammar of the list.

It is highly probable therefore that the list itself, and also the epilogue, had been handed down as independent works in the community before our Suttanta was composed. The frame-work may be the work of the editor * * *

The legends here told were intended to counteract the animistic delusions about them (names contained in the Suttantas) then so prevalent in the Ganges Valley.

They are almost the only evidence we have as yet outside the priestly books."

(Dialogues of the Buddha, Pt. II. pp. 282-283).

This remark of Dr. Rhys Davids does not seem to be wholly tenable.

A careful study of the Suttanta will surely convince one of the fact that all the names are not strange.

Take for example, the guardian angels of the four quarters, Dhatarattha, Virulhaka; Virupakkha, and Kuvera, which are familiar names.

Besides, we find the names of many other gods who came to see the Buddha at Mahavana near Kapilavatthu.

Sakkapanha Suttanta

See also  :

The twenty-first is the Sakkapanha Suttanta which is, in some respects, the most interesting of all mythological dialogues.

It is quoted by name at Samyutta III, 13; Mahavastu, I, 350; Milinda, 350, Sumangalavilasini, I, 24 (where it is called vedalla).

The last passage is repeated at Gandhavamsa, 57.

Sakka, king of the Thirty-three, finding it difficult to approach the Buddha who was then in deep meditation, sought the aid of a Gandhabba named Pancasikha who by the sweet play of his lyre recited verses in praise of the Awakened one, the Truth, the Arahant and the Love.

The verses sung by the Gandhabba were addresses to a lady by one who received no return for his love for her who was then in love with another.

The verses are didactic and simple though erotic to some extent.

The Buddha being moved by the music conversed with the Gandhabba who in the course of conversation informed Buddha of the advent of Sakka.

Then Sakka came forward and paid homage to the Exalted One.

He put to the Buddha several questions mostly bearing on ethics and psychology.

Buddha answered the questions to the great satisfaction of Sakka who was thereafter converted to the Buddhist faith.

The conversion of the king of the Thirty -three appears at first sight, to be preposterous, but the analysis of the meaning in which the word 'Sakka' is used leads us to hold that the king of gods is not free from the three deadly evils,--lust, ill will and stupidity (A.N. I, 144; S.N.I, 219), nor from anxiety (S.N. I, 219).

Heis still subject to death and rebirth (A.N. I, 144: Cf. A.N. I, P. 105), and as such, he desires to be reborn in some higher planes* of celestial beings.

Some other topics are discussed in this Suttanta:

(1) causes of malice and avarice.
(2) causes of favour or disfavour.
(3)path leading to papanca,sanna (consciousness), sainkharanirodha (cessation of confections).
(4) how a bhikkhu can be said to follow the rules of patimokkha.

Maha-Satipatthana Sutta

The twenty-second is the Maha-Satipatthana Sutta. In it the Buddha urges his disciples to set up mindfulness (Sati). The doctrine expounded in this Suttanta may be said to be very important in early Buddhism.

The Aryan Path is obtained by practising mindfulness only. Rhys Davids says " Sati does not occur in any ethical senses in pre-

Buddhistic Literature.

It is possible that the Buddhist conception was, in one way, influenced by previous thought.

Stress is laid in the Upanishad ideal on Intuition, especially as regards the relation between the soul, supposed to exist inside each human body, and the Great Soul.

In the Buddhist protest against this, tile doctrine of Sati, dependent not on Intuition but on grasp of actual fact, plays an important part.

This opposition may have been intentional. On the other hand, the ethical value of Mindfulness (in its technical sense) would be sufficient, without any such intention, to explain the great stress laid upon it. (Dialogues of the Buddha, II., p. 323).

In brief, the four kinds of meditation on impurities and impermanency of body and on impermanency of Vedana (sensation), Citta (thought) and Dhamma (condition).

The exposition of the Mahasatipatthana Suttanta about the four-fold aspect falls within the proper category of Abhi dhammapitaka.

But there is no justification to include this Suttanta within the Digha Nikaya but at a time when Dhamma and Abhidhamma could not be distinguished from the dhamma, this one must be regarded as one of the pioneers of all psychological expositions.

It that case, Abhidhamma must come later.

And the subject, namely Sati, has various implications.

One of these implications is 'Minfulness' whether the Abhidhamma accepts it or not or adds to it something more, it is interesting to note.

Payasi Suttanta

The twenty-third is the Payasi Suttanta.

Payasi was a chieftain of Setavya. He entertained doubt as to the existence of another world, of beings reborn otherwise than from parents and of results of good or bad deeds.

Touching these questions, Payasi had a long discussion with Kumara Kassapa.

He had recourse to similies and advanced childish arguments to establish his doubt depending on analogy, the most dangerous of all snares, put forward counter arguments to prove the futility of Payasi's arguments and at length succeeded in dispelling his doubt altogether.

Payasi became Kassapa's disciple.

The second part of the dialogue which is a sequel to the first is similarly a dialogue between Payasi and his disciple, Uttara, in which the latter succeeds in persuading the former to set up gifts in faith.

The dialogue closes with a reference to the heavens where the teacher and the pupil were reborn after death.

The third part which is a sequel to the second is also a dialogue between the Venerable Gavampati and the god Payasi in the lonely Serissaka Mansion.

The story of Payasi's conversion and pious gifts with their heavenly reward, "seems to have been invented in order just to allay the fear caused in theological circles by atheistical propaganda of the powerful chieftain and philosopher."

(Heaven and Hell in Buddhist Perspective, Appendix P. XVI).

It deals with moon god and sun god, message from the dead, escape of the soul, search for the soul, and right and wrong sacrifice.

Patika Suttanta

The twenty-fourth is the Patika Suttanta.

Prof. Rhys Davids gives a fair and uncontroverted comment on the style and contents of this Suttanta.

In his introduction to this Suttanta, he writes that this Suttanta is concerned really with only two topics, firstly that of mystic wonders and secondly that of the origin of things.

The former has been dealt with much better and more fully in the Kevaddha Suttanta, the latter, here treated quite curtly and by way of appendix only, is fully discussed below in the Agganma Suttanta.

The treatment here is clumsy. It is no doubt intended to be both humorous and edifying.

But the humour is far removed from the delicate irony of the Kevaddha and the Agganma.

The fun is of the pantomime variety; loud, and rather stupid.

It is funny perhaps to hear how a corpse gets slapped on the back, wakes up just long enough to let the cat out of the bag, and then falls back dead again; or how an incompetent medicine-man gets stuck fast to his seat, and wriggles about in his vain endeavours to rise.

But this sort of fun would appeal more strongly to a music-hall audience, or to school boys out for a holiday, than to those who are likely to read it in this volume. And the supposed edification is of the same order,

As an argumentum ad hominem, as propunded fort he enlightenment of the very foolish Sunakkhatta (and this is just, after all, what it purports to be), it may pass muster.

Whether it can have appealed to (or was even meant to appeal to) wiser folk is very questionable.

One gets rather bored with the unwearied patience with which the Tathagata is here represented as suffering fools gladly.

And it is difficult to bear with an author who tells stories so foolish merely to prove that the Tathagata is as good a magician as the best, and who has the bad taste to put them into the mouth of the Tathagata himself.

Not only in style and taste does this Suttanta differ from the others, but in doctrine also it is opposed to them (Dialogues of the Buddha, pt. iii,

The subject matter is that Sunakkhatta, a Licchavi, was at first a pupil of the Buddha.

Thereafter he left Buddha's order and misinterpreted the doctrine of the Buddha.

The Master refuted his arguments and himself explained his own doctrine.

Udambarika Sihanada Suttanta

The twenty-fifth is the Udambarika Sihanada Suttanta which deals with different kinds of asceticism.

The Buddha explains the evil effect of them. He explains the life of a real brahmacari.

Cakkavatti Sihanada Suttanta

The twenty-sixth is the Cakkavatti Sihanada Suttanta which describes that Buddha instructs his disciples to practise four satipatthanas and it deals with the life of Dalhanemi, a universal monarch.

It is rather like a fairy tale the moral whereof is the use and influence of the Norm.

The moral has been proclaimed in a thoroughgoing and uncompromising manner, but not in so argumentative a way as is found in modern treatises on ethics or philosophy.

The authors have stated their views merely leaving the gospel to be accepted or rejected by the hearers.

"The Buddha is represented in this Suttanta as setting out his idea of conquest (not without ironical references to the current ideas) and then as inculcating the observance of the Dhamma-- the Norm--as the most important force for the material and moral progress of mankind." (Dialogues of the Buddha, pt. III, p.53).

Agganna Suttanta

The twenty-seventh is the Agganna Suttanta.

In dealing with the claims of the Brahman, this Suttanta establishes that good conduct is higher than caste.

The evolution of the world man and society has been treated of herein but the treatment does not appear to be satisfactory in the face of the scientifically developed modern ideas on the subject.

This suttanta also deals with the origin of the four castes, Brahmanas, Ksatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras, and concludes by preaching that righteousness is above lineage.

Sampasadaniya Suttanta

The twenty-eighth is the Sampasadaniya Suttanta which speaks of the excellences of the Buddha in a manner edifying and comprehensive.

Pasadika Suttanta

The twenty-ninth is the Pasadika Suttanta.

The notable feature that is of some importance to a student of religion is the conditions of a perfect religion. Interesting reading is the mention of the characteristics of the Tathagata.

The treatment of wrong views about the past and the future appears to be commonplace and has no special importance from a literary point of view.

Lakkhana Suttanta

The thirtieth is the Lakkhana Suttanta which mentions in detail thirty-two signs, the possessor whereof is marked as a great man or superman as termed by Rhys Davids.

Singalovada Suttanta

The thirty-first is the Singalovada Suttanta which deals with the duties of a householder.

It has been translated into English by Grimblot in Sept Suttas Palis (Paris, 1876) by Gogerly in J.R.A.S. Ceylon Branch, 1847, and by R.C. Childers in the Contemporary Review, London, 1876.

We agree with Rhys Davids when he says " Anyway, the Buddha's doctrine of love and goodwill between man and man is here set forth in a domestic and social ethics with more comprehensive detail than elsewhere.

In a Canon compiled by members of a religious order and largely concerned with the mental experiences and ideals of recluses, and with their outlook on the world, it is of great interest to find in it a Sutta entirely devoted to the outlook and relations of the layman on and to his surroundings.

And the discourse was felt to possess this interest in the long past by Buddhaghosa, or by the tradition he handed on, or by both.

In this Sutta, he writes,'nothing in the duties of housemen is left unmentioned.

This Suttanta is called the Vinaya of the Houseman.

Hence in one who practices what he has been taught in it, growth is to he looked for, and not decay.'

And truly we may say even now of this Vinaya, or code of discipline, so fundamental are the human interests involved, so sane and wide is the wisdom that envisages them, that the utterances are as fresh and practically as binding to-day and here as they were then at Rajagaha. '

Happy would have been the village or the clan on the banks of the Ganges, where the people were full of the kindly spirit of fellow-feeling, the noble spirit of justice which breathes through these naive and simple sayings.

The object of the young Sigala's open-air matins will seem unfamiliar to the readers who are more accustomed to the names of Vedic deities surviving in the allusions scattered throughout these dialogues--to Brahma and Prajapati, Indra and Soma, Varuna and Isana.

(Dialogues of the Buddha pt. III, pp. 168-169).

Atanatiya Suttanta

The thirty-second is the Atanatiya Suttanta which mentions gods, gandhabbas and yakkhas who are not pleased with the Buddha.

It treats of driving them away if they attack Buddha's upasakas, and upasikas.

It is a mantra to get rid of evil spirits.

Sangiti Suttanta

The thirty-third is the Sangiti Suttanta which deals with the teachings of the Buddha in numerical order.

Dasuttara Suttanta

The thirty-fourth is the Dasuttara Suttanta which narrates the teachings of the Buddha, ten in a group.