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The Pearl of the Tripitaka, Two Vaggas i

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From the deafening silence that the Buddha experienced during the moonlit moment beneath the Bodhi tree, flowed the teaching of the Dharma. 2,500 years has since passed, and the accumulations of the Teachings into various versions of the Tripitaka have swelled into monstrous proportions. Numerous schools, countless interpretations and explanations of the teachings have been done. Buddhism and its literature have come a long way, and maybe some of its original luster has been lost among the clusters of information. Therefore, it ignites sparkles when one read suttas that are flowered with ancient simplicity and waltzed with the thunder of non-duality. The earliest chapters of the Sutta Nipāta do have such quality and, according to the erudite Professor Luis o. Gomez, "The significance of these passages cannot be exaggerated."[1]

This essay will mainly concentrate on the Atthakavagga and the Parayanavagga of the Sutta-Nipāta (Sn) or "Discourse-collection," which is generally agreed among scholars to be some of the most ancient Buddhist teaching that is available to us. The first part of the essay will discuss the messages that are being conveyed by these vaggas; and secondly, stanzas from these vaggas that was quoted by the Holy Nagarjuna in the Mahāprajñāpāramitāśāstra (MPPS) (大智度論), translated by Kumārajīva (402–405 A.D.)[2] will be examined. But we will begin with a brief discussion of several works that dealt with the Sutta-Nipāta in order to get a general picture of its important aspects.

Several works on the sutta-nipāta

As early as the 1880's, the Honourable V. Fausboll had commented on the antiquity of the Sutta-Nipāta. He said,

"I considered the greater part of the Mahavagga and nearly the whole of the Atthakavagga as very old. I ought to have added the Parayanavagga. That my then expressed opinion holds good about the two last mentioned at least, seems to be evident from there being a commentary on them called Niddesa, which has been incorporated in the Buddhist canon and from there being quoted in the Nikayas and in the Vinaya-pitaka."[3]

Since Fausböll, many scholars have worked on the Sn and the latest important publication is "The Group of Discourses" Vol. II by Prof. K.R. Norman[4]. Most of these publications have dealt with the translating and/or analyzing the antiquity of the Sn by means of linguistic evidences.

There have been only a few works done on the teaching and the philosophy of the Sn. However, interesting among them, is the article "Proto-Madhyamika in the Pali Canon" by Prof. L. Gomez. In the article, Gomez has explored "the possible parallels between the Pali text (Atthakavagga of the Sn) and the Madhyamaka of Nagarjuna," but he said, "There is no way of ascertaining whether the Atthakavagga was in anyway pivotal to his [[[Nagarjuna]]) exegesis of the Canonical texts."[5] As has already been mentioned above, the second part of this essay will discuss the quotations of the Sn used by Nagarjuna, and I hope, to the satisfaction of the good Professor.

Compilation of suttas and vaggas

When Buddha delivered a sermon, it was usually targeted towards an individual or a specific group of followers. From these individual sermons, discourses were strung together and became sutta. According to the Yogācārabhūmi-śāstra (YBS):

"The compiling of the treasures of the Tathagata’s True Dharma is [the process that] collect and edit together various different sacred sayings [[[taught]] by the Buddha during different times and places] so that these holy Teachings will remain in the world for a long time. Using these wonderful words, phases and sentences as content appropriately and sequentially compile them together. That is, to connect and string together various teachings that can bring forth benefit, lead to celibacy – the truly wondrous teaching, this is call a sutta."[6]

When the Buddha taught, it would be logical to assume that the content of his teachings would be divided into various levels of understanding and different propensities so that the teaching would best fit the individual problems and abilities of the different followers. The vaggas, which represent collections of suttas, were also assembled in a similar manner by ancient masters. Therefore, the specific layout and arrangement of the suttas incorporated into a vagga very often carry with them concerted messages. If one is not aware of the general layout of a vagga, then there is the danger of missing the concerted messages, and end up debating the "uniformity and diversity" of the suttas, as in the article "Older parts of the Sutta Nipata" by Tilmann Vetter[7] when he wanted to "add some historical refinement" to Prof. Gomez’s interpretation of the Sn as presented in the "Prota-Madhyamika" article. We shall now proceed to explore the teachings of the Atthakavagga by analyzing the message of the individual sutta first and then from the individual messages deduce the concerted messages of the Vagga.

The atthakavagga[8][9][10]

There are altogether sixteen suttas in the Atthakavagga, the Chapter of the Eights and they are:

Sutta number


No of stanzas


Sensual Pleasure



The Octad of the Cave



The Octad of the Evil



The Octad of Purity



The Octad of Perfection















Qualities of a Muni



Disputes and Contention



Minor causes of Contention



Major causes of Contention



The way of Bliss



Violent Conduct





From looking at the above table, it is interesting to note that the number of stanzas of the suttas has been arranged in an ascending order; i.e. from the first sutta of six stanzas increasing until the last sutta of twenty one stanzas. However, the importance of this point, I believe, is no more than just an indication that the suttas and the vagga may have been deliberately arranged.

The fact that the name of the vagga is "The Chapter of Eights" suggests that originally the individual suttas in the Chapter may have only consisted of eight stanzas, or that those suttas with eight stanzas are the heart of the chapter. Therefore, either way indicates that suttas no. 2-5 is the core of this Chapter. Under more careful examination, one can even propose that these four suttas hold the key to the ultimate liberation, because together, their teaching becomes a gradual path to nibbana. The following is an examination of the teachings of these four suttas.

Sutta Two, The Octad of the Caves dealt with the danger of clinging to our physical body. Such clinging and attachment is the first road block on the path to attaining liberation as it is pointed out in the following quotation:

772 The man (who) remains attached to the cave (the body)', is covered with many defilements and plunged into confusion; being of such a kind he is indeed far from detachment. For sensual pleasures are indeed not easy to abandon in the world."[11]

Cave’ is being used here as both a metaphor for the body and also to project the imaginary of darkness and defilement that come with the attachment of the body.

After pointing out the danger of clinging to the physical body, sutta number Three, Four and Five dealt with the problem of mental attachment. Only when a person is completely detached both physically and mentally would he then be truly liberated - nibbana. The first stanza (780) of sutta Three: The Octad of the Evil is the introduction to these three suttas which sequentially discussed: “evil-mind”, “mind set on truth” and “mind of the sages” just as it is the correspondence main themes of the suttas.


780 Some evil-minded ones do indeed dispute; and those whose minds are set on truth do indeed dispute also. But the sages do not get involved in any dispute which has arisen. Therefore the sages have no barrenness of mind in any respect.[12]

So Sutta Three, the Octad of the Evil, dealt with the danger of clinging to mental activities that are driven by desire and self interest which from the Buddhist point of view would be classified as evil; i.e.

781 How could anyone overcome his own view, (when he is) led on by desire, entrenched in his own inclination, fulfilling those (wrong views) himself? For as he know, so would he speaks."[13]

Sutta Four, the Octad of Purity, dealt with the danger of clinging on to what may be regarded as 'righteous' or minds that are set on truth; i.e.

788 I see a pure, noble and healthy man; a person’s purification emerges from what he sees' - thus, holding this opinion and having seen this view to be the best, he considers knowledge to consist in the seeing of a pure being.

789 If man's purity comes from what is seen, or if by this knowledge he can be freed of sorrow, then something other than the Noble Path makes the person grasping after things a pure one. This view itself reveals the nature of this person.[14]

In sutta five, the Octad of Perfection, dealt with the mindset of the sages and the concept of non­-duality and indifferentiation were presented as the final step toward nibbana; i.e.

802 To the sage there is not the slightest prejudiced view with regard to things seen, heard or felt. How can anyone in the world characterize by thought such a pure one who does not dogmatically grasp any views?

803 They neither form any particular dogma nor prefer anything. Dogmatic views are not esteemed by them. The brahmin is not led by rule and rite. Thus, the steadfast one has gone to the further shore, never more to return.[15]

Clearly these four vaggas function together and thereby becoming a very plain and concise discourse on the Path to Nibbana. It is possible that the rest of the Suttas in the Chapter were added on in a later time.

Although the cohesiveness of the remaining suttas in the Chapter is not as apparent as the above mentioned suttas, they too clearly indicate a definite plan and deliver messages in their arrangement.

Sutta Six, Decay and Seven, Tissametteyya both delivered the same message, which is the necessity and beauty of Liberation. For example, in sutta Six the clear message is the impermanent nature of all beings and the cold blooded reality of death; therefore, the only save haven is when one let go of all attachment to anything or anyone. For example:

808. Those people are seen and heard of, whose name is ‘so and so’. When he has departed, only a person’s name will remain to be pronounced.

809. Those who are greedy for cherished things do not abandon grief, lamentation, and avarice. Therefore, the sages, seeing security, have wandered forth, abandoning possession(s).[16]

In sutta Seven the message is the fault of lustrous desire - the all powerful whip of Mara, and the beauty of celibacy - the nobility of freedom and solitary; i.e.

816. He who formerly fared alone, but is now given to sexual intercourse, they call that uncontrolled one a low and ordinary being who is like a lurching chariot.[17]

821. Realizing this danger in the world from beginning to the end the sage keeps strictly to his solitary life. He does not give himself up to sexual intercourse.[18]

The next sutta, Disputation, mainly dealt with the futility of disputation which is caused by grasping on to 'view'. The term 'disputation' is best to understand here in relationship to 'differentiation'. When we differentiate, we are in dispute; i.e. mine vs. yours, good vs. bad, observer vs. observed. Therefore, we sometime dispute with others and most of the time we are in dispute with ourselves, separating the observer (the self) and the observed (color, sound, thought etc.) For example, in Sutta Eight, Disputation, there are the following stanzas:

824. They say that purity is theirs alone; they do not say that there is purity in the teachings of others. Whatever teaching they have devoted themselves to; they claim that as the most excellent and; thus separately hold diverse truths.

826 Engaged in disputations in the midst of a gathering, one becomes frustrated in one's quest for praise. In defeat he becomes downcast and, seeking for flaws in others, becomes enraged by their criticism.

834. Speculating in your mind on different philosophical views you have come reflecting on them. But then you cannot go along yoked together with the one who is purified.[19]

Notice how holding on to one's views will lead to dispute and from dispute comes quest for praise and becomes enraged by criticism. From these quests and enrages, one will forever be engaged in the search for argument and dispute, thus leading further into the swamp of disputation.

Sutta Nine, Magandiya, investigates deeper into the source of dispute, which is 'perception' and also expounded on the suchness of nonduality. For example:

839 ‘One says that purity is not by view, by learning, by knowledge, or even by virtuous conduct and vows, Magandiya’, said the Blessed One. ‘Not by absence of view, of learning, of knowledge, of virtuous conduct, or vows, not by that either. And discarding these, without grasping, calmed, not dependent, one would not long for existence.

847 There are no ties for one who is devoid of perceptions. There are no illusions for one who is released through wisdom. But those who have grasped perception and view wander in the world, causing offence.[20]

After emphasizing the need and advantages of attaining liberation in suttas six and seven, sutta eight, nine and ten pointed out the danger and downfall of adhering to views and perceptions. When a person has attained these qualities, he would then be regard as the 'Perfect Man', one that has the qualities of a muni.

851 He has no longing for the future and no grief for the past; there are no views or opinions that lead him. He can see detachment from the entangled world of sense-impression.

856 Because he understands the Way Things Are, he is free from dependency and there is nothing he relies on. For him there is no more craving to exist or not to exist.

860 It is a man without greed and without possessiveness; it is a man who, as a man of wisdom, does not consider himself "superior”, “inferior" or "equal". It is a man who does not enter speculation, a man who is free from speculations.[21]

Again, these last five suttas seem to function as a unit, starting with developing the need to search for liberation, which can be attained by breaking the grasp on perceptions and views with wisdom, and ending with the description of the ‘Perfect Man’ in the last sutta.

As the remaining suttas in the Chapter get longer, they appeared to be more self-contained instead of functioning as a set. For example sutta eleven is a logical quest of the source of arguments, tears and anguish, and ending with the description of a muni, one who does not enter into arguments and does not enter the round of endless becoming. The development of the quest is so logical that it can be listed out in the form of a flow chart:

Sutta no.

Steps of investigation


“Argument, quarrels, tears and anguish”

Come from


“Having preferences,

from holding things precious and dear”

Come from


“Impulse of desire, greed

Come from

869, 870

Action of contact, of mental impression, that lead to the feeling of pleasant and unpleasant and other form of duality and differentiation”

Come from


“The interdependent existence of mind and matter (name and form) “



“If there were no wanting, there would be no more possessiveness……without the element of form, of matter, there would be no contact

Would lead to the attainment of


“Without ordinary perception and without disordered perception, without no perception and without any annihilation of perception

And achieving the quality of


“A muni, the wise man.” [22]

This is a logical description of the source of suffering and the path to become a muni. If someone is interested in eliminating suffer and anguish, this Sutta alone would be enough as a guide to achieve the goal.

Suttas twelve and thirteen dealt in depth with the causes and the futility of contention. As pointed out above, disputation and contention are caused by grasping on to 'view', therefore in order to avoid contention one must abandon the attachment to 'views'.

As is true to most of the suttas in the Atthakavagga and the Parayanavagga, their teachings are so profound and unabating that they would shock the unprepared with dismay. The most interesting and challenging among them is their rejection toward holding any kind of view including the attachment toward the perfection of moral practices. The following are some of the uncomprising teachings delivered in the suttas twelve and thirteen:

895 Those who, adhering to their view, dispute ‘this only is the truth’, either bring blame upon themselves or obtain praise thereby.

896 The result of the praise is trifling and not enough to bring about tranquility. I say there are two results of dispute [victory or defeat]; having seen this, let no one dispute, realizing nibbana where there is no dispute.

898 Those who consider moral practices to be the highest and believe that purity can comes through restraint will find themselves still immersed in samsara.

900 Having abandoned formal religious practises altogether and actions both 'good' and 'bad', neither longing for 'purity' nor 'impurity', he wanders aloof abstaining from both without adhering to either extreme.

913 Having abandoned former defilements, not inducing new ones, not becoming partisan, he is free from dogmatic view. Being wise, he neither clings to the world nor blames himself.[23]

Another important message in these two suttas is that although the noble one will not grasp on to any view, it is not the same as he does not know and/or understand those views. In fact, he understands all views and theories of others through direct knowledge but he will not speculate and will remain indifferent to them whilst others labour to embrace them.[24]

The remaining four suttas in the Chapter that have not been discussed, however, have a different tone as compared with the above discussed suttas. For example, sutta One, Sensual Pleasure, sutta Fourteen, The Way to Bliss and sutta Sixteen, Sariputta have a much higher moralistic appeal in comparison to the pragmatic business like approach presented by the above discussed suttas. Maybe the existence of these latter said suttas were to counter-balance the possible harmful side affect to unprepared readers caused by the shrewdness of the former discussed suttas; i.e. abandoning all religious practices, the attack on adhering to moral and views, etc. Of course, nobody will argue that righteous behaviour is basic to any attempt to higher attainment. Therefore, it was sensible to incorporate these more moralistic suttas into the Chapter for the purpose to both counter balance and also act as a stepping stone to the higher level suttas.

Sutta One, Sensual Pleasure, was a very popular sutta and it has been quoted in both the Abhidharmamahavibhasa śāstra [25] and the Yogācārabhūmi-śāstra[26]. Actually, placing this sutta first, the compiler of the vagga is emphasizing the point that conquering the desire to sensual pleasure is the prerequisite to any higher form of liberation.

Sutta Fourteen, the Way to Bliss, see Buddha delivering an early form of the patimokkha. However, because the sutta used the term 'bhikkhu' and 'patimokkha', and the fact that many of its stanzas seem to be drawn from the earlier suttas, suggest that this may be a comparatively late sutta compiled into the Chapter for the purpose of counter balancing as just discussed above.[27]

Sutta Fifteen, Violent Conduct, appears to have collected and summarized the important points from all the preceding suttas. One can say that this is the concluding sutta. The last two stanzas summarized the teaching nicely:

953 A man of discernment, without a flutter of desire, does not accumulate – he has no conditioning – he has stopped all effort of every kind; so everywhere he sees peace and happiness.

954 The wise man does not rate himself with the distinguished, the lowest, nor with ordinary people; clam and unselfish, he is free from possessiveness: he holds on to nothing and he rejects nothing.[28]

After summarizing the teaching in the previous suttas, the last sutta, sutta Sixteen Sariputta, deals with the more mundane matters of being a bhikkhu. Sariputta questioned the Buddha, "I have come with a question, on behalf of the many who are fettered here … For a bhikkhu (who is) disgusted, resorting to a lonely seat, the foot of a tree or a cemetery, or in caves in the mountains, (or) on various sorts of beds, how many are the fearful things there, on account of which a bhikkhu should not tremble in his noiseless lodgings?"[29] Actually, the answer to the question is meant to be a guideline and hints to the more immediate problems for those searching for liberation. For those that have been converted by the teachings in the previous Suttas, these more mundane matters such as, lodgings, speech, spheres of activity [begging] etc, become pressing. Therefore having the last sutta to deal with these matters is most appropriate.

Now that we have discussed the meaning of the individual suttas, the intended messages hiddened in the arrangement of the suttas become more apparent. We can see that the layout was carefully planned “to connect and string together various teachings that can bring forth benefit, lead to celibacy” as explained by YBS. If we divide the suttas into sections and rename the suttas then the intention of the compiler of the vagga is even clearer. The following is a suggestion:

I. The Path to Liberation (Sutta 1-5)

a. Overcoming the desire of Sensual Pleasure.

b. Overcoming the defilement cause by attaching to the body.

c. Overcoming evil desire caused by adhering to 'mine view'.

d. Overcoming attachment caused by adhering to 'righteous view. '

e. The Perfection - indifferentiation and Non-duality

II. Further discussion on the Path to Liberation

a. The necessity and beauty of Liberation

i. The transitory of life and the haven of non-attachment. (Sutta 6)

ii. The danger of lustrous desire. (Sutta 7)

b. The futility of disputation. (Sutta 8)

c. Indifferentiation and 'inner peace'. (Sutta 9)

d. The Perfect Man - qualities of a muni. (Sutta 10)

III. A step by step guide to become a muni (Sutta 11)

IV. Further discussion on disputation

a. View and disputation (Sutta 12)

b. Wisdom and disputation (Sutta 13)

V. Fundamental training – the patimokkha (Sutta 14)

VI. Conclusion

a. A summary of the Teaching (Sutta 15)

b. Survival tips for samanas (Sutta 16)

As we can see, the content of the Atthakavagga is rather comprehensive and well structured. It has also included all the necessary teachings for those searching for the ultimate liberation. If we are to give it a modern name that would sell, 'A Complete No Nonsense Guide to Liberation' would fit nicely.

The parayanavagga

The Parayanavagga, the Chapter on the Way to the Beyond, unlike the Atthakavagga which is a collection of suttas, is comprised of questions (pucchas) to the Buddha from sixteen learned Brahmins, all "versed in Vedic mantras." Interestingly, the subjects of these questions shows a kind of uniformity i.e. wisdom and attaining liberation through the cultivation of wisdom. This uniformity would not be surprising if we are to believe the prologue of the vagga which describes the sixteen Brahmins to be students of the same master, and it was during the same occasion that they asked these questions. On the other hand, the Suttas in the Atthakavagga were probably assembled from various sources over a period time before it settled into the layout that we have it now.

The teachings of the Parayanavagga, like those of the Atthakavagga, are very profound, and also teachings that are usually associated with prajnaparamita are already apparent in the Vagga. Therefore, it seems that the teaching being transmitted in Buddha’s answers to the Brahmins were targeted toward the intelligent and knowledgeable. In the following, some of the more important teachings of the Vagga will be discussed.

The Emphasis on Wisdom

1032 "What shrouds the world? What stops its being seen?" asked Ajita, "'Tis Ignorance which shroud the world; 'tis wants and sloth which stop its being clearly seen." answered the Lord.[30]

The first question to the Buddha set the tone of the Vagga. Instead of the more common emphasis on suffering, duhhka, the emphasis here is placed on seeing, understanding and wisdom. Although the cessation of suffering is very much related to the development of wisdom but in this vagga, not only is wisdom presented as a mean to end suffering, but the value and importance of wisdom is also very much emphasized. In the following are quotes from the Vagga that demonstrated this point:

1035 "Any river can be stopped with the dam of mindfulness ... and with wisdom you can close the flood-gates."[31]

1051 "Truly, whatever fool, unknowing, makes acquisition(s), he comes to misery again and again."[32]

1059 "When you are aware that a man is a brahmin, a master of knowledge ... a voyager who has reached the other shore."[33]

1105 "Tell me of the release by knowledge, the breaking of ignorance."[34]

1120 "May I not perish meanwhile, (still) ignorant. Teach me the doctrine so that I may know the abandonment of birth and old age here”[35]

In a question raised by the Venerable Posala to the Buddha, a very important point was brought up. He said, "I ask, Sakyan, about the knowledge of one whose perception of forms has disappeared, who has abandoned all corporeality, who sees that nothing exists either internally or externally. How is such a person to be led (further)?"[36] The description of the person that Posala had in mind when he asked the above question, could very well imply the attainment of an Arahart or the state of nirodhasamapatti. The Venerable wanted to know is there a higher state of attainment and how to get there. The Buddha, after stating he knows all the stages of consciousness, gave the following answer:

"Knowing the origin of the state of nothingness, (he thinks) 'Enjoyment is a fetter.' Knowing this thus, then he has insight therein. This is the true knowledge of that brahman who has lived the (perfect) life."[37]

For the person that perception of forms has disappeared, abandoned all corporeality and seeing nothing exist, there is still a stage where he would have both insight and knowledge - a condition that would include both Liberation and Wisdom. This certainly looks like an early from of the Prajñāpāramitā.

Similarity between the Parayanavagga and the Diamond Sutra

Aside from the above stated point, there are several more striking similarities between the Parayanavagga and the Prajñāpāramitā Sutras. Actually the first similarity that one can notice is in their names which both carried the similar root of 'para', meaning the other shore. If we add panna, wisdom, which is very much being emphasized in the vagga, on to parayana then we would get 'pannaparayana'. 'Yana’ means 'vehicle', and the meanings of 'pāramitā' are arriving on the other shore and/or the perfection (of an act). Surely the similarities between the two names are close enough to worth some kind of speculation on their possible relationship.

On the subject of how to perform religious acts, the messages that Buddha is getting across in the two scriptures are on the same note. The following is a passage from the Parayanavagga dealing with the subject.

1046 "Their prayers', said the Buddha, "their praises, their offerings and aspirations were all made on a basis of possession, of reward: they longed for sensual pleasure. These men, these experts in offering, were delighting in the passion for becoming. These men could not go beyond getting old and being born." [38]

In the Diamond Sutra, the Buddha too have instructed the bodhisattva how to gives alms. In the following is the instruction from the Sutra:

"Moreover, Subhuti, a bodhisattva who gives a gift should not be supported by a thing, nor should he be supported anywhere. When he gives gifts he should not be supported by sight-objects, nor by sounds, smells, tastes, touchables, or mind-objects. For, Subhuti, the bodhisattva, the great being should give gifts in such a way that he is not supported by the notion of a sign. And why? Because the heap of merit of that bodhi-being, who unsupported gives a gift, is not easy to measure." [39]

Clearly the messages from the two passages are similar. In the Parayana passage, the message is that if one performs any religious act on "a basis of possession and reward" then the merit is limited to within this mundane world. In the Diamond Sutra's passage, the message is on a higher plateau, requiring the bodhisattva to gives gifts unsupportedly which is to hold "a completely free thought that depend on no object or motive."[40]

In the following, comparable passages from the two scriptures, which share the same theme, are listed together to illustrate their similarities.

I. On perception and thought of Nothingness:


1070 The Master told Upasiva: "use these two things to help you cross the ocean: the perception of Nothingness and the awareness that "there is nothing."[41]

Diamond Sutra

"The great being, should produce an unsupported thought, i.e. a thought which is nowhere supported, a thought unsupported by sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touchables or mind-objects."[42]

II. On the Dharmakaya:


1076 " When a person has gone out, then there is nothing by which you can measure him. That by which he can be talked about is no longer there for him; you cannot say that he does not exist. When all ways of being, all phenomena are removed, then all ways of description have also been removed."[43]

Diamond Sutra

Those who by my form did see me,

And those who followed me by voice

Wrong the efforts they engaged in,

Me those people will not see.

From the Dharma should one see the Buddhas,

From the Dharmabodies comes their guidance.

Yet Dharma's true nature cannot be discerned,

And no one can be conscious of it as an object.[44]

III. On past, present and future:


1099 "Dry up the remains of your past and have nothing for your future. If you do not cling to the present then you can go from place to place in peace."[45]

Diamond S.

"Trends of thought, trends -of thought", Subhuti, as no-trends have they been taught by the Tathagata. Therefore are they called "trends of thought". And why? Past thought is not got at; future thought is not got at; present thought is not got at.[46]

Definitely, the similarities are there and there are enough of them to rule out the possibility of mere coincidence. Does it mean that what we now classify as Mahayana Teaching, i.e. the concept of emptiness as explained in Prajñāpāramitā Sutras, was no more than a repackaging of ancient suttas? The second half of this essay will briefly discuss some of the stanzas of the two Vaggas that were quoted in MPPS.

Vaggas of Sutta Nipata that were quoted in the Dai zhi-duo lun, Mahāprajñāpāramitāśāstra[47]

All together, six references of the Atthakavagga and two references of the Parayanavagga were quoted in the Mahāprajñāpāramitāśāstra (MPPS). In the six references of the Atthakavagga, the Chinese translation of the name 'Atthakavagga' all differed.[48] Some were translated according to the meaning and some were translated according to pronunciation. However, the translations of the two references of ‘Paranayavagga’ were identical. The references will be discussed in the following:

I. In Volume One of the MPPS, during the discussion of the four siddhantas (四悉檀)(principals) Nargajuna referred to three stanzas (796, 880 and 881) from the Atthakavagga 《眾義經》to illustrate the meaning of the paramartha-siddhanta, the Ultimate Principal(第一義悉檀).[49] In the following is the translation of Nagarjuna's comments on the stanzas:

"In these three stanzas, the Buddha is describing the state of paramartha-siddhanta (the ultimate principal). That is to say, sentient beings in the world, because of adhering to their own views, their own theories, and their own reasoning will develop contention. Superficial presumption is the origin of contention, and superficial presumption will arise as a result of holding various views".[50]

II. In explaining the meaning of “Thus”, the first word of .the Mahāprajñāpāramitā Sutra, Nagarjuna made reference to Stanzas 838-841 from the Atthakavagga. The name of the vagga was translated as 《阿他婆耆經》being the Chinese phonetic translation of the Atthakavagga[51]. According to Nagarjuna, one of the reasons of placing “Thus” as the first word is to illustrate that "Buddha's disciples are without attachment to views, without adherence to views and will not associate with cliques. They are only interested in the liberation of suffering and will not theorize on the aspects of things.”[52] To further expound on this point, Nagarjuna quoted the above mentioned four stanzas from the Magandiya Sutta in the Vagga.

III. During the discussion of dharma-sunyata, Nagarjuna also quoted the Pasura Sutta from the Atthakavagga to prove his point[53]. A prologue similar to the one available only in the Chinese translation of the Atthakavagga[54] was included. In the prologue, while answering a question from Pasura[55] the Buddha pointed out the futility of disputation. The first two stanzas, 824, 825 of the Pali translation were identically translated[56] but the rest of the stanzas (826-834) were synthesized into only three stanzas in the MPPS[57].

IV. In the next quotation of the Atthakavagga, Nagarjuna was using it to explain the meaning of sarvadharma (一切法, i.e. things, laws or beings).[58] However, an exact corresponding stanza in the Pali versionn cannot be identified but there are close similes. Here is the English translation of the two MPPS stanzas:

If one wishes to attain the ultimate wisdom, (he should know that) there are only mind and matter. If one wishes to truly explore and find out, he should also understand mind and matter.

Even though one can delusively contemplate and differentiately consider various things, however, all are none other than mind and matter.[59]

Stanza 872 looks close enough to be the equivalent in the Pali version; however, I suspect that Nagarjuna rephrased stanzas 872-874 into the above translated stanzas. The following are the three stanzas from the Pali version of the Atthakavagga:

872 "Contact exists because the compound of mind and matter exists. The habit of grasping is based on wanting things. If there were no wanting, there would be no possessiveness. Similarly without the element of form, of matter, there would be no contact."

873 " "What pursuit leads a person to get rid of form? And how can suffering and pleasure cease to exist? This is what I want to know about.

874 "There is a state where form ceases to exist", said the Buddha. "It is a state without ordinary perception and without disordered perception and without not perception and without any annihilation of perception. It is perception, consciousness, that is the source of all the basic obstacles."[60]

V. In the fifth reference, Nagarjuna, during his explaining of the sarvadharama sunyata of the eighteen sunyatas, made reference to both Atthakavagga and Parayanavagga together. In expounding on the topic, Nagarjuna said that there are three ways to attain the field of supra-mundane differentiated by the foundation and vows of the practitioners. For those that vow to be a Buddha and have good foundation, the Buddha taught them the six-paramitas and dharma-sunyata. For those that vow to become Pratyecka-buddhas and have mediocre foundation, the Buddha taught them the twelve nidanas and solitary. For those that vow to become Arahants and have low foundation, the Buddha taught them the sattva-sunyata and the four Noble Truths.[61] To demonstrate there are already teachings of dharma-sunyata in the Tripitaka, he drew examples from several sutras. Among them is a reference to the Atthakavagga and Parayanavagga. In the following is the translation of Nagarjuna's summary on the teaching of the two vaggas:

"The Paranaya Sutta and the Arthaka Sutta said that the wise one will not attach or grasp on to sarvadharma. If one is to attach or grasp on to dharma then superficial notions will arise. If there is no attachment then there would be no notion. Those accomplished Sages will neither grasp nor forsake any dharma. If one neither grasps nor forsake, then he is detached from all views. Thus, dharma-sunyata is taught in various places in the Tripitaka."[62]

It is interesting to note that Nagarjuna made reference to the two Vaggas together, and he regards the teaching of the two to be identical. Also, according to Nagarjuna, the two vaggas are propelling the teaching of dharma-sunyata, a quality of the Mahayana bodhisattvas.

VI. During the discussion of the wisdom of the Bodhisattva mahasattva's vow in the Mahayana tradition, Nagarjuna quoted a stanza from the Atthakavagga to answer the following question, "the practitioner uphold the precepts, cultivate dhyana and practise the various vipasyana meditation, why did you say 'not wisdom'?"[63] However, an equivalent stanza in the Pali version could not be identified, but stanza 803 is close enough. They are both listed in the following:

MPPS: When a practitioner can forsake all dharma, do not attach to wisdom and makes no differentiation than that is definite wisdom.[64]

803 They do not form (views), they do not prefer. Nor do they adhere to doctrines. A Brahman is not to be inferred by virtuous conduct or vows. Gone to the far shore, such a one does not fall back (on anything). [65]

VII. During the explanation of the characteristics of an arahants, Nagarjuna answered a question raised in the MPPS. In his answer, Nagarjuna pointed out that the Buddha posed a question to Sariputta about the content of a stanza from the Parayanavagga. The following is the translation of the related passage from the MPPS:

"If Araharts have done what had to be done, laid done the burden and need not listen to dharma, why then during the sermons of the Prajñāpāramitā Sutra there were five thousands Araharts?" [[[Nagarjuna]]) answered, "Although the Araharts have done what had to be done but the Buddha wishes to test their knowledge on the 'very profound teaching of wisdom'. For example, when the Buddha asked Sariputta about the stanza from the Ajita Sutta in the Parayanavagga which said:

All the various types of learners,

And those that have considered the dharma,

The ways that these people practise,

Would you please clearly explain?[66]

What is the meaning of 'those that are still learners?' and what is the meaning of 'those that have considered the dharma?' Three times the Buddha have asked and Sariputta remained muted. Then the Buddha proceeded to explain and held the following dialogue with Sariputta: ' Is there becoming?' 'Yes, there is becoming, World Honoured One,” answered Sariputta. If there is becoming, those who wish to bring conditioned phenomena to cessation is called the “learner”. Those who have attained the unconditioned phenomena with wisdom are called “those that have considered the dharma” [67]

This passage raised several very interesting points. Firstly, Buddha was testing Sariputta on a sutta that had already exist when Buddha was still alive, which mean that the Parayanavagga existed before the First council. Secondly, both the Buddha and Nagarjuna regard the Parayanavagga as 'very profound teaching of wisdom’. Thirdly, if we assume that Ajita, the questioner of the stanza, understood the meanings of 'the learners' and 'those that have considered the dharma' then his wisdom and/or attainment can be said to be higher than that of Sariputta.

In the seven references of the Atthakavagga and Parayanavagga by Nagarjuna, all but one of them dealt with either the ultimate teaching and/or the Mahayana teaching on Sunyata (i.e. dharma sunyata). Clearly Nagarjuna regarded these vaggas to be part of the core and/or foundation of the Mahayana teaching, especially for teaching related to Prajñāpāramitā Sutra.


The Atthakavagga and the Parayanavagga are very important not only because of their antiquity but also because of their profound teachings. However, why are they not included in the Original Canon; i.e. the four Nikayas? This question was raised by both the Venerable Yin shun[68] and Prof. K. R. Norman[69]. Obviously, these vaggas existed before the First Council and they were well known enough not to be 'just missed'. We will probably never find out why but there is no harm speculating. One probable reason is the possibility of the harmful side affect of these vaggas to the unprepared readers, and this may have deterred the more orthodox elders not to include them into the four Nikayas. Maybe this was one of the reasons that Bhikkhu Purana, who missed the gathering of the First Council, decided to "remember them (the Dharma) as I myself heard and received them from the Blessed One."[70]

In the two vaggas that we have discussed, Tissametteyya is the only one that had the honour to hold a sub-chapter in both. Tissametteyya, commonly known as Maitreya the future Buddha, was not a usual popular figure in the Pali Canon. However, being pronounced to be the future Buddha, Tissametteyya is the only other ‘recognizedBodhisattva in the Pali Canon beside Prince Siddhatta. In the Lotus Sutta, there is also a rather unorthodox description of our future Buddha, the Seeker of Fame who shall become Maitreya Buddha. Here is the passsage from The Lotus Sutta:

This Dharma teacher Wonderful Bright

At that time had a disciple,

Whose mind constantly harbored indolence and sloth,

Who craved fame and advantage,

Whose desire for fame and advantage was insatiable,

Who often frequented the houses of the great clans,

Forsaking what he had repeated and committed to memory,

Relegating it to oblivion and deriving no profit from it.

For this reason

He was called Seeker of Fame.

He also, performing a multitude of good deeds,

Was able to see numberless Buddhas,

To make offerings to the Buddhas,

To follow them in treading the Great Path,

To acquire fully the six paramitas,

And, now, to see the Lion Son of the Sakyas.

Hereafter he shall become a Buddha

Whose name shall be called Maitreya[71].

Why is there such a description of the future Buddha? It does not seem to be very polite. Obvious, one of the possible reasons is to give comfort and confidence to those that hold such ordinary characters - "Ah, I still have a chance." But there should be more than that. Maybe, such an image of the practitioners and/or followers (including our future Buddha) mentioned in the two vaggas was really held by the more orthodox Samgha members of the time, considering the practitioners undemanding attitude toward religious practices and righteous behaviour.


From analyzing the meaning of the individual suttas in the Atthakavagga, the concerted messages of the whole vagga becomes apparent. Because the compiler(s) of the Vagga synthesized suttas that emphasized both wisdom and moralistic teaching together, the vagga can be seen as a complete guide to Liberation. On the other hand, the messages in the Panayanavagga, which is mainly comprised with questions from the sixteen Brahmin students, are much more uniform. However, what made these two Vaggas stand out is their antiquity coupled with the profound teaching. Of course, their influence and relationship with Mayayana teaching can let loose all kind of imaginations. Therefore, it is fair to say that these vaggas are the pearl of the Tripitaka, as would be agreed by Nagarjuna.


Allen, G.F., (1959) The Buddhist's Philosophy. London.

Burford, Grace (1983) The Ideal goal according to the Atthakavagga and its major Pali Commentaries,Ph.d diss. Northwestern Univ., Evanston

Chalmers, Lord (1932) (tr.)The Sutta-Nipāta, , Harvard Univ. Press, London.

Conze, E (1988) (tr.) Buddhist Wisdom Books. London

Fausböll, V. (1881) (tr.) The Sutta Nipāta (Vol. X of The Sacred Books of the East), Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Gomez, Luis O (1976) Proto-Mādhyamika in the Pāli canon in Philosophy East and West 26:2 Hawaii:137-165

Guo Liang Yun郭良鋆(1990) (tr.)《經集》(The Sutta Nipāta),Beijing: China Social Science Press.

Hurvity, Leon (1976) (tr.) Scripture of the Lotus Blossom of the Fine Dharma, New York

Jayawickrama, N .A. (1947)A critical analysis of the Pali Sutta Nipāta illustrating gradual growth, phd. diss ., London Univ.. Published in serial form Ceylon Univ. Review (1948-51) and Pali Buddhist review, London: 1976-8.

Maitreya 《瑜伽師地論》ppYogacarabhumi-Sastra[[ (Treatise on the Stages of Yoga Practice), T. 1579.

Nagarjuna, (406)《大智度論》ppMahāprajñāpāramitāśāstra[[ Kumarajiva (tr.) T25.

Norman, KṚ. (1992) The Group of Discourses II, (tr.) Pali Text Society, Oxford,

Pande, G.C. (1974) Studies in The origins of Buddhism. Delhi.

Premasiri, P.O. (1972) The philosophy of the Atthakavagga. Kandy

Thomas, E.(1918) Early Buddhist Scriptures. London.

Saddhatissa, H. (1985) The ppSutta-Nipāta[[, (tr.), London.

Veter, T. (1990): Some Remarks on Older Parts of the Sutta Nipāta, in: Panels of the VIIth World Sankrit Conference 1987. II. Leiden, 44. D. S. Ruegg & L. Schmithausen (eds.). Leiden: E. J. Brill, pp. 36–56.

Xuanzang 玄奘, (tr.), (659)《大毘婆沙論》)Abhidharma-mahavibhasa-sastra: T27

Yin Shun 印順 (1991) 《原始佛教聖典之集成》(Yuan shi fo jiao sheng dian zhi ji cheng) 2nd. Rev. ed..

Yin Shun 印順 ed. 昭慧 Zhao Hui (1993) (《大智度論》之作者及其翻譯) Dai Zhi-duo Lun zhi zuo zhe ji qi fan yi, Taiwan,.


[1] Gomez, Luis O (1976) Proto-ppMādhyamika[[ in the Pāli canon in Philosophy East and West 26:2 Hawaii:137-165

[2] Nagarjuna, (406)《大智度論》Mahāprajñāpāramitāśāstra Kumarajiva (tr.) T25

[3] Fausböll, V. (1881) (tr.) The Sutta Nipāta (Vol. X of The Sacred Books of the East),. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

[4] Norman, KṚ. (1992) The Group of Discourses II, (tr.) Pali Text Society, Oxford

[5] Gomez 1976: 138

[6] Maitreya 《瑜伽師地論》ppYogacarabhumi-Sastra[[ (Treatise on the Stages of Yoga Practice), T. 1579:418b. “結集如來正法藏者。攝聚如是種種聖語。為令聖教久住世故。以諸美妙名句文身。如其所應次第安布次第結集。謂能貫穿縫綴種種能引義利。能引梵行。真善妙義。是名契經。”

[7] Veter, T. (1990): Some Remarks on Older Parts of the Sutta Nipāta, in: Panels of the VIIth World Sankrit Conference 1987. II. Leiden, 44. D. S. Ruegg & L. Schmithausen (eds.). Leiden: E. J. Brill, pp. 36–56.

[8] The correct name of this Vagga is not ascertained, varying between Atthakavagga, meaning the Chapter of the Eights (Asta. P, attha- 'eight') and Arthavargiya, the Chapter of Meaningful Statements (Artha, P. attha – ‘meaning’). Different Schools used different names; i.e. Sthavirah- ppArthavargiya[[ and the Pali version-Atthakavagga. Vererable Yin Shun proposed “attha” as being the original name (see footnote 9), however, Jayawickrama, in his Doctoral thesis proposed ‘Artha’ (see footnote 10).

[9] Yin Shun 印順 (1991) 《原始佛教聖典之集成》(Yuan shi fo jiao sheng dian zhi ji cheng) 2nd. Rev. ed.:818-820.

[10] Jayawickrama, N .A. (1947)A critical analysis of the Pali Sutta Nipāta illustrating gradual growth, phd. diss ., London Univ.. Published in serial form Ceylon Univ. Review (1948-51) and Pali Buddhist review, London: 1976-8.

[11] Norman 1992. 90

[12] Norman 1992: 91.

[13] Norman 1992: 91.

[14] Saddhatissa, H. (1985) The ppSutta-Nipāta[[, (tr.), London.:94.

[15] Saddhatissa 1985: 95.

[16] Norman 1992: 94.

[17] Saddhatissa 1985: 96

[18] Saddhatissa 1985: 97

[19] Saddhatissa 1985: 97-98

[20] Norman 1992: 97-98.

[21] Saddhatissa 1985: 100

[22] Saddhatissa 1985: 101-103

[23] Saddhatissa 1985: 103-106

[24] Saddhatissa 1985: 106

[25] Xuanzang 玄奘, (tr.), (659)《大毘婆沙論》)ppAbhidharma-mahavibhasa-sastra[[: T27: 176.

[26] MPPS T30: 387.

[27] Allen, G.F., (1959) The Buddhist's Philosophy. London.: 74-75

[28] Norman 1992: 110.

[29] Norman 1992: 107.

[30] Chalmers, Lord (1932) (tr.)The ppSutta-Nipāta[[, , Harvard Univ. Press, London:243.

[31] Saddhatissa 1985: 118.

[32] Norman 1992: 118.

[33] Saddhatissa 1985: 121.

[34] Norman 1992: 124.

[35] Norman 1992: 126.

[36] Norman 1992: 125.

[37] Norman 1992: 125.

[38] Saddhatissa 1985: 120.

[39] Conze, E (1988) (tr.) Buddhist Wisdom Books. London: 26.

[40] Conze 1988:48.

[41] Saddhatissa 1985: 123.

[42] Conze 1988:47-48.

[43] Conze 1988:123.

[44] Conze 1988:63.

[45] Saddhatissa 1985: 127.

[46] Conze 1988:60.

[47] Yin Shun 印順 ed. 昭慧 Zhao Hui (1993) (《大智度論》之作者及其翻譯) Dai Zhi-duo Lun zhi zuo zhe ji qi fan yi, Taiwan.

The Author of the MPPS has been questioned by both Lamotte and several Japanese Scholars. However, a through work on this subject has been published by the Venerable Yin Shun, edited by Ven. Zhao Hui. In the book, Ven. Yin Shun convincingly and systematically disputed all the questions raised by the Scholars, and concluded that Nagarjuna is the author of the MPPS.

[48] 1.『義品』, 2.『眾義經』3., 『阿他婆耆經』4.『利眾經』,5. 『佛說利眾經』6. 『佛利眾生經』. See Venerable Yin Shun’s explanation in 《大智度論》之作者及其翻譯; 釋印順法師. 東方宗教研究第2期(1990.10出版):26

[49] MPPS, T. 25: 60c.「各各自依見,戲論起諍競,若能知彼非,是為知正見」「不肯受他法,是名愚癡人,作是論議者,真是愚癡人」「若依自是見,而生諸戲論,若此是淨智,無非淨智者。」

[50]MPPS, T. 25: 60c. 「此三偈中,佛說第一義悉檀相。所謂世間眾生自依見,自依法,自依論議,而生諍競;戲論即諍競本,戲論依諸見生。」

[51] MPPS, T. 25: 63c.

[52] 佛自於般若波羅蜜,不念不猗,何況餘法有猗著者?以是故,佛法初頭稱「如是」。佛意如是:我弟子無愛法,無染法,無朋黨, 但求離苦解脫,不戲論諸法相。

[53] MPPS, T. 25: 193b. 『是時佛說〈義品〉偈』

[54] T04, No. 198:179c.

[55] The Chinese version of the Atthakavagga, Pasura was translated as「勇辭」 and in the MPPS it was translated as『毘耶離梵志,名論力』

[56]MPPS, T. 25: 193b.『各各謂究竟,而各自愛著,各自是非彼,是皆非究竟!』『是人入論眾,辯明義理時,各各相是非,勝負懷憂喜。』

[57]MPPS, T. 25: 193b.『勝者墮憍坑,負者墮憂獄;是故有智者,不隨此二法。』『論力汝當知,我諸弟子法,無虛亦無實,汝欲何所求?』『汝欲壞我論,終已無此處,一切智難勝,適足自毀壞!』

[58] The name of the Attahavagga was translated as《利眾經》at this point.

[59] MPPS, T. 25: 259b.『若欲求真觀,但有名與色;若欲審實知,亦當知名色。』『雖癡心多想,分別於諸法,更無有異事,出於名色者。』

[60] Saddhatissa 1985: 102.

[61] MPPS, T. 25: 295b. 『求出世間,有上、中、下:上者利根,大心求佛道;中者中根,求辟支佛道;下者鈍根,求聲聞道。 為求佛道者,說六波羅蜜及法空;為求辟支佛者,說十二因緣及獨行法;為求聲聞者,說眾生空及四真諦法。 聲聞畏惡生死,聞眾生空,及四真諦,無常、苦、空、無我,不戲論諸法。』

[62] MPPS, T. 25: 295c. 『《波羅延經》、《利眾經》中說:「智者於一切法不受不著,若受著法則生戲論,若無所依止則無所論。諸得道聖人於諸法無取無捨,若無取捨,能離一切諸見。如是等三藏中處處說法空。」』

[63]MPPS, T. 25: 389a. 『行者,持戒、修禪定、習諸觀,雲何言「非智」?』

[64]MPPS, T. 25: 389a. 『如《佛利眾生經》中說:「行者捨諸法,亦不依止慧,亦無所分別,是為決定智!」』

[65] Norman 1992:94.

[66] Pali version equivalent is stanza no. 1038: ‘Those who have considered the doctrine, and the many under training here; (being) zealous, tell me when asked, sir, their way of life.’ Norman 1992: 116.

[67]MPPS, T. 25: 82c>問曰: 若諸阿羅漢所作已辦,逮得己利,不須聽法,何以故說般若波羅蜜時,共五千阿羅漢? 答曰: 諸阿羅漢雖所作已辦,佛欲以甚深智慧法試。如佛問舍利弗,如《波羅延經》阿耆陀難中偈說:「種種諸學人,及諸數法人,是人所行法,  願為如實說!」「是中,雲何學人?雲何數法人?」爾時,舍利弗默然。如是三問,三默。佛示義端,告舍利弗:「有生不?」舍利弗答:「世尊!有生。」有生者,欲為滅有為生法故,名學人;以智慧得無生法故,名數法人。是經,此中應廣說。

[68] Yin Shun, 1991:623.

[69] Norman 1992: Intro xxxi.

[70] Cullavagga II.I.II.

[71] Hurvity, Leon (1976) (tr.) Scripture of the Lotus Blossom of the Fine Dharma, New York