Mahāparinibbānasuttaṁ Home PageFirst Section
Establishment of the Text
In establishing this text I have followed certain principles which relate to choosing the correct reading, and how to record the variants. Wherever possible I have attempted to explain why I have taken certain readings in preference to the alternatives (or pointed it out when the choice necessarily is arbitrary). Some of the considerations I have used to establish the text include the rules of Pāḷi grammar and metre, and idiom; and other guides like context and consistency of reading and presentation. I give some examples below:
183: in a Vetālīya line:
195: in a Siloka line:
340: in a Opaccandasaka line:
138: Thai has the Buddha going to the rest house (
290: (Ānanda speaking):
10: BJT, Thai:
14: ChS, PTS:
45: PTS omits
There are three variants which completely reverse the meaning of the text, and so are worth pointing out here:
Other differences occur, such as PTS always writes
Another class of variants are those of words that show gemination, where many times there appears to be no rule we can call upon to establish which is the correct reading. Examples include Text:
As the text is, in places, very repetitious, when recording variants I have preferred to summarise them rather than list them individually, so that they are normally noted by saying ‘here and below’, ‘throughout’, ‘always’, etc. If a variant occurs only at a certain place I mark it as ‘here’, or ‘here, but below (otherwise)’.
When I have gone against the reading taken in PTS I have many times shown that PED was also in disagreement, and presumably therefore the Editor had changed his mind between preparing the text and the Dictionary. Even a glance at the text established here will show that there are many hundreds of variant readings recorded. This despite the fact that I have summarised the variants rather than spelt them out one by one. However, the vast amount of variants recorded are, in fact, trivial.
They mainly consist of either variant spellings, such as
Unfortunately many others are simply printing errors, like: BJT writing
Other variants include spelling variations where we again have no real way of establishing what the correct reading should be, such as the name of the river that the Buddha drank from and bathed in on the last leg of his tour, should it be
Very often the editions show assimilation of the nasal to the following consonant, so that what is written here as
Additions to the Text
The text of Mahāparinibbānasuttaṁ is divided into six sections for recitation (
To anyone reading the text as it stands today it is clear at once, that certain sections seem to be much longer than others. It therefore seemed worthwhile to count the syllables and compare their length against the ideal in the hope that this would throw light on the text as it is currently being passed down. Here is a table showing the length of the 6 sections:
We can immediately see from this that the 4th and 6th Chapters approximate very closely to the ideal. The 2nd Chapter is somewhat shorter than expected, but perhaps not unusually so. The remaining Chapters (1st, 3rd & 5th) are longer than we would expect them to be, especially the 3rd Chapter.
If we examine these more closely now we find that certain Teachings seem to interrupt the flow of the narrative. In the first section the Buddha talks about the seven conditions which will prevent decline in the Vajjīs. This is followed by applying the same teaching to the Saṅgha. That the Buddha would apply the teaching in this way seems quite natural, as throughout the discourse he shows concern that the Sāsana should be stable now that he is approaching his Final Emancipation.
It is followed however, by another seven conditions, and then another seven, and then another seven, and then another seven, and then another six. The interesting thing here is when we remove these 5 Teachings from the syllable count we find the Chapter is then 8,115 syllables in length (101%), which is very close to the expected syllabic count.
In the Aṅguttaranikāya (7.24-27) we see that the first four of these Teachings occur there also in exactly the same order. The last section also occurs in Aṅguttaranikāya at 6.11 and 12. 03 It seems to me that there are two possibilities here. Either these Teachings have been brought in from the Aṅguttara text, because they were found to be further conditions that the Buddha (at one time or another) stated were true and proper conditions for the Saṅgha to develop to prevent decline. Or they were linked in the oral tradition by number and theme.
The 3rd Chapter is the most extraordinary, as at present it contains no less than 12,869 syllables, which is more than 50% longer than we would expect for a
It is then followed, however, by three further sets of eights, the eight assemblies, the eight means of mastery and the eight liberations, which appear to be completely unrelated to what is happening and arbitrarily inserted at this point. It is not quite arbitrary though, because as we saw above, material may come into the text through numerical association, and that seems to be the case again here. It may come of no surprise then that we find in the Aṅguttaranikāya that these Teachings occur in the same
In section 22 the Buddha tells Ānanda how he has now given up the will to live, and will attain Final Emancipation in 3 months time. Ānanda then begs the Buddha three times not to pass away so soon, but the Buddha asks why Ānanda is insisting on this? Ānanda explains that he had heard the Buddha say that whoever had mastered the Four Paths to Power would be able to live on for the completion of his lifespan.
The Buddha blames him for not asking sooner, and says that if he had done so he may have rejected it the first couple of times, but not the 3rd time, but now the Buddha has made up his mind and he is unable to go back on his word. So far the story, though drawn out, seems genuine enough. But then there are 2 sections where exactly the same explanation, questioning and recrimations are repeated in regard to other times and places where Ānanda had a similar opportunity and failed to make the request. In my edition I have filled in the ellipsis passages, believing that the recitor (
The 5th Chapter is also much longer than we would expect, but the arguments here are by no means so clear-cut. It does seem to me that there is evidence of additions to the text, though exactly where they begin and end is not so straightforward. Section 37 begins: “After this was said, venerable Ānanda addressed the Fortunate One, (saying): ‘Reverend Sir, may the Fortunate One not attain Final Emancipation in this small town (of Kusinārā).’ ” This seems to follow on from the Buddha’s announcement that he would attain Final Emancipation in Kusinārā, which occurred towards the end of section 34.
The intervening sections 35 and 36 on the four places for devotional worship, Ānanda’s marvellous qualities, the Universal Monarch’s marvellous qualities, and those considered worthy of a Shrine, interrupt the flow of the narrative, and introduce much matter that may be late in origin. It may come as no surprise then that most of the material that occurs here also occur as discourses in Aṅguttaranikāya. AN 4.118: Saṁvejanīyasuttaṁ, 4.129: Ānanda-acchariyasuttaṁ, 4.130: Cakkavatti-acchariyasuttaṁ, 4.247 Thūpārahasuttaṁ. 07 Again when we remove the two sections and check the syllabic count we find we have a more reasonable 7,196 syllables (90% of the ideal).
I believe that the quantative analysis made above establishes that there have been additions to the text. Just what material is additional also seems clear in Chapters 1 and 3, but it is less so in Chapter 5. In any case by suggesting that these Teachings are additional to the text I am not suggesting that they are in any way alien to the teaching of the Buddha, indeed I do not think this is so, and most of the Teachings also appear elsewhere. I only wish to point out that the text we now receive very much looks like it has been supplemented in various ways as it was passed down in the oral tradition.
Some of the additions must have been made very early indeed, as they occur in the Sanskritised Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra also, a comparative edition of which I will prepare soon and which will hopefully throw more light on the textual tradition by which this material has come down to us.
Mahāparinibbānasuttaṁ Home PageFirst Section
last updated: June 2008