A Study of the Metre of Pārāyanavagga

Introduction to the Text


The elaborate composition now known to us as Pārāyanavagga is found in two places in the Khuddakanikāya of the Suttapiṭaka. It forms the 5th and final section of Suttanipāta; and it is found again together with its ancient commentary in the Cullaniddesa. The text is essentially the same in both places, except in regard to some small, but nevertheless important, readings. I do not propose to discuss these differences in readings here, which do not affect the metre, being mainly of doctrinal importance. I have chosen to establish the text from the Cullaniddesa edition because in almost every case Niddesa's readings are, in fact, to be preferred to Suttanipāta's, and they probably represent an earlier strata of the text. This may be because once the text was embedded in its commentary, which must have been at an early date, that it stopped developing, whereas the Suttanipāta text lacked the restrictions in regard to its readings that a commentary imposes.01

The text of Pārāyanavagga falls into three clearly discernible sections. The first 56 verses form the Vatthugāthā, the Introductory Verses, which provide a commentarial-style basis to the sections that follow; this is followed by 91 verses that make up the Pucchā, or Questions, in which are recorded, mainly in verse, 16 dialogues between the Buddha and a group of brāhmaṇa meditation masters; and thirdly, there is a fitting epilogue to the story, which begins with a short prose section, before a further 25 verses with which the Pārāyanavagga concludes.

It has been noted before that the Vatthugāthā are much later in composition than the Pucchā – this can be shown to be the case on linguistic and doctrinal grounds. On the other hand the Pucchā are regarded by scholars as containing some of the earliest recorded sayings of the Buddha All scholars are agreed that this text contains some of the most ancient teachings of the Buddha; see e.g. Rhys Davids, Buddhist India (London 1903), p. 122; G. C. Pande, Studies in the Origins of Buddhism (2nd rev. ed. Delhi, 1974), p. 51ff; Abeyanayake, A Textual and Historical Analysis of the Khuddaka Nikāya (Colombo, 1984), p. 75ff, etc.02

In this paper I intend to examine the metre of Pārāyanavagga in some detail. The first section concerns certain matters that have to be noticed in regard to the scansion of the text. In this section I also demonstrate that there is an hitherto unrecognised rule that was used in Pāḷi metrical composition, which I call the rule of resolution.

The second section examines the lines written in the Siloka metre as they appear in the Pucchā and in the Vatthugāthā with the results from that it has been possible to throw light on the date of the epilogue. The third section studies the Tuṭṭhubha lines, and shows that the parametres of the early Tuṭṭhubha are wider than has been previously supposed, and that we must accept that there are one or two secondary openings, and an unusual variation in the break. Although in this paper I am mainly concerned with the metre as it appears in Pārāyanavagga, I have given cross references to Aṭṭhakavagga (as it appears in the PTS edition of Mahāniddesa) when they can help to confirm the suggestions made herein.03

When these matters have been carefully considered I present a new edition of Pārāyanavagga, complete with its metrical markings, which hopefully can then be used as a study piece by those interested in early Pāḷi metrical composition on the one hand; and by those who are concerned with textual study on the other.

The text that follows has been established through a comparison of the following sources, which are listed here along with the abbreviations used in the variant readings:

BJT: Cullaniddesapāḷi. Buddha Jayanti Tripiṭaka Series, volume XXXIV. Colombo, 1976.

PTS: Cullaniddesa. Edited by W. Stede, Ph. D. London, 1918. Reprinted Oxford, 1988.

Thai: Cūḷaniddeso. The Royal Thai Edition, volume 30. 2470 (i.e. 1916). Reprinted Bangkok, 2502 (i.e 1958).

ChS: Cūḷaniddesapāḷi. Chaṭṭha Saṅgāyana CD-ROM, version 3 (no date, but = 1999). Igatpuri, India.

In BJT & ChS the text is first stated in full at the beginning of the books. Then the Pucchā and epilogue are repeated together with Niddesa's commentary. It should be noted that Cullaniddesa does not comment on the Vatthugāthā, but they are nevertheless included at the opening in all editions of CNidd. 04 The comparison has normally been made with the first statement of the text in these cases. PTS & Thai have the text from the Pucchā onwards only as it stands embedded in the commentary, the textual comparison therefore has been made with the verses as they are recorded there.

I have also included a comparison of the readings found in the European edition of Suttanipāta, but it should be understood that this has not been used to establish the text:

Sn: Sutta-Nipāta. New edition by Dines Anderson & Helmer Smith. London, 1913. Reprinted Oxford, 1990.

Two other books have played an important part in the establishment of the text as it is presented here, they are:

PJ II: Paramatthajotikā, 3 Volumes. Edited by Helmer Smith. London, 1916-1918. Reprinted in 1989 (Volumes I & II) and 1984 (Volume III). The latter volume has been particularly helpful, as it contains Smith's analysis of the metres.

GD II: Group of Discourses II. Revised Translation with Introduction and Notes, by K. R. Norman. Oxford 1992. Reprinted 1995.

Pāḷi metrical composition, of course, did not arise in a vacuum, but as part of a continuum with its cultural environment, and initially takes over and continues the metres that were current in the Buddha's day. Later there is a great innovation in Indian prosody with the emergence of the so called Musical metres (mattāchandas and gaṇacchandas) which brought new vigour into Indian verse composition. In literary terms these seem to have arisen first in Pāḷi, but in the first and earliest period of Pāḷi prosody, which is what we are concerned with here, they are as yet unknown.05 It is essential therefore, if we wish to understand Pāḷi prosody that we have some idea of what these metres looked like in the Vedas, and how that relates to the Pāḷi period. My prime reference for information on the Vedic metres has been:

VM: Vedic Metre in its Historical Development. E. V. Arnold. Cambridge. 1905.