Dīgha Nikāya

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Sacred Books of the Buddhists
Volume IV

Dīgha Nikāya

Dialogues of the Buddha
Part III

Sutta 33

Saṅgīti Suttantaɱ

The Recital


by C.A.F. Rhys Davids

Public Domain



An English translation of this Suttanta by the Rev. Suriyagoda Sumangala was published at Calcutta in 1904 by the Mahābodhi Society.

It and the following Suttanta, in concluding the Dīgha Nikāya, form for that work a novel departure. Novel, not because they are compiled as catechisms - we have already met with an exposition so compiled in the Mahā Satipaṭṭhāna Suttanta, Vol. II, pp. 337 - 45, where there is a lengthy discourse, possibly an interpolation, by question and answer, on the so-called Four Aryan Truths, another in the Mahā Nidāna Suttanta (Vol. II, pp. 51 - 68), not to mention yet other dialogues which are in part catechetical. The novelty lies in this, that the materials are arranged on the plan observed at much greater length throughout the Fourth, or Anguttara Nikāya. This plan is not that of the first and second Nikāyas, which are professedly grouped according to length, nor that of the third Nikāya, where the grouping is more intelligently done, namely, according to subject. It is a grouping where the points or chief items brought forward are grouped numerically and in arithmetical progression. Recourse to it must have been on mnemonic grounds, grounds that would be of great importance in an unwritten mass of doctrine.

It is not equally obvious why the compilation of doctrinal items in this form should have been attributed to Sariputta. In the Commentarial tradition of the procedure at the First Council, as told by Buddhaghosa,[1] in the Commentary on the Dīgha Nikāya, it is related that, whereas Ānanda was required to testify to the circumstances under which every Sutta in the Nikāyas was uttered, the other three Nikāyas were handed over to the disciples of (the late) Sariputta, Mahā Kassapa (the president) and Anuruddha respectively. Thus it was the Majjhima that fell to the school of Sariputta, and not the Anguttara, as we should have expected, had Sariputta, in his teaching, always preferred the numerical method. Nor is his teaching more amply represented in the Suttas of the Anguttara than in those of [199] the second and third Nikāyas. Sariputta's gift of teaching was not one able to express itself in one channel only. His manifold powers as a teacher are eloquently testified to by more than one distinguished apostle, witness the eulogies of Ānanda, Vangīsa, Mahā Kassapa, Mahā Moggallāna his fellow 'chief-disciple,' and by the Master himself.[2] He is in one of these testimonials praised for his ability to summarize as well as to expand:

He teaches first in outline brief
And then expands in full detail.

It was of prime importance in this unwritten gospel so to summarize that expansion was possible with the maximum of accuracy and the minimum of muddle and difficulty. And he on whom the duty would fall, should he survive his chief - which he did not - of faithfully maintaining and propagating the inherited doctrine, was naturally deeply concerned to get a correct catalogue of such summaries, while the leader was at hand to sanction them.

Some such reasoning may have led the compilers of these two last Suttantas to ascribe them to Sariputta. All that we now know is that each of them forms a sort of thematic Index to the doctrines scattered through the Four Nikāyas, that they follow the Anguttara method of arrangement, but that they contain here and there matter which suggests that they took their present shape at a later date than the bulk of the rest of the Dīgha.

In the two features they have in common, of catechism as a monologue by the catechumen, and of the absence of narrative (nidāna or vatthu), this further interest attaches to these last Suttantas, that they become practically Abhidhamma rather than Sutta Piṭaka. In the oldest division of the body of doctrine called in the Piṭakas the nine Angas or parts, one is Veyyākaranam, translatable as answering, or expounding. Under this Anga all the sort of catechetical dialogue was included that was called from the early days of the Order's history Abhidhamma-Katha, translatable as 'advanced discourse on doctrine.'[3] Most of this Anga was at a later date systematized and expanded as the third or Abhidhamma Piṭaka. But some of it remained in the Nikāyas. In the Khuddaka or Fifth Nikāya there is a whole book of it: - the Patisambhidā-magga, or Analytic Course.

[200] Another pair of books, the Niddesas, though we class them as Commentaries, are practically Abhidhamma. And embedded in two of the other Nikāyas we have on the one hand Abhidhamma-talk in the two Vedalla-Suttas of the Majjhima (I, 299 f., though Buddhist tradition classes them under a Vedalla-anga), and on the other, these two lengthy Abhidhamma-lists in the Dīgha here presented.

The important Kashmirian Buddhist school of the Sabbatthivādins (Sanskrit: Sarvāstivādins), or 'Everything-exists-doctrinaires,' were so satisfied that the former of these two - the Saṅgīti Suttantaɱ - was proper 'Advanced talk,' that they placed it, or their own version of it among the seven works which, according to Tibetan and Chinese translations, constituted their Abhidhamma books. It is variously classed as No. 2, 3 or 7, and in the Chinese recensions is still ascribed to Sariputta. The Tibetan recensions father it on Mahā-Koṭṭhita, the Apostle who in the Majjhima is the speaker in the major Vedalla-Sutta. The episode that may possibly have stimulated Sariputta or the compilers of the two Suttantas to lose no time in drawing up summarized doctrines - the death of the Jain leader and the subsequent disputes among that body - is repeated in the Sabbatthivādin recension. We are indebted for what we know of this recension to Professor J. Takakusu's admirable essay on 'The Sarvāstivādin Abhidharma Books' in the Journal of the Pali Text Society, 1904-5. Space-limits prevented him from giving a full list of the summaries, but all he does give occur also in our Saṅgīti Suttantaɱ. Some day a full comparison will be possible.



[1] Sumangala Vilāsinī I, 15.

[2] Kindred Sayings I, 87 f.; Psalms of the Brethren, verses 1231 - 3, 1082 - 6, 1176 f.; Kindred Sayings I, 242.

[3] Majjhima I, 214.


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