[Buddha-l] Ariyapariyesana

Dan Lusthaus vasubandhu at earthlink.net
Tue Nov 8 15:22:50 MST 2011


Before returning to my response to Lance's message, I offer the following. 
In my previous message I mentioned another Majjhima sutta, the Vatthūpama 
sutta (MN 7), which offered an abhidhammic tsunami of upakkilesa items. The 
following, which is excerpted from the previously mentioned Bhikkhu 
Analayo's _A Comparative Study of The Majjhima Nikaya_ (Taiwan, 2011), while 
comparing this sutta with related texts, raises questions about the 
integrity of each of those texts, including the MN version.


(Excerpts from pp. 50-58, charts omitted - square brackets added by me)

The Vatthupama-sutta, the “discourse on the simile of the cloth”, features 
an exposition on the nature of mental defilements. This discourse has four 
Chinese parallels, one of which is found in the Madhyama-agama, another 
parallel is found in the Ekottarikaagama,while the remaining two are 
individual translations. Besides these four parallels, the final part of the 
Vatthupama-sutta, which is concerned with ritual bathing in a river, has 
counterparts in two discourses found in the two Chinese Samyukta-agama 

[a detail not mentioned in the Pali version]
According to the Madhyama-agama version and one of the individual 
translations, the event described in the present discourse took place just 
after the Buddha had reached awakening.

[Analayo's footnote: As in the case of MN 6, the Chinese discourses thus 
stand in contrast to the Pali commentary, which includes the 
Vatthupama-sutta among the discourses delivered by the Buddha on his own 
initiative, Ps I 15,26: attano ajjhasayen’ eva.]

While the Pali version starts with the Buddha addressing the monks on his 
own, the three Chinese versions report that the arrival of a Brahmin was the 
occasion for the delivery of the discourse. The same Brahmin appears again 
at the end of all versions, asking the Buddha about ritual bathing in holy 

...The Vatthupama-sutta starts its exposition with the simile of the cloth, 
followed by listing sixteen mental defilements. The Chinese versions follow 
the reverse sequence by first listing the mental defilements, which in the 
Chinese versions count up to twentyone types (see table 1.7), followed by 
then illustrating their effect with the simile of the cloth.

The defilements found in the Pali version are almost exclusively what could 
be reckoned as ‘societal’ defilements, in the sense of being states that 
negatively affect communal behaviour.

Although such qualities are likewise found in the Chinese versions, their 
respective lists additionally cover mental defilements more closely related 
to the practice of the path, such as the five hindrances.

The Chinese versions also mention shamelessness and recklessness, two 
qualities often found in similar lists in other Pali discourses, but absent 
from the list of defilements in the Vatthupama-sutta. The Madhyama-agama 
version and one of the individual translations, moreover, include wrong 
views in their lists, as well as unlawful desires.

The point made with the help of the simile of the cloth, according to the 
Majjhima-nikaya and Ekottarika-agama versions, is that a dirty and stained 
cloth will not take dye properly. The Madhyama-agama discourse and one 
individual translation instead describe a dirty cloth that is still stained 
even after much washing.

The Madhyama-agama and Ekottarika-agama versions, as well as one of the 
individual translations, proceed from the removal of the twenty-one 
defilements they mention to the development of the four brahmaviharas in the 
form of a boundless radiation. The Majjhima-nikaya discourse instead 
proceeds from overcoming the sixteen defilements mentioned in its listing to 
perfect confidence in the three jewels (Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha), an 
implicit reference to stream-entry, and only turns to the brahmaviharas 
later on (see table 1.8).

The Madhyama-agama version and one of the individual translations conclude 
their description of the radiation of the four brahmaviharas with the Buddha 
pointing out that in this way an internal ‘bathing’ of the mind can be 
undertaken, different from an outer bathing of the body. The same two 
versions continue by reporting that the Brahmin who had been present during 
the delivery of the discourse asked the Buddha about purification by bathing 
in sacred rivers.

The same query occurs also in the Majjhima-nikaya and the Ekottarika-agama 
versions, although in their accounts the Buddha’s exposition continues 
further before this intervention happens. In the Ekottarika-agama version, 
after having described the radiation of the four brahmaviharas, the Buddha 
speaks of perfect confidence in the three jewels, a topic that already 
occurred earlier in the Majjhima-nikaya discourse (see above table 1.8). In 
regard to the qualities of the three jewels, while the Majjhima-nikaya and 
the Ekottarika-agama presentations of the qualities of the Buddha are 
similar, they differ in relation to the Dharma. The Majjhima-nikaya version 
highlights that the Dharma is well proclaimed, visible here and now, 
immediately effective, inviting inspection, leading onward, and to be 
experienced for oneself by the wise. The Ekottarika-agama version instead 
describes the Dharma as very pure, unshakeable, respected and loved by the 

...The Vatthupama-sutta has a similar reference to taking delicious food 
before its treatment of the brahmaviharas (see above table 1.8). In the Pali 
account, this passage is a little surprising, placed as it is in between 
perfect confidence in the three jewels and the development of the 
brahmaviharas, and its implications remain somewhat unclear.

The Pali commentary explains this statement to imply that non-return has 
been attained, since taking delicious food will not obstruct a non-returner 
from progress to full awakening. This explanation appears contrived. 
Although delicious food will indeed not affect a non-returner or an arahant, 
being beyond the attraction of delicious food does not imply that one is at 
least a non-returner, since to remain unaffected by delicious food is 
possible even if one has not yet reached such a lofty level of realization.

The Vatthupama-sutta at this point speaks of aloofness from the attraction 
of food for one who is of “such virtue, such nature, and such wisdom”. 
Since the preceding passage spoke of perfect confidence in the three jewels, 
representative of stream-entry, the introductory reference to “such virtue, 
such nature, and such wisdom” should refer to the same level of awakening. 
Hence the formulation in the Vatthupama-sutta does not support identifying 
this passage as representative of non-return. Perhaps the puzzling placement 
of the reference to taking delicious food at a point between a reference to 
streamentry and a reference to full awakening has led the commentary to give 
this explanation, in an attempt to make sense out of this placement.

In contrast, in the Ekottarika-agama version the placement of this passage 
seems more natural, since by taking up this topic after full awakening it 
becomes clear that such aloofness is just one of the qualities that result 
from having eradicated all defilements. The same holds for the individual 
translation that has a comparable reference. Both versions also clarify the 
relation of this passage to the Vatthupama-sutta as a whole, since it was 
just such taking of delicious food by the Buddha that had caused the Brahmin 
to underestimate the degree of purity the Buddha had reached. Thus, in these 
two discourses, the reference to the topic of delicious food forms a direct 
reply to this misconception of the Brahmin, a misconception that apparently 
motivated the Buddha to deliver the entire discourse.

Another difference between the Majjhima-nikaya and the Ekottarika-agama 
presentations is that the Vatthupama-sutta does not refer to all of the 
three higher knowledges, mentioned in its Ekottarika-agama parallel, but 
only to the destruction of the influxes. The Majjhima-nikaya version 
precedes the destruction of the influxes with a brief description of the 
development of insight required for this lofty achievement, which speaks of 
understanding that there is what is inferior, what is superior, and what 
goes beyond all perceptions. A counterpart to this passage is not found in 
the Ekottarika-agama parallel.

[Referring to the later part about the Brahman inquiring about water 
This part of the Vatthupama-sutta occurs also in two Samyukta-agama 
discourses, so that this last section of the Pali discourse has six Chinese 
parallels. Four of these six Chinese parallels have the bank of a river as 
their venue, thereby providing the fitting location for the present exchange 
about bathing in rivers. The Madhyama-agama discourse and one of the 
individual translations, moreover, speak of the Buddha’s visitor as a 
Brahmin who practises water purification, while the two Samyukta-agama 
versions and the Ekottarika-agama account refer to him as a Brahmin from the 
bank of a river, a place where such purification through ablutions in water 
would take place.

...The parallel versions conclude with considerable variations:

- one of the two Samyukta-agama versions concludes by reporting that the 
Brahmin approved of the Buddha’s explanation,
- according to the other Samyukta-agama version he was delighted by what he 
had heard,
- the Madhyama-agama discourse and one of the individual translations report 
that he took refuge as a lay follower,
- according to the Majjhima-nikaya version, the Ekottarika-agama account, 
and the other individual translation, he went forth and became an arahant.

The ending reported in the last mentioned three versions has a counterpart 
in a discourse found in the Samyutta-nikaya and in the Sutta-nipata, 
according to which the same Brahmin on another occasion approached the 
Buddha in order to offer him the remains of an oblation. During the ensuing 
discussion, the Buddha explained that to be a Brahmin does not make one 
necessarily worthy of offerings and presented his perspective of what leads 
to purity. The Samyutta-nikaya and Sutta-nipata versions conclude by 
recording that the Brahmin took refuge, went forth and in due time became an 

The meeting between this Brahmin and the Buddha narrated in the 
Samyutta-nikaya and Sutta-nipata discourses would have to be considered as 
their first meeting, since the Brahmin did not recognize the Buddha. As on 
this occasion the Buddha’s explanationshad put into question the Brahmin’s 
belief in external forms of purification through offering oblations and his 
assumption of the superiority of being a Brahmin, it would make sense for 
him to ask the Buddha on the related topic of purification through ritual 
bathing in sacred waters on a later occasion, as reported in the 

The introductory narration in the Ekottarika-agama parallel to the 
Vatthupama-sutta and in one of the individual translations, according to 
which this Brahmin had been trying to find fault with the Buddha for 
partaking of exquisite food, would also fit with such an earlier meeting. It 
would be natural to imagine how this Brahmin might try to find some faults 
after having been humbled by the Buddha’s reply on an earlier occasion. 
Thus the only conflict between the accounts of these two meetings is their 
concluding part, according to which the same Brahmin requested the going 
forth and eventually became an arahant on two different occasions. The 
Samyukta-agama parallel to the earlier meeting of this Brahmin with the 
Buddha does not have this contradiction, as this version neither reports 
that the Brahmin became an arahant, nor indicates that he requested the 
going forth. According to its account, on this earlier occasion he did not 
even take refuge, but merely delighted in the Buddha’s exposition and left. 
This ending would not stand in any contrast to his going forth and becoming 
an arahant at the end of his later meeting with the Buddha, described in the 
Vatthupama-sutta and its parallels.

Perhaps his eventual going forth and becoming an arahant, reported in the 
Vatthupamasutta, came to be part of the Samyutta-nikaya and Sutta-nipata 
reports of the first meeting between Sundarika and the Buddha as the result 
of an error during the transmission of the discourses.

Looking back on the Vatthupama-sutta and its parallels, the seven versions 
of this discourse can be assembled into three groups, each of which gives a 
somewhat different presentation of the Buddha’s exposition and of its 
effect on the Brahmin.

The two Samyukta-agama versions offer the shortest and most simple account. 
Here the Buddha meets a Brahmin on the bank of a river and the latter, 
apparently thinking that the Buddha has come to take a ritual bath, brings 
up the subject of water purification. In reply, the Buddha points out that 
real purification needs to be undertaken in the realm of moral conduct, a 
reply that satisfies the Brahmin.

The Madhyama-agama discourse and one of the individual translations 
additionally offer an account of mental purification. This account contrasts 
a host of mental defilements with the development of the brahmaviharas. 
After presenting such development as an inner bathing, superior to a ritual 
bathing of the outer body, the topic of purification through bathing in 
water comes in its place. As a result of the exposition given in these two 
discourses, the Brahmin interlocutor becomes a lay disciple.

The Majjhima-nikaya and Ekottarika-agama discourses place a stronger 
emphasis on the threefold perfect confidence of a stream-enterer and the 
destruction of the influxes. According to their report, after the selfsame 
exchange with the Brahmin on water purification the Brahmin was so inspired 
that he went forth and became an arahant. The same outcome is also reported 
in the other individual translation, which in other respects, however, 
differs from these two discourses.

Thus, while in the two Samyukta-agama versions the discourse is concerned 
merely with the inefficacy of water purification, in the Madhyama-agama 
version and one of the individual translation the emphasis is on the 
contrast between mental defilements and the mental purity of the 
brahmaviharas, whereas in the Majjhima-nikaya discourse, the 
Ekottarika-agama version, and the other individual translation full 
awakening as the proper type of purification comes to the fore.

Regarding each of these three main modes of presentation, the Brahmin’s 
reaction fits the depth of the discourse he has received. 

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