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Chronology Of The Pali Canon
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Appendixes Masthead

Chronology Of The Pali Canon

Dr. Bimala Churn Law, Ph.D., M.A., B.L.B. C. Law.
History of Pali Literature. 2 vols.
London, Kegan Paul

[Believed to be in the Public Domain — inquiry submitted without response to several likely sources.
Please note that this copy is an edited version of what appears to have
been a scanned pre-publication release of this chapter [found at: but
apparently no longer available there]. I have corrected numerous
mis-scannings, but there remain a few places where words and even
perhaps whole sentences have been left out. Additionally there is
considerable inconsistancy in capitalization of the various texts.
This work also suffers from very long paragraphs and a highly convoluted
writing style (reminiscent of my own) but the information provided
rewards a patient reading.]

Rhys Davids in his Buddhist India (pg188) has given a chronological table of Buddhist literature from the time of the Buddha to the time of Asoka which is as follows:–

1. The simple statements of Buddhist doctrine now found, in identical words, in paragraphs or verses recurring in all the books.
2. Episodes found, in identical words, in two or more of the existing books.
3. The Silas, the Parayana, the Octades, the Patimokkha.
4. The Digha, Majjhima, Anguttara, and Samyutta Nikayas.
5. The Sutta-Nipata, the Thera-and Theri-Gathas, the Udanas, and the Khuddaka Patha.
6. The Sutta Vibhanga, and Khandhkas.
7. The Jatakas and the Dhammapadas.
8. The Niddesa, the Itivuttakas and the Patisambbhida.
9. The Peta and Vimana-Vatthus, the Apadana, the Cariya-Pitaka, and the Buddha-Vamsa.
10. The Abhidhamma books; the last of which is the Katha-Vatthu, and the earliest probably the Puggala-Pannatti.

This chronological table of early Buddhist literature is too
catechetical, too cut and dried, and too general to be accepted in spite
of its suggestiveness as a sure guide to determination of the
chronology of the Pali canonical texts. The Octades and the Patimokkha
are mentioned by Rhys Davids as literary compilations representing the
third stage in the order of chronology. The Pali title corresponding to
his Octades is Atthakavagga, the Book of Eights. The Book of Eights, as
we have it in the Mahaniddesa or in the fourth book of the Suttanipata,
is composed of sixteen poetical discourses, only four of which, namely,
(1) Guhatthaka, (2) Dutthatthaka. (3) Suddhatthaka and (4) Paramatthaka
share the common title of Atthaka and consist each of eight stanzas.
That is to say, the four only out of the sixteen poems fulfil the
definition of an Atthaka or octade, while none of the remaining poems
consists, as it ought to, of eight stanzas. The present Atthakavagga
composed of sixteen poems may be safely placed anterior to both the
Mahaniddesa and Suttanipata. But before cataloguing it as a compilation
prior to the four Nikayas and the Vinaya texts, it is necessary to
ascertain whether the Atthakavagga presupposed by the four Nikayas was a
book of four poems bearing each the title of Atthaka and consisting
each of eight stanzas or it was even in its original form an anthology
of sixteen poems. Similarly in placing the Patimokkha in the same
category with the Silas and Parayanas it would be important to enquire
whether the Patimokkha as bare code of monastic rules was then in
existence or not, and even if it were then in existence, whether it
contained in its original form 227 rules or less than this number. There
are clear passages in the Anguttara Nikaya to indicate that the earlier
code was composed of one and half hundred rules or little more
(sadhikam diyaddhasikkhapadasatam, AN., Vol. II, p.232). As Budddhaghosa
explains the pali expression, “Sadhikam diyaddhasikkhapadasatain”, it
means just 150 rules. According to a more reasonable interpertation the
number implied in the expression must be taken more than 150 and less
than 200. If the earlier code presupposed by the Anguttara passages was
composed of rules near about 150 and even not 200, it may be pertinently
asked if the Patimokkha, as we now have it, was the very code that had
existed prior to the Anguttara Nikaya. Our doubt as to the antiquity of
the Patimokkha as a bare code of rules is intensified by the tradition
recorded by Buddhaghosa in the Introduction to his Sumangalavilasini,
(pt. I.,p. 17) that the two codes of Patimokkha were to be counted among
the books that were not rehearsed in the First Buddhist Council.

The putting of the first four Nikatyas under head No.4 with the
implication that these were anterior to the Suttanipata and the
remaining books of the Pali canon are no less open to dispute. With
regard to the Digha Nikaya it has been directly pointed out by
Buddhaghosa that the concluding verses of the Mahaparinibbana Suttanta
relating to the redisribution of Buddha’s bodily remains were originally
composed by the rehearsers of the Third Buddhist Council and added
later on by the Buddhist teachers of Ceylon. A material objection to
putting the Digha and the Anguttara Nikayas in the same category is that
in the Digha Nikaya the story of Mahagovinda (Digha, II., pp.220 foll.)
has assumed the earlier forms of Jatakas characterised by the
concluding identification of Buddha, the narrator of the story, with its
hero, while in the Anguttara Nikaya the story is a simple chronicle of
seven purohitas without the identification. The four Nikayas are
interspersed with a number of legendary materials of the life of the
Buddha which appear at once to be inventions of a later age when the
Buddha came to be regarded and worshipped as a superhuman personality.[1]
Our case is that without discriminating the different strata of
literary accretion it will be dangerous to relegate all the four Nikayas
to the early stage of the Pali canon.

The Suttainpata figures promniently in the fifth order of the
chronology suggested by Rhys Davids. Without disputing that there are
numerous instances of archaism in the individual suttas or stanzas
composing this anthology, we have sufficient reasons to doubt that the
anthology as a whole was at all anterior to the Niddesa which heads the
list of the Pali Canonical texts representing the eighth order. By the
Niddesa we are to understand two separate exegetical works counted among
the books of the Khuddaka-Nikaya, (l) the Mahaniddesa being a
philological commentary on the poems of the Atthakavagga (forming the
fourth book of the Sutta-Nipata) and (2) the Cullaniddesa being a
similar commentary on the poems of the Parayanavagga (forming the fifth
or the last book of the Sutta-Nipata). The two questions calling for an
answer in this connection are (vide B. M. Barua’s Atthakavagga and
Parayanavagga as two independent Buddhist anthologies — Proceedings and
Transactions of the Fourth Oriental Conference, Allahabad, 1928, pp.
211-219) (1) was the Mahaniddesa composed, being intended as a commetary
on the Atthakavagga, the fourth book of the Sutta-Nipata or on the
Atthakavagga, then known to the Buddhist Community as a distinct
anthology? and (2) was the Cullaniddesa composed, being intended as a
commentary on the Parayanavagga, the fifth book of the Sutta Nipata or
on the Parayanavagga then known to the Buddhist community as a distinct
collection of poems? With regard to the second question it may be
pointed out that the poems of the Parayana group, as these are found in
the Sutta-Nipata, are Prologued by 56 Vattugathas, while the
Cullaniddesa is found without these introductory stanzas. The inference
as to the exclusion is based upon the fact that in the body of the
Cullaniddesa, there is nowhere any gloss on any of the introductory
stanzas. We notice, moreover, that the glosses of the Cullaniddesa are
not confined to the sixteen poems of the Parayanavagga,the scheme of the
Canonical Commentary including an additional sutta, namely, the
Khaggavisana, which now forms the second sutta of the first book of the
Sutta-Nipata. From the place assigned to this particular sutta in the
Cullaniddesa, it is evident that when the Cullaniddesa was composed, it
passed as a stray sutta, not belonging to any particular group, such as
the Uragavagga. The stray nature of the Khaggavisana Sutta may be taken
as conclusive also from its mixed Sanskrit version in the Mahavastu
(Senart’s edition, Vol. I., pp. 357-359), in which, too, it is not
relegated to any group. If any legitimate hypothesis is to be made
keeping the above facts in view it should be that the scheme of
anthology in the Cullaniddesa rather shows the anthology of the
Sutta-Nipata yet in the making than presupposing it as a fait accompli.

Even with regard to the first question concerniug the chronological
order of the Mahaniddesa and Sutta-Nipata, a similar hypothesis may be
entertained without much fear of contradiction. The Mahaniddesa,
according to its internal evidence, is an exegetical treatise which was
modelled on an earlier exegesis attempted by Mahakaccana on one of the
Suttas of the Atthakavagga, namely, the Magandiya Sutta (Mahaniddesa,
pp. 197 ff). The modern exegesis of Mahakaccana forming the cornerstone
of the Mahaniddesa can be traced as a separate sutta of the Samyutta
Nikaya, Vol. III., p.9, where the Sutta commented upon by Mahakaccana is
expressly counted as a sutta of the Atthakavsagga (Atthakavaggike
Magandiya panhe). Once it is admitted that the Atthaka group of poems
had existed as a distinct anthology even before the first redaction of
the Samyutta Nikaya and Mahakaccana’s model exegesis on one of its
suttas and, moreover, that the Mahaniddesa as an exegetical work was
entirely based upon that; earlier model, it is far safer to think that
the Mahaniddesa presupposes the Atthakavagga itself as a distinct
collection of poems rather than the Atthaka- vagga of the Sutta-Nipata.
Though the scheme of anthology in the Mahaniddesa includes only the
poems of the Atthaka group, there is a collateral evidence to prove that
in an earlier stage of Pali Canonical literature two stray poems were
associated with those of the Atthaka group just in the same way that the
stray poem, Khaggavisana suttta, has been associated in the
Cullaniddesa with the poems of the Parayana group. The Divyavadana,[2]
for instance, mentions that Purna, an associate of Sthavira
Mahakatyayana, recited the Munigatha and Sailagatha along with the poems
Munigatha of Arthavarga (Pali Atthakavagga) with the implication that
the [sic. Munigatha?] (corresponding to Pali Munisutta) and Sailagatha
(corresponding to Pali Selasutta ), included respectively in the
Uragasutta, the first book and in the Mahavagga, the third book of the
Sutta-Nipata, were associated with the poems of the Atthaka group. To
put forward another argument the Nalaka Sutta in the third book of the
Sutta-Nipata is prologued by twenty Vatthugatha or introductory stanzas
which are absent from its mixed Sanskrit version in the Mahavastu (Vol.
III pp.386, ff.). Judged by the theme and metre of the Vatthugatha, they
stand quite apart from the Sutta proper. The Sutta proper is a moral
discourse of the Buddha which is quite on a par with several suttas in
the Sutta-Nipata and other texts, while in the Vatthugatha, we come to
hit all of a sudden on a highly poetical composition serving as a
historical model to the Buddhacarita of Agvaghosa. The Moneyasute
(Moneyya Sutta) is one of the seven tracts recommended by King Asoka in
his Bhabru Edict for the constant study of the Buddhists. This Sutta has
been rightly identified by Prof. D. Kosambi (Indian Antiquary, 1912,
Vol. XLI, pp. 37-40) with the Nalaka Sutta in the Sutta-Nipata which, as
pointed out above, has a counterpart in the Mahavastu (Mahavastu Ed.
Senart, vol. II., pp.30-43 & Vol.III., pp. 382 ff.) where it does
not bear any specific title. Judged by its theme, Moneyya Sutta is more
an appropriate title than Nalaka. The importance of its naming as Nalaka
arises only when the Vatthugatha or the introductory stanzas are
prefixed to the Sutta without any logical connection between the two.
Considered in the light of Asoka’s title Moneya-sutta and the
counterpart in the Mahavastu as well as of the clear anticipation of
Asvaghosa’s Buddhacarita in the Vatthugatha, it appears that the
christening of the Moneyya sutta as Nalaka and the edition of the
introductory stanzas took place some time after Asoka’s reign and not
before. Some stanzas of the Padhana Sutta have been quoted in the
Kathavatthu which, according to the Buddhist tradition, was a
compilation of Asokan time. The stanzas are quoted without any mention
of the Sutta or of the text on which these have been drawn. The Pali
version of the Sutta is to be found only in the Sutta-Nipata, Book III.
The inference that can legitimately be drawm from the quotation is that
the Papdhana Sutta had existed in some form prior to the compilation of
the Kathavatthu, leaving the question of the Sutta-Nipata altogether

The Khuddakapatha figures as the last book in the fifth order, it
being supposed to be earlier than the Sutta Vibhanga, the Khandhakas,
the Jatakas, the Dhammapadas, the Peta and Vimanavatthus as well as the
Kathavatthu. Buddhaghosa in the introduction to his Sumangalavilasini,
informs us that the Dighabhanaka list of the Pali Canonical texts
precluded these four books, namely, the Buddhavamsa, the Cariyapitaka,
the Apadana and the Khuddakapatha while the Majjhimabhanaka list
included the first three of them. The preclusion may be explained either
as due to sectarian difference of opinion or due to the fact that when
the Dighabhanaka list was drawn up these four texts were non-existent.
If a comparison be made between the Khuddakapatha and the Khandheakas,
it will be noticed that the first short lesson (saranattayam) of the
Khuddakapatha was nothing but a ritualistic elaboration of an earlier
refuge formula that can be traced in a passage of the Khandhakas. The
second lesson may be regarded as made up of an extract from another
passage occurring in the Khandhakas. The same observation holds true
also of the fourth lesson, the Kumarapanham. The sources being not
mentioued, it is indecisive whether the Khuddakapatha has drawn upon the
Khandhakas or on some isolated passages. But if judging by the nature
of differences in the common passages we are to pronounce our opinion on
the relative chronology of the two texts, the priority must be accorded
rather to the Khandhakas than to the Khuddakapatha. The Tirokuddasutta
of the Khuddakapatha is the first and the most important sutta of the
Petavatthu. The existence of this sutta previous to the reign of king
Asoka is clearly proved by certain quotations in the Kathavatthu from
it. Here again we are to grope in the dark whether the quotations were
from the Tirokudda as an isolated Sutta or from a sutta in the
Petavatthu or in the Khuddakapatha. If any inference may be drawn from
the high prominence that it enjoys in the Petavatthu our opinion will be
rather in favour of priority of the Petavatthu. Now coming to the
Kathavatthu, we have already mentioned that it contains certain
significant quotations from two suttas, the Tirokudda and the
Nidhikanda, both of which are embodied in the Khuddakapatha, but there
is nothing to show that when the Kathavatthu was compiled with these
quotations the Khuddakapatha itself was then in actual existence, it
being quite probable that the quotations were made front the two
isolated suttas, we mean when these suttas had not come to be included
in the Khuddakapatha.

The Abhidhamma treatises figure as latest compilations in the
chronological table of Rhys Davids. Of the seven Abhidhamma books, the
Kathavatthu is traditionally known as a compilation of Asokan age. The
credibility of the tradition can be proved by a very peculiar
dialectical style of composition developed in the all-important book of
Buddhist Controversies and the traces of which can also be found to
linger in some of the inscriptions of Asoka, namely the Kalsi
Shahabazgarhi and Manserahversions of the ninth Rock Edict (Vide B. M.
Barua’s old Brahmi Inscriptions, p. 284 ). Another and more convincing
piece of evidence may be brought forward to prove the credibility of the
tradition. Prior to the despatch of missionaries by Asoka, Buddhism as a
religious movement was confined, more or less, within the territorial
limits of what is known in Buddhist literature as the Middle Country
(Majjhimadesa) and the Buddhist tradition in Pail is very definite on
this point. The Sanci stupas which go back to the date of Asoka enshrine
to the relies of the missionaries who were sent out to the Himalayan
tracts as also of the “good man” Mogaliputa, aptly identified by Dr.
Geiger with Moggaliputta Tissa, the traditional author of the
Kathavatthu. Curiously enough, the Kathavatthu contains the account of a
controversy, (I.3) in which it has been emphatically pointed out that
up till the time of this particular controversy, the Buddhist mode of
holy life remained confined to the places within the middle country and
had not gained ground in any of the outlying tracts (paccantimesu
janapadesu), the representatives of Buddhism whether the monks or the
laity having had no access to those regions (B.M. Barua, Old Brahmi
Inscriptions, p.284 ). The account clearly brings out one important
historical fact, namely, that so far as the outlying tracts are
concerned, there were undeniably at that time other modes of Indian holy
life. It is interesting to find that the 13th Rock Edict of Asoka is in
close agreement with the Kathavatthu regarding this point. For in this
important edict issued in about the 13th or 14th regnal year of King
Asoka, His Gifted Majesty definitely says that there was at the time no
other tract within his empire save versions and except the Yona region
where the different sects of Indian recluses, the Samanas and Brahmanas
were not to be found and where the inhabitants had not adhered to the
tenets of one or other of those sects (Vide Inscriptions of Asoka by
Bhandarkar and Majumdar. pp. 49-50- “Nathi cha she janapade yata nathi
ime nikaya anamta yenesha bamhmane cha shamane cha nathi cha kuva pi
janapadashi (ya) ta nathi manushanam ekatalashi pi pashadashi no nama
pashade”). Squaring up the two-fold evidence, it is easy to come to the
conclusion that the compilation of the Kathavatthu could not be remote
from the reign of Asoka.

In the Kathavatthu, there are quotations the sources of which can now
be traced in some of the passages in the Vinaya Pitaka, Digha Nikaya,
the Majjhima Nikaya, the Samyutta Nikaya, the Anguttara Nikaya and some
of the books of the Khuddaka Nikaya. A few of the quotations can be
traced in the Dhammasangani and the Vibhanga among the Abhidhamma books.
As the passages are quoted in the Kathavatthu without any mention of
the sources, rather as well known and authoritative words of the Buddha,
it cannot be definitely maintained that the quotations were cited from
the canonical texts in which the individual passages are traceable.
There were suttas in some definite collections but until other definite
evidences are forthcoming, it will be risky to identify them with the
Nikayas and the Vinaya texts as they are known to us. Even with regard
to this point our position remains materially the same if we take our
stand on the evidence of the Inscriptions of Asoka, particularly on that
of the Bhabru Edict. The Bhabru Edict clearly points back to a
well-known collection of Buddha’s words, the words which came to be
believed as at-once final and authoritative (ekemchi bhamte Bhagavata
Buddhena bhasite save se subhasite). But here again we are helpless as
to by what name this collection was then designated and what were its
divisions? If such be the state of thing, it will be difficult to regard
all the Abhidhamma books in the lump as the latest productions among
the books of the Pali Pitakas. As for the chronology of the Pali
canonical texts, the safer course will be to fix first of all the upper
and lower limits and then to ascertain how the time may be apportioned
between them in conceiving their chronological order. As regards the
upperlimit certain it is that we cannont think of any text on Buddhism
before the enlightenment of the Buddha. Whatever be the actual date of
the individual texts, it is certainly posterior to the great event of
Buddha’s enlightenment, nay, posterior even to the subsequent incident
of the first public statement or promulgation of the fundamental truth
of the new religion. The upper limit may be shifted on even to the
demise of the Buddha, the first formal collection of the teachings of
the Buddha having taken place, according to the unanimity of the
Buddhist tradition, after that memorable event. Looked at from this
point of view, the period covered by the career of 45 years of Buddha’s
active missionary work may be regarded just as the formative period
which saw the fashioning of the early materials of the Buddhist Canon.
With regard to the lower limit we need not bring it so far down as the
time of the Pali scholiasts, Buddhadatta, Buddhaghosa and Dhammapala,
that is to say, to the fifth century A. D. Going by the tradition, the
Buddhist canon became finally closed when it was committed to writing
for the first time during the reign of King Vattagamani of Ceylon (Circa
29-17 B.C.). The truth of this tradition can be substantiated by the
clear internal evidence of the text of the Milinda Panha which was a
compilation of about the first century A. D. As is well-known, in
several passages, the author of the Milinda Panha has referred to the
Pali books or to some chapters of them by name and the number of books
mentioned by name is sufficiently large to exhaust almost the
traditional list. Further, it is evident from references in this text
that when it was compiled the division of the canon into three Pitakas
and five Nikayas was well established. The Dhammasangani, the Vibhanga,
the Dhatukatha, and the rest were precisely the seven books which
composed the Abhidhamma Pitaka and the Digha, Majjhima, Samyutta,
Ekuttara (Anguttara) and Khuddaka were the five Nikayas which composed
the Sutta Pitaka. The Simhalese commentaries, the Mahaatthakatatha,
the Mahapaccariya, the Mahakurundiya, the Andhaka and the rest,
presupposed by the commentaries of Buddhadatta, Buddhaghusa and
Dhammapala point to the same fact, namely, that the canon became finally
closed sometime before the begining of the Christian era. Thus we can
safely fix the first quarter of the first century B. C. as the lower

The interval of time between these two limits covers not less than
four centuries during which there had been convened as many as six
orthodox councils, three in India and three in Ceylon, the first during
the reign of King Ajatasattu, the second in the reign of King Kalasoka
(Kakavarni of the Puranas ), the third in the reign of Asoka, the fourth
in the reign of King Devanam Piyatissa of Ceylon, the fifth in the
reign of King Dutthagamani and the sixth or the last in the reign of
King Vattagamani. The Pali accounts of these councils make it clear that
the purpose of each of them was the recital and settling of the
canonical texts. If these councils can be regarded as certain definite
landmarks in the process of the development of Pali canonical
literature, we can say that during the first four centuries after the
Buddha’s demise, Pali literature underwent as many as six successive
redactions. Going by the dates assigned to these councils, we may divide
the interval into such shorter periods of Pali literary history as
shown below:

First period —(483–383 B.C.)
Second ” —(383–265 B.C.)
Third ” —(265–230 B.C.)
Fourth ” —(230–80 B.C.)
Fifth ” —( 80-20 B.C.)

Keeping these periods in view, we can easily dispose of some of the
Pali books. We may take, for instanices, the Parivarapatha which is the
last treatise to be included in the Vinayapitaka. This treatise, as
early stateed in the Colophon (nigamana) was written in Ceylon by Dipa,
evidently a learned Buddhist scholar of Ceylon as a help to his pupils
to the study of the contents of the Vinaya (Parivarapatha, p.226,
“Pubbacariyamaggan ca pucchitva’va tahim tahim Dipanamo mahapanno
sutadharo vicakkhano imam vitthara samkhepam sajjhamaggena majjhime
cintayitva Iikhapesi sissakanam sukhavaham Parivaran ti yam vuttam
sabbam vatthum salakkhanam attham attena saddhamme dhammam dhammena
pannatte”). As such the Parivarapatha was composed as a digest of the
subject-matter of Vinaya or Buddhist discipline. We say that this
treatise was composed in Ceylon because there are references within the
text itself that it had been written after the Vinayapitaka was
promulgated by Thera Mahinda and a number of his disciples and by their
disciples in Ceylon. The succession of his disciples from the time of
Thera Mahinda as set forth in the Parivarapatha (pp. 2-3 ) may suffice
to show that the date of its composition could not be much earlier than
the reign of Vattagamani. Even we may go so far as to suggest that the
Parivarapatha was the Vinaya treatise which was canonised at the council
held during the reign of Vattagamani. For it is clearly stated in that
the author caused the treatise to be written (likhapesi), a mode of
preserving the scriptures which would be inconceivable before the reign
of Vattagamani. The reference to the island of Tambapanni or Ceylon is
not only in the verses which one might set aside as interpolation but in
the prose portions which form the integral parts of the text.

Now if we fix our attention on the traditional verses embodied in the
Parivarapatha (pp.2-3 edited by Oldenberg) we have to infer therefrom
that the five Nikayes, the seven treatises of the Abhidhammapitaka and
all the older texts of the Vinayapitaka were made known to the people of
Ceylon by the wise Mahinda who arrived in Ceylon from Jambbudipa
(India) after the third Buddhist council had been over.
(Parivarapathapp. 2-3, “Upali Dasako, c’eva Sonako Siggavo tatha,
Moggaliputtena Pancama ete Jambusirivhaye tato Mahindo Ittiyo Uttiyo
Sambalo tatha Bhaddanamo ca pandito, ete naga mahapanna
Jambudipaidhagata, Vinayam te vacayimsu pitakam Tambapan niya nikaye
panca vacesum satta c’eva pakarane”).

The Mahavagga and the Cullavagga are two among the earlier and
important texts of the Vinayapitaka. Twentytwo Khandhakas or stock
fragments are distributed into the two texts, ten into the Mahavagga and
the remaining twelve into the Cullavagga. These fragments constituting
the separate divisions are arranged in a chronological order, and they
are intended to present a connected account of the ecclesiastical
history of the Buddhists from the time of the enlightenment of the
Buddha down to that of the second Buddhist council which was convened,
according to the Cullavagga account, a century after the demise of the
Buddha (Vassasataparinibbute Bhagavati ). The growth of the two texts
may be sought to be accounted for by these two hypotheses: (1) that the
Khandhakas were being added as they came into existence from time to
time, or (2) that they were arranged all at the same time according to a
set plan. Whatever be the actual merit of these hypotheses, none of
them prevents us from maintaining that the series of the Khandhakas was
closed with the inclusion of the account of the second Buddhist council
and that nothing material was added after that, nothing, we mean to say,
except the Uddanas or mnemonics in doggerel verses appended to each of
the Khandhakas. Had the compilation of the Khandhakas remained open
after the second Buddhist council, it would have included an account of
the later councils, particularly of one held during the reign of Asoka.
This line of argument is sufficientiy strong to establish that the
compilation of the twenty two Khandhakas as we find them embodied in the
Mahavagga and Cullavagga was anterior to the reign of Asoka, as well as
that its history is primarily associated with the tradition of the
second Buddhist council. Assuming then that the closing of the
collection of the Khandhakas in the shape of the Mahavagga and the
Cullavagga could not be removed from the first century of the Buddha
era, we may briefly examine what inferences can be drawn from the
Cullavagga accounts of the first and second Buddhist councils regarding
the development of the Canonical texts. First with regard to the carlier
Vinaya texts, the Cullavagga account of the second Buddhist council
(Chap. 12) has referred to the followillg authorities by name, namely
(1) Savatthiya Suttvibhanga (2) Rajagahe ” (3) Savatthiys ” (4)
Savatthiya sutta (5) Kosambiys ” (6) Savatthiya ” (7) Rajagahe ” (8)
Rajagahe uposathasamyutte (9) Campeyyake Vinaya Vatthusmin.

The Suttavibhanga passages referred to in the Cullavagga account have
been all found out by Prof. Oldenberg in the Suttavibhanga and what is
more, the identified passages have satisfied the context supplied
(Savatthiya, Rajagahe Kosambiya). Keeping this fact in view can it be
doubted that the Suttavibhanga of the Vinayapitaka was current as an
authoritative text on Vinaya when the Cullavagga account referring to
its passages was written? Now with regard to the remaining two
references, namely, Rajagahe Uposathasamyutte and Campeyyake
Vinayavatthusmin traced respectively in the Mahavagga (II., 8. 3) and
Mahavagga (IX. 3.5), it is curious that the first reference is to a
Samyutta passage and the second to a Vinayavatthu. Although the Samyutta
passaga has found its place in the Mahavagga, so long as the fact
remains that the reference is to a passage in the Sutta collection, our
inference must be that the Mahavagga in its extant form was not yet in
existence. The second reference is important as pointing back to the
existence of certain Vinayavatthus serving as materials for a
compilation like the Mahavagga.

Turning at last to the Cullavagga account of the first Buddhist
council, it will be a mistake to suppose that the account as we have it
in the Cullavagga is as old as the time of the counci1 itself. The
account must have been posterior to the time when the scriptural
authorities of the Buddhist community comprised (1) Ubhato Vinaya — the
disciplinary code of the bhikkhunis, and (2) Panca-Nikaya — the five
Nikayas, Digha, Majjhima and the rest. Some of the Burmese manuscripts
read Ubhato Vibhanga in lieu of Ubhato Vinaya.[3]
That may be a mistake. But the contents mentioned in the Cullavagga
account are uudoubtedly the contents of the two vibhangas, the Bhikkhu
and the Bhikkhuni. The list of the Sikkhapadas codified as bare rules in
the two Patimokkhas is important as showing that the author of the
Cullavagga account kept in his mind nothing but the Suttavibhanga with
its two divisions: the Bhikkhu-Vibhanga and the Bhikkhuni-Vibhanga.
Further, when this account was written, the five Nikayas were
well-known. But the contents mentioned are found to be only those of the
first two suttas of the Digha Nikaya, Vol. I., we mean the Brahmajala and the Samannaphala-Suttantas.
In the absence of the remaining details and of the names of the
separate texts it is impossible to say that the Digha-Nikaya as
presupposed was completed in all the three volumes as we now get or the
five Nikayas as presupposed contained all the fourteen suttanta texts as
we now have them. One thing is, however, certain that there is yet no
reference to the Abhidhamma treatises. For the reference to the
Abhidhamma-Pitaka we have to look into the Uddanagathas in which there
is mention of the three pitakas (Pitakam tini). But nothing should be
built upon it with regard to the development of canonical texts in so
early a period as this on the strength of these uddana gathas which are
apparently later additions.

The line of investigation hitherto followed has compelled us to
conclude that the Suttavibhanga with its two great divisions, e.g., the
Bhikkhu and the Bhikkhuni Vibhangas were extant as authoritative texts
on the questions of Vinaya previous to the compilation of the Mahavagga
and the Cullavagga. The hisorical references that may be traced in the
Suttavibhanga appertain to earlier times and cannot, therefore, justify
us in assigning the text to a period far removed from the demise of the
Buddha. but we have still to enquire whether or not the Suttavibhanga
can be regarded us the first or the earliest landmark of the Vinaya
tracts. It may be sound to premise that the first landmark of the
Vinayapitaka is not the landmark of the Vinaya tracts. The point at
issue really is whether or not the text of the Sutta Vibhanga forming
the first landmark of the Vinayapitaka presupposes certain earlier
literary developments and if so, where can this be traced? This is to
seriously ask what was the earlier and more probable denotation of the
term ubhato-vinaya, the two-fold Vinaya. If we decline to interpret it
in the sense of two-fold Vibhanga, we must be raising this important
issue just to remove an anomaly arising from the two-fold significaion
of the Pancanikaya divisions of the Pa1i canon. Buddhaghosa, the great
Pali scholiast, says that in their narrower signification the five
Nikayas denoted the five divisions of the texts of the Suttapitaka, and
that in their wider signification the five Nikayas included also the
texts of the remaining two pitakas, namely, the Vinaya and the
Abhidhamma, the Vinaya and Abhidhamma treatises being supposed to be
included in the Khuddakanikaya [Sumangalavilasini, pt. I., p.23, cf.,
Atthasalini, p.26; Katamo Khaddakanikayo? Sakalam Vinayapitakam
Abhidhammapitakam Khuddakapathadayo ca pubbe-nidassita-pancadasa bheda
(pubbe dassitacuddasa pabheda iti pathantaram), thapetva cattaronikaye
avasesam Buddhavacanam]. Buddhaghosa also informs us that the Anumana
Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya was known to the ancients as bhikkhuvinaya
and the Singalavada sutta of the Digha Nikaya was venerated as gihi
It such terms as bhikkhuvinaya and gihivinaya had been current among
the Buddhists of olden times, it is pertinet to enquire whether the
expression “the two-fold vinaya” was originally used to denote the
Bhikkhuvinaya and bhikkhunivinaya or the bhikkhuvinaya and gihivinaya.
If we examine the contents of the Anguttara or the Ekuttara Nikaya, we
need not be surprised to find that Anguttara abounds in the Vinaya
passages. In each nipata of this Nikaya we come across passages relating
to the two-fold Vinaya namely the Bhikkhu and Gihi. Looked at from this
point of view, the Anguttara Nikaya may justly be regarded as a sutta
store-house of distinct Vinaya tracts. In this very nikaya we hit upon a
vinaya tract (A.N., I., pp 98-100) which sets forth a rough sketch
(matika) not of any particular vinaya treatise but of the whole of the
Vinaya pitaka. The list of Vinaya topics furnished in this particular
tract cannot be construed as a table of contents of any particular text
of the Vinaya pitaka. Similar Vinaya tracts are scattered also in the
suttas of other Nikayas. The consideration of all these facts cannot but
lead one to surmise that the treatises of the Vinaya pitaka point to a
sutta background in the vinaya materials traceable in the Nikayas
particularly in the Anguttara. The Sutta background of the Vinaya texts
is clearly hinted at in the concluding words of the Patimokkha.” So much
of the words of the Blessed One handed down in the Suttas, embraced in
the suttas, comes into recitation every half-month” (Vinaya texts,
S.B.E., Vol.I. p.69). As for the date of the composition of the two
Patimokkha codes, one for the bhikkhus (monks) and other for the
bhikkhunis (nuns), it is important to bear in mind that according to an
ancient Buddhist tradition cited by Buddhaghosa, the Patimokkha codes as
they are handed down to us are two among the Vinaya texts which were
not rehearsed in the first Buddhist council(Sumangalavilasin I, pt.I.,
p. 17). It may he readily granted that the codification of the
Patimokkha rules in the extant shape was not accomplished immediately
after the demise of the Buddha. It is one thing to say this and it is
quite another that the rules themselves in a classified form had not
been in existence from the earlier times. The Cullavagga account of the
first Buddhist council throws some clear light on the process of
codification. It is said that the utterance of the dying Buddha
authorising his followers to do away with the minor rules of conduct
(Khuddanu-Khuddakani sikkhapadani), if they so desired, formed a bone of
contention among the bhikkhus who took part in the proceedings of the
first Buddhist Council (See Milinda Panha, pp.142-144). They were unable
to decide which were precisely the minor rules they were authorised to
dispense with. Some suggested all but the four Parajika rules, some, all
but the four Parajika and thirteen Samghadisesa rules, some, all but
the four Parajika, 13 Samghadisesa and two Aniyata rules and thirty
Nissaggiya rules; some, all but the four Parajika, 13 Samghadisesa, two
Aniyata, thirty Nissaggiya and ninety-two Pacittiya rules and some
suggested all but 4 Parajika, 13 Samghadisesa, 2 Aniyata, 30 Nissaggiya,
92 Pacittiya and 4 Patidesaniya rules. The suggestion stopped with the 4
Patidesaniya rules and did not proceed beyond them, leaving us in the
dark as to what the bhikkhus meant by all but “all these” (counted by
names). The Patimokkas code in its final form includes two hundred and
twenty-seven rules, that is to say, the seven adhikarana samathas and
seventy-five sekhiya rules in addition to those mentioned in the
Cullavagga account. Omitting the 75 sekhiya rules the total of the
Patimokkha precepts of conduct would come up to 152, If the theras of
the first Buddhist Council had in their view a Patimokkha code in which
the 75 Sekhiya rules had no place, the total of precepts in the code
recognised by them was 152. Now we have to enquire if there is any
definite literary evidence to prove that in an earlier stage of
codification, the total of the Patimokkha precepts was fixed at 152.
Happily the evidence is not far to seek. The Anguttara Nikaysa, as we
have seen above, contains two passages to indicate that the earlier
Patimokkha code contained one and half hundred rules or little more
(Sadhikam diyaddhasikkhapadasatam).[5]
The earlier Patimokkha code with its total of 152 rules may be shown to
have been earlier than the Suttavibhanga on the ground that the
Sutta-Vibhanga scheme makes room for the 75 Sekhiya rules, thereby
rocognising the Patimokkha total to be 227 which was possible only in
the second or final stage of codification of the Patimokkha rules.

In dealing with the chronology of the seven treatises of the
Abhidhammapitaka, we can only maintain that the order in which these
treatises are enumerated can be interpreted as the order of the
chronology. Any attempt at establishing such an interpretation would be
vitiated by the fact that the order of enumeration is not in all cases
the same. The order in which these are mentioned in the Milinda Panha
(p.12) and which has since become classical is as follows:

(1) Dhammasangani (Dhammasamgaha as Buddhaghosa calls it
- vide Sumangalvilasini,p.17),
(2) Vibhanga,
(3) Dhatukatha,
(4) Puggalapannatti,
(5) Kathavatthu,
(6) Yamakra and
(7) Patthana.

A somewhat different order is evident from a gatha occurring in
Buddaghosa’s Sumangalavilasini, Pt. I., p. 15.
“Dhammasamgani-Vibhanganca Kathavatthunca Puggalam
Dhatu-Yamaka-Patthanam Abhidhammoti vuccati.”

It be noticed that in the gatha order the Kathavatthu stands third
instead of fifth and the Dhatukatha stands fifth instead of third. We
have already noted that according to general interpretsaion of the five
nikaya divisions of the Pail canon, the Ahhidhamma treatises come under
the Khuddaka Nikaya. This is apparently an anomaly which cannot be
removed save by a liberal interpretation making it signify a suttanta
background of the Abhidhammapitaka. Thus an enquiry into the suttanta
background becomes a desideratum
and we may lay down a general canon of chronology in these terms. The
closer connection with the Sutta materials, the earlier is the date of
composition. Among the seven Abhidhamma treatises, tho Puggalapannatti
and the Vibhanga stand out prominently as the two texts which bear a
clear evidence of emergence from a Sutta background. The Puggala
classifications in the Digha, Samyutta and Anguttara Nikayas are seen to
constitute at once the sutta background and the stereotyped Vibhangas
or Niddesas, mostly contained in the Majjhima Nikaya may be take to
repesent the Sutta background of the Vibhanga. The exact position of the
Puggalapannatti in relation to the Suttanta collections has been
properly examined by Dr. Morris in his edition of the Puggala Pannatti
published for the P.T.S. London, Introduction, pp X-XI.

We have just one remark to add, namely, that compared with the
Suttanta materials utilised in it, the Puggalapannatti is the least
original treatise of the Abhidhammapitaka and its inclusion in the
Abhidhamma Pitaka would have been utterly unjustifiable but for the
Pannatti classifications in the matika No.1. Whatever be the actual date
of its compilation in respect of subject matter and treatment, it
deserves to be considered as the earliest of the Abhidhamma books.

In the opinion of Mrs. Rhys Davids,
the Vibhanga is “anticipated” by the Dhammasangani, although “it is by
no means covered by the latter work either in method or in matter”
(Vibhanga, P.T.S., Preface XIV). “In other words, the present book (the
Vibhanga) seems by Buddhists to have ranked second in the seven of its
Pitaka not accidentally, but as a sequel to the Dhammasangani requiring,
in those who came to the study of it, a familiarity [with] categories
and formulas of the latter work-that is with the first book of the
Abhidhamma”, (Ibid, XIII). Thus whether the Vibbanga is anticipated by
the Dhammasangani or the latter is anticipated by the former is the
point at issue.

Examining most of the chapters of the Vibhanga we find that each of
them has a Abhidhamma superstructure (Abhidharmma-bhajaniya) built upon
and kept distinct from a Suttanta exegesis (Suttantabhajaniya) the
counterpart of which is to be found in the first four Nikayas and mostly
in the Majjhima, as it will appear from the following table:


Saccavibhanga (Suttantabhajaniya) = Saccavibhanga sutta (Majjhima, Vol.III., No.141)
Satipatthanavibhanga (Suttantabhajaniya) = Satipatthanasutta (M.N.I., No.10)
Dhatuvibhanga (Suttantabhajaniya) = Dhatuvibhanga sutta of the Majjhima, Vol. III. No.140.


It is evident from the juxtaposition of the Suttanta and the
Abhidhamma exegesis in its different chapters that the Vibhanga marks
that stage of the developmet of the Abhidhamms pitaka when the
Abhidhamma or Transcendental method of exegesis had not yet gained an
independent foothold, when, in other words, it ramained combined with
the Suttanta or earlier method. The predilection is as yet for
attempting the exegesis of the formulations in the Suttas. An
independent treatment of pure topics of Psychological ethics, such as we
find in the Dhammasangani is far beyond the scheme of the Vibhanga. In
the progressive working out of exegetical schemes, the Niddesa or
detailed specification of meanings of terms comes second to the uddesa
or matika. Now if we compare the treatment of Rupakkhandha in the
Vibhanga (pp. 12-14) with that in the Dhammasangani (pp.124 ff.), we
cannot but observe that all that the Vibhanga has to present is merely
the uddesa or matika of the Rupakkhandha section of the Dhammasangani.
The Niddesa of the rupa-matika is to be found in no other Abhidhamma
books than the Dhabmmsasangani. Mrs. Rhys Davids admits (in a way
arguing in our favour) that the contents of the Vibhanga are by no means
covered by the Dhammasangani. The Vibhanga has, for instance, a section
entited Paccayakaravibhanga, an exegesis on the causal relations. The
paccayas fall outside the scope of the Dhammasangani and they form the
subject matters of the great Abhidhamma treatise, the Patthana or the
Mahapatthana; but compared with the Patthana, the Vibhanga treatment of
the subject is crude and vague, which is to say earlier. Considered in
this light, the Vibhanga seems to stand out as a common presupposition
of both the Dhammasangani and the Patthana. It is much easier to proceed
from the contents of the Vibhanga to the two highly systematic
treatises of the Dhammasangani and the Patthana then to proceed from the
latter to the former. The Dhatukatha being nothing but a supplement to
the text of the Dhammassangani may he briefly disposed of as a
Abhidhamma treatise dependent on and necessarily later than the

It is not only with regard to the Dhammasangani (with its supplement,
the Dhatukatha and the Patthana that the Vibhanga represents the
immediate background; it appears equally to have been the background of
the Yamaka. It is easy to account for the dialectical method of the
study of the Abhidhamma matters by keeping the Panhapucchakas appended
to the different chapters of the Vibhanga. All these considerations lead
us to conclude that strictly speaking the Vibhanga making “an extended
application of (the) organun or vehicle for the cultivation of the moral
intellect” is the first and the earliest of the Abhidhamma books.

1. Puggala Pannatti

2. Vibhanga

(a) Dhammasangani Dhatukatha
(b) Yamaka
(c) Patthana

3. Kathavatthu

Although one can conceive in this manner the chronological succession
of the five Abhidhamma books (leaving out the Puggalapannatti which is
rather a suttanta text and the Kathavatthu which forms a class by
itself), it is difficult to determine the actual dates of their
composition. One thing is certain that the seven books of the
Abhidhammapitaka were well-known and very carefully read especially in
the Himalayan monastery when the Milinda panha was composed in about the
first century A.D. There is no reason for doubt that the Pali canon
when committed to writing during the reign of king Vattagamani in
Ceylon, included all these books in it. We have shown that when the
Uddanagathas of the Cullavagga (Chap. II) of the Vinayapitaka were
added, the three pitakas of the Pali canon had already come into
existence. The question, however, is how far the date of the books of
the Abhidhammapitaka can be pushed back. Here the only anchor-sheet[1]
is the Kathavatthu, the third or the fifth Abhidamma book which
according to tradition, was a compilation of the Asokan age. We have
already adduced certain proofs in suport of this tradition and have
sought to show that when certain controversies which find a place in the
Kathavatthu took place, Buddhism as a religion had not overstepped the
territorial limits of the middle country. But according to Buddhaghosa’s
commentary, the Kathavatthu contains discussion of doctrines held by
some of the Buddhist schools, e. g., the Hemavata, the Andhaka, the
Pubbaseliya and the Aparaseliya, which could not be possible if the
Kathavatthu had been closed in the time of Asoka. If it was a growing
compilation, we have necessarily to suppose that although it commenced
in Asokan time, it was not brought to a close till the rise of the later
Buddhist schools mentioned above.

Turning at last to the Suttapitaka comprising the live nikaytas, we
can definitely say that it had reached its final shape before the
composition of the Milinda Panha in which authoritative passages are
quoted from the texts of this pitaka, in certain instances by a mention
of the name of the sources. We can go further and maintain that the
Suttapitaka was closed along with the entire Pali canon and when the
canon was finally rehearsed in Ceylon and committed to writing during
the reign of King Vattagamani. The tradition says that previous to the
reign of Vattagamani the texts were handed down by an oral tradition
(mukhapathavasena) from teacher to teacher (acariyaparamparaya) the
process of transmission being compared to the carrying of earth in
baskets from head to head. Buddhaghosa says (Sumangalavilasini, pt.I,
pp.12 foll.) that immediately after the demise of the Buddha and after
the session of the first Buddhist Council, the task of transmitting and
preserving each of the five Nikayas to an individual thera and his
followers, which ultimatly gave rise to some schools of bhanakas or
chanters. The existence of the distinct schools of reciters of the five
Nikayas is clearly proved (as shown by Dr B. M. Barua, Barhut
Inscriptions, pp.9-10), by the Milinda Panha where we have mention of
the Jatakabhanakas (the repeaters of the Jatakas) in addition to the
Dighabhanake, the Majjhimabhanaka, Samyuttabhanaka, Anguttara-bhanaka
and Khuddaka- bhanaks, (Milinda Panha, pp.341 foll.). The terms
‘pancanekayika’ (one well versed in the five Nikayas) and bhanaka as
well, occur as distinctive epithets of some of the Buddhist donors in
the Sanci and Barhut inscriptions which may be dated in the lump in the
middle of the second century B.C. The inference from the evidence of
these inscriptions has already been drawn by Prof. Rhys Davids to the
effect that before the use of Pancanekayika (one well-versed in the five
Nikayas) suttantika (a man who knows the Suttanta by heart),
Suttantakini (a feminine form of Suttantika) and Petaki (one who knows
the pitaka by heart) as distinctive epithets, the pitaka and five nikaya
divisions of the Pali canon must have been well-known and
well-established. We say of the Pali canon because substitution of
nikaya for the term ‘Agama’ is peculiar to the Pali tradition. The term
“Pancanikaya” occurs as we saw also in the Vinaya Cullavagga (Chap.II)
which we have assigned to a period which immediately preceded the Asokan
age. But even presuming that the five nikaya divisions of the growing
Buddhist canon were current in the third century B.C., it does not
necessarily follow from it that all the books or Suttas or individual
passages comprising the five Nikayas were composed at that time. All
that we can make bold to say that the first four Nikayas were, to all
intents and purposes, the complete, while the Khaddakanikaya series
remained still open.

We have pointed out that this account in the Vinaya Cullavagga
clearly alludes to the Digha as the first of the five Nikayas as well as
that the first two suttas were the Brahmajala and Samannaphala while as
to the number and succession of the remaining suttas, we are kept
completely in the dark. Straining the information supplied in the Vinaya
Cullavagga we can proceed so far no doubt, that the first volume of the
Digha Nikaya was mainly in the view of its compilers. Comparing the
Suttas comprised in the remaining two volumes and marking the
differences in theme and tone, it seems that these two volumes were
later additions. The second volume contains two suttas, namely, the
Mahapadhana and MahaGovinda which have been mentioned in the
Cullaniddesa (p.80) as two among the notable illustrations of the
Suttanta Jatakas, the Jatakas as found in the earliest forms in Pali
literature. We have already drawn attention to the earlier chronicles of
the seven purohitas in the Anguttara Nikaya where it is far from being a
manipulation in a Jataka form. The casting of this chronicle in a
Jataka mould as we find it in the Maha-Govinds Suttanta could not have
taken place in the life-time of the Buddha. The second volume contains
also the Payasi Suttanta which, as shown by the previous scholars,
brings the story of Payasi to the death of Payasi and his after life in a
gloomy heaven. Thus suttanta contains several anecdotes forming the
historical basis of some of the Jataka stories. In the face of all these
facts, we cannot but agree with Prof. Rhys Davids who places the date
of this suttanta at least half a century after the demise of the Buddha.
The third volume of the Digha includes in it the Atanatiya suttanta
which is otherwise described as a rakkha or a saving chant manipulated
apparently on a certain passage in the then known Mahabharata. The
development of these elements such as the Jataka stories and the
Parittas could not have taken place when Buddhism remained in its
pristine purity. These are later accretions or interpolations, the works
of fable and fiction, we mean of imaginnative poetry that crept,
according to a warning given in certain passages of the Anguttara
Nikaya, under the influence from outside. But there is no reason for
surprise that such developments had already taken place as early as the
fourth century B.C. for the passages strike the note of alarm are
precisely one of those seven important tracts recommended by Asoka in
his Bhabru Edict under the caption ‘Anagatabhayani.’ The growth of these
foreign elements must have caused some sort of confusion otherwise it
would not have been necessary to discuss in a sutta of the Samyutta
Nikaya the reasonable way of keeping genuine the utterances of the
Buddha distinct from others that crept in under the outside influence
and were characterised by poetical fancies and embellishments
(kavikata). (Samyutta Nikaya, pt.II, p.267). We may then be justified in
assigning the whole of the Digha Nikaya to a pre-Asokan age, there
being no trace of any historical event or development which might have
happened after King Asoka. The only exception that one has to make is
only in the case of the concluding verses of the Mahaparinibbana
Suttanta which were interpolated according to Buddhaghosa in Ceylon by
the teachers of that island. Like the first volume of the Digha Nikaya,
the whole of the Majjhima Nikaya strikes us as the most authoritative
and original among the collections of the Buddha’s teachings. There is
no allusion to any political event to justify us in relegating the date
of its compilation to a time far removed from the demise of the Buddha.
If it be argued that the story of Makhadeva, as we find it embodied in
the Makhadeva sutta of this Nikaya, has already assumed the form of a
Jataka, of a Suttanta-Jataka, mentioned in the Cullaniddesa, it cannot
follow from it that the Nikaya is for that very reason a much later
compilation. For the Makhadeva story is one of those few earliest
Jatakas presupposed by the Pali Canonical collection of 500 Jatakas. The
literary developments as may be traced in the suttas of the Majjhima
Nikaya are not of such a kind as to require more than a century after
the demise of the Buddha.

Now concerning the Samyutta which is a collection of kindred sayings
and the third of the five Nikayas, we may point out that it has been
quoted by name in the Milinda Panha, as also in the Petakopadesa under
the simple title of Samyuttaka and that as such this Nikaya had existed
as anauthoritative book of the Pali both [for] the Milinda panha and the
Patakapadesa. [We can] go so far as to maintain that the Samyutta
Nikaya had reached its final shape previous to the occurrence of Panca
nekayika as a personal epithet in some of the Barhut and
Sanci-inscriptions, nay, even before the closing of the Vinaya
Cullavagga where we meet with the expression “Pancanikaya”. In dealing
with the account of the Second Buddhist Council in the Vinaya Cullavagga
(Chap.XII), we have noted that a canonical authority has been alluded
to as “Rajayahe uposatha Samyutte” at Rajagaha in the Uposatha Samyutta.
The translators of the Vinaya Texts (pt.11, p.410) observe that the
term ‘Samyutta’ “must here be used for khandhaka”, the passage referred
to being the Vinaya Mahavagga (II.8.3. the Uposatha Khandhaka). But
looking into the Mahavagga passage, we find that it does not fully tally
with the allusion, as the passage has nothing to do with Rajagaha. In
the absence of Rajagaha giving a ture clue to the tracing of the
intended passage, it is difficult to premise that the passage which the
compilers of the Cullavagga account kept in view was the khandhaka
passaga in the Vinaya Mahavagga. Although we have so far failed to trace
this passage also in the Samyutta Nikaya, the presumption ought to be
that the intended passage was included in a Samyutta collection which
was then known to the compilers of the Cullavagga. The Suttas in the
Samyutta Nikaya do not refer to any political incident justifying one to
place the date of its compilation far beyond the demise of the Buddha.
As contrasted with the Ekuttara or Anguttara Nikaya the Samyutta appears
to be the result of an attempt to put together relevant passages
throwing light on the topics of deeper doctrina1 impotance while the
former appears to be numerical groupings of relevant passage throwing
light on the topics relating to the conduct of the monks and
house-holders. Considered in this light, these two Nikayas must be
regarded as fruits of a critical study of suttas in some previous

Now coimg to deal with the Ekuttara or Anguttara Nikaya, we have
sought to show that its main bearing is on the two-fold Vinaya, the
Gahapati Vinaya and the Bhikkhu Vinaya. This Nikaya contains a section
(Mundarajavagga in the Pancaka Nipata) commemorating the name of King
Munda who reigned, as shown by Rhys Davids, in Rajagaha about half a
century after the demise of the Buddha The Nikaya made within the fifty
years from the Buddha’s demise. There is, however, no other historical
reference to carry the Mahaparinibbana compilation beyond the first
century from the Mahaparinibhana of the Buddha. The date proposed for
the Anguttara Nikaya will not, we think, appear unreasonable if it be
admitted that the suttas of this nikaya form the real historical
back-ground of the contents of the Vinaya texts.

We have at last to discuss the chronology of the fifteen books of the
Khuddaka Nikaya, which are generally mentioned in the follwiug order:–

(1) Khuddaka Patha,
(2) Dhammapada,
(3) Udana,
(4) Itivuttaka,
(5) Sutta Nipata,
(6) Vimanavatthu,
(7) Petavatthu,
(8) Thera-Theri-gatha,
(9) Jataka,
(11) Niddesa (Culla and Maha),
(12) Patisambhidamagga,
(13) Apadana,
(14) Buddha vamsa, and
(15) Cariyapitaka.

This mode of enumeration of the fifteen books of the khuddaka Nikaya
(pannarasabheda Khuddakanikaya) can be traced back to the days of
Buddhaghosa (Sumangalavilasini, pt.I.,p.17). It is obvious that in this
list the Cullaniddesa and the Mahaniddesa are counted as one book; while
counting them as two books, the total number becomes sixteen. There is
no justification for regarding the order of enumeration as being the
order of chronology. In connection with the Khuddaka Nikaya, Buddhaghosa
mentions the following facts of great historical importance. He says
that the Dighabhanakas classified the books of the Khuddaka Nikaya under
the Abhidhamma Pitaka enumerating them in the following order:–

(1) Jataka,
(2) Mahaniddesa,
(3) Cullaniddesa,
(4) Patisambhidamagga,
(5) Suttanipata,
(6) Dhammapada,
(7) Udana,
(8) Itivuttaka,
(9) Vimanavatthu,
(10) Petavatthu, and
(11) Therigatha,

and leaving out of consideration the four books, namely, the
Cariyapitaka, the Apadana, the Buddhavamsa and the Khuddakapatha.
Buddhaghosa informs us that the Majjhimabhanaka list contained the names
of 15 books counting the Cariyapitaka, the Apadana and the Buddhavamsa
as the three books in addition to those recognised by the Dighabhanakas
(Sumanangalavilasini, Pt.I., p.15). [? It is important to note that the
Majjhimabhanaka list has taken no cognisance of the Khuddakapatha
mentioned as the first book in Buddhanaka [?as this] list was drawn up,
the Khuddaka Nikaya comprised just 12 books and when the Majjhima Nikaya
list was made it came to comprise altogether 15 books, the Mahaniddesa
and the Cullaniddesa having been counted as two books instead of as
one.] It is also easy to understand that from that time onward the
traditional tota1 of the books of the Khuddaka Nikaya became known as
fifteen, and so strong was this tradition that to harmonise with it, the
sixteen books had to be somehow counted as fifteen, the Mahaniddesa and
the Cullaniddesa being treated as a single book. From this we may
proceed to show that the Khuddakapathe appearing as the first book of
the Khuddaka Nikaya in Buddhaghosa’s list, is really the last book taken
into the Khuddaka Nikaya sometime after the Majjhimabhhanaka list
recognising 15 books in all had been closed. We need not be surprised if
the Khuddakapatha was a compilation made in Ceylon and was given a
place among the books of the Khuddaka Nikaya either immediately before
the commitment of the Pali Canon to writing duriug the reign of King
Vattagramani or even after that, although before the time of
Buddhaghosa. The commentaies of Buddhabhosa are our oldest authorities
that mention the Khuddakapatha as a canonical book. It does not find
mention in the Milinda Panha nor in any other work, canonical or
ex-canonical, which was extant before the time of Buddhagosa. The text
is made up of nine lessons or short readings all culled [from] certain
earlier canonical sources, the arrangement of these lessons being such
as to make it serve as a very useful handbook for the beginners and for
the clergy ministering to the needs of the laity. The consideration of
two points may suffice to bear out our contention. The first point is
that the first lesson called the saranattaya presents a developed mode
of refuge formula of the Buddhists which is not to be found precisely in
this form anywhere in other portions of the Pali canon. As for the
second point we may note that the third lesson called the Dvattimsakara
(the thirty-two parts of the body) enumrrates mattake matthalungam[2]
which is not to be found in the list furnished in the Mahasatipatthana
Suttanta of the Digha Nikaya, the Satipatthana Sutta of the Majjhima
Nikaya and numerous other discourses.

We have seen that the Buddhavamisa, the Cariyapitaka and the Apadana
are the three books which found recognition in the list of the
Dighabhanakas, Majjhimabhanakas and were taken no notice of in the
[…text missing…] Apart from other arguments, one has to presume that
these three books were complied and received into the canon after the
list was once known to have been complete with 12 books. These three
books, as far as the subject matters go, are interconnected, the
Buddhavamsa enumerating the doctrine of pranidhana us an essential
condition of the Bodhisatta life, the Cariyapitaka enumerating the
doctrine of cariya or practices of a Bodhisatta and the Apadana the
doctrine of adhikara or competence for the attainment of the higher
life. These three books presuppose a legend of 24 previous Buddhas which
is far in excess of the legend of six Buddhas contained in other
portions of the Canon. The Buddhavamsa and the Cariyapitaka present a
systematic form of the Bodhistta idea that was shaping itself through
the earlier Jatakas and the Apadana furnishing the previous birth
stories of the theras and the theris cannot but be regarded as a later
supplement to the Thera-Theri-gatha.

Besides the Thera-Theri-gatha, the Vimanavatthu or the book of
stories of heaven is just another canonical work which is presupposed by
the Apadana. It is important to note that the Vimanavatthu contains one
story, namely, the story of Serissaka, the incident of which, according
to the story itself, took place a hundred years, calculated by human
computation from the death of the chieftain Payasi. “Manussakam
Vassasatam atitam Yadagge kayamhi idhuappanno” (Vimanavatthu, P.T.S.,
p.81). The Payasi Suttanta of the Digha Nikaya clearly shows that the
death of Payasi could not have taken place until a few years after the
Buddha’s demise. Thus going by the consideration of this point, we are
compelled to assign a date of its composition to an age ahead of a
century and a half from the demise of the Buddha. So the canonisation of
this book could not have taken place earlier than the time of the third
Buddhist Council, we mean the time of King Asoka. Our suggestion for
the date of the Vimanavatthu will gain in significance as we consider
the contents of the Petavatthu, the book of stories of hell. We have
noticed above that in all the three lists of the books of the Khuddaka
Nikaya the name of the Petavatthu stands after that of the Vimanavatthu.
From the occurrence of certain common stories, a suggestion has already
been made that it was somehow an offshoot of the Vimanavatthu. Now in
one of the stories (Petavatthu, IV.3, p.57)[6], we have allusions to the Moriya (Maurya) king, who is identified in the commentary with king Asoka[7].
If this construction of the word Moriya is correct, it leaves no room
for doubt that the Peta Vatthu, as we now have it, was a post-Moriyan or
post-Asokan compilation.

The Cullaniddesa is a canonical commentary of the Khaggavisana sutta
and the Parayana group of sixteen poems, all of which find place in the
anthology called the Sutta Nipata. We have sought to show that the
Cullaniddesa indicates a stage of development of the Pali canon when the
Khaggavisana sutta hang on the Parayanavagga as an isolated poem,
without yet being included in a distinct group such as the Uragavagga of
the Sutta Nipata. Though from this line of argument it follows that the
Cullaniddesa is earlier than the Sutta-Nipata, it cannot at the same
time be denied that it is posterior not only to such Suttanta-Jatakas as
the Mahapadaniya, Mahagovinda, Mahasudassaniya and the Maghadeva
suttanta contained in the Digha and Majjhima Nikayas but also to a
collection of 500 Jatakas (Pancajatakasatiani) (Culianiddesa, p.80). As
such the Cullaniddesa cannot be dated much earlier than the reign of

The Mahaniddesa too is a canonical commentary on the atthaka group of
sixteen poems forming the fourth book of the Sutta-Nipata. As shown
before the exegeses attempted in this book were all modelled on an
earlier exegesis of Mahakaccana in the Samyutta Nikaya. If this
canonical commentary came into existence when the Atthakavagga was yet
currrnt as an isolated group, the date of its composition cannot but be
anterior to that of the Suttanipate. A clear idea of the date of this
work can be fomed from its list of places visited by the Indian seagoing
merchants. The Mahaniddesa list clearly points to a time when the
Indian merchants carried on a sea-borne trade with such distant places
as Java in the east and Paramayona in the west and it alludes as well as
to sea route from Tamali to Java via Tambapanni or Ceylon which was
followed in the 5th century A. D. by the Chinese pilgrim, Fa-Hien. We
can expect to come across such a list only in the Milinda Panha which
may be dated in the 1st or 2nd century A. D. Such a wide expansion of
India’s maritime trade as indicated in the Mahaniddesa list would seem
impossible if the book was a composition much earlier than the second
century B.C. Now turning to the Suttanipata we have been inclined to
place it later than the two books of the Niddesa on the ground that when
it was compiled, the Atthakavagga and the Parayanavagga came to
represent two distinct books of a comprehensive anthology and the
Khaggavisana sutta ceased to be a stray poem hanging for its existence
on the Parayana group. But our main reason for dating it posterior to
the Cullaniddesa is that the Parayanavagga in the Suttanipata is
prefaced by a prologue which is absent from the Cullaniddesa scheme.
Similarly the Nalakasutta perhaps known originally as Moneyya sutta as
evidenced by the titles suggested in Asoka’s Bhabru Edict as a prologue
clearly anticipating the poetical style of Asvaghosa’s Buddhaearita. In
spite of the fact that the suttas embodied in it were gleaned from
earlier collections, the Sutta-nipate scheme of anthology does not seem
to have been carried into effect before the 2nd century B.C.

With regard to the Jatakas as a book of the Khuddaka Nikaya, we have
just seen above that the Cullaniddesa points to a canonical collection
of 500 Jatakas. That five hundred was the original total of the Jatakas
is proved on the one hand by the 500 Jataka representations witnessed by
Fa-Hien round the Abhayagiri monastery of Ceylon and on the other hand
by the mechanical multiplication of the stories in order to raise the
total from 500 to 550 from the days of Buddhaghosa. The Milinda Panha
alludes to the existence of the repeaters of the Jatakas apart from the
repeaters of the five Nikayas. We are unable to decide whether the
Milinda reference is to the canonical books of the Jataks or to a
commentary collection which was then in existence. The numerous
illustrations of the jatakas on the ancient Buddhist railings such as
those at Barhut and Bodhagaya, unmistakably presuppose the existence of
the legendary story of the Buddha’s life past and present. But the
canonical collection of 500 Jatakas referred to in the Cullaniddesa
appear to be earlier than the scriptural basis of the Buddhist
sculptures and whatever the actual data of composition might be it was
certainly later than that of the Suttanta Jatakas scattered throughout
the first four Nikayas. We may say indeed that the canonical collection
took a definite shape near about the early Maurya period.

The Thera-Theri-Gathas are two campanion anthologies of the stanzas
that are supposed to have been uttered by the theras and theris
surrounding the Buddha during the lifetime of the Master, or at least
shortly after his death.(Theragabha Oldenberg’s preface, XI).

“The separate uddanas or indices which occur regularly at the end of
each nipata and at the end also of the whole work, and give the names
and numbers of the theras (and the theris) and the number of verses in
each chapter and in the whole work respectively seem to be based on a
recension or condition of the text different from that which now lies
before us” (Ibid, p.XIV). In the opinion of Dhammapala, the commentator,
the Theragatha anthology had reached the final shape not earlier than
the time of Asoka. He points out that the Thera Tekicchakari whose
gathas are embodied in the Theragatha lived under King Bimbisara, the
father of Dhammasoka. He further adds that the verses uttered by this
thera were received into the canon by the fathers who assembled in the
third Buddhist Council. Dhammapala attributes some of the gathas to
Vitasoka, the younger brother of Dhammasoka and certain other verses to
Tissakumara, the youngest brother of King Asoka. If we can at all depend
for chronology on the information supplied by Dhammapala, the
anthologies of Thera-Theri-gatha must be taken as compilations that had
received their final shape at the Third Buddhist Council and not before.

The Pali Dhammapada is just one and undoubtedlly the earliest of the
six copies of the anthologies of the Dhammapada class. The earliest
mention of the Pali Dhammapada by name is to be found in the Milinda
Panha which is a composition of the first or secnd century A.D. From the
mere fact that there were certain quotations in the Kathavatthu and
Mahaniddesa of stanzas now traceable in the Dhammapada, no definite
conclusion can be drawn as to the actual date of its composition. The
Dhammapada hardly includes any stanzas that might be supposed to have
been drawn upon the canonical collection of Jatakas. But as shown by the
editors of the Prakrit Dhammapada there are a few gathas which were
evidently manipulated on the basis of the gathas in the Jatakas.
Similary it cannot be maintained that the Dhammapada contains any
stanzas that were diretly derived from the Suttanipata, for the suttas
which singled out as the source of some of the gathas of the Dhammapada
are to be found also in such earlier collections as the Digha or the
Majjhima or the Samyutta or the Anguttara. The Thera and Theri-gathas
are the two anthologies of the Khuddaka Nikaya which appear to have been
presupposed by the Dhammapada. As regards external evidence, there is
only one tradition, namely, that a powerful discourse based on the
Appamadavagga of the Dhammapada served to attract the attention of King
Asoka to Buddhism, clearly pointing to the existence of the Dhammapada
as a distinct anthology as early as the third century B.C.

[The] Itivuttaka, the Udana and the Patisambhidamagga are the
remaining three books of the Khuddaka Nikaya of which the date of
composition must depend upon mere conjecture till accidentally we obtain
any reliable date. The Itivuttaka is a book of questions of genuine
sayings of the Buddha, making no reference to any canonical work or to
any historical event ascertaining its date, though it seems that it was
the result of an afterthought, of a critical study of the authentic
teachings of the Buddha in a certain light and for a specific purpose.
The Udana is a curious medley of legends and historical records,
presented in a particular setting with a view to emphasising some
pronounced opinions of the Buddha on certain contrversial matters. The
Patisambhidamagga presents a systematic exposition of certain important
topics of Buddhism, and as such it deserves to be classed rather with
the books of the Abhidhammapitaka than with those of Suttanipata. It is
quite possible that before the development of the extant Abhidhamma
pitaka, it passed as one of the Abhidhamma treatises, Concering these
three books the utmost that we can say that they are mentioned even in
the list of the Dighabhanakas, being counted there as three among the
twelve books of the Khuddaka Nikaya, and that if the tradition about
this list is at all credible, these three books must have existed when
the list was drawn up, say, in the second century B. C.

The Chronology

The results arrived at concerning the chronology of the Pali canonical listerature are preseented in the subjoined table.



The simple statements of Buddhist doctrines now found, in identical words, in paragraphs or verses recurring in all the books.


Episodes found, in identical words, in two or more of the existing books.


The Silas, the Parayana group of sixteen poems without the prologue,
the atthaka group of four or sixteen poems, the sikkhapadas.


The Digha, Vol. l, the Majjhima, the Samyutta, the Anguttara, and earlier Patimokkha code of 152 rules.


The Digha, Vols. II & III, the Thera-Theri-Gatha, the collection
of 500 Jatakas, the Suttavibhanga, the Patisambhidamagga, the
Puggala-pannatti and the Vibhanga.


The Mahavagga and the Cullavagga, the Patimokkha code completing 227
rules, the Vimanavatthu and Petavatthu, the Dhammapada and the


The Cullaniddesa, the Mahaniddesa, the Udana, the Itivuttaka, the Suttanipata, the Dhatukatha, the Yamaka and the Patthana.


The Buddhavamsa, the Cariyapitaka and the Apadana.


The Parivarapatha.


The Khuddakapatha.


[1]Read the Life of Gotama, the Buddha by E.I. Brewster.

[2](Cowell and Neil Ed.)p. 35.

may be observed that in giving an account of the first Buddhist
council, Buddhaghosa makes mention of Ubhato-Vibhanga signifying
“thereby the whole text of the Sutta Vibhanga completed in 64 bhanavaras
(Snmagalavilasini, pt.1., p.13 ).

[4]B.M. Barna-A note on the Bhabru Ediet, J.R.A.S., October’ 1915, pp. 805-810

[5]Cf. Milinda Panha which refers to the some total of the Patimokkha rules in the expression “Diyaddhesa Sikkhapadasatesu.”

[6]1.”Raja Pingalako nama Suratthanam adhipapi ahu Moriyanam upatthanamgantva surattham punar againa.”

[7]“Moriyanan’ti Moriyarajunam Dhammasokam samdhaya vadati” Petavatthn. P.T.S.,p.98.

[1]A vessels largest anchor.

[2]The Brain

Pali Canon Online

The Original Words of the Buddha

The Origin of the Pali Canon

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