Atthakavagga and Parayanavagga
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The Aṭṭhakavagga (Pali, "Octet Chapter") and the Pārāyanavagga (Pali, "Way to the Far Shore Chapter") are two small collections of suttas within the Pāli Canon of Theravada Buddhism. They are considered by modern scholars to be among the earliest existing Buddhist literature. The suttas themselves portray the Atthakavagga as some of the Buddha's first sermons; the Udana depicts the Buddha asking a monk to recite Dhamma, and responding approvingly when he recites the Atthakavagga.
Dating parts of the Buddhist canon
We do not have a great deal of information about the earliest phases of Buddhist thought, the form of the religion predating its later codification in the established canons and practices of the Early Buddhist schools and the Mahāyāna.
Some texts, however, have been identified by scholars as being earlier than others; for example, in the Sutta Nipāta, which is a branch of the Khuddhaka Nikāya of the Sutta Piṭaka in the Tipitaka, there are two small collections of suttas, the Aṭṭhakavagga and the Pārāyanavagga, which some scholars regard as being considerably earlier in composition than the bulk of the canon, and as revealing an earlier form of the religion. They are regarded as earlier because of elements of language and composition, their inclusion in very early commentaries, and also because some have seen them as expressing versions of certain Buddhist beliefs that are different from, and perhaps prior to, their later codified versions. In this thinking, the Pārāyanavagga is somewhat closer to the later tradition than the Aṭṭhakavagga. The Khaggavisānasutta (Rhinoceros Sutra), also in the Sutta Nipāta, similarly seems to reveal an earlier mode of Buddhist monasticism, which emphasized individual wandering monastics, more in keeping with the Indian sannyāsin tradition.
In 1994, a group of texts which are the earliest Indian manuscripts discovered were found in Gandhara (see Gandhāran Buddhist Texts). These texts include a relatively complete version of the Rhinoceros Sutra and textual material from the Aṭṭhakavagga and Pārāyanavagga.
Interpretation as heterodox
Speaking generally, the Aṭṭhakavagga and the Pārāyanavagga tend more strongly to emphasize the negative sides of asceticism (i.e., asceticism as a process of negating desire), and show a strong concern with regulating everyday bodily activities and sexual desires. According to some scholars (but not all, see below), they also place considerable emphasis on the rejection of all views, and are reluctant to put forward positions of their own regarding basic metaphysical issues. This has caused some commentators (Gomez 1976) to compare them to later Madhyamaka philosophy, which in its Prasaṅgika form especially makes a method of rejecting others' views rather than proposing its own.
Pre-Buddhist and/or proto-Madhyamaka
After Gomez had proposed these texts as a sort of proto-Madhyamaka, a leading Dutch Pali scholar, Tillman Vetter, re-examined the evidence. Although agreeing overall with Gomez's observations, he suggests some refinements on historical and doctrinal grounds. First, he notes that neither of these short collections of suttas are homogeneous and hence are not all amenable to Gomez' proposals. According to Vetter, those suttas which do lend support to Gomez probably originated with a heterodox ascetic group that pre-dated the Buddha, and were integrated into the Buddhist Sangha at an early date, bringing with them some suttas that were already in existence and also composing further suttas in which they tried to combine their own teachings with those of the Buddha. Thus if both Gomez and Vetter are correct, Prasangika Madhyamaka would represent a continuation of a heterodox strand within Buddhism, rather than either a totally or largely orthodox one, as held by some scholars.
Interpretation as orthodox
Paul Fuller has rejected the arguments of Gomez and Vetter. He finds that "the Nikayas and the Atthakavagga present the same cognitive attitude toward views, wrong or right." He states that in the Nikayas, right-view includes non-dependence on knowledge and views, and mentions the Buddha's simile of his dhamma as a raft that must be abandoned. He finds that the Atthakavagga's treatment of knowledge and wisdom is parallel to the later Patthana's apparent criticism of giving, holding the precepts, the duty of observance, and practicing the jhanas. In his view, both texts exhibit this particular approach not as an attack on practice or knowledge, but to point out that attachment to the path is destructive. Similarly, the text's treatment of concentration meditation is intended to warn against attachment to insight, and communicate that insight into the nature of things necessarily involves a calm mind.
The Buddhist tradition has itself taken the view that the text's statements, including many which are clearly intended to be paradoxical, are meant to be puzzled over and explicated. An extended commentary attributed to Sariputta, entitled the Mahaniddesa, was included in the Canon. It seeks to reconcile the content of the poems with the teachings in the rest of the discourses.
Alexander Wynne's recent work also rejects both of Vetter's claims that the Parayanavagga shows a chronological stratification and different attitude toward mindfulness and liberating insight than do other works.
- In the Pali canon, these chapters are the fourth and fifth chapters of the Khuddaka Nikaya's Sutta Nipata, respectively.
- Gomez, Luis. "Proto-Maadhyamika in the Paali canon" in Philosophy East and West 26:2 April 1976 pp. 137-165.
- See, for example, Saloman's A Gāndhārī Version of the Rhinoceros Sūtra, pp. 15-16.
- Grace G. Burford, Culaniddesa. In Karl H. Potter, ed., Encyclopedia of Indian philosophies: Abhidharma Buddhism to 150 A. D. Published by Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 1996, page 316.
- Paul Fuller, The Notion of Diṭṭhi in Theravāda Buddhism: The Point of View. Routledge, 2005, page 151.
- Thanissaro Bhikkhu, The Atthaka Vagga (The Octet Chapter): An Introduction. .
- Alexander Wynne, The Origin of Buddhist Mediation. Routledge 2007, page 75. Wynne devotes a chapter to the Parayanavagga.
- Gomez, Luis O. "Proto-Mādhyamika in the Pāli canon," pp. 137-165 in Philosophy East and West 26:2, 1976.
- Salomon, Richard (2000). A Gāndhārī Version of the Rhinoceros Sutra: British Library Kharoṣṭhi Fragment 5B. Univ. of Washington Press: Seattle and London. ISBN 0-295-98035-4.
- Vetter, Tillman (1988). "Mysticism in the Aṭṭhakavagga," pp. 101-106 in The Ideas and Meditative Practices of Early Buddhism. Leiden:Brill. ISBN 90-04-08959-4.
- Fuller, Paul. The Notion of Diṭṭhi in Theravāda Buddhism: The Point of View. Routledge, 2005.
- Translation by Pannobhasa Bhikkhu (1999)
- Translation by Thanissaro Bhikkhu (1997)
- Translation by Bhikkhu Varado (2005)
- Translation by V. Fausböll (1881)
- Commentary / introduction to Atthakavagga by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
- Commentary / introduction to Parayanavagga by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
- "Introduction to the Sutta Nipata" (1881) by V. Fausböll
- Proto-Madhyamaka in the Pali Canon