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Some Buddhist writers seem to imply that they can apply a screen or test, linguistic or otherwise, to the Pali Canon and thus separate the original teachings of the Buddha from its "later" degenerations, and are thus able to describe "original Buddhism."

However, any application of this "method" seems to degenerate almost immediately into an ideological argument based on implicit assumptions of what the Buddha's teaching was like or naive inferences that because a text appears to be later, that automatically disqualifies it from consideration (in fact, later texts can incorporate or revise older traditions, elaborate older doctrines, consist of valid inferences, or even consist of valid original insights based on the original set of insights and thus be valid in their own right).

Yet despite these claims one finds only vague generalizations (e.g., Pande) or outright ideology. If such an algorithm existed, it should be possible to create a revised textus receptus and I have not seen this. A.K. Warder, a Pali scholar and a linguist, says nothing about this in Indian Buddhism, although he does imply that the Digha Nikaya is the oldest and therefore most authentic part of the Pali Canon.

Does anybody know of an in depth and articulate description of such a linguistic algorithm or method that is free of ideological bias?

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A.K. Warder, a Pali scholar and a linguist ... does imply that the Digha Nikaya is the oldest and therefore most authentic part of the Pali Canon

beneath is some gleaned info on the relative chronology of the canonical Buddhist texts


From T.W. Rhys Davids, Appendix to Chapter 10 of 'Buddhist India' Putnam, 1903. http://fsnow.com/text/buddhist-india/chapter10.htm

[The list] represents the probable order in which the extant Buddhist documents of this period were composed. They were not yet written, and a great deal has no doubt been lost.

  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 Sīlas, the Pārāyana, the Octades, the pātimokkha.

  4. The Dīgha, Majjhima, Aṅguttara, and Saṁyutta Nikāyas.

  5. The Sutta Nipāta, the Thera- and Therī-Gāthās, the Udānas, and the Khuddaka Pāṭha.

  6. The Sutta Vibhaṅga and the Khandhakas.

  7. The Jātakas and the Dhammapadas.

  8. The Niddesa, the Itivuttakas, and the Paṭisambhidā.

  9. The Peta- and Vimāna-Vatthus, the Apadānas, the Cariyā Piṭaka, and the Buddha Vaṁsa.

  10. The Abhidhamma books; the last of which is the Kathā Vatthu, and the earliest probably the Puggala Paññatti.

Alternative chronological order
from Bimala Law: A History of Pali Literature, Ch 1, pp. 29-66

Chronological placement of the Octades (Atthakavagga) and Patimokkha, whole Nikayas, regarding their strata, is questionable, same for Sutta Nipata

  1. The simple statements of Buddhist doctrine now found in identical works in paragraphs or verses recurring in all the books.

  2. Episodes found in identical works in two or more of the existing books.

  3. The Silas, the Parayana group of sixteen poems without the prologue, the Atthaka group of four or sixteen poems, the Sikkhapadas.

  4. Dlgha, Vol. I, the Majjhima, the Samyutta, the Anguttara, and earlier Patimokkha code of 152 rules.

  5. The Digha, Vols. II and III, the Thera-Theri-gatha, the collection of 500 Jatakas, Suttavibhanga, Patisambhidamagga, Puggalapaññatti and Vibhanga.

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

  7. The Cullaniddesa, the Mahaniddesa, the Udana, the Itivuttaka, the Sutta Nipata, the Dhatukatha, the Yamaka, and the Patthana.

  8. The Buddhavamsa, the Cariyapitaka, and the Apadana.

  9. The Parivarapatha.

  10. The Khuddakapāṭha.

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    How or from what were these orderings derived? Was it "a linguistic algorithm", or some other way? – ChrisW Aug 25 '16 at 21:53
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    i guess that's the result of the authors' close aquaintance with the corpus and knowing it inside and out like the back of their hand, but they probably provide more detailed argumentation in the referenced sources – Баян Купи-ка Aug 26 '16 at 14:51
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There are already such linguistic algorithms around, as far as I understood based on neural networks, which are able to attribute texts to authors by evaluating frequencies of words, groups of words, patterns in stylish expressions and so on. I have not an actual source, maybe one can find this in the realms of the "Big-data" or of sociolinguistic qualitative research or forensic psychology/lingusitic, but I remember to have read newspaper articles about some progress.
The situation with the pali-canon is a bit more difficult than modern texts by original authors, because

  • reports are by the memory of Ananda and some others, and although we know, that educated people of that times had an enormous memory to cite word-by-word, the patterns of words of the Buddha have patterns of memories of the reciting people overlaid
  • additionally the Pali might not be the original language of the Buddha (for instance the "Maghadi" has possibly been his conversation language) so the translation-variances overlay an original pattern
  • additionally over the centuries up to the first writing-down on the palm-leaves it is likely that pieces of text were rhytmisized to be better for reciting and remembering

On the other hand, the amount of text is rather large, so perhaps, if someone would really try, some patterns might be discernible and separatable to different authorship.

So what is so far possible is to look-out for terms, which were not known to the Buddha, because they came up centuries later. Or for rather obvious deviations from the main teachings in concept and style. Here can likely be said something already.
Unfortuately without a reliable analysis tool this is rather subjective, and someone who wants to insert texts/thoughts into the Buddha's teaching and even to attribute this to the Buddha would surely challenge you, to prove your assumption of fabrication...
Subjective example: in an "encounter" some years ago I was confronted with the Mahayana-version of the Great Parinirvana-sutra. Reading this I felt a lot of sentences being nearly hate-speech against the "iccantika"s, against the "non-believers", heretics; in many places I found the style of a talk being competitive with others, and found records about numbers of people attending the burial-ceremony as given with "millions", "billions" - for me seemingly just simply born out of a drunken delirium of the writer. But prove that that impressions indicate fabrication...

Subjective again: there is a certain stand in the attribution of Palicanon-suttas to the Buddha and to later redaction, but for me this is in moderate, usually neglectable amount - so I have not really looked at this systematically. I'm curious, though, what next years might bring us, in presence of always better pattern-detection-software - textanalysis is already beginning to become spectcular...

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Does anybody know of an in depth and articulate description of such a linguistic algorithm or method that is free of ideological bias?

Textual criticism, Higher criticism, Epigraphy and Philology are fields of study concerned with the study of texts, their language, meaning, authenticity, history and "evolution".

There are a number of buddhist scholars who engage in such works. Sometimes they write their personal opinions, sometimes they elaborate more rigorous conclusions regarding the age of some texts. The difference between the two, of course, is whether the author spends some time analyzing a number of evidences carefully to justify their conclusion.

Some scholars, however, seem to reject these methods altogether and are more skeptical of historical dating of the texts without relying on archeological material. For some discussion on the issues, see:

However, any application of this "method" seems to degenerate almost immediately into an ideological argument based on implicit assumptions of what the Buddha's teaching was like or naive inferences that because a text appears to be later, that automatically disqualifies it from consideration (in fact, later texts can incorporate or revise older traditions, elaborate older doctrines, consist of valid inferences, or even consist of valid original insights based on the original set of insights and thus be valid in their own right).

Well, this kind of study is what happens when any group of people is interested in answering difficult questions about ancient texts. For example, a lot of what these scholars are doing they learned from scholars of Christianity.

While it may happen, any immediate disqualification based merely on what is perceived (with or without evidence) to be later texts is a matter of personal inclination. Such implicit assumption and naive inferences is, to an extent, in the eyes of the beholder -- but to another extent, it can be in the fingers of the scholar, if that is his unjustified opinion.

One thing to keep in mind, though, is that one can't study history of Buddhism and, at the same time, avoid making any historical investigation or answer historical questions about that very history.

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