In commenting a post, I have just been introduced to the "two bundles of reeds leaning up against each other" Sutta. The comments have just been moved to chat and I hope it would be kept for awhile since I notice most chats are just rubbish bins to collect "hazardous" information in this forum and later deleted.

From Chinese Saṃyukta Āgama No. 288 it has this verse:

...譬如:蘆立於空地,展轉相依而得豎立,若去其一,二亦不立;若去其二,一亦不立,展轉相依而得豎立。 緣名色,亦復如是,展轉相依而得生長。


...For example, three reeds standing on the floor, they relying on each other so are able to stand up. If one is removed, the other two cannot stand; if removed two, one also cannot stand. [Only] by relying on each other they are able to stand up. Consciousness correlating to name-form, is also the same, [they] relying on each other then are able to develop. ~ Saṃyukta Āgama No. 288

Remark: Chinese 識 has multiple meanings, depends on the context of the text, it either just refers to consciousness - the faculty of cognizing, or the total of mind

However, Pali Sutta Nalakalapiyo Sutta: Sheaves of Reeds reads:

"Suppose there were two bundles of reeds leaning up against each other. In the same way, name and form are conditions for consciousness. Consciousness is a condition for name and form. If the first of those bundles of reeds were to be pulled away, the other would collapse. And if the other were to be pulled away, the first would collapse. In the same way, when name and form cease, consciousness ceases. When consciousness ceases, name and form cease.” ~ SN 12.67

The Chinese Agama said three reeds can lean againist each other, but the Pali Nalakalapiyo said two reeds can lean against each other. My questions are:

  1. Are these two Sutra/Sutta equivalent but different versions?1

  2. If they are equivalent Sutra/Sutta, which is more reliable? Or, more accurate?

  3. They obviously have marked disagreement - can three reeds leaning against each others to stand up, or two reeds?

I welcome non-dogmatic, non-sectarian answers, and thanks in advance. Reminder, this is a professional academic comparison, please appeal to logic, reasons and facts. That would be much appreciated.


1. From my knowledge, Chinese Samyutta Agama has two versions, one is from Ceylon (Sri Lanka). But also from my knowledge, there wasn't any script of Pali Canon being brought back from Ceylon to China by the ancient Chinese Buddhist pilgrims in the Chinese Tripitaka.

1.1 Just excuse me rumbling, the Chinese pilgrims took scripts from other sects in Ceylon, not the Mahavihara sect - called Theravada today, who kept the Pali Canon.

  • 3
    I don't think it's off-topic (it's about an aspect of Buddhism). Sometimes e.g. scholars compare two versions of a sutta, perhaps no-one has actually done that for this sutta, I don't know, but if they have that would be relevant.
    – ChrisW
    Feb 14, 2019 at 1:00
  • 1. Yes, I suppose. 2. Both suttas talked about reverse dependent origination and dependent origination. The analogy/simile has been taken to explain link between two (cause and effect) in [reverse] dependent origination. So considering the whole idea the "two" is more reliable. The word "three" may have been used separating nama-rupa further as two. 3. If two playing cards can be leaned up against each other why two reeds could not? (Correct me if I'm wrong because I'm not a physics expert.)
    – Damith
    Feb 14, 2019 at 8:13
  • You're welcome to write an answer @Damith. From physics, in my understanding, the stable minimum support is 3, like a tripod used for camera, or a table (classically) has at least 3 legs Feb 14, 2019 at 13:47
  • @Mishu 米殊 To answer such scholarly question one needs to refer many resource materials. I commented only because I felt it as a poor answer. Sure I'll write an answer whenever I get free time.
    – Damith
    Feb 15, 2019 at 10:10

5 Answers 5


In my understanding of Mahayana doctrine, the term namarupa does not refer to individual's mind-and-body. In my opinion, this traditional Theravadin interpretation is incorrect.

Instead, namarupa means "name-form" - meaning "a concept of form", "an idea of form" - referring to our subjective representations of external and internal phenomena, as well as the most important Name-Form, our idea of self.

This is confirmed by SN 12.19:

For the fool, bhiksus, covered by ignorance, associated with craving, this body has thus resulted. There is this pair: just this body [with consciousness] and the outer (bahiddha) namarupam. Conditioned by this pair there is contact.

The corresponding SA 294 states:

For the fool, the untaught common person, covered by ignorance, associated with craving, this consciousness-body has resulted. Internally there is this consciousness-body and externally there is name-and-form. Conditioned by this pair there arises contact.

Salistamba Sutra explains it as:

That which delineate individual objects is [called] vijnana [...] [It is called] vijnana in the sense of "causing to know".


The four grasping-collections (upadana-skandha) that emerge in conjunction with vijnana are [called] namarupa.


The four immaterial collections (skandhas) emerging together with vijnana, along with physical form, is what is meant by "vijnana causes namarupa." [...] [They are called] namarupa in the sense of mutual support...


That which produces the sprouts of name-and-form like reeds in a sheaf — the combination of the five collections (skandhas), together with the defiled mental consciousness [reifying the skandhas as "self"] — is called "the consciousness element".

So in my understanding, every time we delineate [external!] objects, our ideas of objects keep getting more concrete. And then these ideas feed back into the delineation process, making delineation more precise but also more rigid and fixed. Thus these two - "the process of delineation" and "the collection of ideas" - support each other in their growth and development.

Then we learn to not only recognize objects, but to associate them with some useful knowledge about them, what they mean to us (samjna, vedana). We learn to build an entire inner representation of a world, a whole reality, large in scope and rich in detail. We also form a bunch of attitudes to all those external things we now recognize.

Then the "defiled mental consciousness" - the mano-vijnana, or the ability to distinguish between individual internal objects - develops representation of the inner phenomena and reifies them as an entity called "self".

At the end we have what seems like "I am the actor and the observer" and "The world of other people and things" while in fact it's just a collection of ideas that delineate Everything into objects and entities.

Based on this interpretation, I think we can reconstruct the Bundles of Reeds metaphor in one of two ways:

  1. Either the two bundles are Namarupa and Vijnana - or the ideas about things on one hand and the faculty of delineation on the other, supporting each other...
  2. Or, the three bundles are Nama, Rupa, and Vijnana - or the ideas about things, the things themselves, and the faculty of delineation.

Personally, I don't see how the three reeds metaphor can be right. It's not like Nama and Rupa are truly two separate peers of Vijnana. Remember, Rupa does not refer to an ontological external object, it refers to what Vijnana delineates (sees or cognizes) as an object based on the available information. In reality objects are not monolith things - they are parts of bigger systems and are themselves made of smaller parts. It is Vijnana that "decides" where and how to draw the lines.

Once we have an idea about an object, we start seeing that object as a separate thing, so as Nama gets more concrete the appearance of Rupa gets more concrete. And as that appearance of Rupa gets more concrete, as we see it again and again, the Nama gets more solid. But we can't say that Rupa is a separate bundle because Rupa does not really exist. It's just a momentary transient Vijnana that "seems" like Rupa.

This is also confirmed by the context of the text, which says "when name-and-form cease, consciousness ceases. When consciousness ceases, name-and-form cease." - it does not say "when name ceases, consciousness and form ceases" etc.

Anyway, what's most important is not the metaphor of two or three bundles, but to actually understand the process that the metaphor and the other sutras are trying to describe.

Indeed, as you stop thinking in terms of objects, you stop seeing the world as objects and start seeing it "yathabhuta", and as you stop seeing the world as objects, your old ideas about objects wither and fade away.

  • "namarupa means "name-form" - meaning "a concept of form", "an idea of form" - referring to our subjective representations of external and internal phenomena, as well as the most important Name-Form, our idea of self." - how do you reconcile this with the following from SN 12.2? "And what, bhikkhus, is name-and-form? Feeling, perception, volition, contact, attention: this is called name. The four great elements and the form derived from the four great elements: this is called form. Thus this name and this form are together called name-and-form."
    – ruben2020
    Feb 15, 2019 at 14:26
  • Nice analysis on name-form and consciousness +1, perhaps a bit confused with the Pali two reeds simile, and trying to fit in that model? Feb 15, 2019 at 19:18
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    @ruben2020 I think SN 12.2 simply says that feeling etc. are examples of our subjective representations (ideas, concepts, opinions, tendencies, memories etc.) of objects, examples of informational baggage. As for the rupa part, SN 22.48 says "Every form in the past, future, or present, inward or outward, gross or subtle, small or big, far or near, is called the aggregate of form" - so I assume when SN 12.2 says that rupas are derived from the four great elements, it does not limit itself only to our body but speaks about all forms.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Feb 15, 2019 at 21:19
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    @ruben2020 Furthermore, the Pali for "derived from the four great elements" reads "mahābhūtānaṃ upādāyarūpaṃ" - which can be translated as "form with reference to the four great elements", in other words, form is an image or mental object that references the four great elements, not made of them.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Feb 15, 2019 at 21:29
  • 1
    @AndreiVolkov Your definition of namarupa seems to be right. See DN 15: “It was said: < “‘With namarupa as condition there is contact.’ If those qualities, traits, signs, and indicators through which there is a description of the nama were all absent, would designation-contact be discerned in the rupa?”“Certainly not” “If those qualities, traits, signs, and indicators through which there is a description of the rupa were all absent, would impingement-contact be discerned in the nama?” “Certainly not” >
    – ruben2020
    Feb 16, 2019 at 10:03

OP: Are these two Sutra/Sutta equivalent but different versions?

Yes, I think so. According to SuttaCentral, SA 288 and SN 12.67 are equivalent. I could find "三蘆立於空地" from your quote inside SuttaCentral's SA 288, so I guess it is the same.

OP: If they are equivalent Sutra/Sutta, which is more reliable? Or, more accurate?

SuttaCentral links the Chinese agama SA 288 to the Pali sutta SN 12.67 and the Sanskrit sutra SF 155. Only the Pali sutta has English translations from Bhikkhu Sujato and Bhikkhu Bodhi.

The Sanskrit sutra comes from "TRIPĀṬHI, Chandrabhal 1962. Fünfundzwanzig Sūtras des Nidānasaṃyukta ( = Sanskrittexte aus den Turfanfunden VIII). Berlin: Akademie-Verlag."

Let me quote the other versions below.

From Pali sutta SN 12.67 named "Naḷakalāpīsutta":

Suppose there were two bundles of reeds leaning up against each other.

Seyyathāpi, āvuso, dve naḷakalāpiyo aññamaññaṃ nissāya tiṭṭheyyuṃ.

From Sanskrit sutra SF 155 named "Naḍakalāpikasūtra":

tadyathā dvau naḍakalāpāv ākāśe ucchṛtau syātām anyonyaṃ niśṛta

I don't really know Sanskrit, but I guess that the two bolded terms above in Pali and Sanskrit mean TWO in reference to the bundles of reed.

So, the Pali and Sanskrit versions agree with each other, but not the Chinese version.

Based on the above evidence, I would say that most likely the Chinese agama version was modified from the original version which was probably in Sanskrit, or otherwise, in Pali. So, the Pali version is likely to be more accurate and reliable than the Chinese version, in my personal opinion.

But then again, I'm not a professional scholar of Buddhist Studies. So, I should quote the opinion of one. Prof. Dr. Bhikkhu Analayo is not just a monk, but also an academic scholar in the field of "comparative studies of Early Buddhist Texts as preserved by the various early Buddhist traditions" (according to Wikipedia).

Prof. Analayo wrote the following in the book "Three Chinese Dīrgha-āgama Discourses without Parallels". While this is not related to the Bundles of Reed Sutta/ Sutra, it definitely proves that there has been a precedent for the Chinese Agama to add to or modify the original version.

The three discourses in the Chinese Dīrgha-āgama that are without parallels in other early discourse collections appear to be later additions to the collection. They share in common an attempt to map doctrinal terminology. While the Discourse Increasing by One (DĀ11) and the Discourse On the Three Groups (DĀ 12) still seem to belong to an early stage in the developing of such maps, the Discourse On a Record of the World (DĀ 30) appears to reflect a later stage. The circumstance that all three discourses in the Chinese Dīrgha-āgama that are without parallels appear to be later additions should not be taken to reflect a general rule, however, assuming that any discourse without parallels must be a later addition. It is always possible that a discourse is now extant from only one textual lineage due to the vicissitudes of transmission. An example would be the Jīvaka-sūtra of the Sarvāstivāda/Mūlasarvāstivāda Dīrgha-āgama. Until the recent discovery of fragments of the Jīvaka-sūtra, only the Majjhima-nikāya version of this discourse was known. This was because the Sarvāstivāda/Mūlasarvāstivāda reciters had allocated this discourse to their long discourse collection, whereas the Theravāda reciters placed their version of this discourse in their middle length collection. So lack of a parallel may simply be the result of differences in the distribution of discourses among the four discourse collections, transmitted by various Buddhist schools.

Whether name-and-form should be together or separate I think is out of the scope of this question and could be asked in another question.

OP: They obviously have marked disagreement - can three reeds leaning against each others to stand up, or two reeds?

Maybe two reeds cannot lean on each other, but surely two bundles of reed can lean on each other just like these two cards below. It just depends on how the bundles of reed are tied together.

Two cards learning on each other

Here are two books leaning on each other:

Two books leaning on each other


I removed the statement that the Pali Suttas do not separate nama from rupa. There is actually such a separation in DN 15:

‘Name and form are conditions for contact’—that’s what I said. And this is a way to understand how this is so. Suppose there were none of the features, attributes, signs, and details by which the category of mental phenomena is found. Would linguistic contact still be found in the category of physical phenomena?” “No, sir.” “Suppose there were none of the features, attributes, signs, and details by which the category of physical phenomena is found. Would impingement contact still be found in the category of mental phenomena?” “No, sir.” “Suppose there were none of the features, attributes, signs, and details by which the categories of mental or physical phenomena are found. Would either linguistic contact or impingement contact still be found?” “No, sir.” “Suppose there were none of the features, attributes, signs, and details by which name and form are found. Would contact still be found?” “No, sir.” “That’s why this is the cause, source, origin, and condition of contact, namely name and form.

Nama and rupa is also separated in AN 10.27:

“When it was said: ‘A question about two, a concise statement about two, an explanation of two,’ with reference to what was this said? When a bhikkhu is completely disenchanted with two things, completely dispassionate toward them, completely liberated from them, completely sees their delimitations, and completely breaks through their meaning, in this very life he makes an end of suffering. What two things? Name and form. When a bhikkhu is completely disenchanted with these two things … in this very life he makes an end of suffering.

  • Thank you for your in depth research and rich references +1, just that we have to conform to evidences and facts. Two reeds in the Pali 12.67 is likely a later modified version to fit doctrinal purpose. I the OP have to write an answer because too much information needed to be presented Feb 15, 2019 at 19:22

The rest of the sutta talks about pairs of things e.g. ...

From the cessation of name-&-form comes the cessation of the six sense media. From the cessation of the six sense media comes the cessation of contact. From the cessation of contact comes the cessation of feeling. From the cessation of feeling comes the cessation of craving. From the cessation of craving comes the cessation of clinging/sustenance. From the cessation of clinging/sustenance comes the cessation of becoming. From the cessation of becoming comes the cessation of birth.

... so I suppose that "vinnana" and "namarupa" are also seen as a pair, not as a triplet.

Anyway I don't think it's trying to explain the details of what namarupa is -- and so, e.g. this comment, "does it infer that consciousness cannot interact (leaning up against) with nama only, nor with rupa only?", was beside the point of the sutta.

Actually I think that's true of several nidanas, i.e. the definitions of several are a bit fuzzy and people interpret them or analyse each one differently.

I'm not sure that (precise analysis and definition of each nidana) is the point, though -- I think the point was:

  • Explaining a "codependent origination" relationship (which I think is cleverer than or at least a welcome addition to the doctrine of "causal" relationships, e.g. that "A causes B" which isn't symmetric i.e. "B doesn't cause A")
  • Saying that all the various concerns or things exist because of such relationship[s]
  • Perhaps suggesting that if you break that chain anywhere then they all cease

I guess the difference (between the Chinese and Pali versions) is possibly-interesting but minor or unimportant? Does the difference help to make the Chinese clearer or more idiomatic, for example ...

  • Does the Chinese include the word for "reed" (or could it making a different simile, e.g. to a Ding)?

  • Is this phrase ...


    ... clearer when it's explained as "three" instead of "two", because if it were two then the phrase would be ...


    ... which would be pure repetition, not distinguishing one and then the other? The latter would seem to me to imply a reflexive relationship, not the symmetric relationship described in the Pali -- though the suttas also/elsewhere to some extent describes the relationships as directional, asymmetric, cyclic, causal -- maybe "one" and two" is a way to distinguish them (like "first" and "second" would be)?

I can't discuss the Chinese but I'm suggesting that theory: i.e. that it's a minor change to clarify the meaning of or in the translation.

namarupa is a compound noun. I suppose it has one or more orthodox definitions. If you do want to verify the translation and decide the exact meaning for yourself, e.g. from the etymology, perhaps that's difficult or ambiguous -- because There are six types of compounds found in Pali literature, so I think that the mere fact that two nouns are compounded doesn't unambiguously describe the relationship between them.

  • Thank you for your fresh perspective +1. But it has a marked difference with three reeds or two reeds, because that implies the model of consciousness completely different. In brief, the Chinese Mahayana is 8 consciousness, the Pali Theravada is 6. Studying the Pali text cannot understand the 8 consciousness, even there is exact word alaya appeared in Pali Sutta yet they don't understand it. But it's another topic. I was referred by @ruben2020 the SN 12.67, stuck by how can 2 reeds stand up but not at least 3 from common sense, I checked the Chinese Agamas. Voila! The whole mass evolves Feb 15, 2019 at 19:32
  • I don't think "two bundles leaning against each other" is difficult to understand, and therefore I think it's a good simile. As for how it can happen in practice, perhaps some people used reeds for thatched roofs. That would usually have a ridge pole too but it's just an analogy.
    – ChrisW
    Feb 16, 2019 at 9:55

I consider only the 3rd question as answerable.

'Nama-rupa' is a compound to refer to one thing comprised of two aspects that are mutually dependent. While there is actually nothing wrong with the analogy of 'three-reeds', consciousness is something different from nama-rupa where as nama & rupa are never different. Therefore, the analogy of two reeds is more accurate than the analogy of three reeds.

For example, consciousness may be aware of an object, which nama perceives as pleasant. As soon as nama perceives the object as pleasant, the body (rupa) also comes buoyant. Then if the same consciousness of the same object is perceived by nama as unpleasant, the body (rupa) simultaneously becomes stressed. So consciousness is something that can remain neutral while the nama & rupa can vary together in the same way. That is why nama-rupa are one thing and consciousness is another thing (even though nama-rupa and consciousness are mutuality dependent cognitively. Consciousness cannot arise & function without nama-rupa and nama-rupa cannot operate without consciousness).

The 'neutrality' of consciousness is described in many suttas, such as MN 38 and MN 148, where the same consciousness of an object can result in either suffering or, otherwise, the end of suffering. However, nama-rupa will differ and always have the same quality here, as shown below from MN 149. If nama is stressed, rupa will be stressed. If nama is unstressed, rupa will be unstressed. But the consciousness of the object remains the same.

For him — infatuated, attached, confused, not remaining focused on their drawbacks — the five clinging-aggregates head toward future accumulation. The craving that makes for further becoming — accompanied by passion & delight, relishing now this & now that — grows within him. His bodily disturbances & mental disturbances grow. His bodily torments & mental torments grow. His bodily distresses & mental distresses grow. He is sensitive both to bodily stress & mental stress.


For him — uninfatuated, unattached, unconfused, remaining focused on their drawbacks — the five clinging-aggregates head toward future diminution. The craving that makes for further becoming — accompanied by passion & delight, relishing now this & now that — is abandoned by him. His bodily disturbances & mental disturbances are abandoned. His bodily torments & mental torments are abandoned. His bodily distresses & mental distresses are abandoned. He is sensitive both to ease of body & ease of mind.

  • Thank you for your time. So, from your interpretation, the Pali version of 2 reeds = consciousness (1) + nama-rupa (1)? In this case, does it infer that consciousness cannot interact (leaning up against) with nama only, nor with rupa only? My understanding of nama is it referred to concept (immaterial), like the cup typed here as word, or image in your mind, intangible; rupa referred to object (material), like the cup you can fill in coffee and drink from, tangible. Feb 14, 2019 at 14:07
  • Your view of nama-rupa is Brahmanism & Hinduism. The Buddha taught nama is feeling, perception, intention, contact & attention and rupa is the physical body composed of four elements of earth, wind, fire & water. Please refer to SN 12.2 and MN 9. Feb 15, 2019 at 3:01
  • @Dhammadhatu how do you explain this phrase in SN 12.9: "Iti ayañceva kāyo bahiddhā ca nāmarūpaṃ"?
    – Andriy Volkov
    Feb 15, 2019 at 4:23
  • Had +1 for your work @Dhammadhatu. But your understanding of consciousness and name-form is not Buddhist. It's not even logically correct. Regards. Feb 15, 2019 at 19:16

This post is the rare example to be able to procure solid answer from most answers' contributions, especially @ruben2020.

@ruben2020 referred to the Sanskrit sutra SF 155 "Naḍakalāpikasūtra", an archaeological discovery of Sanskrit texts from Turfan kept in Germany, has a verse with high potential in consistency with the Pali Nikaya but not the Chinese Agama. I side with @ruben2020's speculation.

Though neither one is any Sanskit expert, I've done some checking from online Sanskrit and Pali dictionaries, and list the findings here to compare:

Turfen SF155:

1 tadyathā (for example = suppose) | 2 dvau (two) | 3 naḍa-kalā-pāv (reed-kilo?-stalk = bundles of reed) | 4 ākāśe (in the air = open ground) | 5 ucchṛtau (upright/stand? = stand) | 6 syātām (take place = leaning?) | 7 anyonyaṃ (mutually = against each other) | 8 niśṛta (?up)

For example, two bundles of reed in the open ground stand up leaning against each other

Pali SN 12.67:

1 Seyyathāpi | āvuso | 2 dve | 3 naḷa-kalā-piyo (reed/stalk-bundle?-? = bundles of reed) | 7 aññamaññaṃ (mutually = against each other) | ?8 nissāya | ?6 tiṭṭheyyuṃ

Suppose there were two bundles of reeds leaning up against each other.

I speculate the Pali verse only missed the ākāśe (open ground) and ucchṛtau (stand up).

The meaning of the whole verse, especially the word two (SF155 dvau, SN 12.67 dve); and the word before it: for example/suppose (SF155 tadyathā, SN 12.67 Seyyathāpi); the word after it: bundles of reeds (SF155 naḍakalāpāv, SN12.67 naḷakalāpiyo) are agreeing with each other. Therefore it has extreme high potential that the Pali Samyukta Nikaya is much closer to the text of Turfan manuscripts. The Chinese Samyukta Agama is not, especially the corresponding verse rendered as "...three reeds standing on the floor...".

Therefore, from this evidence, it infers that the Pali Samyukta Nikaya is a later version, compared to the Chinese Saṃyukta Āgama.

From a research article written by Renate Nöller and Oliver Hahn (PhD.), on the Turfan manuscripts, it said:

These documents, written in different languages and scripts, reflect the cultural diversity of the people who travelled along trade roads between East and West. Philology has distinguished the manuscripts’ origin from the 6th to the 13th century...

The Pali text is consistent with the Turfan manuscripts dated to 600CE -1300CE.

From Chinese Wikipedia on Samyukta Agama (雜阿含經), I've translated a paragraph that gives more details than the English Wikipedia on Agamas:

The Samyukta Agama was, in Southern Dynasty of Lau-song between the reign titled "Yuan-jia" (a year between 435-443CE), at the Monastery Qí-huán (another saying is at Monastry Wǎ-guān) in County of Yang, recited by Guṇabhadra, Bǎo-yún translated into Han scripts, Huì-guān recorded, in total 50 scrolls. Its origin is not confirmed. In The Chronicles of Triple-gems it recorded, this text was the Samyukta Agama version bought back by Fǎ-xiǎn from Ceylon. Also, other scholars believe poissble bought by Guṇabhadra, from Ceylon or Hindu to China. The modern Sanskrit fragments discovered in Qocho (Gaochang) and Khotan, is in consistency with the Samyukta Agama, therefore the text of Han translation is probably translated from Sanskrit version, and inferred to be transmitted from the Mūlasarvāstivāda school.1

The Chinese translation is dated as 435-443CE. On the corresponding Qocho and Khotan manuscripts, research paper published by the Austrian Academy of Sciences Press said:

Indic and Khotanese Manuscripts: Some New Finds and Findings from Xinjiang:

Discovered mainly in Pakistan and Afghanistan, these finds have opened up fresh and often quite unexpected perspectives on the historical development of this religious and philosophical tradition. Some fragments date from the end of the first millennium BCE, and are therefore older than any manuscripts previously known from the Indian cultural sphere. At the same time their content throws light on the surprising ways in which early strands of Buddhism unfolded. All this has led to intensive philological efforts to preserve this legacy, while simultaneously bringing long-neglected manuscript finds from the last century back into view, and setting off another phase of intensive work on them.

The Qocho and Khotan manuscripts are much older texts than the Turfan manuscripts, among them included the Sanskrit text in consistency with the Chinese Saṃyukta Āgama.

Therefore from record, the Chinese text was translated in 435-443CE, it is corresponding to the Qocho and Khotan manuscripts, some fragments among them dated as ancient as ~1000BCE dated as ancient as end of the 1st millennium BCE. The Pali text has no record to date it, since they claim the oral tradition, but the written text was dated to ~1000-1600CE. However, perhaps the Turfan manuscripts finding could give it a more reliable speculative date to 600CE-1300CE.

It has never come to my mind that enlightened Buddhist ancient masters would modify original version to fit their doctrinal purpose, if there is any difference, it's probably resulted from negligence. However, inspired by @ruben2020: "I would say that most likely the Chinese agama version was modified from the original version which was probably in Sanskrit, or otherwise, in Pali. So, the Pali version is likely to be more accurate and reliable than the Chinese version, in my personal opinion...", I can't help to speculate, if the Pali text was from a later modified version to fit some sects' doctrinal purpose? From my study, the Tambapaṇṇiya (Sanskrit: Tāmraśāṭīya, old Indic name for Sri Lanka) sect was split from the Vibhajyavāda school group [A]. The Vibhajyavādins (those who preached differently), they gained their name by teaching different doctrines from all the others. It wouldn't be a surprise if they needed to modify the texts to justify their doctrines. And Mahāvihāravā who held the Pali Canon transmitted to modern Theravada, was a sub-sect split from Tambapaṇṇiya.

The other point is, as @ruben2020 quoting from Theravada Bhikkhu-scholar, Prof. Analayo to "proves that there has been a precedent for the Chinese Agama to add to or modify the original version". In this case, it just proves that it is highly possible the Pali Nikaya had added to or modified the original version. Meanwhile, I wonder how many wrong assertions have been made by Bhikkhu-scholars like the mistake made by @ruben2020, taking the Turfan manuscripts which dated later than the Chinese Samyukta Agama, to say the Chinese is inconsistent with the archaeological evidence? Though this is ludicrous, like someone mistaken the daughter as the grandma, and then saying the mother has more winkles therefore impossible to be the daughter-made-grandma's daughter. Perhaps Prof. Analayo should study this case, and go back to refine his perspective and recheck if he could have made similar mistakes like @ruben2020.

As an aside, Taking a later manuscript to condemn the Chinese Buddhist text is not an unprecedented activity in the Buddhist academia. From my knowledge, Prof. Jan Netter has done it to the Heart Sutra, taking a Japanese museum Sanskrit text back-translated from Chinese text to condemn Xuanzang "created" the Heart Sutra. There are 6 versions of Heart Sutras some dated earlier than Xuanzang's translation. Would a forger be so stupid to choose it for forgery? Wouldn't there be much better choices out there? Aside from hiccup like this, there yet another sect of Bhikkhu-scholars while using the Chinese Buddhist texts to write their thesis, at the same time never forget to step on them with shoe marks like "the (Chinese) Mahayana text were later works, not from the Buddha". For example, Sariputra-pariprekshya (Śāriputraparipṛcchā Sūtra), while using it in his article, Bhikkhu Sujato never forgot to remark it a later work. It is like someone after feeding himself the food, then spit on it. Not to mentioned there are many mistakes in his article on the Early Buddhist Schools. If he knows Sariputra-pariprekshya belonged to the Mahasamgika Vinaya section? The Japanese scholar has an article to verify its authenticity, but in Chinese text.

We the laymen, our society, are supporting these scholars with more leisure time and freedom so that they can help us to understand the truth and facts, not supporting them to pursue fame by writing eye-catching but misleading articles.

That said, how Buddhism going forward is not my interest, nor my care to promote the Chinese Buddhist texts. From my opinion, Buddhism has already passed its glorious time, what we got are just the leftovers. I just share what I know for those who are interested in the truth and facts, not schools or sects, that's all.

Now we can answer the 3 questions proper.

1. Are these two Sutra/Sutta equivalent but different versions?

Yes. @ruben2020 has detailed answer.

2. If they are equivalent Sutra/Sutta, which is more reliable? Or, more accurate?

The Chinese Samyukta Agama No. 288 is more reliable and accurate. The Pali SN 12.67 is consistent with the Turfan manuscript SF 155 dated as 600-1300CE. But the Chinese No. 288 translated in 435-443CE is consistent with the Qocho and Khotan manuscripts dated as early as the end of 1st millennium BCE. The Chinese Samyukta Agama is an earlier version than the Pali Saṃyutta Nikāya.

3. They obviously have marked disagreement - can three reeds leaning against each others to stand up, or two reeds?

Only three reeds leaning against each others can stand up, two reeds is unlikely: a) from physics, three supporting points are the minimum requirement for stability. b) two reeds will need special method to tie the bundle, as @ruben2020 suggested, tie it as a plank. But then the two planks are not really having 2 supporting points, it is 4. Also, it will require extra works to make the plank, than simply roll up as a bundle.

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While it's pretty sure the 3 questions have been properly answered, what to be concerned is the implication of this study. It is a huge implication. Because it infers that the Pali text with two reeds, instead of three, is a departure of the Buddha's teaching on consciousness. The Pali doctrine on consciousness is the 6 senses corresponding to their 6 consciousnesses, different from the Chinese Mahayana (not all Mahayana(s) are Mahayana of Buddha Shakyamuni's teaching)2 doctrine. From my study, mostly reading information on this forum therefore my understanding is limited and speculative, with this model, it is highly possible that the Pali-nibbana cannot be realized, the arahantship cannot be attained, the 9th Jhana called Nirodha Samapatti cannot be reached, even the 8th and 7th Jhana are in question, from logical inferences. The brief answer is that simply 6 consciousness model cannot arrive at the state of extinction while it lies within The All. Or if it arrives at extinction, it can't lie within The All. The Pali Sabba Sutta has explaint The All, but again, compared it to the Chinese corresponding text, at least from my memory, it missed a phrase on the 12 Āyatanas. But, it's already a lengthy answer, let's skip it for now.

Regarding this issue, some meaningful discussions have been carried out in the chats links in the above question post.

After the afterword

Also a rare case, the OP not only has to answer her own post but choose it as the correct answer. If this answer not appeal to logic, reason and facts, do challenge it. Much appreciated.


1. 《雜阿含經》為南朝劉宋求那跋陀羅在元嘉年間(435年-443年間的某年),於楊都祇洹寺(一說瓦官寺)口誦,寶雲傳譯漢文,慧觀筆錄,共五十卷[10]。其原本來源,未有定論。《歷代三寶紀》中記載,此本是法顯由錫蘭取回的雜阿含經本。也有学者認為可能是由求那跋陀羅,從天竺或錫蘭帶至中國[11][12]。現代在高昌及于闐發現的梵文片斷,與現存《雜阿含經》一致,因此漢譯本可能是由梵文本譯出,推定為根本说一切有部所傳[13]。

2. Chinese Mahayana does NOT register: a) Tantra practice; b) root-guru; c) precept or vow of Samaye; d) later texts "revealed" or procured in mystic locations called Terma; e) tale of Nagarjuna discovered "Mahayana" (Tantra) Sutras from the iron pagoda of the Southern Sky or from Naga's Palace or the sort; f) reincarnation of alleged "buddha" and re-reincarnates again and again across centuries, to serve as the godhead of the religious and political power; g) a bhiksu can enter marriage and take wife, or a upasaka/upasika-teacher (the white-clothes) engages in extramarital affairs or with multiple partners; h) a upasaka/upasika-teacher not abiding in bodhisattva vow therefore eating meat and drinking alchohol, except with health or special reason... etc.

That said, some self-designated "Mahayanist(s)" are also NOT registered because what they written are inconsistent with the Chinese Mahayana Sutras. They are only skillful with their plays of words, borrowing Mahayana terms which they don't understand, glazing with ambiguous sentences, or idiosyncratic but in fact illogical arguments.

Revision Changelogs/ Remarks:

On 16/03/2019

[A] About Vibhajyavāda, the forefather of modern Theravada:

Vibhajyavāda was NOT one of the Early 18/20 Buddhist Schools according to Sariputra-pariprekshya and all other related texts on schools therefore it should be termed as "group", instead of school. Vibhajyavāda was a band of Vibhajyavādins (partisans) split from few Early 18/20 Buddhist Schools, they preached doctrines different from the original Buddhist schools. The Sarvāstivādins, a branch from Sthaviravāda, called the Vibhajyavādins heretics also citing their teachings were toxic and harmful.

According to Samantapāsādikā, the Pali Vinaya, (translated into Chinese in 489CE and kept as an archive only. The existing Pali version has additional 2nd half not found in the Chinese translation, probably later texts added after 489CE), Moggaliputta-Tissa was the founder of Tambapaṇṇiya Sect himself a Vibhajyavādin. Tambapaṇṇiya (Sanskrit: Tāmraśāṭīya) was ancient name for Sri Lanka. Moggaliputta-Tissa was not the son of Buddha's disciple Maudgalyāyana (Pali: Moggallāna) but a Brahmin turned Buddhist and well versed in Vedas. He made the king answered that the Buddha was a "Vibhajyavādin", playing the double meanings of the Sanskrit word Vibhajyavādin - analyst vs separatist, while separatists or partisans were the Vibhajyavādins being condemned of.

It is my speculation that since the Vibhajyavādins were rejected by the main schools therefore they went to more remote areas to establish and spread their new doctrines. Ancient Ceylon could be ideal location to forge their base since it's an island isolated from the Indian subcontinent, information and news were more difficult to reach there thus they could easily cultivate the people to embrace their new doctrines and interpretations.

The Early 18/20 Buddhist Schools should be regarded as necessary branches as a result of the spreading of Buddhism after the Buddha entered nirvana. Like modern day, a successful brand will open branch offices worldwide.

On 22/02/2019

  1. Have made minor editions to typos and formats only.
  2. On accepting your own answer, the (former) Co-founder Jeff Atwood said, "Hey, look at that, I just accepted my own answer!" because "a picture is worth a thousand words".

  3. The current score (-2) doesn't reflect the quality of this answer, it only reflects the quality of this forum: buddhism.stackexchange.
  4. The major addition is on explaining the term "Mahayana" in this post, in footnote 2.
  5. Taken @ChrisW comment, rephrase the date of Qocho and Khotan manuscripts to end of the 1st millennium BCE instead of ~1000BCE.
  • I marked this answer down because in the teaching of dependent origination there are 12 conditions. One condition is consciousness and another condition is nama-rupa. In other words, there are not 13 conditions, with consciousness one condition, nama another condition and rupa another condition. Feb 15, 2019 at 21:11
  • 1
    Sorry, you can't answer your own question and then accept it, this is completely unacceptable behavior.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Feb 15, 2019 at 21:34
  • 1
    The "end" of the first millennium is around 100 BCE not around 1000 BCE.
    – ChrisW
    Feb 16, 2019 at 9:40
  • Dating the Pali to 600 CE because it's similar to a manuscript dated 600 CE doesn't make sense to me -- because the Turfen manuscript is/was meant to be a "modern" reproduction of an older original.
    – ChrisW
    Feb 16, 2019 at 9:40
  • Similarly saying "there are Qocho and Khotan manuscripts" is comparing the ages of the oldest discovered/preserved copies -- and it's not about this specific sutta.
    – ChrisW
    Feb 16, 2019 at 9:44

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