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:
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
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.
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.
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:
[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.
- Have made minor editions to typos and formats only.
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".
- The current score (-2) doesn't reflect the quality of this answer, it only reflects the quality of this forum: buddhism.stackexchange.
- The major addition is on explaining the term "Mahayana" in this post, in footnote 2.
- Taken @ChrisW comment, rephrase the date of Qocho and Khotan manuscripts to end of the 1st millennium BCE instead of ~1000BCE.