Thoughts on the Authenticity of Digha Nikaya 2:
"The Fruits of the Spiritual Life"

This is an opinion piece.
I have nothing to back up any of this other than my own gut feelings.

For the following to make any sense at all, you need to read, or at least be very familiar with, DN 2: The Fruits of the Spiritual Life. Click the link and read Bhikkhu Bodhi's excellent translation before proceeding any further.

So now, having familiarized yourself with the sutta, the question might arise, "How authentic is the story told here, did it actually happen - and happen as described?" Here are my current thoughts on the "chapters" in Bhikkhu Bodhi's translation. What I've written is the most optimistic account IF the events ever did indeed occur. I will grant that maybe the whole sutta is a later fabrication, but on the chance that an historical event underlies the sutta, here is what I think that event would have been.

The Statements of the Ministers

Maybe. The King's joyful exclamation could have been the prompt setting the whole event in motion. That would of course set off a clamor among the ministers to champion "their guy."

The Statement of Jivaka Komarabhacca

If the sutta reflects an historical account, Jivika is the only one who could have related everything that happened before the King arrives at Jivika's Mango grove. And he would have quite likely been the one to suggest the visit to the Buddha since he was both a follower of the Buddha and the royal physician.

The "500" elephants and "500" women of the court should NOT be taken literally! "500" should be read as "a whole bunch" - at most a couple of dozen elephants.

The Question on the Fruits of Recluseship

Yes - something close to this. But the "if only my son could experience such peace" is a literary foreshadowing and almost certainly a later insertion.

The Doctrine of Purana Kassapa
The Doctrine of Makkhali Gosala
The Doctrine of Ajita Kesakambala
The Doctrine of Pakudha Kaccayana
The Doctrine of Nigantha Nataputta
The Doctrine of Sanjaya Belatthaputta

Never happened! Maybe if something like it transpired it went:

"Great King, have you ever asked this of any other recluse or brahmin?"
"Yes, but they just preached their doctrine at me and never got around to answering my question. It was like asking for a mango and being given a breadfruit."

(And definitely not "or asking for a breadfruit and being given a mango" - tho that was what happened when the King received the teachings from the Buddha!)

The First Visible Fruit of Recluseship
The Second Visible Fruit of Recluseship


The More Excellent Fruits of Recluseship


The Small Section on Moral Discipline
The Intermediate Section on Moral Discipline
The Large Section on Moral Discipline

These 3 stepped on whatever was there originally. I suspect it was just little more than a quick summary of precepts followed by

"Great king, the bhikkhu who is ... possessed of moral discipline sees no danger anywhere in regard to his restraint by moral discipline. Just as a head-anointed noble warrior who has defeated his enemies sees no danger anywhere from his enemies, so the bhikkhu who is thus possessed of moral discipline sees no danger anywhere in regard to his restraint by moral discipline. Endowed with this noble aggregate of moral discipline, he experiences within himself a blameless happiness. In this way, great king, the bhikkhu is possessed of moral discipline."

Not much more than this. Clearly the King is not interested in hearing any details of how to make breadfruit appealing!

All 3 morality sections were insert one by one over a longer period of time.

Restraint of the Sense Faculties
Mindfulness and Clear Comprehension

Probably a little more than, but not much more than:

"Endowed with this noble aggregate of moral discipline, this noble restraint over the sense faculties, this noble mindfulness and clear comprehension, and this noble contentment, he resorts to a secluded dwelling -- a forest, the foot of a tree, a mountain, a glen, a hillside cave, a cremation ground, a jungle grove, the open air, a heap of straw. After returning from his alms-round, following his meal, he sits down, crosses his legs, holds his body erect, and sets up mindfulness before him."

The Abandoning of the Hindrances

Briefer than what we have, but probably at least a little mention.

The First Jhana
The Second Jhana
The Third Jhana
The Fourth Jhana

Since these are the fruits the King is seeking, I think they were certainly described in some amount of detail. Whether as elaborate as given, who knows. Since all jhana descriptions became one stock phrase, I doubt we can ever have any idea of what the Buddha actually said about them to the King.

Insight Knowledge

Yes. But again, all we have is a stock phrase.

The Knowledge of the Mind-made Body
The Knowledge of the Modes of Supernatural Power
The Knowledge of the Divine Ear
The Knowledge of Encompassing the Minds of Others

Since these would have impressed the King, they might have been mentioned. But I find all supernormal passages suspect, and quite possibly later insertions. Especially in light of DN 11: Kevaddha Sutta.

The Knowledge of Recollecting Past Lives
The Knowledge of the Divine Eye

Supernormal, but in a different class. Still quite possibly later insertions.

The Knowledge of the Destruction of the Cankers

Yes, since this is the ultimate fruit. But I think the 4 Noble Truths are a later insertion - originally it was only the Āsavas.

King Ajatasattu Declares Himself a Lay Follower

Confession is good for the soul - and for sleep apparently.

We know Ajatasattu was formerly a follower of Devadatta. If indeed he became a follower of the Buddha, this story can explain how that happened. Two things point to the conversion as having happened:

  1. The 1st Council was held just outside Rajagaha - clearly Buddhism was being supported in Magadha at the time of the Buddha's death.

  2. Ajatasattu did not begin his wars of conquest until after the Buddha died. Was that only because he was busy building his new capital? Or did he restrain himself because he knew the Buddha would not approve? Or did it just take that long to undermine his neighbors enough for them to be weak enough to conquer?
Anyhow, these are my current thoughts.
-- Leigh Brasington, 8 november, 2021

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