Majjhima Nikāya | Suttas of Pali Canon


Majjhima Nikāya | Middle Length Discourses

The Majjhima Nikāya is the second collection of the Buddha's discourses found in the Sutta Pitaka of the Pali Canon.

Its title means literally the Middle Collection, or Collection of Middle-length Discourses and it is so called because the suttas it contains are generally of middle length,

compared with the longer suttas of the Dīgha Nikāya, which precedes it, and the shorter suttas making up the two major collections that follow it, the Samyutta Nikāya and the Aṅguttara Nikāya.

The Majjhima Nikāya consists of 152 suttas. These are divided into 3 parts called Sets of Fifty (paṇṇāsa), though the last set actually contains 52 suttas.

Within each part the suttas are further grouped into chapters or divisions (vagga) of 10 suttas each, the next to the last division containing 20 suttas.

The names assigned to these divisions are often derived solely from the titles of their opening sutta (or, in some cases, pair of suttas) and thus are scarcely indicative of the material found within the divisions themselves.

A partial exception is the Middle Fifty, where the division titles usually refer to the principal type of interlocutor or key figure in each of the suttas they contain. Even then the connection between the title and the contents is sometimes tenuous.

The entire system of classification appears to have been devised more for the purpose of convenience than because of any essential homogeneity of subject matter in the suttas comprised under a single division.

There is also no particular pedagogical sequence in the suttas, no unfolding development of thought.

Thus while different suttas illuminate each other and one will fill in ideas merely suggested by another, virtually any sutta may be taken up for individual study and will be found comprehensible on its own. Of course, the study of the entire compilation will naturally yield the richest harvest of understanding.

If the Majjhima Nikāya were to be characterised by a single phrase to distinguish it from among the other books of the Pali Canon,

this might be done by describing it as the collection that combines the richest variety of contextual settings with the deepest and most comprehensive assortment of teachings.

Like the Dīgha Nikāya, the Majjhima is replete with drama and narrative, while lacking much of its predecessor's tendency towards imaginative embellishment and profusion of legend.

Like the Samyutta, it contains some of the profoundest discourses in the Canon, disclosing the Buddha's radical insights into the nature of existence;

and like the Aṅguttara, it covers a wide range of topics of practical applicability.

In contrast to those two Nikāyas, however, the Majjhima sets forth this material not in the form of short, self-contained utterances,

but in the context of a fascinating procession of scenarios that exhibit the Buddha's resplendence of wisdom, his skill in adapting his teachings to the needs and proclivities of his interlocutors, his wit and gentle humour, his majestic sublimity, and his compassionate humanity.

- Naturally most of discourses in the Majjhima are addressed to the bhikkhus - the monks - since they lived in closest proximity to the Master and had followed him into homelessness to take upon them his complete course of training.

But in the Majjhima we do not meet the Buddha only in His role as head of the Order.

- Repeatedly we see him engaged in living dialogue with people from the many different strata of ancient Indian society - with kings and princes, with Brahmins and ascetics, with simple villagers and erudite philosophers, with earnest seekers and vain disputants.

It is perhaps in this scripture above all others that the Buddha emerges in the role ascribed to him in the canonical verse of homage to the Blessed One as "the incomparable leader of persons to be tamed, the teacher of gods and humans."

It is not the Buddha alone who appears in the Majjhima in the role of teacher:

The work also introduces us to the accomplished disciples he produced who carried on the transmission of his teaching:

Of the 152 suttas in the collection, 9 are spoken by the venerable Sāriputta, the General of the Dhamma; three of these (MN 9, MN 28, MN 141) have become basic texts for the study of Buddhist doctrine in monastic schools throughout the Theravada Buddhist world.

The venerable Ananda, the Buddha's personal attendant during the last 25 years of his life, delivers 7 suttas and participates in many more.

4 suttas are spoken by the venerable Maha Kaccāna, who excelled in elaborating upon the brief but enigmatic sayings of the Master,

and 2 by the second chief disciple, the venerable Maha Moggallāna, one of which (MN 15) has been recommended for a monk's daily reflections.

A dialogue between the venerable Sāriputta and the venerable Puṇṇa Mantāṇiputta (MN 24) explores a scheme of 7 stages of purification that was to form the outline for Ācārya Buddhaghosa great treatise on the Buddhist path, the Viśuddhi Magga.

Another dialogue (MN 44) introduces the bhikkhunī Dhammadinna, whose replies to a series of probing questions were so adroit that the Buddha sealed them for posterity with the words "I would have explained it to you in the same way."

The formats of the suttas are also highly variegated:

The majority take the form of discourses proper, expositions of the teaching that pour forth uninterrupted from the mouth of the Enlightened One.

A few among these are delivered in a series of unadorned instructional propositions or guidelines to practice,

but most are interlaced with striking similes and parables, which flash through and light up the dense mass of doctrine in ways that impress it deeply upon the mind.

Other suttas unfold in dialogue and discussion, and in some the dramatic or narrative element predominates:

Perhaps the best known and most widely appreciated among these is the Aṅgulimāla Sutta (MN 86), which relates how the Buddha subdued the notorious bandit Aṅgulimāla and transformed him into an enlightened saint.

Equally moving, though in a different way, is the story of Raṭṭhapāla (MN 82), the youth of wealthy family whose precocious insight into the universality of suffering was so compelling that he was prepared to die rather than accept his parents' refusal to permit him to go forth into homelessness.

Several suttas centre upon debate, and these highlight the Buddha's wit and delicate sense of irony as well as his dialectical skills. Particular mention might be made of MN 35 and MN 56, with their subtle humour leavening the seriousness of their contents.

In a class of its own is the Brahmanimantanika Sutta (MN 49), in which the Buddha visits the Brahma-world to detach a deluded deity from his illusions of grandeur

and soon finds himself locked in a gripping contest with Mara the Evil One - an inconceivable alliance of Divinity and Devil defending the sanctity of being against the Buddha's call for deliverance into Nibbāna, the cessation of being.

Majjhima Nikāya

(Mūlapaṇṇāsa Pāḷi)

(Mūlapariyāya vagga)

1. Mūlapariyāya Sutta: The Root of All Things
2. Sabbāsava Sutta: All the Taints
4. Bhayabherava Sutta: Fear and Dread
5. Anaṅgaṇa Sutta: Without Blemishes
6. Ākaṅkheyya Sutta: If a Bhikkhu Should Wish
9. Sammādiṭṭhi Sutta: Right View
10. Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta: the Foundations of Mindfulness

(Sīhanāda vagga)

13. Mahādukkhakkhandha Sutta: The Greater Discourse on the Mass of Suffering
14. Cūḷadukkhakkhandha Sutta: The Shorter Discourse on the Mass of Suffering
18. Madhupiṇḍika Sutta: The Honey Ball
19. Dvedāvitakka Sutta: Two Kinds of Thought
20. Vitakkasaṇṭhāna Sutta: The Removal of Distracting Thoughts

(Tatiya vagga)

21. Kakacūpama Sutta: The Simile of the Saw
22. Alagaddūpama Sutta: The Simile of the Snake.
24. Rathavinīta Sutta: The Relay Chariots
26. Ariyapariyesanā Sutta: The Noble Search
27. Cūḷahatthipadopama Sutta: The Shorter Discourse on the Simile of the Elephant's Footprint
28. Mahāhatthipadopama Sutta: The Greater Discourse on the Simile of the Elephant's Footprint
29. Mahāsāropama Sutta: The Greater Discourse on the Simile of the Heartwood
30. Cūḷasāropama Sutta: The Shorter Discourse on the Simile of the Heartwood

(Mahāyamaka vagga)

33. Mahāgopālaka Sutta: The Greater Discourse on the Cowherd
35. Cūḷasaccaka Sutta: The Shorter Discourse to Saccaka
36. Mahāsaccaka Sutta: The Greater Discourse to Saccaka.
38. Mahātaṇhāsaṅkhaya Sutta: The Greater Discourse on the Destruction of Craving
39. Mahā-Assapura Sutta: The Greater Discourse at Assapura

(Cūḷayamaka vagga)

41. Sāḷeyyaka Sutta: The Brahmins of Sāla
43. Mahāvedalla Sutta: The Greater Series of Questions and Answers
44. Cūḷavedalla Sutta: The Shorter Series of Questions and Answers
45. Cūḷadhammasamādāna Sutta: The Shorter Discourse on Ways of Undertaking Things
48. Kosambiya Sutta: The Kosambians
49. Brahmanimantanika Sutta: The Invitation of a Brahma

(Majjhimapaṇṇāsa Pāḷi)

(Gahapati vagga)

52. Aṭṭhakanāgara Sutta: The Man from Aṭṭhakanāgara
53. Sekha Sutta: The Disciple in Higher Training
54. Potaliya Sutta: To Potaliya
57. Kukkuravatika Sutta: The Dog-duty Ascetic
58. Abhayarājakumāra Sutta: To Prince Abhaya
59. Bahuvedanīya Sutta: The Many Kinds of Feeling
60. Apaṇṇaka Sutta: The Incontrovertible Teaching

(Bhikkhu vagga)

61. Ambalaṭṭhikarāhulovāda Sutta: Advice to Rāhula at Ambalaṭṭhikā
62. Mahārāhulovāda Sutta: The Greater Discourse of Advice to Rāhula
63. Cūḷamālunkya Sutta: The Shorter Discourse to Mālunkyaputta
66. Laṭukikopama Sutta: The Simile of the Quail
70. Kīṭāgiri Sutta: At Kīṭāgiri.

3. The division on wanderers
(Paribbājaka vagga)

72. Aggivaccha Gotta Sutta: To Vacchagotta on Fire
74. Dīghanakha Sutta: To Dīghanakha
75. Māgaṇḍiya Sutta: To Māgaṇḍiya
78. Samaṇamuṇḍikā Sutta: Son of Samaṇamuṇḍika -

(Rāja vagga)

82. Raṭṭhapāla Sutta: On Raṭṭhapāla
86. Aṅgulimāla Sutta: On Aṅgulimāla
87. Piyajātika Sutta: Born from Those Who Are Dear
90. Kaṇṇakatthala Sutta: At Kaṇṇakatthala

(Brāhmaṇa vagga)

93. Assalāyana Sutta: To Assalāyana
95. Caṅkī Sutta: With Caṅkī
97. Dhanañjānī Sutta: To Dhanañjānī

(Uparipaṇṇāsa Pāḷi)

(Devadaha vagga)

101. Devadaha Sutta: At Devadaha
102. Pañcattaya Sutta: The Five and Three
105. Sunakkhatta Sutta: To Sunakkhatta
106. Āneñjasappāya Sutta: The Way to the Imperturbable
108. Gopaka Moggallāna Sutta: With Gopaka Moggallāna
109. Mahāpuṇṇama Sutta: The Greater Discourse on the Full-moon Night
110. Cūḷapuṇṇama Sutta: The Shorter Discourse on the Full-moon Night

(Anupada vagga)

111. Anupada Sutta: One by One As They Occurred
113. Sappurisa Sutta: The True Man
117. Mahācattārīsaka Sutta: The Great Forty
118. Ānāpānasati Sutta: Mindfulness of Breathing
119. Kāyagatāsati Sutta: Mindfulness of the Body

(Suññata vagga)

121. Cūḷasuññata Sutta: The Shorter Discourse on Voidness
122. Mahāsuññata Sutta: The Greater Discourse on Voidness
126. Bhūmija Sutta: Bhūmija
130. Devadūta Sutta: The Divine Messengers

(Vibhaṅga vagga)

131. Bhaddekaratta Sutta: One Fortunate Attachment
135. Cūḷakamma vibhaṅga Sutta: The Shorter Exposition of Action
136. Mahākamma vibhaṅga Sutta: The Greater Exposition of Action
137. Saḷāyatana vibhaṅga Sutta: The Exposition of the Six-fold Base
138. Uddesa vibhaṅga Sutta: The Exposition of a Summary.
140. Dhātu vibhaṅga Sutta: The Exposition of the Elements
141. Sacca vibhaṅga Sutta: The Exposition of the Truths

(Saḷāyatana vagga)

143. Anāthapiṇḍikovāda Sutta: Advice to Anāthapiṇḍika
146. Nandakovāda Sutta: Advice from Nandaka
147. Cūḷarāhulovāda Sutta: The Shorter Discourse of Advice to Rāhula
148. Chachakka Sutta: The Six Sets of Six
149. Mahāsaḷāyatanika Sutta: The Great Six-fold Base
152. Indriya-bhāvanā Sutta: The Development of the Faculties

Once the Blessed One was staying at Kosambī in the siṁsapā forest. Then, picking up a few siṁsapā leaves with his hand, he asked the monks,

“What do you think, monks? Which are more numerous, the few siṁsapā leaves in my hand or those overhead in the siṁsapā forest?”

“The leaves in the hand of the Blessed One are few in number, lord. Those overhead in the forest are far more numerous.”

“In the same way, monks, those things that I have known with direct knowledge but haven’t taught are far more numerous (than what I have taught). And why haven’t I taught them? Because they aren’t connected with the goal, don’t relate to the rudiments of the holy life, and don’t lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to stilling, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to unbinding. That’s why I haven’t taught them.

“And what have I taught? ‘This is stress … This is the origination of stress … This is the cessation of stress … This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress’: This is what I have taught. And why have I taught these things? Because they are connected with the goal, relate to the rudiments of the holy life, and lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to stilling, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to unbinding. This is why I have taught them.”

—SN 56:31