Dharma Pearls

Translating Classical Buddhism to Modern English

The Long Discourses

(Skt. Dīrgha Āgama; Ch. 長阿含經)

The Chinese translation of The Long Discourses is a collection of important early Buddhist sutras that’s roughly equivalent to the Pali canon’s Dīgha Nikāya. Scholars believe from internal and other evidence that it represents a translation from the Indian Dharmaguptaka canon, which is closely related to the Pali canon in scriptural lineage. It would explain, among other things, the large amount of overlap that we see between the two collections.

Below is a list of the English translations currently available with brief synopses of their contents. Pali equivalents are listed in () and the source text is indicated in [].

DĀ 4 Janavṛṣabha (∥ DN 18) [T 1.34b5]

An episode from the Parinirvāṇa Sutra (DĀ 2) is taken up in this sutra, giving more background story. Ānanda wonders why the Buddha hasn’t described the rebirths of devotees from Magadha who’ve passed away, especially the late King Bimbisāra. He urges the Buddha to do so. Afterward, the Buddha encounters a yakṣa spirit named Janavṛṣabha who claims to be have been a former disciple and a king. He tells the Buddha a series of stories about the gods, which the Buddha recounts to Ānanda later.

DĀ 5 Smaller Teaching on Origination (∥ DN 27) [T 1.36b29]

Two priests who converted to the Buddha’s teaching pay him a visit and detail the verbal abuse they’d endured from the other priests. The Buddha agrees that the priests as quite arrogant, then gives the two a teaching on the dependent origination of human civilization and the four castes of ancient India.

DĀ 6 The Noble Wheel-Turning King’s Cultivation (∥ DN 26) [T 1.39a22]

The Buddha tells the monks to light themselves with the Dharma and make it their refuge. He then relates an elaborate story describing the way the noble wheel-turning kings cultivate the correct teaching that allows them to conquer the world peacefully and maintain that peace in the way they rule. When that teaching is lost, the world descends into immorality and barbarism because the wheel-turning kings forget how to rule properly. After a cycle ending in a genocidal war, people reverse course and rediscover morality and civilization. The story ends with a brief description of the Buddha Maitreya arising. All of this is then revealed as a metaphor for a monk’s spiritual cultivation, which conquers Mara.

DĀ 8 Sandhāna (∥ DN 25) [T 1.47a18]

The layman Sandhāna decides to visit the non-Buddhist wanderers at a nearby grove before paying a visit to the Buddha and asks them why they are so noisy and talk about non-spiritual topics. When their leader insults the Buddha, the Buddha overhears it with his heavenly ear and decides to intervene. He gives the wanderers an talk on the good and bad of their various ascetic practices. When they are about to be converted, Māra intervenes to prevent it.

DĀ 9 The Gathered Saṅgha (∥ DN 33) [T 1.49b27]

On a full moon day, the Saṅgha gathers around the Buddha after he tours the land of the Mallas and stops at a grove near Pāvā. He teaches this large gathering well into the night until he’s forced to retire because of a backache. The audience hasn’t become sleepy, though, so he asks Śāriputra to continue teaching them and lies down nearby. Śāriputra proceeds to recite a long collection of the Buddha’s teachings in numerical order.

DĀ 11 Increasing One by One [T 1.57b25]

This mātṛkā sutra is an abbreviated version of the Going Up to Ten Sutra (Skt. Daśottara, P. Dasuttara), listing five sets of items (instead of ten) that number from one to ten items each.

DĀ 12 Three Categories [T 1.59b14]

This is another mātṛkā sutra that lists three sets of items that ascend from one to ten items each. The three categories are things that lead to bad destinies, things that lead to good destinies, and things that lead to Nirvāṇa.

DĀ 13 The Great Method of Conditionality (∥ DN 15) [T 1.60a29]

Ānanda has an epiphany about the profundity of the Buddha’s teaching of dependent origination and asks the Buddha about it. The Buddha gives him a lengthy discourse that covers the classic chain of twelve dependent originations and also three other chains of dependent origination. Liberation by wisdom and in both ways is also discussed using the topics of views about self, the abodes of consciousness, and the eight liberations.

DĀ 16 Sujata (∥ DN 31) [T 1.70a20]

While heading into Rājagṛha to solicit alms, the Buddha encounters a man named Sujata performing a ritual of bowing to six different directions. He stops and asks him why he’s doing this, and the man explains that his father had asked him to do it from his deathbed. The Buddha proceeds to give him a teaching that uses the six directions to represent various relationships that a householder has in life, which amounts to a detailed outline of ethics for a lay person centered on reciprocal relationships.

DĀ 18 Personal Gladness (∥ DN 28) [T 1.76b24]

While in contemplation, Śāriputra realizes that no other ascetic or priest has ever or will ever surpass the Buddha’s teaching. When he tells the Buddha about this, the Buddha questions him about how he knows this. Śāriputra gives the Buddha a long list of reasons he can surmise that the Buddha’s teaching is the best, which serves as a summary of the Dharma.

DĀ 21 Brahmā’s Shaking (∥ DN 1) [T 1.88b13]

A pair of ascetics disagree in their assessment of the Buddha, one praising him while the other criticizes him. When the Buddha overhears the monks discussing this, he joins them and gives them a teaching on why they shouldn’t react to criticism or praise. In the process, he outlines 62 wrong views that non-Buddhists create when they speculate about the past and future.

DĀ 22 Śroṇatāṇḍya (∥ DN 4) [T 1.94a18]

When the people of Campā hear that the Buddha and his disciples have arrived, they all decide to go and pay their respects to him. The local lord, a priest named Śroṇatāṇḍya decided to go with them. After a debate with a group of priests over the wisdom of doing this, Śroṇatāṇḍya talks with the Buddha, who questions him about which qualities are essential to being a priest. They agree that precepts and wisdom are essential to being a priest or a monk.

DĀ 24 Dhruva (∥ DN 11) [T 1.101b15]

A layman named Dhruva encourages the Buddha to instruct the monks to impress people with displays of miraculous abilities, but the Buddha demurs, saying that it would be unwise. He then tells Dhruva the story of Asvajit’s search throughout the heavens for a god who knows how to cease the four elements of the body forever. Failing to find any answers, he returns to the Buddha, who likens him to a mariner’s bird used to spot land when out to sea. Asvajit gets his answer in the form of a pair of famous verses.

DĀ 25 The Naked Wanderer (∥ DN 8) [T 1.102c25]

A Non-Buddhist wandering ascetic from the Kāśyapa clan pays the Buddha a visit and asks about the allegation that the Buddha had denounced all the traditional practices of self-mortification and those who practiced them. The Buddha gives him a teaching about the difference between his method and that of self-mortifying ascetics.

DĀ 27 The Fruits of the Ascetics (∥ DN 2) [T 1.107a20]

King Ajātaśatru decides to visit the Buddha on an auspicious full moon night with his brother Jīvaka. He asks the Buddha what the fruits of the ascetic life are in the present and relates the various responses he received from the six heretical teachers.

DĀ 29 Lohitya (∥ DN 12) [T 1.112c20]

A priestly lord named Lohitya hears that the famous mendicant teacher Gautama has stopped nearby. He decides to meet the Buddha, so he invites him to share a meal at his residence. When the Buddha gives him an unrequested Dharma teaching, however, Lothitya is offended and forms a wrong view that religious teachers shouldn’t teach others for their own gain.