SuttaCentral: the Upayika

Following the launch of SuttaCentral, I’d like to do a series of blog posts to discuss various aspects of the site. I’ll be picking topics more or less at random, and posting them when I can. If there’s anything about the site you’d like to know more of, let me know.

For today, let’s look a little bit at one of the texts that is likely to be new, even to those who have some knowledge of the suttas. That is a text called the Upayika. You can access it straight from the front page of SuttaCentral: or at least you can access the bits that we have ready.

The Upayika is a collection of quotes from the early suttas that was gathered by a monk called Śamathadeva, who probably lived in India sometime after the 5th century. The full name is Abhidharmakośopāyikanāmaṭīkā, so you’ll appreciate that we use the abbreviated form! The Upayika is sort of like a reader’s assistent for the great work of Vasubandhu, the Abhidharmakośa. The Kośa frequently refers to suttas from the early Āgamas, but it assumes the reader knows them (or has access to them). So Śamathadeva took it upon himself to hunt down those references and compile them in one text.

The original was composed in Sanskrit, and includes texts from the Mūlasarvāstivādin school. The Sanskrit no longer exists, but it was translated into Tibetan by a monk called Jāyaśrī, probably around the 11th century. Even though the work as a whole is of late date, even a casual perusal of the texts reveals that it simply copies out the Āgama texts as is, and in doing so provides an invaluable source of many texts that are otherwise unknown, or known only in Chinese translations. It is one of the major sources of early Buddhist texts in the Tibetan canon.

Modern work on the text has been mainly by a Japanese scholar called Honjo. His work has been taken up and brought to the English speaking world by Samaneri Dhammadinna, formerly Giuliana Martini. She’s working at Dharma Drum mountain in Taiwan. She has published a number of articles, with excellent studies of the texts, as well as some translations. She is working on a more complete edition and translation of the text, and we look forward to continue working with her as this long-term project develops.

So far, we only have a few of the Upayika texts listed as parallels, and even fewer translations. Confident that the work is in good hands, we hope to extend our coverage of this important work in the not-too distant future. In the meantime, you can check out the translations that we have, and if you’re interested to learn more about this fascinating collection, the links to Samaneri Dhammadinna’s full essays on the texts are provided on the translation pages.

6 thoughts on “SuttaCentral: the Upayika

  1. Dear Bhante

    This is great. I am really happy to have such a great piece of work to help me with my Dhamma.

    Sorry I have not been able to come to your class I really miss it but all conditions have not been suitable.

    I am moving, downsizing but same contacts as I will be in Mudgeeraba.

    With much appreciation

    Sister Susila

  2. Dear Ajahn Sujato

    I didn’t find your e-mail address so I just ask my question here. I’m very interested of your text posted on January 28, 2012 entitled “Why Buddhist Should be Vegetarian?” I wanted to translate this from English into Polish and post on my friend’s website ( – Buddhist translations). It’s a excellent Dharma talk and “One Breath” also – I like both 🙂 I don’t know how it is in Australia, but in Poland sugar is absolutely vegan. That is written on polish vegan website, that animal bones are not used since 2005. So this is my first question about permission.

    The second one is… 🙂
    I’m just wondered what do you think about Bhikkhuṇī ordination in Amaravati? I’m candidate for anagarika ordination in Amaravati, and on last week I visited Amaravati and talked with one of the Ajahans about this and I repeated him what Ajahn Brahm said about this: “You have to have 70% acceptance in the Sangha of one particular monastery, you don’t have to have wholehearted support”, so Ajahn said to me: “Oh, it have to be 100% agreement in the Sangha.” I really wanted to know what you think about it, it’s possible? Of course I believe that is possible, but people generally like to say: “Forget about it, it’s too difficult to do that. Anyway they are still in better position than mae chee in Thailand.” I’m ready to take anagarika ordination, but not because that I want to become a monk. I want to put Buddha’s teachings into practice. Actually this way of understanding ordination come from Ajahn Sundara and I’m grateful to her for this.

    So, Ajahn Sujato please reply to my questions, because I really wanted to know your opinion, especially about the second question.

    With metta

    • Hi Marcin,

      You’re most welcome to translate and republish any of my articles as you wish. Send us a link when it’s online!

      You imply that has Buddhist translations , but I can’t find the website. Do you know, are there any Polish translations of the Suttas available?

      Regarding ordination, the 70% statement is not correct, I think there must be a misunderstanding somewhere. According to Vinaya, in order to perform any major Act of the Sangha, it is necessary to have the consensus of the Sangha. Majority rule only applies in a few marginal cases, where it is unavoidable.

      Consensus, however, is cearly defined and limited in the Vinaya. It means that all the bhikkhus (or bhikkhunis) inside the monastic boundary (sīmā) at the time of the ordination consent to the procedure. It does not mean that all the Sangha in the world, or in one’s tradition, or even all those living in the monastery have to consent. It is perfectly fine to go ahead with any act of the Sangha as long as it is in accord with the Dhamma and has the consent of the bhikkus/bhikkhunis present.

      In fact, it is more than fine, it is a duty of the Sangha to perform acts such as ordination. The Vinaya says that if a bhikkhuni ordination is being performed in another monastery a monk, if he is able, should go to assist, even if he is not invited, much more so if he is invited. This applies even more to Acts of the Sangha held in a monastery, where it is regarded as a sacred duty to attend, to participate in a reasonable and supportive way, and to give consent to any legal act of the Sangha that is being carried out in line with Dhamma.

      In the case of a monastery where not all the monastics consented to a bhikkhuni ordination, it would be less conventional, but still entirely legal, for the opposing monks to recuse themselves from the ordination. To do this they would simply have to leave the sīmā for the time of the ordination. (In most modern monasteries the sīmā is around the main Dhamma hall or a secondary hall that is built for this purpose.)

      Compare what happened in the Anglican church in Australia a couple of years ago. When the Canberra diocese wanted to ordain a female bishop, they ran into trouble because they formally come under the jurisdiction of the Sydney diocese, which, as is well known, is a radically conservative movement strongly committed to opposing ordination for women. Nevertheless, despite the extreme views of the Sydney Anglicans they agreed to turn a blind eye to the ordination in Canberra, which went ahead without fuss.

      So there is no legal, Vinaya, or practical reason for the monks at Amaravati to oppose bhikkhuni ordination. If they think it’s the right thing to do, then they can do it.

    • Thanks, that’s very interesting. It seems the Polish translations are made using Ven Thanissaro’s English translations as a basis, at least in some cases.

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