Buddhist Studies Review, Vol 35, No 1-2 (2018)

The Alagaddūpama Sutta as a Scriptural Source for Understanding the Distinctive Philosophical Standpoint of Early Buddhism

P. D. Premasiri
Issued Date: 8 Jan 2019


The Alagaddūpama Sutta is the 22nd discourse of the Majjhima-nikāya of the Pali canon. In the sutta itself it is mentioned that the Buddha’s delivery of this discourse was necessitated by the need to refute a wrong view held by one of his disciples named Ariṭṭha. Parallel versions of the sutta are found preserved in the Chinese Āgamas. The two main similes used in the sutta, those of the snake and of the raft, are referred to in the scriptures of a number of non-Theravāda Buddhist traditions as well, showing that the Buddhist doctrine represented in it is early and authentic and the message contained in the sutta was considered to be extremely significant by many early Buddhist traditions. The Alagaddūpama Sutta shows the Buddha’s role as one of the earliest thinkers in the history of philosophy who engaged in a critique of the craving for metaphysics and dogma frequently exhibited in those who propound worldviews. The Buddha did not value a belief or a worldview on grounds of the logical skill with which it was constructed but on grounds of the transformative effect it could have on the character of an individual and the sense of wellbeing it could promote. There are several discourses of the Pali canon which give prominence to this aspect of the Buddha’s teaching. Among them the Brahmajāla Sutta of the Dīgha-nikāya and the Aṭṭhakavagga of the Suttanipāta need special mention. The Buddha is seen to have consistently avoided engagement in speculative metaphysics, pointing out that the goal of his teaching goes beyond all such engagement. The Buddha himself distinguished his own worldview as a Teaching in the Middle (majjhena) avoiding the common tendency of humankind to be trapped by either of the two extremes, Eternalism or Annihilationism. These distinctive standpoints of the Buddha are all seen to be amply represented in the Alagaddūpama Sutta.

Download Media

PDF (Price: £5.00 )

DOI: 10.1558/bsrv.36756


Anālayo Bhikkhu. 2011. A Comparative Study of the Majjhima-nikāya. Dharma Drum Buddhist College Research Series no. 3. Taipei: Dharma Drum Publishing.

Jayatilleke, K. N. 1963. Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge. London: George Allen and Unwin.

Jayawickrama, N. A. 1948. ‘The Criteria for the Analysis of the Sutta Nipāta’. University of Ceylon Review VI: 42–43.

Kalupahana, D. J. 1976. Buddhist Philosophy: A Historical Analysis. Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii.

Norman, K.R., trans. 2001. The Group of Discourses (Sutta-Nipāta). Oxford: Pali Text Society.

Pande, G. C. 1983. Studies in the Origins of Buddhism. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Radhakrishnan, S. 1929. Indian Philosophy, Vol. I. Second edition. London: George Allen and Unwin.

Tilakaratne, A. 1993. Nirvāṇa and Ineffability: A Study of the Buddhist Theory of Reality and Language. University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka: Postgraduate Institute of Pali and Buddhist Studies.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Equinox Publishing Ltd - 415 The Workstation 15 Paternoster Row, Sheffield, S1 2BX United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)114 221-0285 - Email: [email protected]

Privacy Policy