Trent's Masters Thesis

The Ariyapariyesanā Sutta (Sutta of the Noble Search, MN 26) contains one of the oldest fragments of the Buddha’s autobiographical story. 

One translation can be found here.

In the frame story, some monks gather at Rammaka’s hermitage in anticipation of the Buddha coming to teach. While the monks are waiting, they discuss Dhamma amongst themselves. Dhamma is the truth and the Buddha’s teachings leading to truth. The particular Dhamma the monks discuss is the Buddha’s story of awakening. This suggests the Buddha’s story is more than mere historical record. It is itself the Dhamma, a teaching leading to truth.

This thesis undertakes a literary analysis of the Ariyapariyesanā Sutta. In part, the thesis proposes the sutta employs chiasmus. Chaismic structure involves two sides paralleling and inverting each other around a central turning point:  ABCXCBA.

Download the full thesis, the diagram, and the accompanying figures.

The chiasmic literary structure also points to a threefold division:   (1) ABC, (2) X & (3) CBA.

Threefoldness is a common theme in Buddhist teachings. Some examples are the threefold division of the Noble Eightfold Path (virtue, concentration, wisdom) and the broad division of ground-path-fruit. Indeed, threefoldness is a common spiritual theme across religious traditions, including the Enneagram's Law of Three.

One threefold division found in the sutta structure is searching-realizing-teaching. This division is seen in the frame story: monks searching for Buddha - Buddha's daily activities (allegory of realization) - Buddha teaching monks at Rammaka's Hermitage. It is also seen in the Buddha's teaching: section on searching defining "noble search" - Buddha's autobiographical story of realization - section on teaching the deer similes about fulfillment of the noble search. The division continues through the Buddha's autobiographical section on subtle levels.

 

A THREE DIMENSIONAL TEXT

Going further than the thesis proposes: I believe exploring the literary structure of the sutta opens new vistas of insight. The sutta enacts subtle movements of mind-heart, perhaps on an unconscious level –- this way, that wayto and through a  centerpoint. (The structure also enacts the Enneagram's Law of Three.)

By seeing Dhamma at work in the structure of the story, as well as in the story itself, it is possible to edge closer to the Awakening to which the sutta points. With deep contemplation, the sutta becomes holographic, three-dimensional, embodied. It is like a stupa we can circumambulate. With the devotion of the monks at Rammaka’s -- yearning to hear Dhamma in the Buddha's presence -- such an approach to the sutta might even bring one face-to-face with the One Who Knows.

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