The Samyutta Nikaya
The Samyutta Nikaya -- Connected Discourses of the Buddha -- is an integral work of the Pali Canon of Buddhism, the Scripture of Theravada Buddhism. This work is also considered canonical by later schools of Buddhism. The Connected Discourses is a lengthy, difficult work which focuses on philosophical teachings and on meditation practice. It was probably written for advanced students unlike its companion volumes, the Mid-Length Discourses, (Majhima Nikaya) and the Long-Length Discourses (Digha Nikaya) also available in translation from Wisdom Publications.
This work has been lucidly and beautifully translated by the American scholar-monk Bhikkhu Bodhi who also edited the Majhima. Students of Buddhism are forever in his debt. The Connected Discourses consists of five separate, lengthy books, each of which, except for the first book, concentrates on a specific aspect of the Buddha's teachings. All the teachings in the book center upon understanding of the four noble truths. Each book is arranged in chapters with the suttas generally, but not always, presented in groups of ten. The suttas are generally short and dense and lack the quality of story-telling found in the Long and Middle Discourses. Bikkhu Bodhi has laboriously translated the text and prepared a general introduction to the entire book and an introduction to each of the five parts. There are extensive footnotes, some of which are for the specialist and some of which are for the general reader, which draw in many cases upon the ancient commentaries to the text, together with a concordance and a bibliography. It is an inspiration to have this volume available for study.
There are many famous discourses in this collection, and I will try to mention some briefly. The first book of the Connected Discourses consists of verses spoken by an interlocutor of the Buddha, frequently a deva or other supernatural being, and the Buddha himself. These cover a range of subjects. Probably the best-known Sutta in this part is the Sutta of Rahitassa, 2:26, in which the Buddha teaches that the end of the world can never be reached by walking but can only be understood through reflection on "this fathom-high carcass endowed with perception and mind." Bikkhu Bodhi comments on this sutta that it "may well be the most profound proposition in the history of human thought."
The second book of the Connected Discourses deals in detail with the difficult doctrine of Dependent Origination which is basic to understanding the four noble truths and to the doctrines of non-self and impermanence. Sutta 12:23, sometimes titled "Transcendental Dependent Origination", is an important part of this collection which adds a component to the doctrine not found elsewhere in the texts. It applies the teachings of Dependent Origination to the pursuit of enlightenment itself rather than only to the explanation of why people ordinarily remain emeshed in a web of delusion and ignorance. This is a profound and important teaching.
The third book of the Connected Discourses includes teachings on the five aggregates (form, feeling, perceptions, volitional formations, consciousness) which are the components of sentient existence. Buddha presents an understanding of the aggregates as necessary to an understanding of the path of liberation. One of the three earliest "cardinal discourses of the Buddha" delivered just after his Enlightenment is included in this book, at 22:59 which includes the Buddha's first exposition of the doctrine of nonself.
The fourth book deals with the nature of the six sense bases (sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell, consciousness) which are the means through which people understand physical reality. This book includes another of the three cardinal discourses, the famous fire sermon, 35:28, which shows how people are emeshed in sense and need reflection and the Buddha's teachings for awakening.
The final book is the longest of the collection and discusses the path to liberation. It culminates in a discussion of the four noble truths and also includes lengthy treatments of meditation the seven factors of enlightenment, the role of faith in Buddhism, and practices for laymen. This book includes the earliest of the Buddha's teachings delivered to his five original disciples, 56:11, in which the Buddha explained the four noble truths and turned the wheel of Dhamma to make the principles of enlightenment known to the world.
This is an inexhaustible and difficult collection that requires patience and reflection to read. It probably is not suitable for the beginning student of Buddhism because of its spare, philosophical character and because of its length and manner of exposition, which new readers will find hard to follow. The book is not for casual reading but will appeal to those wanting to deepen their understanding of Buddhism's basic teachings and to develop their own practice. As with the suttas as a whole, the book is less an exposition of doctrine than a means for reflection. It is a gift to have these teachings available in English in Bhikkhu Bodhi's translation and guide.