‘Preconditions’: The Upanisā Sutta in Context

Thomas Jones Dhivan

Abstract


The Upanisā Sutta (Saṃyutta Nikāya 12: 23) has been interpreted as presenting an overarching account of conditionality, joining the twelve nidānas of paṭicca-samuppāda with a further series of positive factors (upanisās) leading to awakening. The discourse has a parallel preserved in Chinese translation. A close reading of these versions shows how the series of upanisās belongs to a ‘family’ of upanisā discourses. The connection of the series to the twelve nidānas appears rhetorical rather than doctrinal. The concept of upanisā in Pāli literature is related to the concept of upaniṣad in Vedic literature, and upanisā was also a topic of debate in the ascetic milieu of ancient India. The Buddhist concept of upanisā emerges as that of a supportive inner state that is a necessary condition for achieving the aim of liberation. I propose to translate upanisā as ‘precondition’.

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