And in the Anguttara we find set out in order first of all the units, then all the pairs, then all the trios, and so on. It is the longest book in the Buddhist Bible, and fills 1840 pages 8vo. The whole of the Pāli text has been published by the Pāli Text Society, but only portions have been translated into English. The next, and last, of these four collections contains again the whole, or nearly the whole, of the Buddhist doctrine; but arranged this time in order of subjects. It consists of 55 Samyuttas or groups. In each of these the suttas on the same subject, or in one or two cases the suttas addressed to the same sort of people, are grouped together. The whole of it has been published in five volumes by the Pāli Text Society. Only a few fragments have been translated.
Many hundreds of the short suttas and verses in these two collections are found, word for word, in the dialogues. And there are numerous instances of the introductory story stating how, and when, and to whom the sutta was enunciated - a sort of narrative framework in which the sutta is set - recurring also. This is very suggestive as to the way in which the earliest Buddhist records were gradually built up. The suttas came first embodying, in set phrases, the doctrine that had to be handed down. Those episodes, found in two or three different places, and always embodying several suttas, came next. Then several of these were woven together to form a suttanta. And finally the suttantas were grouped together into the two Nikāyas, and the suttas and episodes separately into the two others. Parallel with this evolution, so to say, of the suttas, the short statements of doctrine, in prose, ran the treatment of the verses. There was a great love of poetry in the communities in which Buddhism arose. Verses were helpful to the memory. And they were adopted not only for this reason. The adherents of the new view of life found pleasure in putting into appropriate verse the feelings of enthusiasm and of ecstasy which the reforming doctrines inspired.
When particularly happy in literary finish, or peculiarly rich in religious feeling, such verses were not lost. These were handed on, from mouth to mouth, in the small companies of the brethren or sisters. The oldest verses are all lyrics, expressions either of emotion, or of some deep saying, some pregnant thought. Very few of them have been preserved alone. And even then they are so difficult to understand, so much like puzzles, that they were probably accompanied from the first by a sort of comment in prose, stating when, and why, and by whom they were supposed to have been uttered. As a general rule such a framework in prose is actually preserved in the old Buddhist literature. It is only in the very latest books included in the canon that the narrative part is also regularly in verse, so that a whole work consists of a collection of ballads. The last step, that of combining such ballads into one long epic poem, was not taken till after the canon was closed. The whole process, from the simple anecdote in mixed prose and verse, the so-called ākhyāna, to the complete epic, comes out with striking clearness in the history of the Buddhist canon.
It is typical, one may notice in passing, of the evolution of the epic elsewhere; in Iceland, for instance, in Persia and in Greece. And we may safely draw the conclusion that if the great Indian epics, the Mahā-bhārata and the Rāmāyana, had been in existence when the formation of the Buddhist canon began, the course of its development would have been very different from what it was.
As will easily be understood, the same reasons which led to literary activity of this kind, in the earliest period, continued to hold good afterwards. A number of such efforts, after the Nikāyas had been closed, were included in a supplementary Nikāya called the Khuddaka Nikāya. It will throw very useful light upon the intellectual level in the Buddhist community just after the earliest period, and upon literary life in the valley of the Ganges in the 4th or 5th century B.C., if we briefly explain what the tractates in this collection contain. The first, the Khuddaka Pātha, is a little tract of only a few pages. After a profession of faith in the Buddha, the doctrine and the order, there follows a paragraph setting out the thirty-four constituents of the human body - bones, blood, nerves and so on - strangely incongruous with what follows. For that is simply a few of the most beautiful poems to be found in the Buddhist scriptures. There is no apparent reason, except their exquisite versification, why these particular pieces should have been here brought together. It is most probable that this tiny volume was simply a sort of first lesson book for young neophytes when they joined the order. In any case that is one of the uses to which it is put at present.
The text book is the Dhammapada. Here are brought together from ten to twenty stanzas on each of twenty-six selected points of Buddhist self-training or ethics. There are altogether 423 verses, gathered from various older sources, and strung together without any other internal connexion than that they relate more or less to the same subject. And the collector has not thought it necessary to choose stanzas written in the same metre, or in the same number of lines. We know that the early Christians were accustomed to sing hymns, both in their homes and on the occasions of their meeting together. These hymns are now irretrievably lost. Had some one made a collection of about twenty isolated stanzas, chosen from these hymns, on each of about twenty subjects - such as Faith, Hope, Love, the Converted Man, Times of Trouble, Quiet Days, the Saviour, the Tree of Life, the Sweet Name, the Dove, the King, the Land of Peace, the Joy Unspeakable - we should have a Christian Dhammapada, and very precious such a collection would be. The Buddhist Dhammapada has been edited by Professor Fausböll (2nd ed., 1900), and has been frequently translated.