Dharma Pearls

Translating Classical Buddhism to Modern English

The Medium Discourses

(Skt. Madhyama Āgama; Ch. 中阿含經)

The Medium Disources was translated twice to Chinese; the second translation is the one that survives today. Completed in the late 4th century CE, it appears to represent the Sarvâstivāda version of the collection. The Pali equivalent is the Majjhima Nikāya, but the two collections differ somewhat in both their arrangement and the texts chosen. With a total 212 sutras, the Medium Discourses contains many texts that appear in the Pali Aṅguttara Nikāya and some that don't appear to exist in Pali.

Below is a list of the English translations currently available with brief synopses of their contents. Pali equivalents are listed in () and the sourcetext is indicated in [].

MA 1: The Good Dharma (AN 7.68: One Who Knows the Teachings) [T 26.421a12]

The Buddha explains seven things that a monk should know in order to attain liberation: the teachings, their meaning, time, moderation, himself, assemblies, and what's superior among people.

MA 2: The Pārijāta Tree (AN 7.69: The Shady Orchid Tree) [T 26.422a18]

The Buddha relates the seasonal cycle of the mythical pārijāta tree in the Trāyastriṃśa Heaven and compares it to a monk's progress towards liberation.

MA 3: The City Parable (AN 7.67: The Simile of the Citadel) [T 26.422c09]

The Buddha employs an analogy of a border city's defenses and supplies to describe the qualities and meditative abilities that lead a disciple to liberation.

MA 4: The Water Parable (AN 7.15: A Simile With Water) [T 26.424a13]

The Buddha reinterprets a common simile of a person who progressively gets a footing in a river and wades to shore. He relates it to the way a disciple overcomes spiritual obstacles and progresses to liberation.

MA 5: The Wood Pile Parable (AN 7.72: The Simile of the Bonfire) [T 26.425a15]

The Buddha warns a group of newly ordained monks about the dangers of giving into short-term pleasures that will lead to their downfall. He uses a series of descriptions of the punishments suffered in hell to drive home the point that what that seems pleasant can lead to torment in the future if one is not careful.

MA 6: The Good Person’s Departure (AN 7.55: Places People Are Reborn) [T 26.427a13]

The Buddha gives a series of cryptic descriptions of seven ways a non-returner disciple eventually attains liberation after leaving this world.

MA 7: Worldly Merit [T 26.427c25]

The Buddha describes the worldly and transcendent merits that can be cultivated by the faithful. The worldly merits come from giving material support and service to the monasteries. The transcendent merits come from seeking to learn the teachings and accepting the precepts.