RS20.02 Mahaparaḍaha Sutra

This is the second text on scroll 20 of the Robert Senior collection. It is a Buddhist sūtra, or discourse attributed to the Buddha. I have reconstructed the Gāndhārī title *Mahaparaḍaha Sutra based on the name of the hell discussed in the text and the title given in the Burmese Pali parallel. Parallels, which are listed below, can be found in Sanskrit, Pali, and Chinese Saṃyuktāgama/Saṃyutta-nikāya collections. These collections, sometimes translated as “Connected Discourses,” consist of sūtras grouped according to themes, and make up one of the five major groups of early Buddhist sūtras. Given that at least twenty-six texts on the Robert Senior scrolls have parallels in collections of Connected Discourses, we can presume that the Gāndhārī Mahaparaḍaha Sutra was likely to also have been drawn from such a collection in Gāndhārī. In Pali and Chinese, the parallel discourses appear in a chapter on the topic of truth (Skt. satya).

Item Robert Senior Scroll 20 | Text 2 | Surface r.11 – v.30 | Material Birch Bark | Size H: 19.7 cm; W: 22.3 cm | Findspot uncertain (presumably Haḍḍa, Afghanistan) | Date approx. 140 CE | Current Location University of Washington, Seattle

Content Summary

In Śrāvastī, the Buddha teaches monks about a hell called “Great Conflagration,” where bodies burn like hot iron balls. When a monk asks if there is a worse conflagration, the Buddha replies that ignorance of the four noble truths leads one to generate formations (G. sakhara) that result in the conflagrations of birth, old age, disease, death, sorrow, lamentation, and turmoil.


four noble truths, hell, saṃskāras


  • P.  SN 56.43 at SN V 450-2 (Pariḷāho Sutta [Ee], Mahāpariḷāha Suttaṃ [Be])
  • Ch.  SĀ 422 at T II 111b10-24
  • Skt.  Sanskrit Turfan Fragment (SHT) II 51 f1t + 2 B1.[10]4

Previous Editions

  • Salomon, Richard, 2003, “The Senior Manuscripts: Another Collection of Gandhāran Buddhist Scrolls,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 123: 73-92.
    (A preliminary study of lines 11-17).
  • Marino, Joseph, 2019, “From the Blacksmith’s Forge to the Fires of Hell: Eating the Red-Hot Iron Ball in Early Buddhist Literature,” Buddhist Studies Review 36/1: 31-51.
    (Transliteration and translation of lines 13-15).


Research on this edition was completed with the generous support of the Dhammachai International Research Institute and the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation in Buddhist Studies

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Avadānaśataka (ed. Speyer 1906–1909)
Burmese (Chaṭṭhasaṅgāyana) edition
Sri Lankan (Buddha Jayanti Tipiṭaka Series) edition
Catuṣpariṣat-sūtra (ed. Waldschmidt 1952–1962)
European (Pali Text Society) edition
Fobenxing ji jing (T 190)
Mahāvastu-avadāna (ed. Senart 1882–1897)
Saṃyukta-āgama (T 99)
Saṅghabhedavastu (ed. Gnoli 1977–1978)
Thai (King of Siam) edition
Taishō 大正 edition

Cite this article as: Joe Marimo, “Mahaparaḍaha Sutra,” Journal of Gandhāran Buddhist Texts, December 21, 2020,