chapter  5
The Four Noble Truths and the Path
Pages 37

And I want to show that the four worthy true things (ariyasaccani) were not throughout necessarily regarded as the four truths of Ill, but that they may sometimes have been taken to stand for these four Ways, and sometimes for another concept. 1

Throughout the Theravada canon, there are various sequences that followers of the Buddha are enjoined to follow in order to gain an experience of nibbana and thereby end the cycle of rebirth and death. These sequences are often irreconcilable, existing side by side with different arrangements and teachings. There are sets that recur frequently, such as the fourfold path that begins with the level of the stream-enterer and culminates with the attainments of an arahat. Buddhaghosa's comprehensive volume written in the early fifth century C.E., The Path of Purity (Visuddhimagga), is the earliest attempt to synthesize all of the varied teachings of the Buddha found in the Theravada canon. George Bond has suggested that the notion of the gradual path as an explicit hermeneutical device emerged in the postcanonical texts of the Nettipakara1Ja and Petakopadesa. These two texts deliberately classify people into three types (the ordinary person, the learner, and the adept) and according to temperament; various suttas are then correlated with these types of people.2 The hermeneutical exercise of these two texts is an attempt to stratify the teachings of the Buddha in a way that was allinclusive and synthetic; and, as Bond points out, it reflects a later historical period in the development of Buddhism when it became important to organize the teachings of the Buddha. These early syntheses of the path offered by Buddhaghosa, the Netti-pakara1Ja, and the Petakopadesa illustrate a feature of the Theravada canon that has long been recognized: the absence of an overarching and comprehensive structure of the path to nibbana.3