Buddhism’s Sacred Texts

Buddhist Texts are those religious texts which are part of the Buddhist tradition. The first Buddhist texts were initially passed on orally by Buddhist monastics, but were later written down and composed as manuscripts in various Indo-Aryan languages and collected into various Buddhist canons. These were then translated into other languages such as Buddhist Chinese (fójiào hànyǔ 佛教漢語) and Classical Tibetan as Buddhism spread outside of India.

 

Buddhist traditions have generally divided religious texts with their own categories and divisions, such as that between buddhavacana word of the Buddha,” many of which are known as “sutras,” and other texts, such as shastras (treatises) or Abhidharma.

Burmese-Pali manuscript copy of the Buddhist text Mahaniddesa, showing three different types of Burmese script, (top) medium square, (centre) round and (bottom) outline round in red lacquer from the inside of one of the gilded covers

Burmese-Pali manuscript copy of the Buddhist text Mahaniddesa, showing three different types of Burmese script, (top) medium square, (centre) round and (bottom) outline round in red lacquer from the inside of one of the gilded covers

Articles on Buddhist texts

Main article: Buddhism’s Sacred Texts

Zen Scriptures

Zen Scriptures

 

 

A page from Patanjali's Yoga Sutras and Bhasya commentary (c. 2nd to 4th century CE), which placed the practice of asanas as one of the eight limbs of classical yoga

Salistamba Sutra

Salistamba Sutra The Salistamba Sutra or Śālistamba Sūtra (rice stalk or rice sapling sūtra) is an early Buddhist text that shows a few unique features which indicate a turn to the early Mahayana. It thus has been considered as one of the first Mahayana sutras. According to N. Ross Reat,...

Burmese-Pali Palm-leaf manuscript.

Early Buddhist Texts

Early Buddhist Texts Early Buddhist texts (EBTs), Early Buddhist literature or Early Buddhist discourses refers to the parallel texts shared by the Early Buddhist schools. The most widely studied EBT material are the first four Pali Nikayas, as well as the corresponding Chinese Āgamas. However, some scholars have also pointed out that some Vinaya material, like the Patimokkhas of the different Buddhist schools,...

Antique Palm Leaf MANUSCRIPT Sutra Pali Canon Ramayana Story

Āgama in Buddhism

Āgama in Buddhism In Buddhism, an āgama (आगम Sanskrit and Pāli for “sacred work” or “scripture”) is a collection of Early Buddhist Texts. The five āgamas together comprise the Suttapiṭaka of the early Buddhist schools, which had different recensions of each āgama. In the Pali Canon of the Theravada, the term nikāya is used. The word āgama does not occur in this collection. Meaning In Buddhism, the term āgama is used...

Zen Scriptures

Zen Scriptures

Zen Scriptures Though Zen is said to be based on a “special transmission outside scriptures” which “did not stand upon words”, the Zen-tradition has a rich doctrinal and textual background. It has been influenced by sutras such as the Lankavatara Sutra, the Vimalakirti Sutra, the Avatamsaka Sutra, and the Lotus Sutra. Subsequently, the Zen tradition produced...

Depiction of the First Council at Rajgir, a painting at the Nava Jetavana, Shravasti.

Abhidharma

Abhidharma Abhidharma (Sanskrit) or Abhidhamma (Pali) are ancient (3rd century BCE and later) Buddhist texts which contain detailed scholastic presentations of doctrinal material appearing in the Buddhist sutras. It also refers to the scholastic method itself as well as the field of knowledge that this method is said to study. Bhikkhu Bodhi calls it “an abstract...

Chinese text of the Heart Sūtra by Yuan dynasty artist and calligrapher Zhao Mengfu (1254–1322 CE)

Lankavatara Sutra

Lankavatara Sutra The Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra (लंकावतारसूत्र, ལང་ཀར་བཤེགས་པའི་མདོ་) is a prominent Mahayana Buddhist sūtra. This sūtra recounts a teaching primarily between Gautama Buddha and a bodhisattva named Mahāmati, “Great Wisdom”. The sūtra is set in Laṅkā, the island fortress capital of Rāvaṇa, the king of the rākṣasa demons. The title of this text roughly translates as “Scripture of the...

The Wisdom of the Buddha Series

Nikaya

Nikaya Nikaya or Nikāya is a Pāli word meaning “volume”. It is often used like the Sanskrit word āgama to mean “collection”, “assemblage”, “class” or “group” in both Pāḷi and Sanskrit. It is most commonly used in reference to the Pali Buddhist texts of the Tripitaka namely the Sutta Piṭaka, the Vinaya Pitaka and the Abhidhamma Pitaka. It is...

Burmese Pali manuscript

Pali Literature

Pali Literature Pali literature is concerned mainly with Theravada Buddhism, of which Pali is the traditional language. The earliest and most important Pali literature constitutes the Pāli Canon, the scriptures of Theravada school. History Sri Lanka became the headquarters of Theravada for centuries, and most Pali literature in this period was written there,...

A reproduction of the palm-leaf manuscript in Siddham script, originally held at Hōryū-ji Temple, Japan; now located in the Tokyo National Museum at the Gallery of Hōryū—ji Treasure. The original copy may be the earliest extant Sanskrit manuscript dated to the 7th–8th century CE.[1]

Heart Sutra

Heart Sutra The Heart Sūtra (प्रज्ञापारमिताहृदय Prajñāpāramitāhṛdaya: 心經 Xīnjīng) is a popular sutra in Mahāyāna Buddhism. Its Sanskrit title, Prajñāpāramitāhṛdaya, can be translated as “The Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom“. The sutra famously states, “Form is empty, emptiness is form.” (śūnyatā). It is a condensed exposé on the Buddhist Mahayana teaching of the Two...

Copy of a Tripitaka Koreana woodblock used to allow visitors to make an inked print of the woodblock.

Tripitaka

Tripitaka Tripitaka or Tripiṭaka (Tipiṭaka) is the traditional term for the Buddhist scriptures. The version canonical to Theravada Buddhism is generally referred to in English as the Pali Canon. Mahayana Buddhism also holds the Tripiṭaka to be authoritative but, unlike Theravadins, it also includes in its canon various derivative literature and commentaries that were...

Thai monks blessing the King of Thailand in Wat Nong Wong, Amphoe Sawankhalok, Sukhothai, Thailand.

Vinaya

Vinaya The Vinaya (“leading out”, “education”, “discipline”) is the regulatory framework for the sangha or monastic community of Buddhism based on the canonical texts called the Vinaya Pitaka. The teachings of the Gautama Buddha can be divided into two broad categories: Dharma “doctrine” and Vinaya “discipline”. Extant vinaya texts include those of the Theravada (the only...

Fragments of Vimalakirti Sutra in Chinese on the reverse side of Old Tibetan Chronicle discovered in Dunhuang Mogao Cave #17

Vimalakirti Sutra

Vimalakirti Sutra The Vimalakirti Sutra or The Vimalakīrti Nirdeśa (विमलकीर्तिनिर्देश), or (the Vimalakīrti Sūtra or Vimalakīrti Nirdeśa Sūtra) is a Mahayana Buddhist sutra. It was extremely influential in East Asia, but most likely of considerably less importance in the Indian and Tibetan sub-traditions of Mahāyāna Buddhism. The word nirdeśa in the title means “instruction, advice”, and...

Tibetan Blockprints / Undated Tibetan Buddhist Religious Texts, circa 1800s

Tengyur

What is Tengyur? The Tengyur or Tanjur or Bstan-’gyur (“Translation of Teachings”) is the Tibetan collection of commentaries to the Buddhist teachings, or “Translated Treatises”. The Buddhist Canon Main article: Tibetan Buddhist canon To the Tengyur were assigned commentaries to both Sutras and Tantras, treatises and abhidharma works (both Mahayana and non-Mahayana). Together with the 108-volume...

Guhyasamaja (left), Raktayamari (right), Folio from a Dharani (Protective or Empowering Spells)

Tantras in Buddhism

Tantras in Buddhism The Buddhist Tantras are a varied group of Indian and Tibetan texts which outline unique views and practices of the Buddhist tantra religious systems. Overview Buddhist Tantric texts began appearing in the Gupta Empire period though there are texts with elements associated with Tantra that can be...

Ancient style of scripture used for the Pāli Canon

Pali Canon

Pali Canon The Pāli Canon is the standard collection of scriptures in the Theravada Buddhist tradition, as preserved in the Pāli language. It is the most complete extant early Buddhist canon. During the First Buddhist Council, Ananda recited the Sutta Pitaka, and Upali recited the Vinaya Pitaka thirty years after the parinibbana of Gautama Buddha in Rajgir....

Book open to the Shorter Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra

Mahayana Sutras

Mahayana Sutras The Mahayana sutras are a broad genre of Buddhist scriptures that various traditions of Mahayana Buddhism accept as canonical. They are largely preserved in the Chinese Buddhist canon, the Tibetan Buddhist canon, and in extant Sanskrit manuscripts. Around one hundred Mahayana sutras survive in Sanskrit, or in Chinese...

Burmese-Pali manuscript copy of the Buddhist text Mahaniddesa, showing three different types of Burmese script, (top) medium square, (centre) round and (bottom) outline round in red lacquer from the inside of one of the gilded covers

Buddhist Texts

Buddhist Texts Buddhist Texts are those religious texts which are part of the Buddhist tradition. The first Buddhist texts were initially passed on orally by Buddhist monastics, but were later written down and composed as manuscripts in various Indo-Aryan languages and collected into various Buddhist canons. These were then translated into...

Folios of old Kangyur manuscripts.

Kangyur

Kangyur The Tibetan Buddhist canon is a loosely defined list of sacred texts recognized by various schools of Tibetan Buddhism, comprising the Kangyur or Kanjur (‘The Translation of the Word’) and the Tengyur or Tanjur (Tengyur) (‘Translation of Treatises’). The Tibetan Buddhist Canon Main article: Tibetan Buddhist canon In addition to earlier foundational Buddhist texts from...

Avatamsaka Sutra

Avatamsaka Sutra

Avatamsaka Sutra The Avatamsaka Sutra or Avataṃsaka Sūtra (the Mahāvaipulya Buddhāvataṃsaka Sūtra) is one of the most influential Mahayana sutras of East Asian Buddhism. The title is rendered in English as Flower Garland Sutra, Flower Adornment Sutra, or Flower Ornament Scripture. It has been called by the translator Thomas Cleary “the most grandiose, the most comprehensive, and the...

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