Early Buddhist Texts

From Encyclopedia of Buddhism
Revision as of 14:01, 16 June 2019 by Dorje108 (talk | contribs) (See also)
Jump to: navigation, search

Early Buddhist Texts (EBTs) or Early Buddhist Literature refers to the parallel texts shared by the Early Buddhist schools, including the first four Pali Nikayas, some Vinaya material like the Patimokkhas of the different Buddhist schools as well as the Chinese Āgama literature.[1][2] Besides the large collections in Pali and Chinese, there are also fragmentary collections of EBT materials in Sanskrit, Khotanese, Tibetan and Gāndhārī. The modern study of early pre-sectarian Buddhism often relies on comparative scholarship using these various early Buddhist sources.[3]

Some scholars such as Richard Gombrich and A.K. Warder hold that these EBTs contain material that could possibly be traced to the historical Buddha himself or at least to the early years of Pre-sectarian Buddhism.[4][5]

In Mahayana Buddhism, these texts are sometimes referred to as "Hinayana" or "Śrāvakayāna" texts (and hence are not considered Mahayana works).


A large portion of Early Buddhist literature is part of the "sutta" or "sutra" genre, these are usually placed in different collections (Pitakas or Agamas). The suttas generally contain doctrinal content while other early Buddhist texts deal with monastic discipline or vinaya.

An important feature of the Early Buddhist texts are characteristics which reflect their origin as orally transmitted literature.[6] Early Buddhist texts are believed to have been transmitted by lineages of bhāṇaka, monks who specialized in memorization and recitation of particular collections of texts, until they were eventually recorded in writing after the 1st Century BCE.

According to Alexander Wynne, the Edicts of Ashoka mentions some Buddhist texts which have been identified and which might show that at the time of Ashoka (304–232 BCE) these were already fixed.[7]

The various works of Buddhist Abhidharma is considered by scholars to be (mostly) later material (3rd century BCE onwards).[8] In spite of the relative lateness of the Abhidharma works, according to scholars like Erich Frauwallner, there are kernels of early pre-sectarian material in the earliest Abhidharma texts, mainly the Theravada Vibhanga, the Dharmaskandha of the Sarvastivada, and the Śāriputrābhidharma of the Dharmaguptaka school. According to Frauwallner's comparative study, these texts were possibly developed and "constructed from the same material", mainly early Buddhist doctrinal lists (matrkah) which forms the "ancient core" of early Abhidharma.[9]

Extant material

Pali EBTs

The Pali Canon of the Theravada school contains the most complete fully extant collection of EBTs in an Indic language which has survived until today.[10] After having been passed down orally, it was first written down in the first century BCE in Sri Lanka.[11]

The Early Buddhist material in the Pali canon mainly consists of the first four Pali Nikayas, the Patimokkha and other Vinaya material as well as some parts of the Khuddaka Nikaya (mainly Sutta Nipata, Itivuttaka, Dhammapada, Therigatha, Theragatha, and the Udana).[12][13][14]

These texts have all been widely translated into Western languages.

Chinese EBTs

The EBTs preserved in the Chinese Buddhist canon include the Āgamas, collections of sutras which parallel the Pali Nikāyas in content as well as structure.[15] There are also some differences between the discourses and collections as modern comparative studies has shown, such as omissions of material, additions and shifts in the location of phrases.[16] These various Agamas possibly come down to us from the Sarvastivada (the Samyukta and Madhyama Agamas), Dharmaguptaka and Kasyayipa schools.[17] The Mahasamghika Vinaya pitaka also survives in Chinese translation.[18] Some of the Agamas have been translated into English by the Āgama Research Group [ARG] at the Dharma Drum Institute of Liberal Arts.[19]

While the other Chinese Agamas are mostly doctrinally consistent with the Pali Nikayas, the Ekottara Agama has been seen by various scholars such as Johannes Bronkhorst and Etienne Lamotte as being influenced by later Mahayana concepts.[20] According to Lamotte, these 'interpolations' are easily discernible.[21]

Gandhāran EBTs

The Gandhāran Buddhist texts contain several EBTs, such as a parallel to the Anattalakkhana Sutta, possibly belonging to the Dharmaguptaka school. A few publications have translated some of these texts.[22] These are the oldest EBT manuscripts extant, dating from about the 1st century CE.[23]

Other fragmentary EBTs

There are various EBTs collected in the Tibetan Kangyur. Peter Skilling has published English translations of these texts in his two volume "Mahasutras" (Pāli Text Society, 1994). Another important source of early Buddhist material in the Tibetan canon are numerous quotations by Śamathadeva in his Abhidharmakośopāyikā-ṭīkā (Derge no. 4094 / Peking no. 5595), a commentary to the Abhidharmakosha. Some of this material is available in English translation by Bhikkhunī Dhammadinnā.[24]

Likewise, numerous sutra quotations by authors of Sautrantika treatises are also a source of EBT fragments. The Sautrantika school was known for focusing on using examples from and references to EBT sutras. These works include Kumaralata’s Drstantapankti, the Abhidharmamrtara-sasastra attributed to Ghosaka, the Abhidharmavatara-sastra attributed to Skandhila and the Tattvasiddhi of Harivarman.[25]

Sanskritized fragments of different early Buddhist Agamas also survive from archaeological finds in the Tarim Basin and the city of Turfan. These finds include versions of a Sanskrit Udanavarga.[26]

The Salistamba Sutra is an early Buddhist text which has been tied to the Mahāsāṃghika school, it contains many parallel passages to the Pali suttas.[27]

See also


  1. Tse-Fu Kuan. Mindfulness in similes in Early Buddhist literature in Edo Shonin, William Van Gordon, Nirbhay N. Singh. Buddhist Foundations of Mindfulness, page 267.
  2. Bhikkhu Sujato; Bhikkhu Brahmali. The Authenticity of the Early Buddhist Texts. 2015. pages 9-10
  3. e.g. "Mun-keat, Choong (2000), The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism" and "Analayo. Early Buddhist Meditation Studies (Volume 1)"
  4. Warder, A.K. (2004), Indian Buddhism, 3rd Revised edition, Motilal Banarsidass Publ.
  5. Gombrich, Richard F. (1997), How Buddhism Began, Munshiram Manoharlal
  6. Anālayo, Reflections on Comparative Āgama Studies. Center for Buddhist Studies, University of Hamburg, in Chung-Hwa Buddhist Journal (2008, 21:3-21) Taipei: Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies ISSN 1017-7132
  7. Wynne, Alexander (2004). "The Oral Transmission of the Early Buddhist Literature". Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies. 27 (1): 97–128.
  8. "Abhidhamma Pitaka." Encyclopædia Britannica. Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2008.
  9. Frauwallner, Erich. Kidd, Sophie Francis (translator). Steinkellner, Ernst (editor). Studies in Abhidharma Literature and the Origins of Buddhist Philosophical Systems. SUNY Press. Pages 18, 100.
  10. Crosby, Kate; Theravada Buddhism: Continuity, Diversity, and Identity, 2013, page 2.
  11. Gethin, Rupert (1998). The Foundations of Buddhism (PDF). p. 42. ISBN 9780192892232. 
  12. Abeynayake, oliver. A textual and Historical Analysis of the Khuddaka Nikaya. Colombo, First Edition – 1984, p. 113.
  13. Gethin, Rupert (1992), The Buddha's Path to Awakening, Leiden: E. J. Brill, page 42.
  14. Bhikkhu Sujato; Bhikkhu Brahmali. The Authenticity of the Early Buddhist Texts. 2015. pages 9-10
  15. Analayo. Some Pali discourses in light of their Chinese parallels, part two. Buddhist studies review, 22 (2005), 93-105.
  16. Analayo. Some Pali discourses in light of their Chinese parallels, part two. Buddhist studies review, 22 (2005), 93-105.
  17. Warder, A.K. Indian Buddhism, page 6
  18. Warder, A.K. Indian Buddhism, page 7
  19. Āgama research group
  20. Bronkhorst, Johannes. The Two Traditions of Meditation in Ancient India, page 14
  21. Lamotte, History of Indian Buddhism, From the origins to the Saka era, Institut Orientaliste Louvain-la-neuve, 1988, page 156.
  22. Andrew Glass, Mark Allon. Four Gandhari Samyuktagama Sutras, page 5; page 15.
  23. "UW Press: Ancient Buddhist Scrolls from Gandhara". Retrieved 2017-10-24. 
  24. Dhammadinnā. The Madhyama-āgama in Śamathadeva’s Abhidharmakośopāyikā-ṭīkā: annotated translation, comparative studies and concordances (Dharma Drum Buddhist College Research Series 9), Taiwan: Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation (in preparation).
  25. Charles Willemen, Bart Dessein, Collett Cox (editors) Sarvastivada Buddhist Scholasticism, Handbuch Der Orientalistik, page 108.
  26. Nariman, J.K.; Introduction to the Early Buddhist Texts in Sanskritised Prākit from Literary History of Sanskrit Buddhism, Ch 1-6. http://www.ancient-buddhist-texts.net/Reference/Early-Buddhist-Texts/02-EBT-Sanskrit-Canon.htm
  27. Potter, Karl H. Abhidharma Buddhism to 150 A.D. page 32.

This article includes content from Early Buddhist Texts on Wikipedia (view authors). License under CC BY-SA 3.0. Wikipedia logo