aṅga (T. yan lag; C. zhi) literally means a "branch" or "limb." The term is used to refer to a "section" or an item in a list.
The term is used in the following contexts:
- navaṅga - nine categories of teachings according to the Pali tradition
- dvādaśāṅga - twelve categories of teachings according to the Sanskrit tradition
- bodhyāṅga - thirty-seven factors of enlightenment
The nine and twelve aṅgas
Bhikkhu Sujato states:
- There is a list of nine aṅgas, supposed to constitute the sum of the Buddha’s teachings, that is familiar in the early Pali Nikāyas: sutta, geyya, vyākaraṇa, gāthā, udāna, itivuttaka, jātaka, vedalla, and abbhūtadhamma. These nine are also mentioned in Mahāsaṅghika texts, and therefore may pre-date the first schism. This list is usually increased to twelve in the Sanskrit (with the addition of nidāna, avadāna, and upadeśa). They are all familiar terms, but the exact meaning is controversial. In the early texts they are simply listed with no further explanation. The later texts give explanations; but these vary considerably, and involve considerable anachronisms and improbabilities.
Sujato asserts that it is possible that these groupings referred to specific groups of texts in the early (pre-sectarian) period of Buddhism.