Buddhist canons

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Buddhist Canons refer to the principal collections of classical Buddhist literature in the world today. There are currently three major Buddhist canons:[1][2][3]

  • the Pali Canon of the southern tradition of Sri Lanka and South-East Asia
  • the Chinese Canon (aka Chinese Tripitaka) of the eastern tradition of China, Korea, and Japan
  • the Tibetan Canon (aka the Kanjur and Tenjur) of the northern tradition of Tibet, Mongolia and the Himalayan region

Contemporary scholar Rupert Gethin states that these three principle canons correspond to the three main traditions of living Buddhism.[3]

About the canons

Regarding the dates of origin of each canon:

  • Pali Canon: was first written down around the first century BCE[2]
  • Chinese Canon: was first published in 983[2][4]
  • Tibetan Canon: was first published in 1411[2]

Regarding the size of these collections:[3]

  • Pali Canon: modern printed editions of the Pali canon run to some fifty volumes
  • Chinese Canon: the Taishō edition of the Chinese Canon comprises fifty-five volumes, each containing some 1,000 pages of Chinese characters
  • Tibetan Canon (aka the Kanjur and Tenjur): comprises 300 traditional poti volumes

Regarding the contents of the texts, Rupert Gethin states:

When the contents of the three canons are compared it is apparent that, while significant portions of the Pali canon are paralleled in the Chinese collection, and there is considerable overlap between the Chinese Tripiṭaka and the Kanjur and Tenjur, Buddhism as a whole does not possess a ‘canon’ of scriptures in the manner of the Hebrew Bible of Judaism, the Old and New Testaments of Christianity, or the Qu’ran of Islam. It is also apparent that the Chinese and Tibetan canons do not represent en bloc translations of ancient Indian canonical collections of Buddhist texts, but rather libraries of translations of individual Indian works made over the centuries... In the case of the Chinese canon this process of translating Indian texts began in the second century CE and continued for over 800 years; the process of arranging and cataloguing these texts continues down to the present century. In the case of Tibetan Kanjur and Tenjur the translation process was carried out between the seventh and thirteenth centuries, while the precise contents and arrangement of these two collections has never been fixed.[3]



Further reading

  • Gethin, Rupert (1998), "Introduction", Foundations of Buddhism, Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press 
  • Harvey, Peter (2012), "Appendix 1: Canons of Scriptures", An Introduction to Buddhism, Cambridge University Press (Kindle edition) 
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