Early sutras of the Tibetan Canon

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The early sutras of the Tibetan Canon refers to the sutras within the Tibetan Canon that correspond to the agamas of the Chinese Canon and the nikayas of the Pali Canon.

These are texts from the early Buddhist schools of India that were translated into the Tibetan language.

Within the Tibetan tradition, these texts are referred to as Sravakayana or Hinayana sutras. The terms Sravakayana and Hinayana are used to distinguish these texts from the Mahayana sutras, which are from a later period of the Buddhist tradition in India.

The Sravakayana sutras are found within three different sections of Kangyur collection within the Tibetan Canon:

  • General sutra section - includes both Mahayana (later) sutras and Sravakayana (early) sutras, translated from Sanskrit.[1]
  • Thirteen late translated sutras - Theravāda sūtras translated into Tibetan in the 14th century[2]
  • Ratnakutra section - includes two Sravakayana sutras

General sutra section

Regarding the General Sutra Section of the Kangyur:

"According to the Degé Kangyur catalogue, the works in this section are arranged with Mahāyāna sūtras (Toh 94-286) first, followed by Śrāvakayāna works (Toh 287-359)—although not all Kangyurs and commentators agree on which texts should be assigned to these two broad groups."[1]

Based on the above statement, the General Sutra Section should contain about 72 Sravakanaya texts (texts from the early schools).

The first few texts in this category are:

Toh 287

Mindfulness of the True Dharma དམ་ཆོས་དྲན་པ་ཉེར་བཞག་ · dam chos dran pa nyer bzhag saddharmasmṛtyupasthāna

Toh 288

The Great Sūtra of Illusion's Net མདོ་ཆེན་སྒྱུ་མའི་དྲ་བ། · mdo chen sgyu ma'i dra ba/ māyājālasūtra

Toh 289

The Great Sūtra of Bimbisāra’s Going Out to Meet [the Buddha] མདོ་ཆེན་པོ་གཟུགས་ཅན་སྙིང་པོས་བསུ་བ། · mdo chen po gzugs can snying pos bsu ba/ bimbisārapratyudgama­nanāmamahāsūtra

Toh 290

The Great Sūtra on Emptiness མདོ་ཆེན་པོ་སྟོང་པ་ཉིད། · mdo chen po stong pa nyid/ śūnyatāmahāsutra

The texts in this category are said to be translations of Sarvastivādin texts that were originally written in Sanskrit. Specifically, this collection of texts "most likely" includes:[3]

  • Portions of the Sarvastidan recension of the Dirgha Agama
  • Portions of the Sarvastidan recension of the Madhyama Agama
    • Note that a complete translation of the Sarvastidada Madhyama Āgama is included in the Chinese Canon.

Thirteen late translated sutras

The Dege Kangyur includes a section named "thirteen late translated sutras," which consists of Theravāda sūtras translated into Tibetan in the 14th century.[2]

The thirteen sūtras all have closely matching equivalents in the Pāli Canon, and—although they have at times been thought to be translations of Sarvastivādin texts in Sanskrit, as are many other Śrāvakayāna works in the Kangyur—it is almost certain that they were translated from Pāli, and are Theravāda texts, i.e. from the literature of the Theravāda school.[2]

The thirteen texts are:

Toh 31

The Sūtra of Turning the Wheel of Dharma ཆོས་འཁོར་རབ་ཏུ་བསྐོར་བའི་མདོ། · chos 'khor rab tu bskor ba'i mdo/ dharmacakrapravartanasūtra

Toh 32

Account of the Previous Lives of the Buddha སྐྱེས་པ་རབས་ཀྱི་གླེང་གཞི། · skyes pa rabs kyi gleng gzhi/ jātakanidāna

Toh 33

Sūtra of Āṭānāṭīya ལྕང་ལོ་ཅན་གྱི་ཕོ་བྲང་གི་མདོ། · lcang lo can gyi pho brang gi mdo/ āṭānāṭiyasūtra

Toh 34

Sūtra of the Great Assembly འདུས་པ་ཆེན་པོའི་མདོ། · 'dus pa chen po'i mdo/ mahāsamayasūtra

Toh 35

Sūtra on Loving Kindness བྱམས་པའི་མདོ། · byams pa'i mdo/ maitrisūtra

Toh 36

Sūtra on the Meditation on Loving Kindness བྱམས་པ་བསྒོམ་པའི་མདོ། · byams pa bsgom pa'i mdo/ maitribhāvanāsūtra

Toh 37

Sūtra on the Benefits of the Five Precepts བསླབ་པ་ལྔའི་ཕན་ཡོན་གྱི་མདོ། · bslab pa lnga'i phan yon gyi mdo/ pañcaśikṣānusaṃsasūtra

Toh 38

The Sūtra of Giriyānanda རིའི་ཀུན་དགའ་བོའི་མདོ། · ri'i kun dga' bo'i mdo/ giryānandasūtra

Toh 39

Sūtra of the Taming of the Nāga King Nandopananda ཀླུའི་རྒྱལ་པོ་དགའ་བོ་ཉེར་དགའ་འདུལ་བའི་མདོ། · klu'i rgyal po dga' bo nyer dga' 'dul ba'i mdo/ nandopanandanāgarājadamanasūtra

Toh 40

The Mahākāśyapa Sūtra འོད་སྲུང་ཆེན་པོའི་མདོ། · 'od srung chen po'i mdo/ mahākāśyapasūtra

Toh 41

The Sūtra of the Sun ཉི་མའི་མདོ། · nyi ma'i mdo/ sūryasūtra

Toh 42

The Sūtra of the Moon ཟླ་བའི་མདོ། · zla ba'i mdo/ candrasūtra

Toh 43

The Sūtra of Great Fortune བཀྲ་ཤིས་ཆེན་པོའི་མདོ། · bkra shis chen po'i mdo/ mahāmaṅgalasūtra


The Ratnakuta section of the Kangyur contains two Śrāvakayāna texts from the Mūlasarvāstivāda-vinaya:[4]

  • Toh 57: The Teaching to Nanda on Entering the Womb
  • Toh 58: The Teaching to Venerable Nanda on Entering the Womb


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