The Theravada branch of Buddhism uses Pali as its sacred tongue.
the word for scripture is sutta. The Mahayana uses Sanskrit,
and there the pronunciation is sutra. These words are
often translated as Discourse in English (lecture is not
appropriate here, as no reading was involved, and sermon has a
connotation of admonition or scolding.) Besides the two
Indian classical languages, Chinese
and Tibetan also played
important roles in the preservation of the Buddhist canon.
The Buddha enjoined his disciples to separate and go to different places and
teach in the local languages, so right from the beginning there arose various
versions and translations of his discourses. He also told his
listeners and students to question and to test his teachings
like a jeweller would test yellow metal.
There are three
main traditions as to what constitutes the canon, or the body of Buddhist
scripture: the Theravada, the Chinese and the Tibetan. [Link is
to an appendix to The Buddhist Religion, 4th ed.] They all contain
words of the Buddha and those of his students.
The Various Editions
The Tibetan canon of essential Buddhist scripture consists of two parts
called the Kangyur (or Kanjur, sp. bKángjur) ie, "Translation of
the Buddha's Word" or the sutras, and the Tangyur (sp. bStan-'gyur) that
is, "Translations of Teachings" -- traditional commentaries.
There are a number of popular Tibetan editions; each is designated by place
of publication as the Co-ne, the Derge [sDe-dge] and the Narthang
The completed printing of the Kanjur occurred first in Beijing, China in 1411.
The first Tibetan edition of the canon was completed at Narthang (sp. sNar-tang)
in 1742. It has a Kanjur of 98 volumes (101 in the
Lokesh Chandra 2000 edition):
1. Vinaya: 13 vol.
2. Prajnaparamita: 21 v.
3. Avatamsaka: 6 v.
4. Ratnakuta: 6 v.
5. Sutra: 30 v. (270 texts, Hinayana comprising about 25%)
6. Tantra: 22 v. (more than 300 texts)
The Narthang Tanjur (226 volumes in the Lokesh Chandra edition) contains over 3,
600 texts that include collections of stories, commentaries on tantras and
sutras, along with discussions on vinaya and abhidharma including
Prajñaparamita, Madhyamaka, Yogacara and Vijnanavada texts. It also
contains works on logic, rhetoric, grammar, literature, biographies, painting,
medicine and chemistry, astrology and divination.
The Asian Classics Input Project (ACIP) has portions of Kagyur and
Tengyur available online in transliterated Tibetan and also in Tibetan script (Sambhota
The Bonpos also have a version of Kangyur-and-Tanjur, and the various Tibetan
Buddhist denominations each consider their version to be the essential
one. This is only to be expected since each school includes the
foundational teachings of, and the elucidations by, their own realized
masters. For example, Nyingmapas emphasize the teachings of Padmasambhava.
But even the Sarma or "New Translations" schools present differences
in the contents of the Canon.
"In particular, for the Karma Kamtsang there are three main
texts that form the course of study for aspiring meditators and
yogis. First, the Uttaratantra Shastra, otherwise known as the
Ratnagotravibhaga. This has been published as "The
Changeless Nature," and also, with commentary, as "Buddha
Nature," most recently. Second is the Hevajra Tantra. A translation
of this has been made in English, by Snellgrove. Third, the Zabmo Nangdon, or
"Profound Inner Meaning," which to my knowledge has not been
translated, and which deals with Highest Yoga Tantra theory and practice in
exhaustive detail, from what I have heard. This text, along with the Hevajra
Tantra, can really only be studied by receiving the transmission and
explanation from a qualified teacher. Actually, traditionally, all these texts
would only be studied in that manner.
A "Khenpo in Training" would be intimately familiar with these
three, as well as with many other texts from the Kangyur and Tengyur, and with
many, many texts not included in these two collections, including commentaries
on canonical texts, texts dealing with logic, abhidharma, monastic vows and
conduct (vinaya), meditation manuals [Ngedon Gyamtso
"The Ocean of Certainty (or "of Definitive Meaning") sadhanas and explanations of
the practices of the yidam deities, protectors, etc.
Very few masters would be familiar with the entire corpus of the Kangyur
and Tengyur. It's huge.
To understand the Karma Kamtsang view, I'd recommend reading Shantideva's
Bodhisattvacharyavatara, in any one of a number of translations.
Gampopa's Jewel Ornament, again with numerous translations, Buddha
Nature by Maitreya /Jamgon Kongtul/ Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso, and
Tashi Namgyal's Mahamudra. The Ocean of Definitive Meaning
is also a key which you should seek out the transmission for, and study with a
~ CB at the Kagyu email list
Uttaratantra Shastra (Ratnagotravibhaga)
Buddha Within, 1991.
Nature: The Uttaratantra Shastra. Maitreya, Jamgon
Kongtrul, Kh. Tsultrim.
Concealed Essence by Farrow.
Profound Inner Meaning in 2 texts, restricted to those who have
had the transmission.
The Ocean of Certainty (Ocean
of Definitive Meaning) commentary by Thrangu Rinpoche.
Bodhisattvacharyavatara transl. by the Wallaces.
of Liberation. With commentary by Thrangu Rinpoche.
Mahamudra (2006 edition.)
What's in Famous Scriptures
" . . . do not be led by reports, or tradition, or
hearsay. . . . by the authority of religious texts, nor by mere
logic or inference, nor by considering appearances, nor by the delight in
speculative opinions, nor by seeming possibilities, nor by the idea "this
is our teacher".
. . . when you know for yourselves that certain things are
unwholesome (akusala) and wrong and bad, then
give them up . . . . And when you know for yourselves that certain things are
wholesome and good, then accept them and follow them."
From an unnamed sutra quoted in two Madhyamaka
- Jnana-samuccaya (31) quoted by Aryadeva ( 3rd-century CE).
Available in Tibetan and Sanskrit.
- Tattva-samgraha by Shantarakshita (8th-century.) Avail.
Tibetan and Chinese.
"As the wise test gold by burning, cutting and rubbing
it, So, bhikshus, should you accept my words -- after testing
them, and not merely out of respect."
In Malayasian Pali, "Taapaac chedaac ca nikasat svarnam iva
panditaih; Pariiksya bhiksavo graahyam madvaco na tu gauravaat."
Dr. Alexander Berzin, in Relating to a Spiritual Teacher (Ithaca:
Snow Lion, 2000) attributes this verse to "The Sutra on (Pure
Realms) Spread Out in a Dense Array."
Besides telling us that there were buddhas from time immemorial
". . . Buddha Vipassi arose in the world. Thirty-one
aeons ago the Lord Buddha Sikkhi arose; in the same thirty-first aeon . . . Vessabhu arose. And in this present fortunate aeon the Lords Buddhas
Kakusandha, Konagamana and Kassapa arose in the world. And, monks, in this
present fortunate aeon I too have now arisen in the world as a
Here we get the account of their self-discovery:
"And as he was being driven to the pleasure-park, Prince
Vipassi saw a shaven-headed man, one who had gone forth, wearing a yellow
robe. And he said to the charioteer: ‘What is the matter with that
man? His head is not like other men’s, and his clothes are not like other
The Buddha tells in detail the steps he took on his way to his
achievement. It describes his early yoga practice and what went through
his mind. Until, in the third watch of the night:
"Ignorance was destroyed; knowledge arose; darkness was
destroyed; light arose -- as happens in one who is heedful, ardent, &
resolute. But the pleasant feeling that arose in this way did not invade my
mind or remain."
We see from the translation that it is not
clear what the cause of death was. Also, if the expression pig’s
delight is an accurate translation, the meal does not refer to pork;
"Then the Lord said to Cunda: ‘Whatever is left over of
the "pig’s delight" you should bury in a pit because Cunda, I can
see none in this world with its devas, maras and Brahmas, in this generation
with its ascetics and Brahmins its princes and people who if they were to eat
it could thoroughly digest it except the Tathagata."
". . . sooner or later after a long period, this
world contracts. At a time of contraction beings are mostly born in the Abhassara Brahma world. And there they dwell, mind-made, feeding on delight,
self-luminous, moving through the air, glorious – and they stay that like
that for a very long time. But sooner or later after a very long period,
this world begins to expand again."
Digha Nikaya or The
Longer Discourses, pre-100 BCE.
In the Kevatta Sutta or,
Sutra (DN 11) learning, understanding and applying
the Dharma is said by Buddha to be superior to the attainment of any siddhi
or magical power. Here, the householder Kevatta suggests that more people would join up
if the Master would cause his monks to perform miracles.
Buddha Shakyamuni replies that there are 3 skills that he, himself, has
- magical power
- instruction in Dharma
1. Magical power is the ability, before an audience, to multiply one's form
and then become just one again, or to travel to the various realms and then to
The thing is, says the Buddha, people tend to say to a witness of this sort
of thing, that the miraculous abilities are due to "the Gandharan
[Hellenic-Persian, ie. Greek] charm." (We might say,
"It's a Secret of the Mysterious East", or an example of the powers of
2. If some monk were to demonstrate the ability to read the minds of others,
again some sceptic would disparage this ability, too, saying "Anyone who
has the Manika charm can do the same."
3. But through the miracle of instruction, the monk says what to do, how to do
it and explains the result that will be obtained. And anyone who follows the method
will get the same beneficial result.
In other words, if you follow the instruction, you get the result. It
is tried and true, and it works for anyone.
That, said the Buddha, is a true miracle!
The sutra goes on however, after listing all the types of fortune-telling or
prognostication that it is not suitable for a follower to do, to speak of
abilities that can be achieved by those who discipline themselves
according to the Buddha's instruction. Having learned mindfulness and
non-attachment, the person can go on to the four jnanas [Skt: dhyanas]
or wisdoms -- stages of meditative accomplishment that begin in bliss and
culminate with insight into the nature of mind.
Then, the practitioner having attained imperturbability and the cessation of
"fermentation" in which thoughts breed more thoughts that breed
consequences, and so on -- then he or she can see, fly, or appear and
disappear, view past lives, perceive the thoughts of others, achieve the
mind-created body and, understanding that even the elements have no inherent
existence, can converse with beings of other realms. And this is achieved
through the only miracle performed by a Buddha -- the miracle of instruction!
This discourse focuses on the workings of aspects of existence that keep us
bound to the system of sequential existence. That is, the aspects as they
are depicted in the diagram of the Wheel of
Rebirth: birth, becoming, clinging, aging and death,
"name-and-form", and so on.
It also includes the seven stages of [beings according to their]
consciousness and the two spheres: those that are non-percipient and those that
neither perceive nor not-perceive, so that one may speak of eight emancipations
in someone who is truly free.
Here the Buddha speaks of contemplation using four frames of reference:
Body, Feelings, Mind [meditation] and the "mental qualities" or
It ends somewhat humorously as the Master says that if you practice in that
way you can achieve enlightenment or at least, release from samsara, in 7 years
-- or six -- or even five, and so on down to a couple of weeks.
- MahaSamaya Sutra (DN 20) The Great Gathering
It consists mainly of an ancient hymn in which all the beings of the upper
realms gather in the Buddha's presence. All the devas including Indra
and Shiva, mentioned by their epithets -- titles or/and 'nicknames' -- along
with the nagas, garudas, and even Mara and his "dark army" (though
they do not stay,) meet in a state of suspension of conflict in order to do honour to
the One who can teach the way out of samsara.
King Ajatasatru (Pali: Ajatasattu) was the sponsor of the First Buddhist
Council. He was the son of King Bimbisara of Magadha (Bengal) Buddha
Shakyamuni's patron, but he was also an ally of Devatta, the Buddha's murderous
rival. He decides to go and see the Buddha to ask some questions.
The Buddha explains to him patiently all the details and benefits of practicing
In a dramatic and even touching description of the King's setting out to
visit the Teacher whose camp near the capital Rajgriha is so quiet, we learn of
the ruler's anxiety. He even fears there is an ambush.
The Buddha gently begins by reminding Ajatasatru that he had asked questions
about the teachings before and on several occasions, and in his skilful way he
asks him to tell what he had heard before.
Sutta (DN31): When the Teacher is asked by Sigala how an ordinary
person ought to behave, the Buddha responds by reviewing the 5 layperson's
vows and then enlarges upon them by referring to the temptations present in
city life. The person will succeed by using the points of the compass
as a guide: The parents should be looked upon as the East, teachers as
the South, wife and children as the West, friends and associates as the
North, servants and employees as the Nadir [down,] and the ascetics and
brahmins as the Zenith [up.]
The Heart Sutra is a short version of the Prajnaparamita Sutra.
- Shuranagama Sutra: A fundamental Mahayana scripture for those working on the nature of the
mind, it tells how
for Mind's location
in 7 places. [Ron Epstein's
- All conditioned dharmas
- Are like dreams, illusions, bubbles, or shadows;
- Like drops of dew, or flashes of lightning;
- Thusly should they be contemplated.
links has several catalogues of Buddhist scriptures including:
Pali: The word “Pali” originally designated the
scriptures themselves. The language spoken by the Buddha, which was a
dialect similar to Sanskrit, ought to be called "Maghadhi."
Akusala: a play on the name of the
Indian province, Kosala, which was home to the Kalama family
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