EBT, Pali Canon... some technicalities

Would it be accurate to assert that the Tipitaka is the earliest written body of Buddhist texts? (As distinct from earliest “texts”, which refers to oral as well as written material)

That is to say, it may be possible that passages (“text” as content) in, say, the Chinese āgama-s, or elsewhere, might be of earlier origin, but they were written-down long after. I.e. Buddhism didn’t even reach China until a couple of centuries after the Pali Canon was “closed”, and the bulk of Chinese writings a couple of centuries later.

Also, the “Pali Canon” strictly refers only to the Tipitaka? What should one call the complete Pali writings, as in, for instance, the CST4.0 body of texts, that includes the Atthakatha, Tika, and Añña? And even that doesn’t include, for instance, the Abhidhammamatthasangaha. Is there a term for the whole shebang?

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It is the earliest body of texts for which we have a historical source that says they were written down. And, in all probability, they are the oldest texts that we have that were, in fact, written down.

But they are not the oldest actual physical manuscripts; there are large numbers of texts from northern regions, including EBT texts, that are older than any Pali manuscripts.

Generally speaking, in Buddhist studies, unless otherwise specified, we assume that “text” refers to the content, rather than a written manuscript, as everyone knows they were oral texts for several centuries.

Indeed. The date of a text has little relation to the date it was written down, still less to the date of manuscripts or historical references that we happen to possess. All the canons include both earlier and later material.

Generally speaking this is true, although the interval between the very earliest Chinese translations and the very latest significant changes to the Pali texts is possibly not that great, or may even overlap. This of course depends if you include the Milinda as a canonical text.

Generally speaking, yes, although see my observations in the article linked above.

The Pali shebang, of course! But more seriously, no, not really. We would just use a generic term like “the Pali literature”.


Venerable Sir @sujato,

are you familiar with Wynne’s lecture on the Ur-text of the Pali Tipiṭaka?

I am especially interested in your views regarding his thesis that the SE Asian tipitaka does not stem from Sri Lanka, but from mainland India. Meaning that before the canon was fixed at the 4th council, it already happened in India and spread out to neighboring countries.

Additionally, his statement about there not being evidence for the Lankan Theravada outside of Sri Lanka until the 11th Century.

Since this is not my field of work, I might have misunderstood his argumentation.


No, I’m not familiar with this, I will have a listen when i get some time.