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How to compile a list of all Early Buddhist Texts?

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#1

What are the names of all the early Pali, Gandhari, Sanskrit, Chinese, Tibetan, etc., early textual sources?

Names of academic papers, books, resources, discussion threads, or texts on this specific topic are also welcome!


The “Authenticity of Early Buddhist Texts” book (found for free online here: https://ocbs.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/authenticity.pdf) identifies a rough list of “early Buddhist texts.”

Pali

  • Digha Nikaya
  • Majjhima Nikaya
  • Samyutta Nikaya
  • Anguttara Nikaya
  • Dhammapada
  • Udāna
  • Itivuttaka
  • Sutta Nipāta
  • Thera Gāthā
  • Therī Gāthā
  • Pātimokkhas
  • Suttavibhanga
  • Khandhakas: Mahavagga/Cullavagga
    (Cred: AoEBT, @sujato, @brahmali)

Chinese

  • Dirgha-agama (Dharmaguptaka; Chinese)
  • Madhyama-agama (Sarvastivada; Chinese)
  • Samyukta-agama (Sarvastivada; Chinese)
  • Ekottara-agama (Mahasamghika; Chinese)
    (Cred: animuseternal-Reddit user)
  • The Four Buddhist Āgamas in Chinese – A Concordance of their Parts and of the Corresponding Counterparts in the Pāli Nikāyas - by Anesaki
    (Cred: @Javier)

Sanskrit

  • Dirgha-agama (Sarvastivada; Sanskrit)
    (Source: animuseternal-Reddit user)

Academic Texts

  • The Comparative Catalogue of Chinese Āgamas and Pāli Nikāyas - by Akanuma Shinzen
    (Cred: @Javier)

Later Textual Sources

  • Abhidhamma
  • Mahāyāna Sūtras
  • Buddha biographies
  • Historical chronicles
  • Parivara
  • Jātakas (some may be derived from EBT?)
  • Commentaries (may contain some genuine historical information alongside much later invention)
  • Sub-commentaries

Are there any texts that have significant early material that is not on this list?

Thank you in advance!


Dating/Marriage within the Early Buddhist Community
#2

Strictly speaking, no. New manuscripts are still being unearthed, transcribed, and digitized in the field of Buddhist manuscript research (see e.g. From Birch Bark to Digital Data).

I would love to see a more constructive answer that extends beyond the definition of EBTs given in Authenticity pp. 9-10 (quoted below for easy reference).

Early Buddhist Texts: Texts spoken by the historical Buddha and his contemporary disciples. These are the bulk of the Suttas in the main four Pali Nikāyas and parallel Āgama literature in Chinese, Tibetan, Sanskrit, and other Indian dialects; the pātimokkhas and some Vinaya material from the khandhakas; a small portion of the Khuddaka Nikāya, consisting of significant parts of the Sutta Nipāta, Udāna, Itivuttaka, Dhammapada, and Thera- and Therī Gāthā. The “Suttas” in a narrow sense are those passages that are directly attributed to the Buddha himself (and to a lesser extent his direct disciples).

Non-EBTs: Abhidhamma, Mahāyāna Sūtras, Buddha biographies, historical chronicles, as well as the majority of the Khuddaka Nikāya and the Vinaya Piṭaka. The Jātakas are non-EBT, but derive from stories that in some cases may even be earlier than the Buddha. Commentaries and other late texts may contain some genuine historical information alongside much later invention.

[Footnotes omitted]


#3

My understanding is that there’s no such comprehensive list at the moment other than SuttaCentral.

There’s various academic publications which suttacentral draws from, such as Anesaki’s The Four Buddhist Āgamas in Chinese – A Concordance of their Parts and of the Corresponding Counterparts in the Pāli Nikāyas and Akanuma Shinzen’s The Comparative Catalogue of Chinese Āgamas and Pāli Nikāyas. However, these are focused on the Chinese Agamas and the Nikayas, and do not include other EBTs like Gandhari or Tibetan language material.

The wikipedia page has more info: Early Buddhist Texts - Wikipedia


#4

I totally agree.

This is exactly the constructive answer that I am hoping to find that builds on and refines the definition of EBT’s given in Authenticity. Thank you for quoting it for reference.

If you can list texts beyond what is listed in this definition, that would be helpful.

Thanks for the response.


#5

Can you clarify what you mean by SuttaCentral being a “list”?

Thank you for highlighting:

  1. Anesaki’s The Four Buddhist Āgamas in Chinese – A Concordance of their Parts and of the Corresponding Counterparts in the Pāli Nikāyas
  2. Akanuma Shinzen’s The Comparative Catalogue of Chinese Āgamas and Pāli Nikāyas

If you know of any other texts which can be considered early beyond the list quoted by @Robbie from the Authenticity of EBTs book, please let me know.

Will check out the wikipedia page.

Thank you!


Buddhist Pilgrimage to 4 Places: Lumbini, Bodh Gaya, Sarnath, and Kusinagar
#6

I mean, you can see that Suttacentral has a lot of lists of EBTs that have not been translated. Also, each sutta will often have a list of parallels and partial parallels too.


#7

Ah yes, thank you.

Is there anywhere I can find the names of all of the EBTs listed in one location?

Like an updated list of all the names of all the EBTs?


#8

The problem is a matter of definition. To draw up a simple, general list like this is not too hard. But when you get into the nitty gritty of the details, things get complicated quickly. There are things in the four nikayas, for example, that are later than some things in the Abhidhamma. And what are we to think of late texts that quote from early texts: they are certainly of interest to students of the EBTs, hence we include them on SC, but are they actually EBTs? Hard to say!

Another way to put the list would be negatively. EBTs include everything on SuttaCentral, except:

  • Abhidhamma
  • Much of the Vibhanga material in the Vinayas
  • Late books of KN
  • Late texts in Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Chinese, which quote EBTs.

#9

Agreed.

Since it doesn’t seem too difficult, is there anywhere on the SC site where I can find such a simple, general list of names of texts like this?

Good point :thinking:

If they quote from early texts, shouldn’t they be found among the early texts already then - i.e. are thus redundant?
Or are you suggesting that the early source might have been lost and the only evidence of it are quotations from later sources?

Is there a list of all the texts included on SuttaCentral from which I could potentially derive a “simple” list of names of EBTs by subtracting what you listed as “later sources”?


#10

No, the list from Authenticity quoted above represents the opinion of myself and Ven Brahmali.

Again, it’s a matter of definition. If I say, “hoisted by his own petard”, is that a quote from Shakespeare or something else?

This is rare, but it does happen. Of course there are many instances where quotations in later sources can vary in minor details from early sources (which is why they are interesting). There are also cases where a verse or passage may be referred to or quoted in a later text as if it is an early one, but no record of it survives. In the Mahavastu, for example, there is an extra verse in the Ratana Sutta, which on stylistic grounds, appears to be authentic.

Nope.

The problem is that once you start to define these things, opinions vary quite a bit. On SC we try to keep it to things that are fairly generally accepted among those who study early Buddhism. But if we tried to say, this text is early, that one is late, it gets too complicated too quickly. Which is why we offer our opinion in a separate book.


#11

Yes, for example, is Xuanzang’s translation in the 7th century of the Itivrttaka an EBT? It’s really hard to say. The original certainly was an EBT at some point, but texts changed over time in India.


#12

The Chinese Abhidharma texts, which covers both the Sarvastivada Abhidharma and Abhidharma-kosa texts, should be included. Xuanzang’s Yogacarabhumi Sastra has an extensive section quoting Agamas as authority for its theories. Scholars have used it to reconstruct the structure of the Sanskrit Samyukta Agama. There’s also the Commentary on the Great Perfection of Wisdom, which quotes and paraphrases jatakas and EBTs throughout.

The Chinese canon has much more than the four complete Agama collection translations, including many individual translations that are excerpts from the Agamas but represent different versions. There are a total of 4 Chinese versions of the Parinirvana Sutra counting the one included in the Dirgha Agama, for example. Sorting them out takes a some legwork though since some translations are as late as the 10th century. And it’s rabbit hole of parallel canons compared to the simple world of the Pali canon.


#13

I’m for including the early Sarvastivada Abhidharma, since its equivalent to the Theravada Abhidhamma in SC. But the later texts I think is pushing it, because, even though they quote EBTs, so does the Visuddhimagga for example and other later Theravada texts. If we started doing that, there would be no end to it.

However, if SC wanted to be comprehensive, it could include excepts from these later texts that quote EBTs, such as Samathadeva’s Abhidharmakosha commentary.


#14

:joy::rofl::sweat_smile: A nice usage, bhante, showing your great and unmatched wisdom. :innocent:


#15

The difference is that the texts quoted in some later Chinese works like the Yogacara-bhumi are currently lost to us beyond some fragments here and there in Indic languages. The Pali canon is extant, so the Visuddhimagga quotes are essentially alternate readings if they vary. On the other hand, Chinese texts are all translations and the originals vary, so the whole picture is blurrier.


#16

Then perhaps after SC has grown to include most complete EBTs, a collection of excerpts from these sources could be collected as well.


#17

It just depends on what we are doing. If we just want to list the primary texts that practitioners want to read and study, then those sources aren’t as important.

The Yogacara-bhumi has been important because it’s been used as another witness to the Samyukta Agama’s structure. The fascicles of the Chinese translation of the Samyukta were apparently jumbled and a couple lost at some point in its history. A librarian or redactor then replaced a couple fascicles with Jataka stories translated separately. Using the Yogacara-bhumi as a reference, scholars have been able to deduce the order it probably had before that happened. So, it’s an important resource for anyone translating or studying the Chinese Agama to be aware of, but it’s less interesting as something for the readers to care so much about.

That’s a good example of how complicated translating these texts can be.


#18

Shows what you can learn if you hang around with me.

Lol, do we not already? I mean there are some things missing, but surely we have “most”?

Good point, I guess translating SA would require translating the reconstructed version, which means a reconstructed text has to first be established.


#19

Mea culpa! I guess you’re right in the grand scheme of things.

So, has there been any thought given to these excerpts in later texts, like Samathadeva’s tika or the stuff in the Prajñaparamita lit?

I get that its definitely not an easy thing to do so I would understand if the team decided it just wasn’t worth it.


#20

Ven Dhammadinna is working on this, and we will integrate it when ready.

We haven’t looked into this. I am sure there are many quotes and references to early texts and passages in Mahayana literature. We’re happy to record occasional passages as they are brought to our attention, but more systematic work will probably emerge from AI.