Elacqua, Joseph, et. al. "Buddhist Sacred Texts." Faithology.com. Faithology, 2 March 2014. Web. 1 September 2014.

Elacqua, J., et. al. (2014, Mar 2). Buddhist Sacred Texts. Faithology. Retrieved from http://faithology.com/texts/buddhism

Elacqua, Joseph, et. al"Buddhist Sacred Texts" Faithology, LLC. Last modified March 2, 2014. http://faithology.com/texts/buddhism

Elacqua, Joseph, et. alBuddhist Sacred Texts. Faithology, LLC, 2012. http://faithology.com/texts/buddhism (Accessed Sep 1, 2014).

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  • Last Updated: March 2, 2014
  • Originally Published: July 15, 2012
  • Buddhist Sacred Texts

Throughout the history of the Buddhist religion, there have been multiple collections of texts deemed to be sacred. These collections are often collectively referred to in English as "Buddhist canons,"  even though there is no single canon in use throughout the entire world.

Generally speaking, no Buddhist canon is seen as more authoritative than another, nor does any single Buddhist canon contain every extant Buddhist text or represent every Buddhist denomination.

The various Buddhist canons of the world are not actually characteristic of the divisions within Buddhism. Rather, the canons are representative of different cultural regions and the scriptures that were historically transmitted to those regions.

Buddhist Sacred Texts

A Tipitaka library in Nakhonpathom, Thailand

The main Buddhist canons that still exist consist of the following:

  • The Tipitaka, also commonly known as the Pali Buddhist canon.
    • This canon, or minor variations of it, was utilized primarily by early Buddhists, active in India and Sri Lanka. Presently, it is still revered by Theravada Buddhists throughout the world. The Tipitaka, written in Pali, was the first canon to have been compiled historically. It is also the only Buddhist canon to survive in an Indian language. However, it only contains scriptures relating to the early Buddhist tradition.
  • The Dazangjing, also commonly referred to as the Chinese Buddhist canon.
    • This canon is mainly representative of Buddhist scriptures brought to China and then transmitted to Korea and Japan. The canon is composed in the Chinese language and has been expanded and republished numerous times in history. Scriptures from all three divisions of Buddhism may be found in this collection. The standard and most commonly used edition of the Dazangjing is called the Taisho Shinshu Daizokyo.
  • The Tibetan Buddhist canon
    • This canon mainly characterizes the Buddhist texts brought to Tibet throughout history. It is composed in the Tibetan language. Like its Chinese counterpart, the Tibetan canon contains scriptures from all three divisions of Buddhism.
      • Unlike the Dazangjing, which has one commonly used edition, there does not seem to be any main edition of the Tibetan Buddhist canon.  Two of the most commonly used editions of the Tibetan canon are the Beijing edition and the Dege edition.

Despite the existence of these three main Buddhist canons, there are a number of texts that have been compiled in subsidiary collections or additional supplementary volumes. There is presently no compilation that contains all of the Buddhist texts in their entirety.

There are several important scriptures contained within these canons.  For example, contained within the Dazangjing is the Lotus Sutra, easily the most well known scripture of Mahayana Buddhism.  This scripture holds within it a majority of the Mahayana Buddhist doctrines and ideals and introduces a number of new bodhisattvas and other figures.
The Dazangjing also contains the Diamond Sutra and the Mahavairocana Sutra.  The first, a discussion of the nature of perception, is perhaps the most well known example of the Prajnaparamita scriptural genre.  The latter is one of the first Vajrayana Buddhist texts and serves as an introduction to these esoteric doctrines and practices.

It should be noted that not all popular Buddhist texts may be found in scriptural canons.  One prime example is the Bardo Todol, also known as "The Tibetan Book of the Dead."  This text, which describes the process of death and dying to the newly deceased, is perhaps the most well known Buddhist text in the West, yet it is not found within the Tibetan Buddhist canon.