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Buddhist Scriptures

The Buddhist canon of scripture is known in Sanskrit as the Tripitaka and in Pali as the Tipitaka. These terms literally mean "three baskets" and refers to the three main divisions of the canon, which are:

> The Vinaya Pitaka, containing disciplinary rules for the Satgha of Buddhist monks and nuns, as well as a range of other texts which explain why and how rules were instituted, supporting material, and doctrinal clarification.

> The Sutta Pitaka (Pali; Sanskrit: Sutra Pitaka), containing discourses of the Buddha.

> The Abhidhamma (Skt: Abhidharma) or commentary Pitaka, containing a philosophical systematization of the Buddha's teaching, including a detailed analysis of Buddhist psychology. Though the Theravadin Abhidhamma is well preserved and widely known, it should be noted that a number of the early Eighteen Schools each had their own distinct Abhidharma collection with virtually no common textual material.

During the first few centuries after Gautama Buddha, his teachings were transmitted orally, but around the 1st Century CE they began to be written down. A given school of Buddhism will generally have its own distinctive canon of texts, which will partially overlap with those of other schools. The most notable set of texts from the early period is the Pali Canon, which was preserved in Sri Lanka by the Theravada school. The sutras it contains are also part of the canon of every other Buddhist sect.

Mahayana Tradition
The appearance of the Mahayana tradition brought with it a collection of new texts, composed in Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit, many of which were also described as actual sermons of the Buddha. These include the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras, the Avatasaka, the Lotus Sutra, the Vimalakirti Sutra, and the Nirvana Sutra. Many of the Mahayana sutras were translated into Tibetan and classical Chinese and are also now read in the West.

The Mahayana corpus of sutras further expanded after Buddhism was transmitted to China, where the existing texts were translated, and new texts were composed for the purpose of adapting the Indian tradition to the East Asian philosophical mindset. Some of these works are considered by modern scholars to be spurious. On the other hand, there were texts, such as the Platform Sutra and the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment did not pretend to be of Indian origin, but are widely accepted as valid scriptures on their own merits. Later writings include the Linji Lu of Chan master Linji. In the course of the development of Korean Buddhism and Japanese Buddhism, further important texts were composed. These included, for example, in Korea, some of the writings of Jinul, and in Japan, works such as Dogen's Shobogenzo.

Tibetan Canon
Arguably the most thorough compilation of Mahayana works is found in the Tibetan canon. This is split into those texts attributed to be authored by the Buddha (Kanjur), and those texts which are understood to be commentaries by Indian practitioners (Tenjur). Vajrayana practitioners also study distinctive texts such as the Buddhist tantras.

Recently an important archaeological discovery was made, consisting of the earliest known Buddhist manuscripts, recovered from somewhere near ancient Gandhara in northwest Pakistan. These fragments, written on birch bark, are dated to the 1st century and have been compared to the Dead Sea scrolls in importance. Donated to the British Library in 1994, they are now are being studied in a joint project at the University of Washington.

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