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
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
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.
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.
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.