Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Basic Literature of Buddhism

These two branches of Buddhism have different literary traditions, though some works are common to both; and these literatures, differing from each other in language, also differ widely in contents and in spirit. The southern tradition, composed in Pali, the literary language of Ceylon, has recently been opened up to scholars, and has greatly changed their views of the origin and the true nature of this religion. The Canon of Southern Buddhism, which we might call the Pali Bible, is a literature about twice as large as the Bible of Europe, although if the repetitions in it were removed, it would be somewhat smaller than the Bible. It consists of three Pitakas, baskets or collections. The first is the Vinaya Pitaka, dealing with discipline, but including the Mahavagga, a history of the first beginnings of the order as the founder gathered it around him. The second is the Sutta Pitaka or collection of teachings. It contains the earliest account of the later life of the founder, books of meditation and devotion, collections of sayings by the Master, poems, fairy tales, and fables, stories about Buddhist saints, and so on. The third collection, the Abidhamma, contains speculations and discussions on various subjects. Much of these materials is not peculiar to Buddhism, there is much pre-Buddhistic speculation, and there are many stories which are not peculiar even to India. Along with all this, however, the books give us the earliest accounts of the life and of the death of the founder, and contain a representation written a century after his death, of what he was considered to have taught. The founder himself wrote nothing; but the work of composing books about him and his doctrine began early, and much of the canon is considered, especially by English scholars, to have been in existence during the first Buddhist century.1 For many centuries they were preserved by memory alone.

1 The Buddhist literature given in the Sacred Books of the East is as follows:

Vol. x. The Dhammapada, containing the quintessence of Buddhist morality, and the Sutta-nipata, giving teachings of Buddha on religion.

Vol. xi. Buddhist Suttas. Religious, moral, and philosophical discourses. Vol. xlix. Buddhist Mahayana Sutras.

Vol. xiii. Vinaya Texts. The Patimokha or order of discipline, and the beginning of the Mahavagga, containing an account of the opening of the ministry of the founder.

Vol. xvii. Vinaya Texts ii. Mahavagga continued. Kullavagga or discipline as established by the Master.

Vol. xx. Kullavagga continued.

Vols. xxii., xlv. contain Suttas of the religion of the Jainas.

Vols. xxxv., xxxvi. Questions of King Milinda.

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