Buddhist scriptures and canonical texts

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These terms are used in a variety of different ways by different authorities:

  • Perhaps the commonest among scholars is an outline of "Buddhist scriptures" occurring in very similar terms in a number of books:[1]
    • Pali Canon or Tipiṭaka; contents as listed are those of the Khmer edition and probably most Siamese/Thai editions, extra books in standard Burmese or Sinhalese editions usually ignored
    • Chinese Canon or Ta Ts'ang Ching; these sources call the Taishō Shinshū Daizōkyō the standard edition, but seem to count only volumes 1-55 as canonical/scripture, referring to 56-100 as a "supplement" and omitting them from the detailed listing
    • Tibetan Canon:
      • Kanjur
      • Tenjur
    • it should be noted that there are varying amounts of overlap between these collections
  • Professor Gombrich[2] says that scriptures can be categorized as follows.
    • canonical: Pali Canon and surviving portions of canons of other early Buddhist schools
    • commentarial: not specified, but he seems to be thinking of the Pali commentaries
    • pseudo-canonical: Mahayana sutras and tantras: i.e. most of the Kanjur and a fair amount of the Taishō
  • the Buddhist writer Sangharakshita[3] uses the term "canonical" to refer to those texts regarded by various branches of Buddhism as "The Word of the Buddha", i.e.
    • the Pali Canon
    • the Kanjur
    • a few other texts
  • one scholar, writing in the Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism[4] in the East Asian context, refers to "scriptures and other canonical texts", apparently meaning the first term in a sense much like that given by Sangharakshita to the latter, and the latter to refer either to the whole Taishō or to the first 55 volumes
  • another scholar, writing in that same work,[5] seems to use both terms in Sangharakshita's sense
  • the Penguin Classics anthology Buddhist Scriptures, edited and translated by Edward Conze, and its replacement edited by Donald S. Lopez, Jr, seem to make no distinction between scriptures and non-scriptures, but to count all Buddhist literature as scripture


  1. e.g. Prebish, Historical Dictionary of Buddhism, Harvey, Introduction to Buddhism, Robinson & Johnson, The Buddhist Religion, 4th edition
  2. Bechert & Gombrich, World of Buddhism, Thames & Hudson, London, 1984, page 79
  3. The Eternal Legacy: an Introduction to the Canonical Literature of Buddhism, Tharpa Pubns
  4. (Volume One), page 142
  5. (Volume One), page 93