Sutras by Length

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Sutras by Length

Postby Madhyama Pratipada » Sun Mar 24, 2013 3:37 am

I was wondering if anyone here could kindly comment on the lengths of the sutras.

For this question, I'm mainly interested in the Mahayana Sutras, since the Theravada canon is pretty straight-forward. In fact, the Pali suttas are mostly organized by length: the Digha Nikaya containing the long discourses, the Majjhima Nikaya with the middle length discourses, and the Samyutta, Anguttara, and Khuddaka Nikayas generally containing shorter discourses. But what about the Prajna Paramita Sutras? Tathagatagarbha Sutras? From my own experience reading the sutras, I know the Heart Sutra is shorter than the Diamond Sutra, which is shorter than the Lotus Sutra, which is shorter than the Mahaparinirvana, Avatamsaka, and Lankavatara Sutras. But I'm curious about other sutras and where they stand, length-wise, relative to the rest.

Could anyone provide a simple comparison of the lengths of the major Mahayana sutras (and minor sutras if you are so inclined to give this some extra consideration), giving either rank order lengths or approximate page lengths? Many thanks in advance.

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Re: Sutras by Length

Postby Jikan » Sun Mar 24, 2013 11:11 pm

Well, the Avatamsaka Sutra is very, very long. In translation, it's around 1500 pages in length: more like a library than a single text.

There are others that are only a few paragraphs in length.

:shrug:
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Re: Sutras by Length

Postby Kare » Mon Mar 25, 2013 1:26 am

I think this probably is the shortest sutra ever:

Single Letter Transcendent Wisdom Sutra:
Prajnaparamita Ekashari Sutra
Homage to Prajnaparamita!

Thus have I heard: At one time the Lord dwelt at Rajagrha, on the Vulture Peak, together with a large congregation of renunciates, with 1,250 renunciates, and with countless bodhisattvas. At that time the Lord addressed Venerable Ananda:

"Ananda, do receive, for the sake of the welfare and happiness of all sentient existence, this perfection of wisdom in one letter, the letter 'a'."

Thus spoke the Lord. The Venerable Ananda, the large congregation of renunciates, the assembly of bodhisattvas, and the whole world with its devas, humans, asuras, and heavenly musicians, rejoiced at the teaching of the Lord.


Unless you shave off the intro and end, which are quite superfluous, and are left standing with the "A". The brevity of that one would be hard to beat! :rolleye:
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Re: Sutras by Length

Postby Jnana » Mon Mar 25, 2013 2:16 am

Madhyama Pratipada wrote:But what about the Prajna Paramita Sutras? Tathagatagarbha Sutras? From my own experience reading the sutras, I know the Heart Sutra is shorter than the Diamond Sutra, which is shorter than the Lotus Sutra, which is shorter than the Mahaparinirvana, Avatamsaka, and Lankavatara Sutras. But I'm curious about other sutras and where they stand, length-wise, relative to the rest.

Could anyone provide a simple comparison of the lengths of the major Mahayana sutras (and minor sutras if you are so inclined to give this some extra consideration), giving either rank order lengths or approximate page lengths? Many thanks in advance.

There are a number of Prajñāpāramitā Sūtras that eventually came to be named according to their length:

1. Triśatikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra: 300 lines, (this is the Diamond Sūtra)
2. Pañcaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra: 500 lines
3. Saptaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra: 700 lines
4. Sārdhadvisāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra: 2500 lines
5. Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra: 8000 lines
6. Aṣṭadaśasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra: 18,000 lines
7. Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra: 25,000 lines
8. Śatasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra: 100,000 lines

IIRC the longest Mahāyāna sūtras are the Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra and the Avataṃsaka Sūtra, but the Avataṃsaka is most likely a composite collection of sūtras, some of which may have originally circulated independently in India. Another large collection of sūtras is the Mahāratnakūṭa, which contains 49 sūtras of various lengths.
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Re: Sutras by Length

Postby plwk » Mon Mar 25, 2013 8:59 am

Greetings Jnana,

Image
If I may trouble you with this...from the cover page flap of Garma C.C Chang's work as above...
The Maharatnakuta Sutra is one of the five major sutra groups in the Mahayana canon

Would happen to know what the bolded part is all about? I think this may be helpful to the OP's quest as well. :thanks:
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Re: Sutras by Length

Postby Wayfarer » Mon Mar 25, 2013 9:15 am

The longest sutra might be a matter of conjecture, however the shortest is well-established. It is the Prajñāpāramitā in a Single Letter - being 'a', the first letter of the Sanskrit alphabet, which signifies the negative particle. It is approximately equivalent to the English particle 'un-' - as in 'unknown', 'unthought', etc. So this single letter signifies Śūnyatā, and also the beginning of all written and spoken language.

(Source: Hans Wolfgang Schumann: Buddhism - an Outline of its Teachings and Schools, Quest Books, 1974, p125)
Learn to do good, refrain from evil, purify the mind ~ this is the teaching of the Buddhas
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Re: Sutras by Length

Postby Astus » Mon Mar 25, 2013 10:05 am

The Great Prajnaparamita Sutra (大般若波羅蜜多經) is the longest in the Taisho Canon, 600 fascicles (卷), although it is a collection of many sutras just like the Ratnakuta. The Avatamsaka Sutra (大方廣佛華嚴經) translated by T. Cleary is 80 fascicles.
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Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

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Re: Sutras by Length

Postby Will » Mon Mar 25, 2013 6:38 pm

plwk wrote:Greetings Jnana,

Image
If I may trouble you with this...from the cover page flap of Garma C.C Chang's work as above...
The Maharatnakuta Sutra is one of the five major sutra groups in the Mahayana canon

Would happen to know what the bolded part is all about? I think this may be helpful to the OP's quest as well. :thanks:


Not sure about this, but maybe the other 4 groups are: Avatamsaka, Prajnaparamita, Pure Land & Tathagatagarbha
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Re: Sutras by Length

Postby Jnana » Mon Mar 25, 2013 6:49 pm

Will wrote:
plwk wrote:If I may trouble you with this...from the cover page flap of Garma C.C Chang's work as above...
The Maharatnakuta Sutra is one of the five major sutra groups in the Mahayana canon

Would happen to know what the bolded part is all about? I think this may be helpful to the OP's quest as well. :thanks:


Not sure about this, but maybe the other 4 groups are: Avatamsaka, Prajnaparamita, Pure Land & Tathagatagarbha

It's probably a reference to the following five Mahāyāna sūtra collections in the Chinese canon: Prajñā, Avataṃsaka, Ratnakūṭa, Parinirvāṇa, and Mahāsaṃnipāta.
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Re: Sutras by Length

Postby plwk » Tue Mar 26, 2013 1:49 am

Thanks Jnana and Will
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