Chinese Buddhist canon

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Chinese Buddhist canon

Postby Lazy_eye » Mon Jul 18, 2011 11:36 pm

Hi all,

Information on the Chinese canon seems a little hard to come by -- at least in comparison to the Pali Canon, although my understanding is that the Chinese canon is just as old and perhaps even older (some scholars have claim the Pali wasn't finalized until the time of Buddhaghosa). I was wondering: what are the earliest surviving documents from this canon? Are there any known major discrepancies between the Chinese agamas and the Pali sutta pitaka?

On a related note, what are the very earliest known references to Mahayana teachings? When scholars estimate the dates that certain teachings developed (i.e. prajnaparamita, tathagatagarbha, the bodhisattva path as distinct from that of the arahant) what do they use to arrive at these dates?

Thanks,

LE
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Re: Chinese Buddhist canon

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jul 19, 2011 5:44 am

Lazy_eye wrote:Hi all,

Information on the Chinese canon seems a little hard to come by -- at least in comparison to the Pali Canon, although my understanding is that the Chinese canon is just as old and perhaps even older (some scholars have claim the Pali wasn't finalized until the time of Buddhaghosa). I was wondering: what are the earliest surviving documents from this canon? Are there any known major discrepancies between the Chinese agamas and the Pali sutta pitaka?

On a related note, what are the very earliest known references to Mahayana teachings? When scholars estimate the dates that certain teachings developed (i.e. prajnaparamita, tathagatagarbha, the bodhisattva path as distinct from that of the arahant) what do they use to arrive at these dates?

Thanks,

LE


This site is a directory of all scriptures that correspond to one another across multiple languages including the Pali and Chinese.

http://www.suttacentral.net/


Jan Nattier's work entitled A Guide to the Earliest Chinese Buddhist Translations: Texts from the Eastern Han "Dong Han" and Three Kingdoms "San Guo" Periods is a great recent work detailing the history of the early Chinese Buddhist translations.

However, that work isn't easy to find it seems. If you can get a hold of it it will answer all your questions in fine detail.

I was wondering: what are the earliest surviving documents from this canon?


The earliest translations we have in Chinese come from the Eastern Han Dynasty (25–220 CE).

According to traditional histories the Sūtra in Forty-Two Sections《四十二章經》is the earliest Chinese Buddhist text said to have been translated during the Eastern Han dynasty 東漢 (25-220 CE) by Kāśyapamatanga 迦葉摩騰 and Dharmarakṣa 法蘭. However, this is disputed by modern scholars for numerous reasons.

The history of Buddhism in China officially seems to begin with the following somewhat mystical account in The Book of the Later Han 《後漢書 》:


世傳明帝夢見金人,長大,頂有光明,以問群臣。或曰:“西方有神,名曰佛,其形長丈六尺而黃金色。”帝於是遣使天竺問佛道法,遂於中國圖畫形像焉。楚王英始信其術,中國因此頗有奉其道者。...

It has been passed down through the generations that Emperor Ming had seen a golden man in a dream who was big and tall with a halo atop his head. He asked his ministers about this. One suggested, "In the west there is a spirit named Buddha. His figure is one zhang and six chi tall and his colour is golden yellow." The Emperor in response to this dispatched a delegation to India to ask of the Buddha's way and methods and they succeeded in bringing images and sculptures back to China. Chuwang Ying started to have conviction in the methods [of Buddhism]. It is because of this that China has many who believe in the ways [of the Buddha]. ...


I think it is likely that Buddhism existed in China before this as Emperor Aśoka is said to have sent Buddhist missionaries to China, though unfortunately no account of this exists in historical records or archaeology as far as I know. I think it was there, but just very low key and probably limited to foreigners.

I wrote a few things about this in the following blog post:

http://huayanzang.blogspot.com/2011/05/ ... ughts.html


Are there any known major discrepancies between the Chinese agamas and the Pali sutta pitaka?


This is a very big question. You could write a PhD thesis on it.

Many of the early Chinese scriptures were imported from Central Asia, not India, where the Sarvāstivāda school, not any school using the Pali canon, was flourishing. Early Chinese Buddhism is actually based on Central Asian Buddhism.

As for discrepencies, you might want to give the following book a read as it details the development of ideas on the Buddha, making use of both Pali and Chinese, while pointing out differences:

The Concept of the Buddha: its Evolution from Early Buddhism to the Trikāya Theory
By Guang Xing

http://books.google.com/books?id=DTWZLM ... &q&f=false
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Re: Chinese Buddhist canon

Postby Astus » Tue Jul 19, 2011 11:39 am

Another book to look into:

The fundamental teachings of early Buddhism: A comparative study based on the Sutranga portion of the Pali Samyutta-Nikaya and the Chinese Samyuktagama by Mun-keat Choong

Also interesting:

Metaphor and Literalism in Buddhism The Doctrinal History of Nirvana by Soon-Il Hwang
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: Chinese Buddhist canon

Postby some1 » Tue Jul 19, 2011 3:08 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:Information on the Chinese canon seems a little hard to come by -- at least in comparison to the Pali Canon

Actually, a number of compilations for the Chinese canon are now available on the internet. One of the most important/popular digitized version is CBETA or Taisho Tripitaka.

Links to some other online resources are also available at wikipedia

However, English translations (e.g. here) from the Chinese canon are still far less extensive or complete compared to the Pali canon. I think that is partly due the bigger difference between Chinese and Indo-European languages, and the larger volume of Mahayana text in general.
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Re: Chinese Buddhist canon

Postby Astus » Tue Jul 19, 2011 9:06 pm

some1 wrote:However, English translations (e.g. here) from the Chinese canon are still far less extensive or complete compared to the Pali canon. I think that is partly due the bigger difference between Chinese and Indo-European languages, and the larger volume of Mahayana text in general.


I think there are significantly more people who speak Chinese, Korean or Japanese than those who know Pali. However, there are lot more Western monks within Theravada than those in East Asian traditions and also more Western followers of Theravada generally than those of Chinese or Korean Buddhism. So it is the number of followers that makes the real difference. (Zen followers don't really count as only a handful of them consider themselves Buddhists.)
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: Chinese Buddhist canon

Postby Lazy_eye » Wed Jul 20, 2011 5:15 am

Thanks to all of you who replied. It seems one is really going to be limited in exploring this topic without a solid reading knowledge of Chinese. Makes me realize how lucky English-speaking Theravadins are to have Access to Insight.

My interest was sparked by (among other things) these three sutras from the agamas. The first one corresponds closely to the Pali Canon's Sunna Sutta with a notable exception: it includes the formulation "empty of eternal and unchanging nature" which sounds like it came straight out of Nagarjuna.

Wondering if there are similar interesting discrepancies elsewhere, and what they signify -- did something get added into the Chinese version, or taken out of the Pali?
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Re: Chinese Buddhist canon

Postby Indrajala » Wed Jul 20, 2011 5:55 am

Lazy_eye wrote:Wondering if there are similar interesting discrepancies elsewhere, and what they signify -- did something get added into the Chinese version, or taken out of the Pali?


The Chinese translations were not translated from Pali. They were probably translated from numerous languages including Sanskrit, Gandhari and Tocharian.

There was also no "original canon" from which all other canons sprung. The teachings were transmitted orally and then multiple traditions some many years after the Buddha's death set down to writing them. Pali is just one such language in which they were written. The oldest physical surviving Buddhist manuscripts we have today are written Gandhari from northern India.
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Re: Chinese Buddhist canon

Postby Jnana » Wed Jul 20, 2011 6:57 am

Lazy_eye wrote:It seems one is really going to be limited in exploring this topic without a solid reading knowledge of Chinese. Makes me realize how lucky English-speaking Theravadins are to have Access to Insight.

I would second Astus' recommendation to read Choong's The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddism (it's out of print but available on Scribd). Choong's The Notion of Emptiness in Early Buddhism is also worth a read, as he compares the Pāli texts and the Chinese texts in it as well, and also the three "emptiness sūtras."

There's also the Digital Comparative Edition and Partial Translation of the Shorter Chinese Saṃyukta Āgama (T.100).

Lazy_eye wrote:My interest was sparked by (among other things) these three sutras from the agamas. The first one corresponds closely to the Pali Canon's Sunna Sutta with a notable exception: it includes the formulation "empty of eternal and unchanging nature" which sounds like it came straight out of Nagarjuna.

It's pretty standard Nikāya era language. For example, see the Pāli Paṭisambhidāmagga Suññatākathā, where each of the twelve sensory spheres (āyatanā) are said to be "empty of a self or that which belongs to a self or of what is permanent and everlasting and eternal and not subject to change."

Lazy_eye wrote:Wondering if there are similar interesting discrepancies elsewhere, and what they signify -- did something get added into the Chinese version, or taken out of the Pali?

Doctrinally, all of the early texts are very similar. The only major differences are in word choice and how the basic pericopes are strung together to form larger units, and then how these larger units of sūtras are arranged into Āgamas/Nikāyas. Check out Four Gāndhārī Saṃyuktāgama Sūtras (and the other publications in this series) for a detailed comparison of issues regarding Indic, Chinese, and Tibetan languages, Āgama arrangement, etc.

All the best,

Geoff
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Re: Chinese Buddhist canon

Postby Astus » Wed Jul 20, 2011 8:22 am

Jnana wrote:Doctrinally, all of the early texts are very similar. The only major differences are in word choice and how the basic pericopes are strung together to form larger units, and then how these larger units of sūtras are arranged into Āgamas/Nikāyas.


And that similarity led people to conclude it is the Theravada school that could preserve the best the original teachings, or the closest to the original ones, as a living tradition.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: Chinese Buddhist canon

Postby Kyosan » Sat Jul 23, 2011 1:25 am

Astus wrote:.....Zen followers [in the West] don't really count as only a handful of them consider themselves Buddhists.....

That's not my experience. What makes you think that's the case?
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Re: Chinese Buddhist canon

Postby Jnana » Sun Jul 31, 2011 8:30 pm

Another short paper by Ven. Anālayo for anyone who really wants to get into some of the minutia of comparative analysis between the collections of the MN & MĀ: Comparative Notes on the Madhyama-āgama.
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Re: Chinese Buddhist canon

Postby cdpatton » Wed Aug 10, 2011 2:50 am

Lazy_eye wrote:Thanks to all of you who replied. It seems one is really going to be limited in exploring this topic without a solid reading knowledge of Chinese. Makes me realize how lucky English-speaking Theravadins are to have Access to Insight.

My interest was sparked by (among other things) these three sutras from the agamas. The first one corresponds closely to the Pali Canon's Sunna Sutta with a notable exception: it includes the formulation "empty of eternal and unchanging nature" which sounds like it came straight out of Nagarjuna.

Wondering if there are similar interesting discrepancies elsewhere, and what they signify -- did something get added into the Chinese version, or taken out of the Pali?


The Chinese Agamas reveal the multiplicity of early Buddhist canons, in my opinion. The four Agamas were translated by different translators and seem to come from differing sects in India (Dharmaguptaka, Sarvastivada, etc). It pretty much shatters the monolithic scriptural tradition idea that we tend to have just looking at the Pali. I have found it interesting to compare the Chinese to the Pali. Sometimes, the Sutras are very similar, almost identical. Sometimes they are the same in doctrinal content, but differ quite a bit in style (the Chinese perhaps has more gathas, and so forth). And sometimes, they are significantly different. But, usually, they line up fairly well. There are definitely cases in which my impression is that the Chinese version is "better" than the Pali -- that is, more coherent, lacking strange insertions, etc. And sometimes, the opposite is true. It's very much a case by case situation.

One interesting thing that jumps out right away is that while the four Agamas have basically the same names as the Nikayas (Digha = Dirgha, Majjhima = Madhyama, etc) the actual collections of sutras are "jumbled". The Madhyama has a large number of Sutras found in the Anguttara Nikaya, and so forth. So, I would assume these are different traditions from the time of compilation on. On the other hand, the (apparently Dharmaguptaka) Dirgha Agama is pretty close to the Digha Nikaya. But, there, again, it has a large cosmological Sutra attached that is missing from the Nikayas! It's one of those "I wish I had a couple extra lifetimes to study this" things.

Charlie.
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Re: Chinese Buddhist canon

Postby Will » Wed Aug 10, 2011 3:14 am

Charlie: Dirgha Agama has a large cosmological Sutra.


Tell us about this one; any resemblance to the Agganna Sutta? Any translation in English?
One should refrain from biased judgments and doubting in fathoming the Buddha and the Dharma of the Buddhas. Even though a dharma may be extremely difficult to believe, one should nonetheless maintain faith in it. Nagarjuna
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Re: Chinese Buddhist canon

Postby cdpatton » Wed Aug 10, 2011 4:52 am

Will wrote:
Charlie: Dirgha Agama has a large cosmological Sutra.


Tell us about this one; any resemblance to the Agganna Sutta? Any translation in English?


I'm not aware of any English translations. And I have not studied it's contents. There are alternates in the Chinese: Taisho 23, 24, and 25 by Fa-li/Fa-ju, Jnanagupta, and Dharmagupta, respectively. The title is 世記經, which is something like "Record of the World Sutra." It's fairly large, spanning the final 5 fascicles of the Dirgha Agama (which is a 22 fasc. collection) and is larger than the Parinirvana Sutra also found in the Dirgha Agama.

It seems to be a fairly detailed systematization of cosmological teachings placed into a single Sutra. It is divided into 12 chapters: 1. Jambudvipa, 2. Uttarakuru, 3. The Wheel-turning Noble King, 4. Hell (Naraka), 5. Nagas and Garudas, 6. Asura, 7. the Four Deva-kings (Lokapalas), 8. the Trayastrimsa Devas, 9. the Three Catastrophes, 10. Warfare, 11. Three Middle Kalpas, and 12. Past Events of the World. So it would seem to be a wide ranging survey of Samsara as well as the destruction of the world, etc. I would guess is collects together material that would be found in a number of places in the Pali Canon, including the Agganna Sutta.

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Re: Chinese Buddhist canon

Postby Will » Wed Aug 10, 2011 6:20 am

Fascinating Charlie, many thanks. Cosmology is not in the forefront of Buddhism, so this would be a great text for somebody to translate.
One should refrain from biased judgments and doubting in fathoming the Buddha and the Dharma of the Buddhas. Even though a dharma may be extremely difficult to believe, one should nonetheless maintain faith in it. Nagarjuna
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