Buddhist Sutras (経典)

Sutra,' of the Buddhist sutra (Kyoten, Kyoden, sutra in Sanskrit, sutta in Pali), means a record of Shaka's teachings among Buddhist scriptures.
The way of ascetic training and religious precepts is called 'vinaya'; commentaries of Buddhist sutra are called 'abhidharma'; and sutra, vinaya and abhidharma are collectively called 'Tripitaka.'
Buddhist sutra' means only 'sutra' in a narrow sense, but in a broad sense it means all Buddhist scriptures. In that sense it has the same meaning as Buddhist scriptures.

The major Buddhist sutras include Hokku-kyo Sutra (Dhammapada), Agon-kyo Sutra, Hannya-kyo Sutra, Yuima-kyo Sutra, Nehan-kyo Sutra (Sutra of The Great Nirvana), Kegon-kyo Sutra, Hokke Sanbu-kyo Sutra (Threefold Lotus Sutra), the Three Sutras of the Pure Land (Jodosanbu-kyo Sutra), Kongocho-kyo Sutra, etc.

It can generally be classified into primitive sutras and Mahayana sutras. Primitive sutras include five sutras of Pali and the Agon-kyo Sutra group (as translated into Chinese), and it is said that portions of these sutras adhere relatively closely to Syakamuni's words.

The Mahayana sutras were created by Mahayana Buddhism religious associations beginning around the beginning of the A.D. epoch, so they have no direct relationship to the historical Syakamuni. They include the Hannya-kyo sutras, the Hokke-kyo sutra, the Kegon-kyo sutra and others..

As for languages, there are various translations ranging from Indian dialects such as Pali and Sanskrit to Chinese, Tibetan, Mongolian and Manchurian, and a part of the sutra written in the Tangut language remains as well. They have been translated into Japanese from Chinese, and Pali is also included in this.

Additionally, sutra, vinaya, abhidharma and their commentaries were edited into a series called "Daizo-kyo Sutra (the Tripitaka)" or "Issai-kyo Sutra (Complete Buddhist Scriptures)."
These works were often implemented by order of the Emperor in China, where they set a tough standard to incorporate scriptures so that the scriptures that were not of the standard were called 'Zougai (蔵外).'
Taisho Shinshu Daizo-kyo Sutra, edited in Japan in 1934, generally includes scriptures edited or written in China and Japan.

Pali Buddhist sutras

Sutra (sutta) is a collection of Skaka's and disciples' records of sayings and deeds. Once Shaka reached nirvana, in order to transmit his teachings correctly his disciples held a meeting to edit Buddhist sutras (Ketuju, 結集) and began to classify them. However, from 100 to 200 years after Shaka's nirvana, the religious association split into many Hinayana, and each one came to succeed and keep its own Tripitaka. Apparently, they were written in each respective language of the various regions in India. Only the Pali Buddhist sutra of Theravada Buddhism, which was transmitted to Sri Lanka, exists in complete form; it is used widely in the Southeastern Buddhist countries such as Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar.
The contents are as provided below:

Vinayapitaka: Kyofunbetsu (経分別, Commentary on the Texts of Religious Precepts), Kendo (けん度, Systems and Rules of Religious Associations) and an appendix.

Kyozo, storehouse of sutra: the five sections of diigha-nikaaya, majjhima-nikaaya, saMyutta-nikaaya, AGguttara-nikaa and khuddaka-nikaaya. The former four sections correspond to "Agon-kyo Sutra," as translated into Chinese.

Abhidhamma-piTaka: the seven sections of DhammasaGgaNI, VibhaGga, DhAtukathA, Puggala-paJJatti, KathAvatthu, Yamaka and PaTThAna.

These were written gradually until around 2 B.C. - 1 B.C. and are said to have been transmitted to Sri Lanka around 1 B.C.; subsequently, many commentaries, essentials and history books of Zogai were produced. At the end of the nineteenth century, the Pali Text Society was founded in London and published a revised edition of original sutras, while in Japan the 65 volumes of "Nanden Tripitaka" (1935-1941), including some Zogai scriptures, were published as a complete translation.

It should be remembered that Pali Buddhist sutra haven't necessarily kept the original words. In "Agon-kyo Sutra," as translated into Chinese, there are descriptions that are older than those transmitted to Theravada Buddhism or those that seem to have been translated into Chinese from Sanskrit. In that sense, it is not only a false expression but also an incorrect one to think the Pali Buddhist sutra keep the original forms.

Buddhist sutras translated into Tibetan

In Tibet, the translation of individual Buddhist scriptures was begun by order of King Songtsan Gambo in the seventh century; the translation of Buddhist sutra into the Tibetan language was begun by Tonmisanboda (トンミサンボータ). In accordance with the ascendance of Buddhism as the national religion at the end of the eighth century, the translation of Buddhist scriptures became a national project of the kingdom; thus the work of collecting and translating Buddhist scriptures from India encyclopedically and systematically was begun and completed in the space of just a few decades. In order to translate the original scriptures in Sanskrit, Tibetan grammar and vocabulary were set up, and due to the efforts of Shanyeshede (シャンイェシェデ), Kawaperutseku (カワペルツェク), Chokuroruigentsen (チョクロルイゲンツェン) and others it was completed in about 824.

As for the classification of Buddhist sutras in Tibetan Buddhism, separation into two parts--'Bkah-hgyur' and 'Bstan-hgyur'--was given more value than that into the three parts of 'sutra, vinaya and abhidharma,' which is common to other Buddhist countries. Bkah-hgyur means 'hgyur (translation)' of 'Bkah,' i.e., Syakamuni's word itself, and Bstan-hgyur means 'hgyur (translation)' of 'Bstan,' i.e., a commentary of 'Bkah' by scholars of Indian Buddhism such as Ryuju.

In Tibetan, Buddhist sutras were for a long time widely distributed as manuscripts in order to reveal religious devotion, but in 1410 Emperor Yongle of China's Ming dynasty ordered the carving of wooden blocks of the Tripitaka as souvenirs for Tibetan feudal lords and religious associations that sent messengers to China; this custom was incorporated into Tibet and subsequently led to the carving of various Buddhist sutras.

Beijing edition: Bkah-hgyur of the Yongle edition (1410), Bkah-hgyur of Wanli (1606), Bkah-hgyur of the Kangxi edition (1692), Bstan-hgyur of the Yongzheng edition (1724)
Litang edition (1621-24)
NaTang edition: Bkah-hgyur (1732), Bstan-hgyur (1773)
Dege edition: Bkah-hgyur (1733), Bstan-hgyur (1742)
Lhasa edition: Bkah-hgyur (1936)
Moreover, in China since the 1990s as part of the Chinese Tripitaka project, which will be published in the Western style, Bstan-hgyur (including many manuscripts and editions of past times) has been edited.

The Tripitaka of Buddhist sutras in the above editions includes many commentaries on Mahayana Buddhism sutras, particularly late-stage Indian Buddhism documents of which the original scriptures and translations of Chinese do not exist, so that it has important meaning in the research of late-stage Indian Buddhism. Tibetan translation is near to a literal translation of Sanskrit, and it is easy to deduce to original words, so that it is considered important to the research of original forms of Buddhist sutra that have been translated into Chinese, particularly when the originals no longer exist.

The rNying-ma School, one of the four major religious sects in Tibet, characteristically has many sutras and abhidharmas, which insist that Buddhist sutras (gter-ma) hidden underground during a certain time were after a long time discovered by predetermined gter ston (people who excavated hidden Buddhist sutras). The discovery of gter-ma (hiding Buddhist sutras) has continued since the medieval period, but it is often considered as fiction by persons involved in excavation from other sects. This sect has its own Tripitaka, the contents and composition of which are different from those of the above editions.

Buddhist sutras translated into Chinese

A project for the translation of Buddhist sutras in China was begun in the latter period of the second century and continued virtually without interruption until the end of the eleventh century. In accordance with the progress of translation into Chinese, it became necessary to collect and classify the sutras of the Chinese editions and distinguish the true Buddhist sutras from the false ones, so that at the end of the fourth century Doan SHAKU wrote "Shuri Shu-kyo Mokuroku (亡佚)," the first record of sutra, and at the beginning of the sixth century Soyu edited "Shutsu Sanzo Kishu (the Chu sanzang ji ji)." These 衆経 (or Tripitaka) were said to be called 'Issai-kyo Sutra' in the northern Wei dynasty, meaning the Pei dynasty (China), while they were called 'Tripitaka' in Liang (Nanchao), meaning the Nan dynasty (China); both titles were established in Sui and the beginning of the Tang dynasty, and the form of manuscripts were determined as comprising 17 letters in a line.

In the Sui and Tang periods many records of sutra were edited, such as "Daito Naitenroku" by Dosen, but what influenced later ages was the 20-volume "Kaigen Shakukyoroku," which was completed in 730 by Chisho. Following the classification of Buddhist sutra since the period of the Northern and Southern Dynasties (China), this classified them into the Mahayana Tripitaka, Hinayana Tripitaka and Seiken Shuden (聖賢集伝) and decided that the number of Buddhist scriptures that should be edited into the Tripitaka as 5,048 volumes by designating Mahayana sutra as Godaibu (五大部) of Hannya, Hoshaku (宝積), Taishu (大集), kegon and nirvana.
the period of the Northern and Southern Dynasties (China)

Linage of the Northern Sung dynasty's edition

The printing block of the first edition of the Tripitaka was carved at Shu (Sichuan Province) from 971 to 983 in the era of Kyoin CHO (Song Taizong) of the Northern Sung dynasty, and was printed at 'Sutra Printing Academy,' which was built in Kaifeng, the capital. This was called 'the Tripitaka in Shu edition' in old times; today, however, it is generally called 'Kaihozo' based on the era name at the time of the first block or as the 'rescript edition' because it was carved by the founder's imperial rescript. It was edited in "Kaigen Shakukyoroku." It was a rolled book in which each line consisted of 14 letters standardized by 'Shu big letter book (蜀大字本)' at that time. This was a project for good deeds by Sung, and was given to neighboring countries such as Xi Xia, Goryeo and Japan. Chonen, a priest of Todai-ji Temple who went to Sung in 983, was given 481 boxes and 5,048 volumes of Tripitaka and 40 volumes of Buddhist sutras newly translated; he brought them back to Japan, but because they were placed at Hojo-ji Temple, which was built by FUJIWARA no Michinaga, they vanished in smoke along with the temple. However, since it was hand-copied eagerly as the newly arrived Tripitaka, copies remain in various places. Twelve original books of Kaihozo have been discovered worldwide, among which in Japan each book has been in the possession of Nanzen-ji Zen Temple in Kyoto and the Shodo Hakubutsukan Museum in Tokyo.

During the Jin period, the 'Jin edition' was produced from 1147 to 1173. This was also written as 14 letters in each line. It was for a long time a phantom Tripitaka, but in 1933 it was discovered at a temple in Chogi-ken, Shanxi Province.
For this reason it is also called 'Chogi-zo (趙城蔵).'
Since 1984, "Chuka Daizo-kyo Sutra (Chinese Tripitaka)中華大蔵経" (facsimile edition) has been published, having this Tripitaka as a copied text. Additionally, during the Yuan period it had been repaired several times (repaired edition in Yuan).

Lineage of the Kitai edition

The Tripitaka was carved in around 990 - 1010 by Kitai. In the 16 prefectures of Yan Yun that were ceded to Kitai from Jin, it was published as a national project by referring to a text of Sekkyo (Sekkei) (The Scriptures Inscribed on Stone), which had been kept at Fangshan since the time of Sui. Although this Tripitaka was a phantom Tripitaka as well as a Jin edition, the 12 volumes of the Kitai edition were discovered in 1982 from a Buddha statue located at the wooden tower in Bukkyu-ji Temple, an old temple at Yingxian, in Shanxi Province. With this discovery it was confirmed that the Kitai edition had a relationship with Sekkyo of Fangshan, and it was verified to have been written following the standard form of 17 letters in each line.

Linage of the Southern Sung's edition

From the Southern Sung to the Ming dynasty, private editions of the Tripitaka had been published in various places. The first edition was 'Tokaku Zenin Temple (等覚禅院) edition' (1075-1112), which was begun at Tokaku Zenin Temple in FuZhou (Fujian Province) at the end of the eleventh century. This was a project to publish a private edition through the dedication of believers, as opposed to publication as a national project like the Northern Sung dynasty edition or the Kitai edition. After that, the following Daizo-kyo were published continuously: 'KaiYuanSi Temple edition' of FuZhou (1112-1151), 'Shikei-ban edition (思渓版)' of Huzhou (1126-1132), 'Shaseki-ban edition (磧砂版)' carved in Suzhou City (1232-1305), and the 'Puning edition' of Hang Zhou (1277-1290). These lineages adopted the standard form of 17 letters in each line.

At the end of the Ming dynasty, 'Banreki-ban Daizo-kyo Sutra (Kinzan-zo) (万暦版大蔵経(徑山蔵))' was published, having a new style of dual-page print as opposed to the former rolled book. Ryuzo (龍蔵),' the Tripitaka of Ching and the above-mentioned Tetsugen edition and Manjizo (卍字藏) in Japan are classified as being of this lineage.

The Korean Peninsula

In Goryeo the reprinted edition of 'Kaihozo' was published in 1010 (Korai Hatsucho-bon, 高麗初雕本), and after its wood blocks were burned in a battle with Yuan forces it was carved again as Korai Saichobon (高麗再雕本) in 1236. At this time, Shuso (Moriso, 守其), who was responsible for this edition and edited "Korai New Tripitaka Revision Record (高麗国新雕大蔵経校正別録)," revised the first edition by referring to the Kitai edition. The revised book, "Tripitaka Koreana," the wood blocks for which are still housed in Haeinsa Temple, has a few false entries but is considered to be the best text that remains as an old form, so that it was adopted as a copied text in compact editions of Tripitaka in the Meiji and Taisho periods as well as the above-mentioned "Taisho Shinshu Daizo-kyo Sutra" because 'it is superior to other books' by conflating the Northern Sung dynasty edition with the Kitai edition.

However, Shuso conflated only the Kaihozo, Korai Hatsucho-bon and Kitai editions, and Kaihozo was original as opposed to the Korai Hatsucho-bon, which was a reprinted edition, so that their texts basically indicate the same lineage. Therefore, he conflated only between the Northern Sung dynasty editions and the Kitai edition.
Later, in accordance with the progress of text critique, it came to be said that the reputation of 'the best text that remains an old form' was the illusion by 'the first published Tripitaka.'
In fact, the Tripitaka in the Scriptures Inscribed on Stone at Fangshan as well as in the Kitai edition, which were the local texts of places such as Beijing (in Hebei Province) and Shanxi Province, or the Southern Sung edition, 'Shikei Shifuku-zo (思渓資福蔵)' and Yuan edition, 'Funei-zo,' which were lineages of the Issai-kyo sutra manuscripts of Choan (the capital from the Han through Tang dynasties) are often better texts. As opposed to those texts, there is a theory that the texts of 'Kaihozo (rescript edition)' and the 'Korean Edition (高麗版)' lineage keep only the contents of the Issai-kyo sutra, which was a lineage of manuscript spread throughout Shu (Sichuan Province).

However, another theory asserts that the edition of Choan, the center of Buddhism, had been reformed with each collection of manuscripts and became sophisticated as a text, so that the Shu edition of the local version has kept the original form adversely. For example, regarding a description of the beginning of "Maka Hannya Haramitsu-kyo Sutra" translated by Kumaraju, in Kaihozo it was written as "如是我聞一時 佛住・・・," while in 'Shikei Shifuku-zo' and 'Funei-zo'; but later, in 'Kinzan-zo,' it was written as "如是我聞一時婆伽婆住・・・," so that as this example shows, it was sometimes revised following the new style of Chinese Buddhist sutra that emerged during the era.

Additionally, in a printed book, "Taisho New Daizo-kyo," there is information on the castigation of such texts as the above 'Shikei Shifuku-zo' (Sung book), 'Funei-zo' (Yuan book) and 'kizan-zo' (Ming book) against a copied text of 'Tripitaka Koreana.'

The Tibetan Tripitaka

For details on the Tibetan Tripitaka, see the article of 'The Tibetan Tripitaka.'


In Japan, the approximately 5,000 volumes that Genbo brought back in 735 were assumed to be the authorized Tripitaka at that time. From the end of the Heian period to the Kamakura period, "Issai-kyo Sutra in Sung Edition" was introduced to Japan through the efforts of priests who went to Sung, such as Eisai, Chogen Shunjobo and Keisei.

1648: The "Kanei-ji Temple edition (Tenkai edition)" was completed by Nankobo Tenkai with support from the Tokugawa shogunate.

1681: Doko TETSUGEN completed "the Obaku-ban Tripitaka (Tetsugen edition)." It is famous because it was adopted in the textbook on morals (修身) in Japan before World War II as the Tripitaka that the Zen master TETSUGEN had completed through trials and tribulations, but it has errors in terms of the characters used, mostly among the successive Tripitakas. This is because it was published based on the reversed and split actual text of the Tripitaka in the Ming edition.

1885: "The Dainihon Revised Tripitaka Compact Edition (大日本校訂大藏經縮刷藏本) (The Tripitaka in Compact Edition) (Tokyo Kokyo Shoin)" was published.

1902: "Manjizo" (Kyoto Zokyo Shoin) was published.

1912: "Dainihon Zokuzo-kyo Sutra "(Nihon Zokyo-in) was completed.

Although it is criticized as having many insufficient castigations, what contributes to the world of Buddhism and the research on Buddhism is the 100 volumes of "Taisho Shinshu Daizo-kyo Sutra" (Taisho Issai-kyo Kanko-kai, 大正一切経刊行会) produced under the editorship of Junjiro TAKAKUSU and Kaikyoku WATANABE. It took 10 years (from 1924 to 1934) to conflate various books with a copied text of Korean Haeinsa Temple, and it consists of Shozo (55 volumes), Zokuzo (30 volumes), Showa Hobo Mokuroku (three volumes) as well as pictures and images (12 volumes).

Buddhist sutras in Chinese were also translated into Japanese, such as "Kokuyaku Tripitaka," "Kokuyaku Issai-kyo Sutra (国訳一切経)," and "Showa Shinshu Kokuyaku Daizo-kyo Sutra." Additionally, the text database of "Taisho Shinshu Daizo-kyo Sutra" of Tokyo University (SAT) and other projects such as the Chinese Buddhist Electronic Text Association (CBETA) have been promoted in order to produce an electronic text of Taisho Shinshu Daizo-kyo Sutra, and they are open to the public with certain restrictions.

[Original Japanese]