Chinese Canon is called the Ta-ts'ang-ching or "Great
Scripture Store." The first complete printing of the "Three
Baskets" or Tripitaka was completed in 983 C.E., and
known as the Shu-pen or Szechuan edition. It included 1076 texts
in 480 cases. A number of other editions of the modern Chinese
Canon were made thereafter. The now standard modern edition of
this work is known as the Taisho Shinshu Daizokyo, published
in Tokyo between 1924 and 1929. It contains 55 volumes containing
2184 texts, along with a supplement of 45 additional volumes.
A fine chapter titled "The Chinese Tripitaka" can be
found on pp. 365-368 of Buddhism in China (Princeton University
Press), 1964 by Kenneth K.S. Ch'en.
Chinese Tripitaka in World Buddhism
The main objective
of the World Buddhist Fellowship is to link the various schools
of Buddhism, coming as they do from all over the world. This communion
can be accomplished by harmonious cooperation on the basis of
spiritual sharing. As a global community we can then actualize
the inspiring ideals of world enlightenment and salvation through
the encouragement of our common Buddhist culture.
We must first acknowledge
that the various schools of thought in Buddhism are indeed facets
of the Triple Gem that is Buddhism. There is no room for superficial
and dogmatic claims that one school is true whereas others are
not. For instance the Mahayana schools should not be lightly dismissed
as illegitimate, nor should the Sravakavana school conversely
be despised as moribund. Only when the study and practice of Buddhism
is carried out in a friendly and accommodating atmosphere, with
mutual trust and understanding, will coordination and cooperation
be possible. With this attitude, the trash and trimmings now enshrouding
Buddhism can be removed to reveal the essential splendour of the
Triple Gem. Thus Buddhism, which is well-adapted to this modern
world, can be redeemed and developed for the purpose of the enlightenment
and salvation of the world in its dire present need.
Buddhism stems from
one point of origin and is highly adaptable under many circumstances.
For different races, time and environments, it seems to develop
into entirely different shapes and forms. But a close study of
its trends and modes of development, its adaptations to new environments
whilst preserving the integral identity of its core, brings one
to the realisation that the different forms of Buddhism are interrelated
and that cooperation amongst them is entirely feasible. Generally,
each school has its own characteristics and shortcomings. Buddhists
should honestly survey these various schools, exchanging the shortcomings
in each for the strengths in others on the basis of equality,
and for the sake of pursuing truth. In so doing, the ultimate
truth as experienced by the Buddha may be realized and his original
intention, as embodied in his teaching, may be fully understood.
When we trace the different
schools of Buddhism in the world today, from their origins in
India, we can see that the profile sprouting of sectarian Buddhism
seems to have taken place as follows:
(1) The sacred texts
embodying the Buddha-dharma developed over time. The sutras and
Vinaya Pitaka were the earliest to be compiled and circulated.
Round about the beginning of the first century A.D., the researchers
of the Agama Sutra and those dedicated to Sravaka practice had
compiled the Abhidharma, emphasising the existential aspect of
Dependent Origination. On the other hand, the Mahayana scriptures
had been compiled by those who stressed the virtues of the Buddha
and the practice of the Bodhisattva, emphasizing the aspect of
emptiness as central to the attainment of real understanding of
By the third century
A.D., Nagarjuna had composed his famous Sastras on the Madhyamika
doctrine interpreting the Agama and Abhidharma on the basis of
the Mahayana sutras of the Sunyata school. At about the same time,
Mahayana scriptures tending towards 'eternal-reality' idealism,
such as the Srimaladeve-Simhanada Sutra and the Mahaparinirvana
Sutra, had begun to be found, followed by sutras such as the Lankavatara
Sutra. Along with this development, the Asters and Yogacaryas
of the Sravastivada school accepted the "mind-only"
aspect of the Mahayana school. They compiled a number of Sastras
of the Yogacara Vijnanavada and eventually flourished as a great
Mahayana school in their own right.
Then, at about the fifth
century there was a further development of esoteric Yoga from
the school of eternal-reality idealism. If one tried to follow
the course of development of Buddhism as outlined above, one would
have no difficulty tracing the evolution of the vast diversity
of scriptures and doctrines held sacred by the many schools.
(2) Doctrinally, Buddhism
was just Buddhism at first and there was no sectarian difference.
It did not divide into the Sravakayana and Bodhisattvayana until
about the beginning of the Christian era. Then in the scriptures
of the Bodhisattvayana we begin to see the division of Hinayana
In the second and third
centuries scriptures of eternal-reality idealism started to appear
in the Bodhisattvayana. In such Sutras were first seen the terms
"noumenon, Sunya and Madhya"; and "Hina-, Maha-
and Eka-yana." These scriptures of later date laid special
emphasis on the achievement of Buddhahood, and were thus also
classified as Buddhayana.
At the beginning of
the fifth century, another 'yana', the Dharaniyana, sprung into
existence from the noumenal school of Buddhism. This school classified
all Buddha Dharma into the Tripitaka, the Paramita Pitaka (including
everything of the exoteric schools), and the Dharani Pitaka. It
also categorised the Dharma according to practice as: Catvri-satyani,
Paramita, and greed-ingrained.
are indicative of the diversification and development of Buddhism
and are consistent with the schematic three periods of historical
development proposed by the late Venerable Tai Hsu. The latter
were as follows:
First 500 years after
Buddha's demise - Hinayana in vogue with Mahayana in the background.
The Pali Tipitaka are representative of the Buddhism of this
Second 500 years -
Mahayana to the fore with Hinayana attendant. The Chinese Tripitaka
reflects the development of Buddhism in this period.
Third 500 years -
Tantric Buddhism took the lead, leaving the exoteric school
in its wake. The Tibetan Tripitaka is the fruit of this period.
Chinese Buddhism - from
which Japanese Buddhism derives is representative of the Buddhism
of the second 500 years, i.e. it is founded mainly on Bodhisattvayana,
which links the earlier Sravakayana and the later Buddhayana.
It therefore effectively ties Buddhist history together.
As it plays such a pivotal
role in the historical development of the Buddha-dharma, the Chinese
Tripitaka deserves the special attention of all those concerned
with the present development of world Buddhism. It is my humble
opinion that only in the study of the Chinese Tripitaka can the
contents of Buddhism be fully and totally understood. The Chinese
Tripitaka offers the following:
(a) Agamas: All four
Agamas belong to the Bhava division. The Madhyamagama and Samyuktagama
were translated from the texts of the Sravastivada school while
the Dirghagama and Ekottaragama were translated from those of
the Mahasamghika or Vibbajyavada schools. Though admittedly it
does not contain a complete set of the sutras of any single school,
(the Pali Tripitaka does present a more complete set), a textual
conglomeration of many schools does have its merits (The Tibetan
Tripitaka contains no Agama at all).
(b) Vinayas: The Tibetan
Tripitaka contains only the new rules of the Tamrasatiya sect,
while the Chinese Vinaya contains all the following:
(i) The Mahasamghika
Vinaya of the Mahasamghika school.
(ii) The five divisions
of the Mahisasaka Vinaya, the four divisions of the Dharmagupta
Vinaya, the pratimoksa of Mahadasyapiyah, and the Sudarsana Vinaya
of Tamrasatiya. All these are rules of the Vibbajyavada school.
(iii) The old Sravastivada
Vinaya and the new Mulasarvasti vadanikaya Vinaya, both of the
(iv) The Twenty-Two-Points-Of-Elucidation
Sastras of the Sammatiya sect of the Vatsiputriyas school.
This rich collection
of materials from different sources greatly facilitates comparative
studies of sectarian Buddhism.
(c) Abhidharmas: This
body of scripture is common to the three main schools of Theravada
Buddhism, namely, the Vibhajyavadins, the Sarvastivadins, and
the Vatsiputriyas. In the Tibetan Tripitaka there are only the
Prajnapti of the Jnanaaprasthanasatpadabhidharma and the later
The Pali Tripitaka contains
seven Sastras. While the Chinese Tripitaka has an especially large
collection of the work of the Sarvastivada school, it also possesses
the Abhidharma work of practically all sects. The Chinese Tripitaka
i) The Samgitiparyaya,
the Dharmaskandha, the Prajnapti, the Vijnanakaya, the Dhatukaya,
the Prakaranapada, the Jnanaprasthana, the Mahavibhasa, the Abhidharma-hrdaya-vyakhya,
the Abhiraharmananyanyanusara and the Abhidharmasamayapradipika
Sastras of the Sarvastivada school.
ii) Of the works of
Vibhajyavadins, it includes the Abhidharma Sastra of Sariputa,
which is the only important work that links up the Southern and
iii) It also contains
the Vimmuttimagga which is a different version of the Pali Visuddhimagga.
iv) It further contains
the Sammitiya Sastra of the Vatsiputriya School.
v) The renowned Abhidharmakosa
of the third to fourth century which combines the best teachings
of the Sarvastivada and Sautrantika schools, and the Satyasiddi
Sastra of Harivarman which greatly influenced Chinese Buddhism.
All these treasures
of the Abhidharma may be found in the Chinese Tripitaka. It can
thus be seen that although the works of earlier dates in the Tripitaka
were not given the full respect due them by the majority of Chinese
Buddhists, the wealth of information they contain will be of great
reference value to anyone interested in tracing the divisions
of the Sravaka schools and the development of the Bodhisattva
ideal from the Sravakayana. If these scriptures are ignored, I
will say that it would definitely not be possible for anyone to
fulfil the responsibility of coordinating and linking the many
branches of world Buddhism.
(d) Mahayana scriptures
of the Sunyavada.
(e) Mahayana scriptures
of the noumenon school, or the school of eternal-reality, are
very complete in the Chinese Tripitaka. These scriptures are very
similar to those found in the Tibetan Tripitaka. The four great
Sutras, the Prajnaparamita, the Avatamsaka, the Mahasamghata,
and the Mahaparinirvana (to which may be added the Maharatnakuta
Sutra, making five great sutras), are all tremendously voluminous
works. Here it may be pointed out that the Chinese scriptures
are particularly notable for the following characteristics:
(i) The different translations
of the same Sutra have been safely preserved in the Chinese Tripitaka
in their respective original versions without their being constantly
revised according to later translations, as was the case with
Tibetan scriptures. From a study of the Chinese translations we
can thus trace the changes in content which the majority of scriptures
have undergone over time and reflect upon the changes in the original
Indian texts at different points in time. Thus we have the benefit
of more than one version for reference, recording the evolution
of the scriptures.
(ii) The Chinese Mahayana
scriptures that were translated before the Tsin Dynasties (beginning
265 C.E.) are particularly related to the Buddhism of Chinese
Turkestan with its centre in the mountain areas of Kashmir. These
scriptures form a strong nucleus of Chinese Buddhist thinking.
The translations of the Dasabhumika Sastra and Lankavatara Sutra
all possess very special characteristics.
(f) Madhyamika: The
Madhyamika texts of the Chinese Tripitaka are considerably different
from the Tibetan renditions of the same system of thought. The
Chinese collection consists mostly of earlier works, particularly
those of Nagarjuna, such as the Mahaprajnaparamita Sastra and
the Dasabhumikavibhasa Sastra, which not only present Madhyamika
philosophy of a very high order but also illustrate extensively
the acts of a Bodhisattva.
Of the late Madhyamika
works, i.e. works produced by the disciples of Nagarjuna after
the rise of the Yogacara system, only the Prajnapradipa Sastra
of Bhavaviveka has been rendered into Chinese. The Chinese Tripitaka
does not contain works or as many schools of this system as the
Tibetan Tripitaka. The Mahayanavataraka Sastra of Saramati and
the Madhyayata Sastra of Asanga clearly indicate the change of
thinking from the Madhyamika to the Yogacara system.
The Chinese Tripitaka contains a very complete collection of this
system of thought. It includes important scriptures such as the
Dasabhumika, Mahayanasamparigraha Sastra, and Vijnaptimatrasiddhi
Sastra. While the Tibetan system was mainly founded on the teachings
of Sthiramati which are more akin to the Mahayanasamparigraha
school of Chinese work, the Chinese students of orthodox Vijnanavada
follow the teachings of Dharmapala.
Sastra, which represents the consummation of the Dignaga-Dharmapala-Silabhadra
school of thought, is a gem of the Chinese Tripitaka. The Hetuvidya
which is closely connected with Vijnanavada, is not fully translated
in the Chinese Tripitaka and cannot compare favourably with the
works of Dignaga and Dharmakirti collected in the Tibetan Tripitaka.
This seems to indicate
that the Chinese people were not logically inclined, and gives
no weight to engagements in verbal gymnastics and debates. In
times past this had relegated the position of Sastra masters in
China to one of relative unimportance.
(h) The esoteric Yoga:
The Chinese Tripitaka includes Chinese translations of both the
Vairocana Sutra of the practical division, and the Diamond Crown
Sutra of the Yoga division of the Tantric school of Buddhism.
The only esoteric scriptures that are missing are those of the
Supreme Yoga division which, as they arrived in China at a time
of national chaos, did not have much chance to circulate widely.
Its very nature of achieving enlightenment through carnal expressions
also made Tantrism unacceptable to the Chinese intellectuals.
However, the texts of esoteric Yoga are abundant in the Tibetan
From the above it can
be seen that the Chinese Tripitaka is composed mainly of Mahayana
scriptures of the second 500 years, yet translations were not
restricted to scriptures of this middle period. The Chinese Tripitaka
also possesses a wealth of works of early Buddhism as a good portion
of the later productions.
Thus, if one could have
a sufficient knowledge of the Chinese Tripitaka, and could extend
his knowledge from there to include the Pali Tripitaka of the
Sravakayana, and the Madhyamika and Supreme Yoga of the Tibetan
system, then he would have little difficulty in gaining an accurate,
complete and comprehensive panorama of the 1,700 years of development
of Indian Buddhism, the record of which has been preserved in
the three great extant schools of Buddhist thought.
The late Venerable Tai
Hsu once said, "To mold a new, critical and comprehensive
system, based on the Chinese Tripitaka, the Theravada teaching
of Ceylon, and selected components of the Tibetan canon, should
be the objective of the writing of a history of Indian Buddhism."
Even more so, it should be the objective of coordinating and connecting
the many tributaries of world Buddhism. It is our responsibility
to discard the trimmings and to retain the very essence of the
great Tripitakas, adapting Buddhism to the modern world so that
it may fulfil its mission of leading the way, taking under its
wings the miserable beings of the present era.
Translated by Mok Chung, edited by Mick Kiddle,
proofread by Neng Rong. (20-6-1995)