Understanding Historical Sources - Part 2

February 8, 2018

  For Part 1 (click here)

Buddhist Literature
Buddhist Literature is divided into Canonical and Non-canonical text. Canonical texts are the books which lay down the basic tenets and principles of a religion or a sect.

  1. Canonical Literature of Buddhism

    1. Divided into 3 Pitakas or 9-12 Angas depending on the school.

    2. Tipitaka means three baskets/collections.

    3. Tipitaka are written in Three languages : Pali, Sanskrit and Tibetan.

    4. Tipitaka are divided into three parts

      1. Sutta Pitaka: Sutta (Sanskrit: Sutra) refers to the texts that contain what the Buddha said himself. It contains Buddha's discourses on various doctrinal issues in dialogue form.

        • Sutta Pitaka contain 5 Nikayas

          • Digha: It contains Mahaparinirvana. It also talks about Mahavira and Jains (as Nirgrantha).

          • Majjhima

          • Samyuta

          • Anguttara

          • Khudaka Nikayas

            • It contains Jataka stories. Jataka stories contain stories of the previous births of the Buddha.

            • It contains Dhammapada (collection of verses with ethical sayings).

            • Theragatha and Therigatha which are songs of monks and nuns respectively.

      2. Vinaya Pitaka: Contains rules for monks and Nuns of the Sangha (monastic order). It was written by Upali.

        • It contains Pattimokkha - A list of transgressions against monastic discipline and atonement for these.

      3. Abhidhamma Pitaka: Contains thorough study and systemization of the teachings of the Sutta Pitaka through lists, summaries and questions and answers.

These Pitakas are further divided into books known as Nikayas.

Canonical literature is supposed to have been written in the first century BCE in Sri Lanka under the patronage of King named Vattagamani.

  1. Non-Canonical literature

    1. Pali

      1. Contains Millindapanha which consist of a dialogue between king Milinda (Greek Menander) and the monk Nagasena.

      2. Netigandha or Nettipakarana contains an account of Buddha teaching.

      3. Buddhaghosh gave commentaries on the Tipitaka in 5th century.

      4. Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa contain a historical cum mythological account of the Buddha's life, Buddhist council, Mauryan emperor Ashoka, Kings of Sri Lanka and the arrival of Buddhism on Sri Lanka.

    2. Sanskrit

      1. The trend towards Sanskrit started with Mahayana school.

      2. Mahavastu gives a hagiography (Sacred biography) of the Buddha and describes the emergence of Monastic order.
      3. Lalitvistara describes early part of life of Buddha.
      4. Ashvaghosh wrote Buddhacharita.It contains Avdana text.
        • Especially Avadanashtaka and Divyavadan which have stories connected with the Buddha and Mauryan emperor Ashok.

    3. Ashtrasahasrika-prajaparamita and Saddha-pundarika offer account of the various Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and Mahayana doctrine.


Buddhist Councils:




In 4th Buddhist Council, Buddhism got divided into Mahayana and Hinayana.



Jaina Literature:

  1. Jaina sacred books are collectively known as Siddhanta or Agama.

  2. Early texts are in an eastern dialect of Prakrit called Ardha Magadhi.

  3. Jainism is divided into Shvetambaras and Digambaras in 3rd century AD.

  4. Jain Puranas/Charitas:.

    1. These are hagiographies of Jaina saints called Tirthankaras (ford makers).

    1. Adi Purana:

      1. 9th century

      1. Narrates the life of Tirthankara Rishabha also known as Adinath.

    2. Harivamsha Purana

      1. Narrates Jaina version of the stories of Kaurvas, Pandyas, Krishna, Balaram etc.

    3. Trishash-tilak-shana Mahapurana

      1. By Jinasena and Gunabhadra.

      2. Has life stories of various Jaina saints, kings and heroes. Also tells about life-cycle rituals, the interpretations of dreams, town planning, duties of warriors and how a king should rule.

    4. Parishish-tapar-van (12th century)

      1. Written by Hemachandra.

      2. Gives a history of the earliest Jaina teachers and also mentions certain details of Political History.


Jaina Councils:




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