Tibetan Buddhist canon

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The Tibetan Buddhist canon is a loosely defined list of sacred texts recognized by various sects of Tibetan Buddhism.

In addition to earlier foundational Buddhist texts from early Buddhist schools, mostly the Sarvastivada, and mahayana texts, the Tibetan canon includes Tantric texts.

The Tibetan Canon underwent a final compilation in 14th Century by Bu-ston (1290-1364). The Tibetans did not have a formally arranged Mahayana canon and so devised their own scheme which divided texts into two broad categories:

  1. Kanjur (bka' 'gyur) or "Translated Words", consists of works supposed to have been said by the Buddha himself. All texts presumably have a sanskrit original, although in many cases the Tibetan text was translated from Chinese or other languags.
  2. Tanjur (bstan 'gyur) or "Translated Treatises" is the section to which were assigned commentaries, treatises and abhidharma works (both Mahayana and non-Mahayana). The Tanjur contains 3626 texts in 224 Volumes.

The bka' 'gyur is divided into sections on Vinaya, Perfection of Wisdom Sutras, other sutras (75% Mahayana, 25% Early Wisdom Schools aka Hinayana), and tantras. When exactly the term bka' 'gyur was first used is not known. Collections of canonical Buddhist texts existed already in the time of Khri srong ide rtsan, the sixth king of Tubo.

The exact number of texts in the bka' 'gyur is not fixed, each editor takes responsibility for removing texts he considers spurious, and adding new translations. Currently there are about 12 available bka' 'gyur. These include the Derge, Lhasa, Narthang, Cone, Peking, Ugra, Phudrak, and Stog Palace versions, each named after the physical location of its printing. In addition some canonical texts have been found in Tabo and Dunhuang which provide earlier exemplars to texts found in the bka' 'gyur. All extant bka' 'gyurs appear to stem from the Old Narthang bka' 'gyur. The stemma of the bka' 'gyur have been well researched in particular by Helmut Eimer.

Exoteric tradition

In the Tibetan tradition, some collections of teachings and practices are held in greater secrecy than others. The sutra tradition is comprised of works said to be derived from the public teachings of the Buddha, and is taught widely and publicly. The esoteric tradition of tantra (below) is generally only shared in more intimate settings with those students who the teacher feels have the capacity to utilize it well.

Important Indian scholars

Two Supremes

Two Indian Buddhist scholars are widely considered to be of paramount importance by Tibetan Buddhists. As such, they are referred to as the Two Supremes.

Six Scholarly Ornaments

These scholars's works are of secondary importance to the Tibetan Buddhist canon. As the ranking of their importance is not as universally recognized, there are occasionally substitutions made in this list.

Seventeen Great Panditas

References are sometimes made to the Seventeen Great Panditas. This formulation groups the eight listed above with the following nine scholars.



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