Chinese Tripitaka – The Three Baskets

Tripitaka LibraryThe 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.

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 Sarvastivada school.

(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 Abhidarmakosa.

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 contains:

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 Northern Abhidharmas.

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.

(g) Yogacara-Vijnanavada: 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.

The Vinaptimatrasiddhi 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 Tripitaka.

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.

Text from:


Tagged: , , , ,

Leave a comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: