Buddhist Cannon - how it was written ?


In 44 BCE Vattagamani Abhaya became a kind of Sri Lanka and he ruled to 17 BCE with one short break in the middle. During his reign Buddhist Cannon which traditionally have been transmitted from generation to generation in oral way only, finally was written down.

1. Is it true form source point of view ?
2. What was the material used for writing process ?
3. Does something original survived to our present time ? If yes where is is ?

Justin Williams's picture

The Pali canon may have been written first in India

Here is a very interesting lecture with research suggesting the Pali canon could have been written in India and then taken to Sri Lanka:
The ur-text of the Pali Tipiṭaka: some reflections based on new research into the manuscript tradition.


Best wishes,

Gregory Hamilton Schmidt's picture

30 Years to Publish the Tripitaka

Interesting to hear they will be publishing their translation of the Digha Nikaya early next year

Amazing that it will take 30 years to publish the entire collection

Also noted they offer online classes in Pali!

Thanks for sharing.

impossible to know

I think nobody will ever know for sure.
Another point of contention:
Campbell also links the appearance of images of the Buddha to the rise of the doctrine of Buddha-nature. Some suggest that the Buddha's iconic representation, which was hitherto absent, started around the time of the rise of Mahayana, however difficult to pinpoint.

Another point of contention:
Although in the lore Gautama Buddha died at age 80, he's always represented as a young man. While Gautama Buddha is mostly portrayed as a man of normal body type, in Italy it is possible to say that someone is “fat like Buddha” and bonzo (Buddhist monk, French bonze) means an overweight or chubby person.
It turns out the 'fat Buddha' (also 'laughing Buddha') typically is an incarnation of alternatively the celestial Buddha Maitreya -or another Saint- in the form of the fat monk Budai, or Gautama himself. Although the image recurs in both Hinayana and Mahayana countries, it is discarded -if not vehemently criticized- in some Buddhist milieus. Buddha is also portrayed as a skin and bone figure on the brink of death when he practiced harsh penance before enlightenment and the discovery of the middle way.

nobody knows

Professor of Buddhist and comparative philosophy, Loy also analyzes the Theravada Buddhist Pali canon. Unwelcome stances -such as the status of women or conservatism- are considered as interpolations and perversions of the Buddha's thought on the part of scribes with vested interests, for the Buddha was a true revolutionary1. Some even dispense with the notion of karma altogether.
Of course, the Pali -or Christian, Sikh, Confucian...- canon might be but a patchwork of loosely interconnected traditions claiming what they all state to be direct, but which is in all cases a rough one, filiation from a supreme sage that sources claim died at some point between the III and XI century BCE. This loose agglomeration of oral traditions was then put in writing and subjected to scribal interpolations, and various rows of authentication. At this point, what could be considered 'true'? What resonates best with who's telling the story, of course.
As it moved east into China, Buddhism confronted Confucianism, and the accusation of lacking filial piety. Buddhist doctrines were thus reworked in China in order to accommodate filial piety's pivotal role. In the Pure Land tradition, filial piety becomes the cardinal virtue from which all others strictly depend. What amounted to an expedient adaptation to local socio-political conditions in I century CE China was then backdated as a faithful reflection of what an Indian sage had taught XI centuries earlier.
Ven. Wuling (Pure Land Mahayana Buddhist monastic) expressly states that Theravada Buddhism did not fare well in China as Taoism and Confucianism had already shaped Chinese folkways: that's how Mahayana Buddhism thrived instead. Eastwards still, Chinese Buddhism docking in Japan had to be refurbished to coexist with cherished local religions such as Shinto (animistic cult devoted to nature spirits), Imperial cults etc.

Gregory Hamilton Schmidt's picture

When was the canon written down?

In the preferatory note of an article by T. Suzuki, on The First Buddhist Council, I found a suggestion that, in addition to referencing some of the scholarly scepticism around the historical accuracy of the council, introduces the possibility that the canon began to be written down and revised well before the Buddha's paranirvana.

The statement that grabbed my attention:
There must therefore have been a standing Council on Doctrine and Discipline during Buddha's lifetime.

The full article, which I'm reading now is located here: http://www.sacred-texts.com/journals/mon/1stbudcn.htm

I'd certainly appreciate any suggestions on other books or articles that deal with this topic that anyone can recommend.