The Pali Canon compared to the Agamas
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The Pali Canon compared to the Agamas
In addition to the Tripitaka of the Pali Canon from Sri Lanka, there are also numerous texts from other Theravada schools still in existence. A comparison with these texts sheds some light on how the canon emerged from the huge collection of teachings which were transmitted verbally. The Pali Canon is the best preserved by far but there are some advantages to the other Theravada scriptures. These other scriptures are generally called the ‘Agamas’, although properly this term applies to the version of the suttas only, and not to the vinaya or abhidhamma.
These texts are mostly recorded by Chinese monks who traveled to India in search of scriptures. Various dates have been given for this but there was probably little or none before 200BC, and much of the material comes from 400 AD when it was taken from modern day Kashmir. However many missions were sent to Sri Lanka also.
Some points to note about the Agamas.
o They were translated mostly by Mahayana monks, although, an example from the Bhikkhu Kasyapa who translated a collection of scriptures at the White Horse Monastery in China, shows that his Sutra of 42 sections has no traces of Mahayana prose.
o The Chinese took every text they could without worrying about the various schools or interpretations.
o Most of the Buddhist literature was destroyed at various times by different Emperors and no complete sets of the Theravada Canon remain.
o From what remains it is possible to reconstruct quite accurately a more or less complete Tripitaka.
o Most of the texts are of the Sarvastivadin school which flourished along side that of the Pali school.
o Comparisons of known suttas reveal a high standard of accuracy of translation.
o Some text fragments can be completed through reference to the Tibetan versions. (The Tibetans too collected and translated all the texts they could find. The written language they used was invented specifically for the purpose of translating Sanskrit texts, and follows Sanskrit grammar and vocabulary so closely that it is possible to reconstruct the original very accurately.)
o The repetitive structure of the Agamas reflects the Pali version far more than the intricate prose of the Mahayana suttas. Thus we can conclude that the texts were translated faithfully.
o Some words which were borrowed from Taoism and Confucianism may have corrupted the interpretation of the Chinese of the time, but nonetheless can be easily translated back (eg. ‘Tao’, which became the word for ‘magga’). The Vinaya
Of all the alternative sources of Theravada scriptures, it is the Vinaya which has the most remaining versions. The Vinaya of 5 different schools still exist and they show a close correspondence with the Pali version. For example they all relate the story of the first Sangha Council, even if the details vary.
o The Ssu-fen of the Dharmaguptaka school.
2. The Shih-sung lu of the Sarvastivadin school.
o The wu-fen lu of the Mahisasaka school.
o The Mo-ho-seng-ch’i lu of the Mahasanghika school.
o The Ken-pen shou-I-chieh-yu-pu lu of the Mulasarvastivtdin school.(Also existing in Tibetan translation)
All of these Vinaya follow a similar format to the Pali version. For example the Sarvastivada version also has three sections of which the first portion, the Vinaya-vibhanga, corresponds closely with the Sutta-vibhanga. The second portion, the Vinayavastu, corresponds closely to the Khandhakas. The third portion, the Vinayakshudraka or ‘Minor Vinaya Work’ and Uttaragrantha, are very different from the Parivara which is unique to the Pali version. The Uttaragrantha consists of a series of questions put to the Buddha by the monk Upali.
The surviving Vinayavastu of the Mula-Sarvastivadins correlates closely in arrangement and in meaning to the Khandhakas of the Pali.
1. Pravrajyavastu – on admission to the order.
2. Poshadhavastu – uposatha
3. Varshavastu – vassa
4. Pravaranavastu – pavarana concluding vassa
5. Kathinavastu – material for robes
6. Civaravastu – rules for robes
7. Carmavastu – leather for shoes
8. Bhaishajyavastu – medicines
9. Karmavastu – official acts
10. Pratikshayavastu – dwellings
11. Kalakalasampadvastu – appropriate times
12. Bhumyantarasthacaranavastu – rules for traveling
13. Parikarmanavastu – appropriate Sangha procedures
14. Karmabhedavastu – official acts
15. Cakrabhedavastu – official meetings
16. Adhikaranavastu – rules for dealing with cases that arise
17. Sayanasanavastu – rules for beds
This example shows the similar lay out of the Vinaya texts, though the Tibetan version varies considerably more
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