About the Chinese Buddhist Canon
NTI Reader uses Chinese text from the Taishō Shinshū Daizōkyō, which means ‘Taishō Revised Tripiṭaka’ (Takakusu Junjiro 1988). The actual text used was digitized by the CBETA project (Wittern 2006). The Taishō Shinshū Daizōkyō (Taishō) is based on the Korean canon (Lancaster 2004, Introduction). CBETA has made the text freely available under a Creative Commons License (CBETA 2017a, ‘Taishō Tripiṭaka’) for volumes 1-55 of the Taishō, which are the ones used in the NTI Reader. Volume 55 is partial. This includes most of the Chinese content of the Taishō. The remainder is Japanese commentaries, Siddhaṃ texts, and artwork. You can view the entire contents and scanned manuscript images of the Taishō at the SAT website.
The Korean version of the Chinese Buddhist Canon is based on was printed from blocks that were carved over the period 1236-1251. After the Kaibao canon was taken to Korea, the Chinese canon kept evolving. Each major dynasty, including the Yuan, Ming, and Qing produced their own versions under the sponsorship of the Chinese imperial court (Fo Guang Shan 2000, s.v. ‘中文大藏經’). One of the best known and most widely distributed versions of these was the 龍藏 Lóng Zàng produced in 1738. Production of modern versions continued this tradition in the Republican period and in Taiwan after 1949. Partial digitizations of many of these versions of the Chinese Buddhist canon have been digitized and are available on the CBETA Hanwen Dazangjing (《漢文大藏經》) page. The 佛光大藏經 “Fo Guang Buddhist Canon” was published by Fo Guang Shan in 1977 (Fo Guang Shan 2000, s.v. ‘中文大藏經’). The later Chinese versions of the canon contains texts that are not in the Taishō.
The Taishō was the first version of the Chinese Buddhist canon to be substantially influenced by modern Western scholarship. Nanjo Bunyu 南条文雄 (1849-1907) studied at Oxford University under Max Müller. Nanjo Bunyu compiled A Catalogue of the Chinese translation of the Buddhist Tripitaka in Sanskrit and Enlish based on the Ming Canon, which includes titles for 1662 works with notes on translators, prefaces, and relations between source texts (Nanjio 1883, p. xi).
The Taishō introduced a modern numbering system with roughly chronological ordering. This revolutionized the classification system of the canon and replaced the Thousand Character Classic index used by historic versions (Wu 2016, loc. 705). Previous versions of the canon placed Prajñāpāramitā at the beginning of the canon in accordance with Tiantai theory of the Mahāyāna teachings were the ultimate teachings of the Buddha. The Taishō places the Āgamas in accordance with modern scholarly understanding that they probably most closely match the earliest teachings. The Āgamas in volumes 1-2 of the Taishō are closely related to the Pali Nikāya.
There are 2,239 Chinese texts included in the NTI Reader. The Korean version that the Taishō is based on was printed from blocks that were carved over the period 1236-1251 and includes 1,512 titles (Lancaster 2004, Introduction). There are some Chinese texts in the Taishō that come from later periods.
The development of East Asian Buddhist canons includes extensive historic scholarly work in compiling, cataloging and investigation of textual authority (Wu and Chia 2016, loc. 297-447). Early catalogs, such as the Collection of Records Concerning the Chinese Buddhist Canon 出三藏記集 (T 2125), are themselves included in the Taishō in Volume 55. Long and Chen (2020) have an extensive discussion of this.
The coverage of the Taishō is mostly before the Yuan dynasty. There are a small number of texts composed in the Yuan, Ming, and Qing. However, if you are looking for later texts, you should see the 卍字正續藏經 Manji-zōkyō.
Searching the Canon
You can do a full text search of the Taishō with the NTI Reader. Also, when looking at an individual term, a list of there that term will be found in the canon will be shown. You can also use SAT and CBETA to search the canon. It may be worth searching multiple if you do not find the results that you expect because each tool has a different coverage and different handling of groups of characters, and variant characters.
Language and Structure
The Chinese canon was written over a very long period stretching from the Later Han to the Qing. This period is mostly too late to be considered classical Chinese and too early to be considered modern Chinese. The NTI Reader uses the label ‘Literary Chinese’ to describe this for want of a better term. In addition, there are many terms transliterated from Sanskrit with Chinese characters. The NTI Reader groups characters into words so that you can easily recognize them. You can mouseover or click on the terms to find out more about them. The CBETA Online Reader also provides help in reading canonical text. For learning the language of the canon see A Primer in Chinese Buddhist Writings. by John Kieschnick.
The Taishō is divided into volumes. Each volume contains a number of works. These works are given numbers beginning at 1. For example, 長阿含經 Dīrghāgama (Long Discourses) in Volume 1 is T1. The NTI Reader terminology for work is ‘collection.’ Each collection consists of a number of 卷 scrolls or fasciles, which is a single HTML page or document in the NTI Reader. For example, T1 has 22 scrolls. Some collections only have a single scroll.
The structure of individual texts in the canon may be different to individual texts published for Buddhist practitioners by temples. For example, the version in the canon will typically include a historical preface that is not included in the individual publications. Also, the individual publications may include chapter titles not included in the canonical versions. See the individual publications at the Practices and Prayers Texts page of the Fo Guang Shan International Translation Center for examples.
The 阿含經 Āgama are records of historic discourses by the Buddha and his direct disciples. They are contained in Volume 1 and Volume 2. They include larger collections like the 長阿含經 Dīrghāgama (T 1), 中阿含經 Madhyamāgama (T 26), 雜阿含經 Saṃyuktāgama (T 99), and 增壹阿含經 Ekottarāgama (T 125). There are also individual sutras, such as 佛說轉法輪經 Dharmacakrapravartana Sūtra An Shigao (T 109) translated by 安世高 An Shigao in the Later Han. These include the core teachings, such as the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Noble Path, and dependent co-arising.
Jātaka and Avadāna
The 本緣部 Jātaka and Avadāna are stories of the past lives of the Buddha and other figures. They are contained in Volume 3 and Volume 4.
The 般若部 Prajñāpāramitā section includes the earliest Mahāyāna texts. This group includes popular texts, such as the Heart Sutra and Diamond Sutra. The are contained in Volume 5 through 8. the 大般若波羅蜜多經 The Large Sūtra Perfection of Wisdom takes up Volume 5 through 7 by itself.
Lotus and Huayan
The 法華部、華嚴部 Lotus and Huayan section includes the Mahāyāna texts of those names. They are contained in Volume 9 and Volume 10.
Ratnakūṭa and Nirvāṇa Section
The 寶積部、涅槃部 Ratnakūṭa and Nirvāṇa section includes the Mahāyāna texts of those names as well as the Pureland sutras, such as Sukhāvatīvyūhasūtra ‘The Infinite Life Sutra’ (T 360). They are contained in Volume 11 and Volume 12.
The 大集部 Mahāsaṃnipāta (Great Compilation) section includes more Mahāyāna texts, such as 地藏菩薩本願經 ‘Sūtra of the Great Vows of Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva.’ They are contained in Volume 13.
The 經集部 Jingji (Miscellaneous) section includes more Mahāyāna texts, such as 維摩詰所說經 Vimalakīrtinirdeśa Sūtra. They are contained in Volume 14 through 17.
The 密教部 Esoteric section includes tantras, mantras, and other esoteric texts. They are contained in Volume 18 through 21.
The 律部 Vinaya section includes monastic rules. They are contained in Volume 22 through 24.
The 釋經論部 Śastra section includes commentaries on sutras by Indian masters. The 大智度論 Mahāprajñāpāramitā Śāstra (T 1509) is found in this section. They are contained in Volume 25.
Śastra and Abhidharma
The 釋經論部、毘曇部 Śastra and Abhidharma section includes more commentaries on sutras by Indian masters and the start of the Abhidharma. They are contained in Volume 26.
The 毘曇部 Abhidharma section includes commentaries and formulation of principles based on the discourses of the Buddha. They are contained in Volume 27 through 29.
Madhyamaka and Yogācāra
The 中觀部、瑜伽部 Madhyamaka and Yogācāra section includes commentaries from the Madhyamaka and Yogācāra schools. They are contained in Volume 30. The 中論 Mūlamadhyamakaśāstra ‘Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way’ (T 1564) is found in this section.
The 瑜伽部 Yogācāra section includes more Yogācāra commentaries. They are contained in Volume 31.
The 論集部 Śastra Section includes more treatises. They are contained in Volume 32. The 大乘起信論 ‘Treatise on the Awakening of Faith in the Mahāyāna’ (T 1666) is found in this section.
The 經疏部 Sūtra Commentary section includes more commentaries on Mahāyāna sūtras. They are contained in Volume 33 through Volume 39.
Vinaya and Śastra Commentaries
The 律疏部、論疏部 Vinaya and Śastra Commentary section includes commentaries on the Vinaya and on treatises. They are contained in Volume 40.
The 論疏部 Śastra Commentary section includes commentaries on the Vinaya and on treatises. They are contained in Volume 41 through Volume 43.
Śastra Commentary and Different Schools
The 論疏部、諸宗部 Śastra Commentary and Different Schools section includes commentaries specfic to the practices of certain schools. They are contained in Volume 44.
The 諸宗部 Various Schools Section includes more commentaries specfic to the practices of certain schools. They are contained in Volume 45 through 48. The collection of 100 koans in the The 佛果圜悟禪師碧巖錄 ‘Blue Cliff Record’ (T 2003) is found in this section.
History and Biographies
The 史傳部 History and Biographies Section includes the histories of temples and biographies of senior monastics. They are contained in Volume 49 through Volume 52. The 大唐西域記 ‘Great Tang Dynasty Record of the Western Regions’ (T 2087) documenting Xuan Zang's journey to Indian is found in this section.
Encyclopedia and Dictionaries and Outside Teachers
The 事彙部、外教部 Encyclopedia and Dictionaries and Outside Teachers Section includes reference works and some works relating to non-Buddhist Indian schools. They are contained in Volumes 53-54.
The 目錄部 Catalogs section includes lists of texts from older canons and early collections. This is an important basis for our knowledge of early versions of the canon. They are contained in Volume 55.
Translations and Parallels
Bingenheimer (2021) gives English titles of most of the works in the Taishō and and extensive bibliography for many. The Bukkyō Dendō Kyōkai is compiling an English Tripitaka with free downloads available as well as printed editions for sale. The CBETA Reader is also a big help in reading Buddhist texts.
The Korean canon is written in Chinese, as mentioned above, was the basis for the Taishō. There are a number of catalogs listing parallel titles between different versions of the Buddhist canon. Lancaster (2004) gives parallels between the Korean canon and the Taishō and also between the Āgamas and the Pali canon.
The Āgamas form the first two volumes of the Taishō. English translations of the Pali are available at Access to Insight. More updated English translations are available at dhammatalks.org. Bilingual translations are available at Sutta Central and Ancient Buddhist Texts.
The Digital Sanskrit Buddhist Canon provides Sanskrit versions of an overlapping set of texts to the Taishō. There are also a number of Sanskrit texts available at GRETIL. The University of Oslo Thesaurus Literaturae Buddhicae is a bilingual Chinese-Sanskrit and includes Chinese-Sanskrit-Tibetan parallel text for some texts, including the Astā.
The Buddhist Digital Resource Center entry for the Taishō Tripitaka gives parallels between the Tibetan canon and the Taishō. The 84000 project also provides scans and electronic texts. Silk (2019) gives a list of texts translated from Chinese to Tibetan. See Powers 2007 for an overview of Tibetan Buddhist texts, schools, and principles. The Buddhist Canons Research Database contains bibliographic information for the texts in the Tibetan Buddhist canon.
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- Ancient Buddhist Texts, at https://www.ancient-buddhist-texts.net/Texts-and-Translations/TT-index.htm, accessed 2021-05-15.
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- Bingenheimer, Marcus 2021, “Bibliography of Translations from the Chinese Buddhist Canon into Western Languages,” February 23. http://mbingenheimer.net/tools/bibls/transbibl.html.
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- Fo Guang Shan International Translation Center ‘Practices and Prayers Texts,’ at https://www.fgsitc.org/practices-prayers-english-texts/, accessed 2021-03-01.
- GRETIL - Göttingen Register of Electronic Texts in Indian Languages, http://gretil.sub.uni-goettingen.de/gretil.html, accessed 2021-02-26.
- Kieschnick, John 2019, A Primer in Chinese Buddhist Writings http://www.primerbuddhism.org/.
- Lancaster, LR 2004, The Korean Buddhist Canon: A Descriptive Catalogue, accessed 11 February 2017 http://www.acmuller.net/descriptive_catalogue/.
- Li Fuhua & He Mei 2003, Research on Chinese Tripitaka 《汉文佛教大藏镜研究》, Religion Culture Publishing House, Beijing.
- Long, Darui and Jinhua Chen (eds) 2020, Chinese Buddhist Canons in the Age of Printing, United Kingdom: Taylor & Francis.
- Nanjio, Bunyiu 1883, A Catalogue of the Chinese Translation of the Buddhist Tripitaka, the Sacred Canon of the Buddhists in China and Japan, Oxford: Clarendon Press,https://archive.org/stream/cu31924023893898.
- Powers, J 2007, Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism, New York and Boulder, Colorado: Snow Lion Publications.
- Silk, Jonathan, A 2019, “Chinese Sūtras in Tibetan Translation: A Preliminary Survey,” Annual Report of The International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology at Soka University, Tokyo: Soka University.
- Sutta Central at https://suttacentral.net/, accessed 2015-05-15.
- Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu, https://www.dhammatalks.org/, accessed 2021-02-26.
- Tu Aming and Xin Zi tr. 2016, “Appendix 2: The Creation of the CBETA Chinese Electronic Tripitaka Collection in Taiwan,” in Spreading Buddha’s Word in East Asia: The Formation and Transformation of the Chinese Buddhist Canon, Kindle. ed., New York: Columbia University Press.
- University of Oslo, “Thesaurus Literaturae Buddhicae,” at https://www2.hf.uio.no/polyglotta/index.php?page=library&bid=2, accessed 2021-03-19.
- Wittern C 2006 “Chinese Buddhist Texts for the New Millenium — The Chinese Buddhist Electronic Text Association (CBETA) and its Digital Tripitaka”, Journal of Digital Information, 3.
- Wu, J and Chia, L 2016, Spreading Buddha’s Word in East Asia: The Formation and Transformation of the Chinese Buddhist Canon, Kindle. ed., New York: Columbia University Press.