Buddhist literature

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There are no writings by Buddha himself. It is not known whether he was able to write. In its time the written language did not have the meaning it had today or in later European antiquity.

However, his discourses have been handed down. In the first few centuries they were learned by heart and passed on orally. The form of the verse and the repetitions of content in the texts made it easier to pass on the discourses. In addition, the texts were compared over and over again, for example during the rainy season . During this time the monks were sedentary for a few weeks and recited the sutras in front of each other. In its early days, Buddhist teaching was transmitted mnemotechnically . The first Buddhist scriptures did not emerge until around 100 BC. Chr. , That is 400 years after the Buddha Siddhartha Gautama had died.

History of the origins of the Buddhist canon

As part of the first three Buddhist councils , the Buddhist canon was first established and only later written down.

At the first Buddhist council (around 480 BC) the sutras and the Vinaya rules (set of rules for Buddhist monks and nuns ), which were canonically recognized, were determined. The oral transmission and definition of the Buddhist teaching is said to have taken place in Pali . It is not a certain fact, since it is uncertain whether Pali was ever a spoken language or just a written language.

Approx. 383 BC The second council took place in which the sutra texts were revised and partly changed so that Buddha was shown as omniscient. However, this was done in such a way that the changes in style, choice of words and logical inconsistencies remained recognizable.

At the third council around 244 BC The canon was expanded to include extensive scholastic works, the Abhidamma . The three collections of texts, rules of the order, doctrinal conversations and the scholastic works are also referred to as Tipitaka ("three basket") .

First writings; Basics of Theravada

Around 80 BC The first texts were written down in the rock monastery Aluvihara , 3 km north of Matale , Sri Lanka . The resulting " Pali Canon " (or "Tripitaka" in contrast to sources in other languages) forms the basis of Theravada and consists of three individual works:

  • The Suttapitaka are the teachings of the Buddha
  • Abhidhamma (Pali, the "higher teaching") is a name for the third part of the Pali canon or the higher Buddhist philosophy and psychology, in which the teachings of the Buddha and his main disciples were analyzed, ordered and systematized.
  • The Vinaya-Pitaka comprises the monastic set of rules of the Buddhist tradition. It is divided into two main sections, the actual monastic set of rules Patimokkha , and the Khandakas or "chapters".

To the present day, the Pâli tradition is considered to be the oldest fully preserved Buddhist document.

Buddhist literature in Pali originated in areas of living Theravada tradition, e.g. B. in northern Thailand's Lan Na empire of the 15th and 16th centuries.

Mahayana literature

Many of the basic Mahayana texts , which also include Vajrayana , Zen and Chan , were originally written in Sanskrit (which is why they are often called "Sanskrit canon"), but are often only preserved in Chinese and Tibetan translations.

Mahayana sutras

Main article: Mahayana sutras

  • Diamond sutra

The approx. 100 years n. U. Currently written Diamond Sutra is one of the most important texts of Mahayana Buddhism . It found widespread use in various Asian countries early on and is part of the "Prajnaparamita Sutras" ( sanskr. "Prajnaparamita" = perfect wisdom ).

  • Lotus sutra

The Lotus Sutra ( Sanskrit , n, सद्धर्मपुण्डरीकसूत्र, saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra, literally "Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the wonderful law.") Is a Sutra of Mahayana - Buddhism . The Lotus Sutra is considered the highest Buddhist teaching in Mahayana, which should lead directly to enlightenment .

  • Heart sutra

The Heart Sutra , the short version of the Prajñaparamita Sutras, is very popular and widespread in East Asia because of its conciseness.

  • Vimalakirti Sutra

The Vimalakīrtinirdeśa is a special sutra in terms of both style and content. What is unique about this sūtra is the fact that the protagonist is not played by the Buddha or a transcendent Bodhisattva as usual, but by a housekeeper who embodies the ideal of a Buddhist lay follower based on the Mahāyānist model. This work is highly valued in all branches of the East Asian Mahāyāna.

  • Ullambana Sutra

The apocryphal Ullambana Sutra is particularly popular in China, Vietnam and Japan because of its content (filial love and ancestor worship).

Zen Literature (Japan, China, Korea)

Basic works of Zen include the ' Xinxinming ' by Sengcan , the ' Huangbo Chuan Xin Fa Yao' and the ' Linji Lu ' as well as the Platform Sutra , also known as the 'Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch'. The latter is the only text in Zen literature that uses the term sutra, which gives it special significance among the teaching texts. The sutra is considered the work of Huineng and describes his life and teaching method. It is the basis of the 'Southern School'.

Tibetan literature

The first translations of the writings of Tibetan Buddhism were published by the American anthropologist and author Walter Yeeling Evans-Wentz , who received them in English from Lāma Kazi Dawa-Samdup on a trip through Tibet in 1926. They are still among the classics of Buddhist literature today. These include the first translation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead and the story of the life of Yogi Milarepas .

Further first translations and representations of the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism come from Alexandra David-Néel .

Various texts

Mantras ( Sanskrit , m., मन्त्र, mantra, lit. "instrument of thought, speech") are used in all Buddhist schools . In meditation, mantra denotes a short sequence of words that is recited repeatedly. This can be done either whispering, singing, or in thought.

See also

Furthermore there are various sayings, confessions, vows, invocations, dedications.

The bodhisattva vow is of particular importance in Japanese Zen and Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism.

Buddha's life story

  • The book “ How Siddhartha became a Buddha. An Introduction to Buddhism ”by the Zen master and Buddhist teacher Thích Nhất Hạnh tells the life story of Buddha Shakyamuni in a poetic way .

First translations and texts in western languages

  • " Buddha, his life, his teaching, his community " by the Indologist Hermann Oldenberg .
  • " Buddhist Catechism "

With the publication of the Buddhist Catechism by Friedrich Zimmermann (Buddhist) in 1888 , a first important step on the path of German Buddhism was taken. A year earlier, the German translation of the "Buddhist Catechism" compiled by Henry Steel Olcott for the first time in 1881 had appeared under the title "Der Buddhistische Katechismus".

Works inspired by Buddhism

  • The world as will and imagination (1819) is the main work of the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer . It contains numerous comments on Vedanta and Buddhism. Arthur Schopenhauer was one of the first in Europe to come into contact with the few existing sources of Buddhism and to seriously grapple with them.
  • CGJung and the Eastern Way Selection of texts by Carl Gustav Jung, among other things, on Buddhism and the Tibetan Book of the Dead as well as on his trip to India.


See also


  • Thomas Jülch: The apologetic writings of the Buddhist Tang monk Falin . Utz, Munich 2011, ISBN 978-3-8316-4026-3
  • Sangharakshita: The Buddha word: the treasury of the "holy scriptures" of Buddhism. An introduction to canonical literature . Barth, Bern 1992.
  • Moriz Winternitz : History of Indian Literature . Leipzig, 1920, Vol. 2: The Buddhist literature and the sacred texts of the Jainas. Digitized

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Siglinde Dietz : teachings of early Buddhism. Pp. 74–94 ( [1] on buddhismuskunde.uni-hamburg.de)
  2. How Siddhartha became a Buddha. An Introduction to Buddhism . dtv, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-423-34073-8