Texts

There are a vast number of Buddhist scriptures and religious texts, which are commonly divided into the categories of canonical and non-canonical. The former, also called the Sutras (Sanskrit) or Suttas (Pali) are believed to be, either literally or metaphorically, the actual words of the Buddha. The latter are the various commentaries on canonical texts, other treatises on the Dharma, and collections of quotes, histories, grammars, etc.
This categorization is not universal, however: there will always be texts that cross boundaries, or that belong in more than one category. Moreover, Zen Buddhism rejects scriptures altogether as an ineffective path to enlightenment.
The articles below provide overviews of some of the most notable Buddhist texts.http://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/texts.htm

The Tripitaka (Tipitaka in Pali) is the earliest collection of Buddhist teachings and the only text recognized as canonical by Theravada Buddhists. Many commentaries have been added over the centuries, however. Tripitaka means “three baskets,” from the way in which it was originally recorded: the text was written on long, narrow leaves, which were sewn at the edges then grouped into bunches and stored in baskets. The collection is also referred to as the Pali Canon, after the language in which it was first written. It is a vast collection of writings, comprising up to 50 volumes costing $2000 in some modern sets.
The Tripitaka was handed down orally, then written down in the third century B.C.E. According to Buddhist tradition, the contents of the Tripitaka were determined at the First Buddhist Council, shortly after the Buddha’s death. As many as 500 of Buddha’s disciples assembled, and at the direction of Mahakashypa, Buddha’s successor, the teachings of the Buddha were recited in full. They were then verified by others who had also been present and organized into the Tripitaka (although not written at the time).
The Vinaya Pitaka (Discipline Basket) was recalled by a monk named Upali. It deals with rules and regulations for the monastic community (the sangha), including 227 rules for monks, further regulations for nuns, and guidelines for the interaction between the sangha and the laity. Most of these rules derive from the Buddha’s responses to specific situations in the community.
The Sutra Pitaka (Discourse Basket) was recited by Ananda, Buddha’s cousin and closest companion. It contains the Buddha’s teachings on doctrine and behavior, focusing especially on meditation techniques.
The Abhidharma Pitaka (Higher Knowledge or Special Teachings Basket) was recited by Mahakashyapa, the Buddha’s successor. It is essentially a collection of miscellaneous writings, including songs, poetry, and stories of the Buddha and his past lives. Its primary subjects are Buddhist philosophy and psychology. Also within the Abhidharma Pitaka is the Dhammapada (Dharmapada in Sanskrit), a popular Buddhist text. The Dhammapada consists of sayings of the Buddha and simple discussions of Buddhist doctrine based on the Buddha’s daily life.

 

Mahayana Buddhism reveres the Tripitaka as a sacred text, but adds to it the Sutras, which reflect distinctively Mahayana concepts and are used more often by Mahayana Buddhists.
Most of the Mahayana Sutras, which number over two thousand, were written between 200 BCE and 200 CE, the period in which Mahayana Buddhism developed. Different divisions of Mahayana Buddhism emphasize different Sutras, but some texts, like the Lotus Sutra and Heart Sutra, are important to most branches of Mahayana.
The Lotus Sutra is probably the most significant of the Mahayana Sutras. It describes a sermon delivered by the Buddha to an assembly of buddhas, boddhisatvas, and other celestial beings. This sermon emphasizes the importance of becoming a boddhisatva, realizing one’s buddha-nature, and other Mahayana concepts. The Lotus Sutra is revered by most Buddhists, and is the primary focus of the Nichiren school.
The Heart Sutra is another important Mahayana text. It is very short, only a few pages, and provides a concise summary of key Mahayana concepts. Presented as the teachings the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, the Heart Sutra describes the five skandhas (elements of human nature), as well as the Mahayana views of “emptiness,” nirvana, and ultimate reality.
The Land of Bliss Sutra is especially important in Pure Land Buddhism. It tells the story of Amitabha (Amida) Buddha’s vow to help people reach nirvana, describes the Pure Land, and relates what one must do to be reborn in the Pure Land.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead is the Tibetan text that is most well known to the West. Written by a Tibetan monk, the Book of the Dead describes in detail the stages of death from the Tibetan point of view. It chronicles the experiences and religious opportunities a person encounters at various stages: while dying, at the moment of death, during the 49-day interval between death and rebirth, and at rebirth.
The title “Tibetan Book of the Dead” was coined by the American editor W.Y. Evans-Wentz in imitation of the Egyptian Book of the Dead. The actual name in Tibetan is Bardo Todrol Chenmo, which means the Great Liberation Through Hearing in the Between. The Tibetan word bardo means “between,” “gap,” or “transition,” and refers to the time between death and rebirth.
In Tibet, Nepal, and Mongolia, a lama will often recite the Book of the Dead to a recently deceased person in order to help him understand his experiences and gain enlightenment, or at least a positive rebirth.
The Book of the Dead is a product of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. According to Nyingma tradition, the book was composed in the eighth century CE by Padmasambhava, who then concealed the book because he knew the world was not yet ready for its teachings. Concealing, rather than revealing, books immediately upon writing them is a distinctive practice of the Nyingma school. Concealed works are called terma (“treasure”), and it is believed that they will not be discovered until the world is ready for them. The Tibetan Book of the Dead was rediscovered in the 14th century CE by Karma Lingpa, a monk of the Nyingma school.

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