Why The Chinese Canon Is As Important As The Pali Canon

(Why The Pali Canon Does Not Represent All Of Buddhism)

Availability of pure teachings depends on our
availability of reverence, diligence and merits.

– Anonone

From Foreword by Roderick S. Bucknell, University of Queensland: ‘Here the author [Prof. Dr. Bhikkhu Anālayo] examines how the distinction between [Buddhist] discourse and commentary appears to have become blurred. The examples cited demonstrate how a discrepancy between a Pāli sutta and its Chinese parallel can be explained in terms of unconscious incorporation of commentarial material. The Conclusion, and with it the entire work, finishes up with a simple but significant observation: the study has revealed no evidence that any particular line of transmission has preserved the discourses more faithfully than the others. An implication of this is that the researcher should not rely exclusively on any one version of the Nikāyas/Āgamas. In particular, study of the Pāli Nikāyas alone can yield only a partial and imperfect picture. For a maximally complete and clear picture, the Pāli suttas must be compared with their available Chinese and other parallels.’

From Conclusion by Prof. Dr. Bhikkhu Anālayo, University of Hamburg: ‘Once the dynamics of oral transmission and the limitations of human memory are taken into account, it becomes clear why the discourses of the Majjhima-nikāya [Middle Length Discourses] and their parallels exhibit numerous differences in details alongside considerable agreement in regard to essential teachings. In this way, my research confirms that these discourses are indeed the final products of a genuine oral transmission, with all its vicissitudes, but also with all its strengths.’ [See Note 146]

[Note 146: 146 Bareau 1974b: 277-280 explains that the idea of a conspiracy of the early monks to introduce a change in the teaching arose at a time when scholarship was aware only of the Pāli canon, whereas comparative studies of the parallel material preserved in Chinese, Pāli, and Sanskrit show that this hypothesis is not convincing. He also notes that it is not only inconceivable that the first generation of disciples consciously altered the teachings, but also that during the later stages of Buddhist history, which saw endless time spent in discussion on minor points of Buddhist doctrine among the different schools, such a move would most certainly have been criticized, if it had ever taken place. He concludes that the Buddhism lived and preached by the Buddha and his disciples is, in its main lines, what we find in the early canonical texts preserved in Chinese, Pāli or Sanskrit.]

‘My comparative study of the Majjhima-nikāya discourses also shows that it would be a gross oversimplification if one were to side with one particular tradition as the more authentic one. [See Note 147] Nothing short of a detailed examination of each individual text in the light of all of its extant parallels can lead to a proper assessment of the reliability of a particular passage or statement and of its significance within the overall picture of early Buddhist thought, in as much as this has been preserved in textual records.’ [Note 147: Norman 1984/1992: 41 comments that “there is no consistent pattern of superiority in the Pāli version. Sometimes the details of one version may be preferable, but never consistently so, and if we are trying to establish the ‘original’ form of the text, it is necessary to take account of all versions known to us”…]

Related Article:
Whose Buddhism Is The Truest?

A Comparative Study of the Majjhima-nikāya Volume 1 & 2
Prof. Dr. Bhikkhu Anālayo

Please Be Mindful Of Your Speech, Namo Amituofo!

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