Early Buddhist Texts (EBTs), Early Buddhist Literature or Early Buddhist Discourses refers to the parallel texts shared by the Early Buddhist schools, including the first four Pali Nikayas, some Vinaya material like the Patimokkhas of the different Buddhist schools as well as the Chinese Āgama literature. Besides the large collections in Pali and Chinese, there are also fragmentary collections of EBT materials in Sanskrit, Khotanese, Tibetan and Gāndhārī. The modern study of early pre-sectarian Buddhism often relies on comparative scholarship using these various early Buddhist sources.
Some scholars such as Richard Gombrich, Alexander Wynne and A.K. Warder hold that Early Buddhist Texts contain material that could possibly be traced to the historical Buddha himself or at least to the early years of pre-sectarian Buddhism.
Different genres comprise the Early Buddhist Texts, including prose "suttas" (Skt: sūtra, discourses), various forms of verse compositions (such as gāthā and udāna), mixed prose and verse works (geya), and also lists (matika) of monastic rules or doctrinal topics. A large portion of Early Buddhist literature is part of the "sutta" or "sutra" genre, these are usually placed in different collections (called Nikayas or Agamas) and constitute the "Sutta Pitaka" (Skt: Sūtra Pitaka, "Basket of sutras") section of the various early Buddhist Tripitakas ("Three Baskets"). The suttas generally contain doctrinal, spiritual and philosophical content.
These texts were initially transmitted through oral methods. According to Marcus Bingenheimer,
After the death of the founder, Buddhist texts were transmitted orally in Middle Indo-Aryan dialects (Prakrits). While the southern tradition eventually settled on one of these dialects, Pāli, as its canonical language, in India and Central Asia Buddhist texts were successively Sanskritized and/or translated into other languages such as Chinese, Tokharian, Khotanese, Sogdian, and Tibetan. Also, new Buddhist texts in India, from at least the third century onward, were directly composed in standard Sanskrit. Manuscripts from the northern tradition, especially those of Central Asian provenance, are therefore often in Prakrit (especially Gāndhārī) or some nonstandard form of Sanskrit, sometimes called Buddhist Sanskrit, an intermediate stage between some Prakrit and standard Sanskrit. 
An important feature of the Early Buddhist texts are formal characteristics which reflect their origin as orally transmitted literature such as the use of repetition and rhetorical formulas. Early Buddhist texts are believed to have been transmitted by lineages of bhāṇaka, monks who specialized in memorization and recitation of particular collections of texts, until they were eventually recorded in writing after the 1st Century BCE. As noted by Alexander Wynne:
Although there is no evidence for writing before Aśoka, the accuracy of oral transmission should not be underestimated. The Buddhist community was full of Brahmins who knew that the Vedic educational system had transmitted a mass of difficult texts, verbatim, in an increasingly archaic language, for more than a thousand years. Since the early Buddhists required a different means of oral transmission, for quite different texts, other mnemonic techniques were developed, based on communal chanting (saṅgīti). The texts explicitly state that this method was to be employed, and their actual form shows that it was, on a grand scale.
Some scholars such as Wynne and Analayo generally hold that these texts were memorized in fixed form, to be recited verbatim (in contrast to other forms of oral literature, such as epic poetry) and that this was affirmed during communal recitations (where there is little room for improvisation), while others argue that they could have been performed in more poetic and improvisational ways (L.S. Cousins, Rupert Gethin) through the use of basic lists or formulas.
According to Oskar von Hinüber the main purpose for the composition of the EBTs was to "preserve and to defend an orthodox tradition" and that this literary effort was influenced by the Vedic prose of the Brāhmaṇas. As noted by von Hinüber, these collections also contain the first ever Indian texts to commemorate historical events, such as the Mahāparinibbānasuttanta, which recounts the death of the Buddha. The early suttas also almost always open by introducing the geographical location of the event they depict, including ancient place names, always preceded by the phrase "thus have I heard" (evaṃ me sutaṃ).
The textual evidence from various traditions shows that by the 1st century BCE to the fourth century CE, slight differences developed among these parallel documents and that these differences reflected "school affiliation, local traditions, linguistic environment, nonstandardized scripts, or any combination of these factors."
According to Alexander Wynne, the Edicts of Ashoka (see the Minor Rock Edict #3) mentions some Buddhist texts which have been identified and which might show that at the time of Ashoka (304–232 BCE) these were already fixed. Other Indian inscriptions from the 1st and 2nd century CE include terms such as dhamma-kathika, peṭakin, and suttantika, indicating the existence of a Buddhist literature during this time.
Regarding the setting, the EBTs generally depict the world of the second urbanisation period, which features small scale towns and villages, and small competing states (the mahajanapadas) with a lower level of urbanisation compared to that of the Mauryan era. The EBTs also depict a small scale local economy, during a time before the establishment of the long distance trading networks, as noted by Brahmali and Sujato:
King Pasenadi of Kosala is said to have used kāsi sandalwood (MN 87.28), indicating that even the highest social strata used locally produced luxuries. This situation is perhaps to be expected given the political divisions in North India at the time, which may have complicated long-distance trade.
As noted by von Hinüber, the omission of any mention of the Mauryas in EBTs such as the Mahāparinibbānasuttanta, in contrast to other later Buddhist texts which do mention them, is also evidence of its pre-Mauryan date:
Given the importance of the rise of the Maurya empire even under Candragupta, who is better known for his inclination towards Jainism, one might conjecture that the latest date for the composition of the Mahāparinibbānasuttanta, at least for this part of it, is around 350 to 320 BC.
Most modern scholarship has generally focused on the Pāli Nikāyas (which have been fully translated into Western languages) and the Chinese Āgamas (only partially translated). During the 20th century various scholars including Anesaki Masaharu and Akanuma Chinzen, noticed how both of these collections contained parallel texts and began a critical study of their correspondences. Probably the most important early works in the comparative study of these two collections are Anesaki's The Four Buddhist Āgamas in Chinese – A Concordance of their Parts and of the Corresponding Counterparts in the Pāli Nikāyas and Akanuma's The Comparative Catalogue of Chinese Āgamas and Pāli Nikāyas.
Recent work has also been done on other more fragmentary materials surviving in Sanskrit, Tibetan and Gandhari collections.
The Pāli Canon of the Theravada school contains the most complete fully extant collection of EBTs in an Indic language which has survived until today. According to the Theravada tradition, after having been passed down orally, it was first written down in the first century BCE in Sri Lanka.
While some scholars such as Gregory Schopen are skeptical of the antiquity of the Pali texts, Alexander Wynne notes that:
Canonical fragments are included in the Golden Pāli Text, found in a reliquary from Śrī kṣetra dating to the late 3rd or early 4th century AD; they agree almost exactly with extant Pāli manuscripts. This means that the Pāli Tipiṭaka has been transmitted with a high degree of accuracy for well over 1,500 years. There is no reason why such an accurate transmission should not be projected back a number of centuries, at the least to the period when it was written down in the first century BC, and probably further.
The Early Buddhist material in the Pāli Canon mainly consists of the first four Pāli Nikāyas, the Patimokkha (basic list of monastic rules) and other Vinaya material as well as some parts of the Khuddaka Nikāya (mainly Sutta Nipata, Itivuttaka, Dhammapada, Therigatha, Theragatha, and the Udana).
These texts have been widely translated into Western languages.
The EBTs preserved in the Chinese Buddhist canon include the Āgamas, collections of sutras which parallel the Pali Nikāyas in content as well as structure. There are also some differences between the discourses and collections as modern comparative studies has shown, such as omissions of material, additions and shifts in the location of phrases. These various Agamas possibly come down to us from the Sarvastivada (the Samyukta and Madhyama Agamas), Dharmaguptaka and Kasyayipa schools. The Mahasamghika Vinaya Pitaka also survives in Chinese translation. Some of the Agamas have been translated into English by the Āgama Research Group (ARG) at the Dharma Drum Institute of Liberal Arts.
The language of these texts is a form of Ancient Chinese termed Buddhist Chinese (fójiào Hànyǔ 佛教漢語) or Buddhist Hybrid Chinese (fójiào hùnhé Hànyǔ 佛教混合漢語) which shows considerable vernacularity. Buddhist Chinese also shows a significant number of elements which derive from the source language, including calques and phonological transcriptions. Scholarly analysis of these texts have shown that they were translated from Middle Indic Prakrit source languages, with varying degrees of sanskritisation.
While the other Chinese Agamas are mostly doctrinally consistent with the Pali Nikayas, the Ekottara Agama (EA) has been seen by various scholars such as Johannes Bronkhorst and Etienne Lamotte as being influenced by later Mahayana concepts. According to Lamotte, these 'interpolations' are easily discernible. According to Analayo, the most often proposed hypothesis is that the EA derives from the Mahasamgika school.
Most of these texts are written in the Gandhari Language and the Kharoṣṭhī script, but some have also been discovered in Bactrian. The Gandhāran Buddhist texts contain several EBTs, such as a parallel to the Anattalakkhana Sutta, possibly belonging to the Dharmaguptaka school. A few publications have translated some of these texts.
According to Mark Allon, the most recent major finds include the following collections:
Another important recent find is "a substantial portion of a large Sanskrit birch bark manuscript of the Dirghagama, the division of the canon containing long discourses, belonging to the (Mula)-Sarvastivada school, which dates to the seventh or eighth centuries AD".
The various Abhidharma texts and collections (Pitakas) are considered by scholars to be (mostly) later material (3rd century BCE onwards) and thus are not EBTs. In spite of the relative lateness of the Abhidharma works, according to scholars like Erich Frauwallner, there are kernels of early pre-sectarian material in the earliest layer of the Abhidharma literature, such as in the Theravada Vibhanga, the Dharmaskandha of the Sarvastivada, and the Śāriputrābhidharma of the Dharmaguptaka school. According to Frauwallner's comparative study, these texts were possibly developed and "constructed from the same material", mainly early Buddhist doctrinal lists (Pali: mātikā, Sanskrit: mātṛkā) which forms the "ancient core" of early Abhidharma.
There are various EBTs collected in the Tibetan Kangyur. Peter Skilling has published English translations of these texts in his two volume "Mahasutras" (Pāli Text Society, 1994).
Another important source of early Buddhist material in the Tibetan canon are numerous quotations by Śamathadeva in his Abhidharmakośopāyikā-ṭīkā (Derge no. 4094 / Peking no. 5595), a commentary to the Abhidharmakosha. Some of this material is available in English translation by Bhikkhunī Dhammadinnā.
Likewise, numerous sutra quotations by authors of Sautrantika treatises are also a source of EBT fragments. The Sautrantika school was known for focusing on using examples from and references to EBT sutras. These works include Kumaralata’s Drstantapankti, the Abhidharmamrtara-sasastra attributed to Ghosaka, the Abhidharmavatara-sastra attributed to Skandhila and the Tattvasiddhi of Harivarman.
Mahayana treatises also sometimes quote EBTs. According to Etienne Lamotte, the Dà zhìdù lùn cites "about a hundred sūtras of the Lesser Vehicle; the majority are borrowed from the Āgama collections."
Agama is a Sanskrit word which is a term for scriptures in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism:
Āgama (Buddhism), a collection of Early Buddhist Texts
Āgama (Hinduism), a collection of scriptures of several Hindu devotional schools
Jain Agamas (Digambara), texts of Digambara Jainism
Jain Agamas (Śvētāmbara), texts of Jainism based on the discourses of the tirthankaraThe corresponding adjective is Agamic.
Agama can also refer to:
Agama (lizard), common name for lizards in the family Agamidae
Agama agama, a species of lizard from the Agamidae family
Religion, referred to as agama in the Malay-speaking world (Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei)
Parthenogenesis or agamic, can mean a form of asexual reproduction not involving the fusion of male and female gametesAn Xuan
An Xuan (Chinese: 安玄; pinyin: Ānxuán) was a Parthian layman credited with working alongside An Shigao (Chinese: 安世高; pinyin: Ānshìgāo) and Yan Fojiao in the translation of early Buddhist texts in Luoyang in Later Han China.Ashokavadana
The Ashokavadana (Sanskrit: अशोकावदान; IAST: Aśokāvadāna; "Narrative of Ashoka") is an Indian Sanskrit-language text that describes the birth and reign of the Maurya Emperor Ashoka. It contains legends as well as historical narratives, and glorifies Ashoka as a Buddhist emperor whose only ambition was to spread Buddhism far and wide.Ashokavadana, also known as Ashokarajavadana, is one of the avadana texts contained in the Divyavadana (Divyāvadāna, "Divine Narrative"), an anthology of several Buddhist legends and narratives. According to Jean Przyluski, the text was composed by the Buddhist monks of the Mathura region, as it highly praises the city of Mathura, its monasteries and its monks.Bhikkhu Analayo
Bhikkhu Anālayo is a bhikkhu (Buddhist monk), scholar and meditation teacher. He was born in Germany in 1962, and went forth in 1995 in Sri Lanka. He is best known for his comparative studies of Early Buddhist Texts as preserved by the various early Buddhist traditions.Birch bark manuscript
Birch bark manuscripts are documents written on pieces of the inner layer of birch bark, which was commonly used for writing before the advent of mass production of paper. Evidence of birch bark for writing goes back many centuries and in various cultures.
The oldest dated birch bark manuscripts are numerous Gandhāran Buddhist texts from approximately the 1st century CE, believed to have originated in Afghanistan, likely by the Dharmaguptaka sect. Translations of the texts, mostly in Kharoṣṭhī, have produced the earliest known versions of significant Buddhist scriptures, including a Dhammapada, discourses of Buddha that include the Rhinoceros Sutra, Avadanas and Abhidharma texts. Sanskrit birch bark manuscripts written with Brahmi script have been dated to the first few centuries CE. Several early Sanskrit writers, such as Kālidāsa (c. 4th century CE), Sushruta (c. 3rd century CE), and Varāhamihira (6th century CE) mention the use of birch bark for manuscripts. The bark of Betula utilis (Himalayan Birch) is still used today in India and Nepal for writing sacred mantras.
Russian texts discovered in Veliky Novgorod have been dated to approximately the 9th to 15th century CE. Most of those documents are letters written by various people in the Old Novgorod dialect.
The Irish language's native writing system Ogham, sometimes called the "tree alphabet", was legendarily invented by Ogma who wrote a proscription on birch to Lugh, warning him; the text of this proscription can be found in the Book of Ballymote. The first letter of Ogham is beith; beithe means "birch".Brahmā (Buddhism)
Brahmā is a leading god (deva) and heavenly king in Buddhism. He was adopted from other Indian religions such as Hinduism that considered him a protector of teachings (dharmapala), and he is never depicted in early Buddhist texts as a creator god. In Buddhist tradition, it was the deity Brahma Sahampati who appeared before the Buddha and urged him to teach, once the Buddha attained enlightenment but was unsure if he should teach his insights to anyone.Brahma is a part of the Buddhist cosmology, and lords over the heavenly realm of rebirth called the Brahmaloka – the most sought after realm for afterlife and reincarnation in Buddhist traditions. Brahma is generally represented in Buddhist culture as a god with four faces and four arms, and variants of him are found in both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist cultures.Creator in Buddhism
Buddhist beliefs regarding a creator deity are varied.
Hinayana Buddhism, consistently rejects the notion of a creator deity. It teaches the concept of gods, heavens and rebirths in its Saṃsāra doctrine, but it considers none of these gods as a creator. Buddhism posits that mundane deities such as Mahabrahma are misconstrued to be a creator. Buddhist ontology follows the doctrine of Dependent Origination, whereby all phenomena arise in dependence on other phenomena, hence no primal unmoved mover could be acknowledged or discerned.
However, Mahayana Buddhism does believe in the doctrine of Sunyata (emptiness) or Tathata (thatness) out of which all things emerge. Furthermore, this ultimate reality is considered to be the Tathagatagarbha (Womb of all Buddhas) and the Adi Buddha (Primordial Buddha) who is worshipped differently in various Mahayana traditions as Vairocana or Amitabha and in the Vajrayana traditions as Samantabhadra or Vajradhara. Thus this concept of an ultimate reality which is the source of all things approximates the idea of a creator God.Divyavadana
The Divyāvadāna or Divine narratives is a Sanskrit anthology of Buddhist avadana tales, many originating in Mūlasarvāstivādin vinaya texts. It may be dated to 2nd century CE. The stories themselves are therefore quite ancient and may be among the first Buddhist texts ever committed to writing, but this particular collection of them is not attested prior to the seventeenth century. Typically, the stories involve the Buddha explaining to a group of disciples how a particular individual, through actions in a previous life, came to have a particular karmic result in the present. A predominant theme is the vast merit (puṇya) accrued from making offerings to enlightened beings or at stupas and other holy sites related to the Buddha.Gandhāran Buddhist texts
The Gandhāran Buddhist texts are the oldest Buddhist manuscripts yet discovered, dating from about the 1st century BCE to 3rd century CE, and are also the oldest Indian manuscripts. They represent the literature of Gandharan Buddhism from present-day northwestern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan, and are written in Gāndhārī.
They were sold to European and Japanese institutions and individuals, and are currently being recovered and studied by several universities. The Gandhāran texts are in a considerably deteriorated form (their survival alone is extraordinary), but educated guesses about reconstruction have been possible in several cases using both modern preservation techniques and more traditional textual scholarship, comparing previously known Pāli and Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit versions of texts. Other Gandhāran Buddhist texts—"several and perhaps many"—have been found over the last two centuries but lost or destroyed.The texts are attributed to the Dharmaguptaka sect by Richard Salomon, the leading scholar in the field, and the British Library scrolls "represent a random but reasonably representative fraction of what was probably a much larger set of texts preserved in the library of a monastery of the Dharmaguptaka sect in Nagarāhāra."Khema
Kṣemā (Sanskrit; Pali: Khemā) was one of the two chief female disciples of Buddha (the other being Uppalavanna). The Sutta Nipata mention her to be the wife of Bimbisara, king of Magadha, and a follower of Buddhism.Luminous mind
Luminous mind (Skt: prabhāsvara-citta or ābhāsvara-citta, Pali: pabhassara citta; T. ’od gsal gyi sems; C. guangmingxin; J. kōmyōshin; K. kwangmyŏngsim) is a Buddhist term which appears in a sutta of the Pali Anguttara Nikaya as well as numerous Mahayana texts and Buddhist tantras. It is variously translated as "brightly shining mind", or "mind of clear light" while the related term luminosity (Skt. prabhāsvaratā; Tib.’od gsal ba; Ch. guāng míng; Jpn. kōmyō; Kor. kwangmyōng) is also translated as "clear light" in Tibetan Buddhist contexts or, "purity" in East Asian contexts. The term is usually used to describe the mind or consciousness in different ways.
This term is given no direct doctrinal explanation in the Pali discourses, but later Buddhist schools explained it using various concepts developed by them. The Theravada school identifies the "luminous mind" with the bhavanga, a concept first proposed in the Theravada Abhidhamma. The later schools of the Mahayana identify it with both the Mahayana concepts of bodhicitta and tathagatagarbha. The notion is of central importance in the philosophy and practice of Dzogchen.Mahavibhasa
The Abhidharma Mahāvibhāṣa Śāstra is an ancient Buddhist text. It is thought to have been authored around 150 CE.Palkigundu and Gavimath, Koppal
Palkigundu (15.344167°N 76.136944°E / 15.344167; 76.136944) and Gavimath (15.3372926°N 76.1621377°E / 15.3372926; 76.1621377) near Koppal in Karnataka are two locations where inscriptions of Emperor Ashoka (304–232 BCE) were found. These inscriptions represent some of India's oldest written records, and are part of Ashoka's Minor Rock Edicts. Jain monks used to meditate there. The Palkigundu and Gavimath edicts are in Prakrit, written in Brahmi script. A Kannada translation of the inscriptions is available.
At Palkigundu (palanquin rock), two huge boulders are topped with a flat-shaped rock forming a canopy. Rough steps lead to the top of the boulders, where a 2,300-year-old inscription is located. Similar edicts have been found in 17 places in India.
About 2.5 km to the southeast of Palkigundu, at Gavimath, there is another rock inscription, also an edict from Ashoka. The Gavimath inscription is situated on a boulder in a sheltered place with a rock canopy. Jain monks used both Gavimath and Palkigundu as locations to meditate.Pratimokṣa
The Pratimokṣa (Sanskrit prātimokṣa) is a list of rules (contained within the vinaya) governing the behaviour of Buddhist monastics (monks or bhikṣus and nuns or bhikṣuṇīs). Prati means "towards" and mokṣa means "liberation" from cyclic existence (saṃsāra).
It became customary to recite these rules once a fortnight at a meeting of the sangha during which confession would traditionally take place. A number of prātimokṣa codes are extant, including those contained in the Theravāda, Mahāsāṃghika, Mahīśāsaka, Dharmaguptaka, Sarvāstivāda and Mūlasarvāstivāda vinayas. Pratimokṣa texts may also circulate in separate pratimokṣa sūtras, which are extracts from their respective vinayas.Topra Kalan
Topra, combined name for the larger Topra Kalan and adjacent smaller Topra Khurd, is a Mauryan Empire-era village in Yamunanagar district of Harayana state in India.
It lies 14 km west of Yamunanagar, 14 km from Radaur and 90 km from Chandigarh.Trailokya
Trailokya (Sanskrit: त्रैलोक्य; Pali: tiloka, Wylie: khams gsum) has been translated as "three worlds," "three spheres," "three planes of existence," "three realms" and "three regions."
These three worlds are identified in Hinduism and appear in early Buddhist texts.Udanavarga
The Udānavarga is an early Buddhist collection of topically organized chapters (Sanskrit: varga) of aphoristic verses or "utterances" (Sanskrit: udāna) attributed to the Buddha and his disciples. While not part of the Pali Canon, the Udānavarga has many chapter titles, verses and an overall format similar to those found in the Pali Canon's Dhammapada and Udāna. At this time, there exist one Sanskrit recension, two Chinese recensions and two or three Tibetan recensions of the Udānavarga.Āgama (Buddhism)
In Buddhism, an āgama (आगम Sanskrit and Pāli for "sacred work" or "scripture") is a collection of Early Buddhist Texts.
The five āgamas together comprise the Suttapiṭaka of the early Buddhist schools, which had different recensions of each āgama. In the Pali Canon of the Theravada, the term nikāya is used. The word āgama does not occur in this collection.
Topics in Buddhism