This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

The Mahayana canon

It might be more appropriate to call this canon the Chinese Canon, since as it exists today it is composed of Chinese translations or historically came into being as the work of Chinese translators. However, we can also say that the Mahayana texts are also distinguished from their Theravada counterparts by being derived from early Indian texts written in Sanskrit. This means that although the sermons and sayings are almost identical in many cases, they do have a different history and neither is ‘the original’ in a strict sense, but are both derived from different sets of early texts, whether Pali or Sanskrit.

This canon is used throughout China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.

As for general structure, the Mahayana canon has the Tripitaka but the second section is called Sutra as opposed to Sutta. The canon also includes many additional texts such as the Tantras, Agamas (similar but not identical to the Theravada Nikayas) and of course the Mahayana sutras which are what make this canon the Mahayana Canon.

The second basket, the Sutra, was divided into five sections in the Pali canon, but is in four sections in the Mahayana canon, and again we will point out that what were the Nikayas in Pali are here called Agamas:

  1. Dirgha Agama.
  2. Madhyama Agama.
  3. Samyukta Agama.
  4. Ekottara Agama.

The Dhammapada and the Jakata stories were notable texts contained in the fifth Nikaya of the Pali canon. Here the Jakata stories are present but incorporated within different sections. The Dhammapada is not present, or at least the sayings it contains are not found gathered into a single work, as in the Pali canon.

We also cannot leave out the most significant feature of the Mahayana canon, which is the inclusion of the Mahayana Sutras. Of the various Mahayana sutras, each receives attention based on the school to which one belongs. For example, in Pure Land Buddhism (or Amidism) the Amitabha sutra (Sukhavativyuha sutra) is prominent. In Zen, there are the Lotus (Saddharmapundarika), Diamond (Vajracchedika), and Flower Garland (Avatamsaka) sutras.

Share This