The "Earliest" Buddhist literature

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The "Earliest" Buddhist literature

Post by Coëmgenu » Thu May 25, 2017 2:48 pm

Should we make a compendium of the āgamas for study? Does such a thing already exist here on this forum? If not, should it be pinned to the top of a subforum for highlighting? Would anyone else like to collaborate in pooling our knowledge together, and creating a list of resources and citations?

The study of the āgamas is endlessly fascinating, as they are the oldest Buddhist literature to have survived the trials of erosion and time.

I am quite active in participation in the discourse surrounding āgama studies on a few Buddhist forums online, and I would like to share a short concise list of some of the geographical and historical origins of what I have been able to put together concerning these collections:

雜阿含經 (zá ā hán jīng), from the Sarvāstivāda. Original manuscript in Prākrit, retrieved by Ven Faxian from Sri Lanka (Bingenheimer, Studies in Āgama Literature, 1, 45), translated into Chinese in approx 400(-500?)CE by Ven Guṇabhadra (SuttaCentral metadata:

別譯雜阿含經 (bié yì zá ā hán jīng), from the Northerly Kashmiri Sarvāstivāda. Some believe that this is scripture inherited from the Kāśyapīya, I am of the persuasion that Marcus Bingenheimer (Studies in Āgama Literature 24, 42) correctly identifies this as to have been originally from the same Sarvāstivāda collection as the 雜阿含經, possibly originally the same text, due to extreme similarities between them. Who translated this into Chinese is unknown as far as any source I have consulted can tell me. This recension of manuscripts is believed to have originated in Sri Lanka, travelled to Central Asia, then passed into China, rather than having been transmitted directly from Sri Lanka to China, like the 雜阿含經 (same source, 42, 49). It is believed that 別譯雜阿含經 is only a partial survival of what was once a much larger Saṃyuktāgama.

中阿含經 (zhōng ā hán jīng), this is also believed to have been from the Northerly Kashmiri Sarvāstivāda originating very probably in eastern Turkestan (same source, 42), its translator is unknown.

長阿含經 (cháng ā hán jīng), this is the Dharmaguptaka Dīrghāgama, particularly significant in Buddhist history because it exists, in its oldest form, in Ghāndārī, and was discovered in an archeological site in Bāmiyān, Afghanistan (same source, 39). Among these very ancient Buddhist texts, was also found the oldest extant Mahāyāna sūtra, the Aṣṭasāhasrikāprajñāpāramitāsūtra, also in Ghāndārī. The Ghāndārī manuscripts are only fragmentary, however, and the a complete recension of the same scripture was preserved in Chinese. Does anyone know the history of the Chinese recension of 長阿含經 and its relation to the Ghāndārī? That would be very interesting to know.

增壹阿含經 (zēng yī ā hán jīng), this Ekottarāgama's translator is known (Dharmanandi,曇摩難提, during the Qin dynasty (221 to 206 BC, does anyone know if this is right? this seem incredibly early for a historically traceable strata of Buddhavacana!), from the Fu (苻秦) state, later edited by Gautama Saṃghadeva in 397–398 CE) (source, SuttaCentral metadata: Interestingly enough, it is not known which school this Ekottarāgama belonged to in ancient times, but it does have parallel passage in common with a Dharmaguptaka Ekottarāgama in Ghāndārī found at the same Bāmiyān site (Bingenheimer 313, citing another paper I cannot find a copy of yet).

This is not at all an exhaustive list, and is limited in inquiry to physical manuscripts copies that have been found, as well as what is known or hypothesized about their origins by scholars I have read. I am also not at all a specialist in the field, so if you find any mistakes in what I have put forth, please feel free to correct me.

I hope this is of use and interesting.
並畢竟空。並如來藏。並實相。非三 而三三而不三。非合非散而合而散。非非合非非散。不可一異而一異。
All three truths are ultimately empty, all are tathāgatagarbha, all are true aspect. Not three, they are three; three, they are not three. Neither combined nor separated, neither uncombined nor unseparated. Neither same nor different, yet in a sense same, and in a sense different.

夫三諦者。 天然之性徳也。 中諦者。 統一切法。 眞諦者。 泯一切法。 俗諦者。 立一切法。
The three truths. Heaven-sent natural characteristics. The middle truth unifies all dharmas. The ultimate truth demolishes all dharmas. The conventional truth establishes all dharmas.

摩訶止観始終心要Móhēzhǐguān, Shǐzhōngxīnyào.

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