The key texts within this section are grouped into four categories.
First, there is the Pali Canon, Chinese Tripitaka, and Kanjur/Tenjur. This is the body of teachings held dear by the Theravada (Pali), the surviving original school, as well as treasured Central and East Asian collections of early scripture.
Second, there are the sutras. These texts form the basis of various Mahayana schools and doctrines.
Third, there are supplemental philosophical works. This grouping includes masterworks like the Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way (an exegesis of the nature of being and non-being), The Way of the Bodhisattva (an ode to the Six Paramitas), and the Platform Sutra of Hui-Neng (a biographical account of a renowned monk). These texts, unlike the sutras, were never believed to have originated from the Buddha. Nonetheless, they are a part of the philosophical and mythological fabric of Buddhism.
Lastly, there are scholarly works examining the doctrinal foundations and finer points of Buddhist concepts. These are newer works like Conze’s Buddhism: It’s Essence and Development and Takakusu’s Essentials of Buddhist Philosophy.
Pali Canon: This is the “Tripitaka,” or “Three Baskets,” containing monastic rules, the sayings and experiences of the Buddha, and the Abhidharma, which analyzes the complexities of the original schools’ philosophical doctrines.
Sutras: These are classic texts which were once believed to have originated from the Buddha himself, as evinced from the ever-present first line, “This have I heard.” This is likely a tradition passed down from Buddhism’s Indian forerunners, who believed the most authoritative texts to be Sruti, or “heard.” Sutras put forth original or influential philosophical concepts. Many, though not all, of these texts have the term “Sutra” in the original title. The list includes:
- Prajnaparamita Sutras (including the Heart Sutra and the Diamond Sutra)
- Vimalakirti’s Discourse Sutra
- Pure Land Sutras
- Descent Into Lanka Sutra
- Brahma’s Net Sutra
- Flower Garland Sutra
- Lotus Sutra
- Nirvana Sutra
- Sutra of the Indestructible
Supplemental Philosophical Works: Many influential texts do not purport themselves to be the word of the Buddha. Nagarjuna’s Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way is a classic example. This text was attributed to Nagarjuna, not to the Buddha, yet Nagarjuna gained enough adherents this and his other texts to influence the development of a distinct school of thought.
- The Way of the Bodhisattva
- Path of Purification
- Tibetan Book of the Dead
- Gateless Gate
- Book of Equanimity
- Blue Cliff Record
- Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way
- Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana
Modern Scholarship: Writers specializing in the fields of sociology, religion, psychology, and philosophy have analyzed the written corpus of Buddhism and brought new patterns, hidden connections, and subtexts to light. Material taken from modern scholar’s texts are cited on numerous pages and not given pages of their own.