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Early Scripture Commentary

(6,248 words)

Author(s): Oskar von Hinüber
A complete set of commentaries and subcommentaries on the Theravāda Tipiṭaka is preserved in the original language (Pali). This commentarial tradition begins with texts embedded in the Tipiṭaka and ends in late subcommentaries written during the 19th century. Theravāda commentaries are listed together with the basic text (Tipiṭaka) in H. Smith (1948). Commentaries of other schools usually survive only as translations, with the exception of important fragments of very early commentaries in Gandhari.It is impossible to date the first Theravāda commentaries. However, i…


(8,400 words)

Author(s): Oskar von Hinüber
Tripiṭaka is the title of the collection of Buddhist canonical scriptures in three parts: rules for the Buddhist monks and nuns (Vinaya), discourses of the Buddha (Sūtra), and texts on things relating to the teaching (Abhidharma). Only the Tripiṭakas extant in Indian languages are dealt with in the following mostly under formal aspects. For the Chinese and Tibetan Tripiṭakas, see the articles “Dazangjing” and “Kanjur/Tanjur,” and for details of the content, see “Vinaya,” “Āgama/Nikāya,” and “Abhidharma” (bibliographical survey: Grönbold, 1984; Oberlies, 2003).Tripiṭaka is a …

Historiography: South Asia

(5,375 words)

Author(s): Oskar von Hinüber
The first historical texts known from ancient South Asia are the Buddhist chronicles composed in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Consequently, from a very early period, the history of Buddhism on the island is known much better than in any other part of South Asia. Besides texts on the general history of Buddhism, there are specialized chronicles on relics and so on, written in both Pali and Sinhala languages or in Southeast Asian vernaculars.The traditional historiography of Buddhism begins in all schools with the reports on the first and second councils, held at Rājagaha (Sk…

Languages: Indic

(7,959 words)

Author(s): Oskar von Hinüber
The linguistic history of Buddhism begins with a lost language, that of the Buddha. The most ancient languages extant are Pali, Gandhari, and Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit. These, however, are derived from a still earlier language (Buddhist Middle Indic), which can be reconstructed, if only to a very limited extent. From the very beginning, a large variety of Middle Indic languages, later also Sanskrit, was used by Buddhists, out of which, in the course of time, certain individual languages were sele…

Manuscripts and Printing: South, Southeast, and Central Asia

(9,424 words)

Author(s): Oskar von Hinüber
The Buddhist text tradition begins at the end of the period of orality in India. Once script was introduced by the time of Aśoka, it seems that the Buddhists were keen to avail themselves of the new medium, quite in contrast to the followers of the equally oral vedic tradition, who remained reluctant to use script (von Hinüber, 1989, 71). The following chronological survey describes major collections of extant manuscripts beginning in the northern periphery of India including Central Asia with t…