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Buddhist texts were initially passed on orally by monks, but were later written down and composed as manuscripts in various Indo-Aryan languages which were then translated into other local languages as Buddhism spread. The Western terms "scripture" and "canonical" are applied to Buddhism in inconsistent ways by Western scholars: for example, one authority says that scriptures can be categorized into canonical, commentarial, and pseudo-canonical.
Buddhist traditions have generally divided these texts with their own categories and divisions, such as that between buddhavacana "word of the Buddha," many of which are known as "sutras," and other texts, such as shastras (treatises) or Abhidharma.
An early tantra, the Mahavairocana Abhisambodhi Tantra, is also known as the Mahavairocana Sutra.
At least some editions of the Kangyur include the Heart Sutra in the tantra division.
The Mahayana sutras are traditionally considered by Mahayanists to be the word of the Buddha, but transmitted either in secret, via lineages of supernatural beings (such as the nagas), or revealed directly from other Buddhas or bodhisattvas.
Some 600 Mahayana Sutras have survived in Sanskrit, or in Chinese and/or Tibetan translation.
These religious texts were written in many different languages and scripts but memorizing, reciting and copying the texts were of high value.
Even after the development of printing, Buddhists preferred to keep to their original practices with these texts.
The division of texts into the traditional three yanas may obscure the process of development that went on, and there is some overlap in the traditional classifications.
Doctrinal elaborations were preserved in Abhidharma works and later Karikas (verse expositions).
As Buddhism spread geographically, these texts were translated into the local language, such as Chinese and Tibetan.
For instance, there are so-called proto-Mahayana texts, such as the Ajitasena Sutra, which are missing key features that are associated with Mahayana texts.
Some Pali texts also contain ideas that later became synonymous with the Mahayana.
In the Mahayana tradition there are important works termed Shastras, or treatises which attempt to outline the sutra teachings and defend or expand on them.