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Do Buddhists have a Bible?

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By Edited Aug 6, 2016 0 0

Buddhist Temple

The easiest answer and probably the one a reader expects is – “yes,” there is a “form” of Buddhist Bible; however, it’s not a bible in the pure-sense as understood by most western religions practitioners. Not all religions use this term Bible and not all Judea-Christian Bibles are the same. From a religious perspective, in western societies the word Bible is literally a proper name of a specific text, a seminal authoritative text; with the general assumption being a reference to the King James I Bible containing the Old and New Testament. When the Bible, being referred to is one of the other earlier versions, such as the Guttenberg Bible or the Jefferson Bible, the full name is used. Islamic faith refers to the Judea-Christian Bible as the Book to separate its importance from the Quran (Koran) as the overall religious authoritative text.

The word Bible is also used as a descriptive term when applied to any book that forms the foundation of a discipline or practice, for example: many automobiles have specific maintenance and parts manuals often called the car’s bible. For the last few decades, Chilton[5] automotive books have been the “bible” for many professional and amateur auto-repair-people. Authors may use this word “bible” as a means of elevating their work, or promote the book as being or intended to be the “one-stop-shop” for the most important information on the topic. This multiple usage of the word bible is the case with Buddhism and a Buddhist Bible.

Pali Canon and the Buddhist Bible

The Pali Canon also known as the Tipitaka (in Pali) or Tripitaka (in Sanskrit) is the overall collective work that represents what is the original form of Buddhism.[2] There are three major schools of Buddhism and the oldest, Theravada Buddhism, uses the Tripitaka as its singular foundation text in much the same way Christians view the Old and New Testaments collectively; and as Muslims view the Quran (Koran). This Canon consists of three major volumes containing many discourses within each. There are books in publication that purport to being Buddhist Bibles or the collective teachings of the Buddha; however, if they are the full Tripitaka, they would be so large that it would be impractical to carry as a single book or bible. The Tripitaka [or Pali Canon] is an estimated 12,000 plus or minus pages long.[2][3][4]

The first basket is the Vinaya Pitaka containing the monastic structure and rules. If interested in Buddhism beyond the practitioner or follower perspective, this Pitaka is not necessary for your understanding of the Buddha’s core teachings. It is intended for monks, nuns, or someone who wants to live a strict Buddhist monastic lifestyle. Think of it as a rule book for monks and nuns. The Buddha It is not a lay-persons Buddh

The second basket is the Sutta Pitaka containing thousands of discourses delivered directly from the Buddha and his closest followers over the Buddha's lifetime.

The third basket is the Abhidhamma Pitaka, itself consisting of seven books all of which explain the Buddha's teachings in more specific terms of the mental and physical matters affecting a follower's success or failure in achieving Enlightenment or the Awakening.

As to other schools of Buddhism, Mahayana (The Great Vehicle) and Vajrayana (Tantric), the Tripitaka or Pali Canon in its "three basket form" is still the fundamental text of teaching; however, at the root of the split and creation of these later schools of Buddhism, is the Lotus Sutra, a fourth text outside the original Tripitaka. This fourth Sutra contains the Buddha's last Sutra and was held back from mankind until humans had reached a level of understanding to comprehend the teachings in the Sutra. Additional texts have also evolved out of the Pali Canon to accommodate the cultures of each country as Buddhists monks or teachers traveled across the lands and set up their own temples. This does not mean that these other branches of Buddhism or supplemental text are any less true Buddhism: these schools have, for the most part, added text and practices intended to help followers better understand the teachings of the Buddha. Even Classical Theravada Buddhist teachers have added to the vast number of Buddhism literature.[3]

So in the end, whether there is a single Buddhist Bible depends on your interpretation of a Bible and as to whether you follow the teachings of Theravada,[3] Mahayana, or Vajrayana Buddhism.

Old Book

Unofficial Buddhist Bibles

As mentioned earlier, there are literally thousands of books containing pieces and parts of the Tripitaka published under the auspices of being Buddhist official literature or as “guides” or reference materials. There’s nothing wrong with it as long as the reader understands that many of these are anthologies from the Pali Canon, re-writings and or interpretations of the Pali Canon. In fact, many of these newer publications, those written and published over the past 80 years or so, are excellent tailoring down of the original text into more manageable and understandable chunks. If you’ve read all or most of the full Tripitaka, you will find a significant amount of redundant lessons and stories throughout the canon. Yes, I have read the complete Tripitaka (English Translation). The Abhidhamma all by itself is actually a complete lesson of the Buddha’s teachings without all the story-telling and metaphors.

Buddhist Bible Books

Five Options

If you have a limit of funds and wanted to know what easily acquired books to buy for your Buddhism studies, here are the five best choices. Regardless of the version or school of Buddhism you are interested in, the books below are consistent with all schools of thought or teachings. All five books listed include the contents of the Buddha's first teachings at Deer Park in Isipatana (now called Sarnath), near Benares, India nearly 2500 years ago.

The Buddhist Bible, edited by Dwight Goddard (1966) is a compilation of parts taken from the Sutta Pitaka and the Abhidhamma along with several plain language statements and explanations of Buddhism principles.[1] 

The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh (1998), is an excellent one-stop-shop book for the essentials of Buddhism. This is not an anthology of selected portions of the Pali Canon; it’s written in plain language; an easy to understand statement and explanation of the teachings.

Buddhist Scriptures (Penguin Classics) (2004) by Donald Lopez (Editor), is a good anthology of the major teachings and the most applicable parts of the Pali Canon. It’s over 550 pages, yet not as long as the Buddhist Bible by Dwight Goddard.

In the Buddha's Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon (2005) by Bhikkhu Bodhi and His Holiness the Dalai Lama is as its name implies, is a collection of parts from the Pali Canon as selected by Bhikkhu Bodhi and the Dalai Lama.   

Dhammapada by Siddhartha Gautama (the tathā-gata) is a collection of verses that are reportedly the Buddha’s own spoken words. Of course there is no way to know for sure that these are completely accurate; however, the same can be said for any official religious text including the New Testament and the Quran.  You should be happy to know that this one can be found in free versions on the web and as an Amazon eKindle Book.

Final Word

Finding a complete printed copy of the Tripitaka (Tipitaka) in one place would be quite difficult outside of an academic setting. Fortunately for us, there are websites containing most of the content of the Tripitaka. Some of these are written in Pali, some in Sanscrit, and in English. Since the majority of the people reading this article are more likely to prefer the English translation, I'm providing the website that will best serve you because it is the most complete translation freely available to the public [www(dot)accesstoinsight(dot)org/tipitaka/][2] 

Accesstoinsight (website name) is particularly valuable for scholarly and academic studies of the Pali Canon because the site provides you information about who made the translations (Translations by Translator) and is current up to year 2014.[2][3]

The Tripitaka is not written in a single long-winded story, novel or Greek tragedy. It is not all that unlike the combined Old and New Testament in that it is repetitive, uses metaphors liberally, more than a bit creative in its telling of history, and mostly, it is not meant to be read in one sitting. 

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Bibliography

  1. Dwight Goddard The Buddhist Bible. Boston: Beacon Press, 1994.
  2. "Tipitaka ." Access To Insight. 14/03/2015 <Web >
  3. "Theravada Buddhism." Access To Insight. 14/03/2015 <Web >
  4. "Buddhist Texts ." Buddha Net. 14/03/2015 <Web >
  5. "Chilton Auto Repair Manuals." Chilton Auto Repair Manuals. 14/03/2015 <Web >

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