Buddha was born (according to Wikipedia) somewhere around 563 BCE to 480 BCE, and lived 80 years.

From what I have understood, no teachings that made it to this day, have been written down when he was alive.

What are the earliest scriptures (or other writings) that we know of, and when were they created?


According to Theravada tradiation:

  • 563 BCE - (Buddha) was born.
  • 528 - Enlighten.
  • 483 - Parinirvana.
  • 483 - First council ,(After 3 month of parinirvana.) collected Dhamma as (Deega, Maggima, Sanuktha, Anguthara) Nikayas or Agamas and Vinaya. Assign Bikkus('Banaka') for memorize and recite.
  • 386 - Second council - separated Mahāsāṃghika and Sthaviras(Theravāda) schools. six Abidhamma books, Niddasa, patisambidaMagga ,Jathaka and parivara were developed.
  • 250 - 3rd Council -( King Asoka's Era ) Vibhajjavāda 'Kathawatuppakarana'( 7th book of Abidhamma pitaka - Arguments and Explanations) create.
  • 250 - Atthakatha or Commentaries, the original version of which is believed to have been taken over to Sri Lanka by Thera Mahinda, the missionary sent by Asoka, and translate to Sinhalese language("Hela Atuwa").
  • (180 - Greco-Buddhism Developed)
  • 150 - "Milinda Pañha." Dialog with king Milinda and Sage Nagasena.
  • 29-17 Orally preserved (Pali/Pela)Dhamma was committed to write(in pali). During the Fourth (Theravada)Buddhist Council in Sri Lanka in 29 BCE, approximately four hundred and fifty four years after the death of Gautama Buddha.
  • 1 -67 CE -" Saddamma Pundareeka Sutta"(Mahayana).
  • 78 -101 - 4th Council (Mahayana).
  • 150-250 - Nagarjuna's - Prajñāpāramitā sūtras.
  • 296 - Chinese translations of pali and sanskrit thipitaka.
  • 372 -Korean thripitaka.
  • The traditional Theravādin (Mahavihārin) interpretation of the Pali Canon is given in a series of commentaries (Hela Ayuwa) covering nearly the whole Canon, Translate and compiled to pali language by Buddhaghosa (fl. 4th–5th century CE) and later monks, mainly on the basis of earlier materials(Hela Atuwa) now lost. Subcommentaries have been written afterward, commenting further on the Canon and its commentaries. The traditional Theravādin interpretation is summarized in Buddhaghosa's Visuddhimagga.
  • 1954 -A Burmese monk named Vicittasara even learned the entire Canon by heart for the Sixth Council.
  • printed Editions. enter image description here

More details

  • And when was it first written? – ChrisW Sep 8 '15 at 16:21
  • Some Commentaries were written around 400 BCE . Only Orally transmitted Original sayings were written on 29 BCE. – Shrawaka Sep 8 '15 at 23:29

There is no external evidence for the Buddhist texts before Asoka. The evidence for Asoka's time is extremely limited - a few texts mentioned by name with no content. All dates in early Indian history are highly conjectural. There is for example no other evidence than Buddhist texts for if or when the Buddha lived, and that evidence has produced a number of different dates. A symposium on the dates of the Buddha in 1991 concluded that he lived ca 480-400 BCE. In 1992 Richard Gombrich independently reasoned from the texts a very similar date - see Dating the Buddha A Red Herring Revealed. These are the currently accepted dates amongst most scholars. It looks like Wikipedia is drawing on the traditional Theravādin date, which is only accepted within the Theravāda sect and no longer accepted by non-sectarian scholars.

The dates of Asoka are reasonably certain, since four Bactrian kings are mentioned in the edicts and these can be aligned with physical evidence of these kings (such as coins) in Bactria. So we know that Asoka flourished in the mid-3rd century BCE (ca. 250 BCE). On Asoka and his dates, see Charles Allen's excellent book Asoka. Similarly, in the texts the Magadhan Empire has yet to expand beyond Magadha, and it's future capital at Patna (Trad. Pataliputta) is still a small frontier town of little significance. Suggesting a time before the Moryan Dynasty founded by Asoka's grandfather Candragupta - so probably at least a century before Asoka.

Less precise, but of considerable importance is the beginning of the second urbanisation in the Ganges Valley ca. 7th century BCE. Evidence for this is extensive, for example, in the form of the ruins of walled cities at Rajgir and Shravasti (See Romila Thapar's Ancient Indian Social History: Some Interpretations).

In the texts the Magadhan Empire is not yet an empire and Pataliputta is unimportant. Early Buddhist texts do not mention Asoka, so we assume that they predate him, at least by a century, ca 350 BCE. The texts do mention well established walled cities so we assume that the antedate them. If these assumptions are valid (and not every scholar agrees that they are) this gives us a range of ca. 600-350 for the composition of the Buddhist texts. This is at least not inconsistent with most of the dates derived from the texts, which place the Buddha somewhere in the middle of this range.

The texts show considerable evidence of having composed orally and existing as a widely dispersed oral literature for a considerable time before being collected and written down. See for example Anālayo's article Oral Dimensions of Pāli Discourses: Pericopes, other Mnemonic Techniques and the Oral Performance Context. This is consistent with the Sri Lankan chronicle Mahāvaṃsa which asserts that the texts were not written down in Sri Lanka until about the first century BCE during the reign of King Vaṭṭagāmini. Writing texts down in India is less certain, but probably began around the same time.

The earliest physical evidence of early Buddhist texts are birch bark manuscripts from what is now Pakistan and Afghanistan (ancient Gandhāra). One or two texts are carbon14 dated to the 1st century BCE, and a few more to the first two centuries CE. The oldest Pali text is a small manuscript written on gold from the 5th or 5th century CE.

  • Are you saying there were written texts (i.e. that texts were written or that the texts were written) in Asoka's time, which was only 100-150 years A.B.? Does that contradict (by about three centuries) the unsourced claim in Wikipedia that, "Various collections of teachings attributed to him were passed down by oral tradition and first committed to writing about 400 years later"? – ChrisW Sep 8 '15 at 14:32
  • I've tried to clarify in the answer. The "texts" were composed and preserved orally, as a part of a story-telling tradition and not written down until the first century BCE or possibly a little bit earlier - a century or two after Asoka and about 300 years after the death of the Buddha. – Jayarava Sep 8 '15 at 16:30

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