Seeking physical and online resources; books; articles; etc. concerning the history, public (and private) images and (current) location of the root text sources comprising the Pali Cannon

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    What for? For which purpose? ?? Commented Nov 16, 2018 at 14:48
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    To give transparency to the validity of the publicly available version of the Pali Cannon and for the well-being of all.
    – vimutti
    Commented Nov 16, 2018 at 15:28
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    Nobody, including Sujato & Brahmali, knows anything real about the history of the texts. Dhamma is an experiential tradition. The Dhamma refuge is: " this Dhamma which is to be seen here & now, timeless, inviting verification, pertinent, to be realized by the observant for themselves." Commented Nov 20, 2018 at 4:46
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    @Mishu米殊 BTW, meat trading business is against Right Livelihood. It is true that Theravadins may not accept Diamond or Lotus Sutras as Buddhavacana, but I don't see why you need the acceptance or approval of Theravadins, for your practice. Similarly, I think Tibetan Buddhists don't need to care if some of their teachings or practices are not accepted by Chinese Buddhists or Theravadins. To be honest, I've tried to understand and link Mahayana emptiness to Theravada emptiness in this question, so I do appreciate the Mahayana teachings.
    – ruben2020
    Commented Nov 20, 2018 at 16:00
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    @Mishu米殊 I'm grateful that on this site I'm able to get some introduction to the Pali canon, and to Mahayana doctrine (as well as various people's insights about how to interpret and summarise them). For example, thank you for your posting (recently) an answer about the Diamond Sutra, including your recommended translation of it. Also one of the first answers I researched (this one) involved a study of the agamas alongside a Pali sutta. Of course I have also been glad to find that at least the Pali is so accessible, via English translations etc.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Nov 20, 2018 at 16:53

2 Answers 2


Please read the book "The Authenticity of the Early Buddhist Texts" (hard copy can purchased here) by Bhikkhu Sujato and Bhikkhu Brahmali.

The abstract states:

This work articulates and defends a single thesis: that the Early Buddhist Texts originated in the lifetime of the Buddha or a little later, because they were, in the main, spoken by the Buddha and his contemporary disciples. This is the most simple, natural, and reasonable explanation for the evidence.

Our argument covers two main areas:
1. The grounds for distinguishing the Early Buddhist Texts (EBTs) from later Buddhist literature;
2. The evidence that the EBTs stem from close to the Buddha’s lifetime, and that they were generally spoken by the historical Buddha.

Most academic scholars of Early Buddhism cautiously affirm that it is possible that the EBTs contain some authentic sayings of the Buddha. We contend that this drastically understates the evidence. A sympathetic assessment of relevant evidence shows that it is very likely that the bulk of the sayings in the EBTs that are attributed to the Buddha were actually spoken by him. It is very unlikely that most of these sayings are inauthentic.

Also, "A History of Mindfulness" (and here) by Bhikkhu Sujato (as suggested by Andrei Volkov).

Another good source is "History of the Buddhist Canon" by Daniel Veidlinger, who teaches Comparative Religion at the California State University.

Also: "On the Very Idea of the Pali Canon" by Steven Collins.

This chapter maybe interesting to you: "Recent Discoveries of Early Buddhist Manuscripts: And Their Implications for the History of Buddhist Texts and Canons" by Richard Salomon.

For a scholarly paper on early manuscripts, see "The Senior Manuscripts: Another Collection of Gandharan Buddhist Scrolls" by Richard Salomon. But this paper discusses only one set of manuscripts that was discovered.

Perhaps, it should be made clear that the oral tradition of the Pali Canon is much more important than the written version. Please see "Pali Oral Literature" by L.S. Cousins. I quote below:

Early Buddhist literature is an oral literature. Such a literature is not without its own characteristic features. A widespread use of mnemonic formulae is one of the most typical of these. I would refer to the considerable body of research on the nature of oral epic poetry. In such poetry the formulae are used both as an aid to actual performance and to maintain the continuity and form of the epic tradition.

Both these features are certainly present in the sutta literature. In the first place many suttas are clearly designed for chanting. We should assume that, then as now, their chanting would produce a great deal of religious emotion - the pamojja and piti-somanassa of the texts. The difference of course would be that the language of the suttas would still be directly comprehensible to the hearers. In these circumstances suttas would be chanted by individual monks both for edification and for enjoyment. We may compare the recitations attributed to Ananda and Upali in accounts of the First Council. In practice they would have to be tailored to the needs of the particular situation ~ shortened or lengthened as required. An experienced chanter would be able to string together many different traditional episodes and teachings so as to form a coherent, profound and moving composition.

  • Also, The History of Mindfulness by Ajahn Sujato.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 4:35
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    Thanks. Before diving into the recommendations: 1) Is the physical medium of the original Pali texts mentioned (e.g. India ink on papyrus)? 2) Are there references to scientific reports of the Pali source texts being carbon dated to better determine age? 3) Are current methods of preserving the physicality of the original Pali source texts addressed? 4) Are the physical locations of the above mentioned texts given?
    – vimutti
    Commented Nov 18, 2018 at 13:01
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    @vimutti Chapter 3 of "The Authenticity of the Early Buddhist Texts" talks about both oral and textual transmission, and provides references to other scholarly works. Please see the references for section 3.6.
    – ruben2020
    Commented Nov 19, 2018 at 15:39

The oldest extant complete Pāli Canon in manuscript form is from 1500 AD, 2000 years after the Buddha, but that this collection preserves older text is well-known, because of the amount of parallels it has with older literature, such as that preserved in China.


There used to be a very old Pāli Tipiṭaka housed at Aluvihare Rock Temple in Sri Lanka, but it was destroyed during the Rebellion of 1848.

More on the poor state of preservation of Pāli manuscripts (largely due to war, poverty, and climate) here: http://www.academia.edu/6508616/Pali_Manuscripts_of_Sri_Lanka

Also in the above article you will find recounted the tragic destruction of most ancient Sri Lankan manuscripts, which had to be reconstructed with Burmese and Thai manuscripts.

Compare this with the Sarvāstivāda Saṃyuktāgama, Lesser Sarvāstivāda Saṃyuktāgama, Dharmaguptaka Dīrghāgama, & related vinaya texts from the 팔만 대장경 (Palman Daejanggyeong, or the “Goryeo/Koreana Tripiṭaka”), which is from the 1200s. That is the oldest complete collection of EBTs currently extant. These texts were translated in China from an unknown Prākrit language (many speculate Gāndhārī) between 200 & 400 AD.

The Koreana Tripiṭaka is housed at Haeinsa Temple in Gayasan National Park, South Gyeongsang Province, South Korea.

Document collections older than that are highly eroded and fragmentary in nature, here is a link on the numerous śrāvakayāna & bodhisattvayāna Gāndhārī fragments that date from between 100 BC and 100 AD, with some from as late as 900 AD: http://www.historyofinformation.com/expanded.php?id=149

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    Great answer! If those scholars wanted to argue the authenticity of a tradition by the dating of the Sutra that could be found and verified with physical existence at this very moment, the Pali Canon will queue at the very back - the end of the line ;). Even the Diamond Sutra fragment, the oldest printed book, dated 11 May 868CE, is older than the Pali Canon. Commented Nov 20, 2018 at 6:34
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    The problem is that the OP wanted a "complete" Pāli Canon. The canon is simply too large. We have many fragments and pieces from it dating back to as early as the Gāndhārī fragments, which actually include whole sūtras, like the Rhinoceros Sūtra, vinaya texts, etc. But the oldest "complete" one is in the Koreana Tripiṭaka from the 1200s, the oldest complete canon in Pāli is from the 1600s at the very earliest, with some attestation in the 1500s. The oldest documents ever discovered in Pāli are from 800 AD at the earliest.
    – Caoimhghin
    Commented Nov 20, 2018 at 6:39
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    They didn't invented Pāli. Pāli is a partially Sanskritized dialect of Magadhī Prākrit. When dealing with Sanskrit and Prākrits, we have to differentiate between classical Sanskrit and Vedic Sanskrit. Classical Sanskrit is a newer language than Pāli, but it is based on the older Vedic Sanskrit. All of the Prākrits come from dialect clusters that centre around Vedic Sanskrit. Buddhist Sanskrit scriptures are Sanskritized from Prākrits. We Buddhists even have our own dialect of Sanskrit because of the distinctive way we chose to Sanskritize, which didn't always match the official standard.
    – Caoimhghin
    Commented Nov 20, 2018 at 6:55
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    Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote: "Scholars regard this language (Pali) as a hybrid showing features of several Prakrit dialects used around the third century BCE, subjected to a partial process of Sanskritization. While the language is not identical to what Buddha himself would have spoken, it belongs to the same broad language family as those he might have used and originates from the same conceptual matrix. This language thus reflects the thought-world that the Buddha inherited from the wider Indian culture into which he was born, so that its words capture the subtle nuances of that thought-world."
    – ruben2020
    Commented Nov 20, 2018 at 7:00
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    Pāli certainly existed before the canon being written down, because the canon was oral before it was written down. On terms of comparing the language of the Aśokan Edicts, we can do that here:
    – Caoimhghin
    Commented Nov 20, 2018 at 7:03

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