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Introduction

Buddha Mind - get one, be one.

INTRODUCTION | HISTORY | PALM LEAVES | OTHER MATERIALS

 


oral

 

written

This section looks at the development of scriptures as a medium for the Buddha's teaching and also, perhaps more relevant here, their evolution as a physical form - the actual leaves, books, inscriptions, etc. that came to be used as a record of those teachings in a more tangible form. Many vehicles have been used to convey the teachings of the Buddha but here the focus is on 'scripted' forms - stuff with writing on. There is a detailed discussion elsewhere on the historical path of the Pali Canon [See: HISTORY (above)] and an investigation of the teachings generally [see: TEACHINGS (menu)]
The oldest reference to writing is in a tract called the 'Silas', dated approximately 450 BCE, where we see writing praised as a 'distinguished art' and there is reference to a monk 'scratching a writing'. Literature would likely have been limited to official notices and small, private communications.
Even during the life of the Buddha the organisation of his teachings was in an embryonic form and we now see in the Pali Canon reference to 'dhammadhara, vinayadhara, matikadhara', (those who learn the teaching, the discipline and the summaries). It is quite probable that the senior disciples, and not the Buddha himself, were those most concerned and instrumental in preserving various discourses. However, not long before his death, the Buddha exhorts Cunda: 'those of you to whom I have taught the Truths that I have realised, must come together and recite the teaching together - without quarrelling; comparing meaning with meaning and sentence with sentence, in order that this pure doctrine may exist and continue for a long time'. One must assume that by this time quite specific things to 'recite and compare' had been formulated. Most communities would have had within their ranks those who could recite one version or another of standard topics. Each group would have had an area of interest and with probably no major planning or discussion, collections of discourses came to be grouped quite naturally.
For the first 500 years or so after the Buddha's death his teaching was preserved in oral form. About 80 BCE it was recorded in writing at Aluvihara, Sri Lanka. Writing was not unknown before this time and some texts may well have been written earlier. The main problem was a lack of 'permanent' writing materials and it was not until around the 3rd century BCE, with the Mauryan expansion, that the leaf of the southern talipot palm (corypha umbraculifera) gradually became the normal writing material in India.

The need to preserve and spread the teachings has bought literacy to millions and was directly responsible for the invention of printing. This took place in China and was initially seen as a cheap and effective way to reproduce charms and sacred images but eventually evolved to include the production of complete scriptures. Texts and illlustrations were initially printed from wooden boards and the earliest surviving block-prints are from Pulguk temple in Korea - c. 750 CE. The oldest printed book in existence is a Chinese 'Diamond Sutra' of 868 CE and it displays such technical perfection that the production process must have been developed some good time earlier. The development of printing using experiments in movable type was taken up more readily in Japan and Korea.
INTRODUCTION | HISTORY | PALM LEAVES | OTHER MATERIALS