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Wisdom Traditions

Wisdom Texts

There a variety of Buddhist scriptures and texts. Some schools of Buddhism venerate certain texts as religious objects in themselves, while others take a more scholastic approach. Buddhist scriptures are written in: Pali, Tibetan, Mongolian, Chinese, Sanskrit and a hybrid Buddhist/Sanskrit.

Buddhism has no single central text that is universally referred to by all traditions. The size and complexity of the Buddhist canons are seen by many as barriers to the wider understanding of Buddhist philosophy. However, some scholars have referred to the Vinaya Pitaka and the first four Nikayas of the Sutta Pitaka as the common core of all Buddhist traditions.

Mahayana considers these merely a preliminary, and not a core teaching. Tibetan Buddhists have not translated most of the gamas, though theoretically they recognize them, and they play no part in the religious life of either clergy or laity in China and Japan.

The followers of Theravada Buddhism take the scriptures known as the Pali Canon as definitive and authoritative, while the followers of Mahayana Buddhism base their faith and philosophy primarily on the Mahayana sutras and their own vinaya. The Pali sutras, along with other, closely related scriptures, are known to the other schools as the gamas.

Over the years, various attempts have been made to synthesize a single Buddhist text that can encompass all of the major principles of Buddhism. In the Theravada tradition, condensed 'study texts' were created that combined popular or influential scriptures into single volumes that could be studied by novice monks. Later in Sri Lanka, the Dhammapada was championed as a unifying scripture.

Dwight Goddard collected a sample of Buddhist scriptures, with the emphasis on Zen, along with other classics of Eastern philosophy, such as the Tao Te Ching, into his 'Buddhist Bible' in the 1920s. More recently, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar attempted to create a single, combined document of Buddhist principles in "The Buddha and His Dhamma". Other such efforts have persisted to present day, but currently there is no single text that represents all Buddhist traditions.
Warder A.K. Indian Buddhism. 3rd edition (2000)
Eliot. Japanese Buddhism. London: 1935

The New Testament is the newest section of the Christian Bible, the first being the Old Testament. The original texts were written by various authors 45 CE, in Koine Greek, the written language of the Roman Empire.

The individual books were gradually collected into a single volume. Although Christian denominations differ as to which works are included in the New Testament, the majority have settled on the same twenty-seven book canon: it consists of the four narratives of the life and death of Jesus, called "Gospels"; a narrative of the Apostles' ministries in the early church; twenty-one early letters or the "epistles" written by various authors and consisting mostly of Christian counsel and instruction; and an Apocalyptic prophecy.

Hindu scriptures were transmitted orally for many centuries before they were written down. Sages refined the teachings and expanded the canon. Most sacred texts are in Sanskrit and are classified into two classes: Shruti and Smriti.

Shruti (that which is heard) primarily refers to the Vedas, which form the earliest record of the Hindu scriptures. They are the laws of the spiritual world, which still exist. Hindus believe that because the spiritual truths of the Vedas are eternal, they continue to be expressed in new ways.

There are four Vedas. The Rigveda is the first and most important Veda. Each Veda is divided into four parts: the primary one or the Veda proper, which contains sacred mantras. The other three parts contain commentaries. These are: the Brahmas, arayakas, and the Upanishads. While the Vedas focus on rituals, the Upanishads focus on spiritual insight and philosophical teachings, and discuss Brahman and reincarnation.

Hindu texts other than the Shrutis are collectively called the Smritis (memory). The most notable of the smritis are the epics, which consist of the Mahabharata and the Ramyaha. The Bhagavad Gita is an integral part of the Mahabharata and one of the most popular sacred texts of Hinduism. It contains philosophical teachings from Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu, told to the prince Arjuna on the eve of a great war. The Bhagavad Gita, spoken by Krishna, is described as the essence of the Vedas.
Vivekananda, Swami. Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. Calcutta: 1987

Muslims consider the Qur'an to be the literal word of God; it is the central religious text of Islam. The verses of the Qur'an were revealed to Muhammad by God through the angel Gabriel between 610 and 632. The Qur'an was orally transcribed by Muhammad's companions while he was alive. Islamic scholars believe the Qur'an has not changed significantly over the years.

The Qur'an is divided into 114 suras, or chapters, which combined, contain 6,236 verses. The earlier suras, revealed at Mecca, are primarily concerned with ethical and spiritual topics. The later Medinan suras discuss social and moral issues relevant to the Muslim community. The Qur'an is more concerned with moral guidance than legal instruction, and is considered the sourcebook of Islamic principles and values.
Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.

The Jewish Bible is called the Tanakh which is derived from the three consonants, T, N and K which represent the Torah, Nevi'im, and Ketuvim respectively. Torah means law or teaching, and it refers to the whole of the Jewish Bible which includes the first five books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Nevi'im, or prophets, refers to the twenty-one books which record the sayings which remind Israel of its relationship with God. Ketuvim, or other writings, refers to the thirteen books which comprise the balance.

The Tao Te Ching is considered to be the most influential Taoist text. It is a foundational scripture of central importance in Taoism. It has been used as a ritual text throughout the history of religious Taoism. The precise date it was written is the subject of debate; thought to be some time between the 6th and 3rd century BCE.

Tao literally means "path" or "way" and can figuratively mean "essential nature", "destiny", "principle", or "true path". The philosophical and religious "Tao" is infinite, without limitation. One view states that the paradoxical opening is intended to prepare the reader for teachings about the unteachable Tao. Tao is believed to be transcendent, indistinct and without form, therefore, it cannot be named or categorized.

The Tao Te Ching is not thematically ordered, however, the main themes of the text are repeated, often with only slight variation. The leading themes revolve around the nature of Tao and how to attain it.
Kim, Ha Poong. Reading Lao Tzu: A Companion to the Tao Te Ching With a New Translation (Xlibris Corporation, 2003).

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