Criticism of Pali Canon

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See also Pali Canon


Professor von Hinüber calls the Canon "anonymous".[1] Many scholars believe little or none of the original teachings of the Buddha survive in the Pali Canon.[2] Professor Geoffrey Samuel says the Canon largely derives from the work of Buddhaghosa and his colleagues in the 5th century AD.[3]

Mahayana criticism

Mahayana Buddhism regards the Pali Canon as merely a provisional teaching, a sort of "Old Testament"[4].


The Canon is extremely long, several times the length of the Bible (see Length of the Pali Canon). As a result, few of its followers have actually read it.


At least in the West, Theravadins themselves tend to regard most of the Canon as "dull, repetitive and boring".


It is often claimed that the Canon has survived complete. However, in the Valahaka Vagga in Book 4 of the Anguttara Nikaya, the Sinhalese and Burmese editions of the Canon include footnotes saying that the 6th sutta in this vagga is mentioned in the commentary, but not found in the manuscripts,[5] as does the Thai edition.

Practical use

The relation of the scriptures to Buddhism as it actually exists among ordinary monks and lay people is, as with other major religious traditions, problematical: the evidence suggests that only parts of the Canon ever enjoyed wide currency, and that non-canonical works were sometimes very much more widely used; the details varied from place to place.[6]

Feminist criticism

The Canon tells how the Buddha had to be asked no fewer than seven times before he agreed to authorize an order of nuns, warned that this would weaken Buddhism and shorten its lifetime, and imposed rules to make nuns thoroughly subordinate to monks.[7]

Even more misogynistic is the Kunala Jataka, portraying women as insatiably promiscuous.[8]


The so-called "Canon" is not really a canon at all, a fixed collection of books, since its contents vary. See Lists of contents of the Pali Canon for details.


According to the late Professor Warder, it seems very unlikely that the Canon or any of its component parts was ever a "unified" text.[9]


  1. Handbook of Pali Literature, de Gruyter, Berlin, 1996, page 24
  2. Buddhist Forum, volume 1, page 5
  3. Introducing Tibetan Buddhism, Routledge, 2012, page 48
  4. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2002 printing, volume 11, page 791
  5. The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha, Wisdom Publications, 2012, page 488
  6. Journal of the Pali Text Society, volume XV, pages 103f
  7. Book of the Discipline, volume V, chapter X
  8. See Bollée's translation, Pali Text Society, 1970
  9. Aṅguttaranikāya, volume I, 2nd edition, Pali Text Society, 1961, page xii

This article has been moved; see Criticism of Pali Canon (older version) for earlier edit history.