English About Daizokyo - The Daizokyo Database, Center for Evolving Humanities
Top > English About Daizokyo

What is the Taishō Tripiṭaka (Daizōkyō)?

photo of Daizōkyō title page

While on one hand, Buddhism grants due authority to the significance of the language-transcending enlightenment experience, on the other hand, the reality based on the formulation of this experience into language in order to transmit the content of one's own consciousness to others has been received continual great respect, to the extent that special attention has been paid to the usage of language. When we reflect on the history of the world religions, there are times when the sacredness of the religion and the sacredness of the language become indistinguishable, and tendency can be seen to sacralize a specific language. But the tendency in Buddhism is different from this, since language is instead taken up as a method for communication of the inner experience, and thus translations of, supplementation to, explication of, and transformations of this expression are admitted.

Buddhism, born in the multilingual environs of 5th century BCE India, and transmitted through the various regions of East Asia, Southeast Asia, and Tibet over a period of 2500 years, ended up accumulating a vast vocabulary and linguistic corpus. According to its form and content this collection was distinguished into the three categories of sūtra (scripture), vinaya (rules and moral discipline), and abhidharma (philosophical treatises and commentaries), and thus came to be known as the "three-part scriptures" (in Sanskrit, tripiṭaka — literally, "three baskets;" known in Japanese as Daizōkyō) or "complete scriptures." The history of the transmission of Buddhism in East Asia is intimately based on the transmission and transformation of this Tripiṭaka throughout all of its regions.

In addition to being recorded in Chinese, Pali, Tibetan, Mongolian, and Manchurian, there are partial remains of the Tripiṭaka written in Sanskrit and related languages. If we add to this all the various vernacular and modern translations, it amounts to a vast body of canonical documents.

The history of the formation of this Tripiṭaka is one wherein its management corresponds closely with the history of the progress that was seen in the technology and media of transmission. For the first two or three centuries from the time of the passing of the historical founder—the Buddha—the teachings were maintained in memory and transmitted orally. According to Śrī Lankan tradition, the Buddhist teachings were first inscribed on physical media in the first century, when dyes were applied to tree bark. The transformation of words from the form of voice into to words in the form of text was a major revolution in the cultural space of the people for whom this became a reality.

When the Buddhist canon went beyond the Indian cultural sphere into the Chinese linguistic cultural region, the tendency to value the written word strengthened. At this time, the primary means of transmission of texts was that of hand-copying. This practice of hand-copying persisted for several centuries, but was transcended in the Song period, when the technique of carving reverse-image characters on flat blocks of wood was invented, allowing the printing of multiple copies of a document. From that time up to the relatively recent past, the primary form of transmission of the Buddhist canonical texts was in the technology of woodblock printing.

The transformation of innovations in techniques and media continued to advance. About one thousand years after the invention of the woodblock method of printing, a major advance was seen in the appearance of movable type, which allowed for the flexible reuse and movement of individual characters. This change was for the main part introduced to modernity through the advance in typography evinced in the books produced by Gutenberg. Among the Buddhist countries of Asia, this technology first made its large-scale appearance in Japan. Printing at a level of technology equal to that of the United States , and with a high level of accuracy was seen in the publication of the Dai Nihon Kōtei Daizōkyō (small print edition) (1885), the Manzōkyō (1902), and the Dai Nihon Zokuzōkyō (1912). Finally the Taishō Shinshū Daizōkyō was completed (during 1924―1934) for distribution throughout the world as a suitable textual source for the modern age, based on the fruits of modern Buddhist scholarship. This marks the birth of one large, complete corpus of the Buddhist canon which the Buddhist scholars and Buddhist practitioners of the world, transcending national boundaries of East and West, could have ready access to as a basis for study. It is this Taisho Shinshū Daizōkyō in fully digitized format that comprises the core of our database.