General Introduction to the Tibetan Buddhist canon: The Kangyur and Tengyur

Very extensive information can be found on the specialized sites of THL (Tibetan Himalayan Library) and TBRC (Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center).
They are very precious to do advanced studies or research for texts in the canons or in the numerous collections of texts compiled by the Tibetan masters from India and composed themselves during the 12 centuries they preserved and commented the precious teachings of the Buddha. 

The purpose of our work here is merely to provide an introduction to the content of the Canon for those who begin their study of these texts. (click on the links to download the files)

  • The Kangyur: ( from Ka: the word and gyur: translated) is a collection of texts of teachings and associated practices directly attributed to the Buddha.
  • The Tengyur: (from Ten-chö: commentaries and gyur: translated) is the collection of explicative commentaries of the Buddha's teachings, and associated practices, made by Indian masters, that have been translated from Sanskrit into Tibetan.
  • The Kangyur contains 1118 texts and the Tengyur 3378 texts making a total of 4496 Texts.
  • These texts are gathered into Volumes; 103 for the Kangyur and 213 for the Tengyur making a total of 316 volumes
  • Some texts are extensive and occupy a few volumes; some are sort and a volume can contain many of them.
  • Physically the volumes are numbered from 1 to 316. They are also marked with a Tibetan letter like A,B,C, etc. but, for the Kangyur this marking starts anew for each collection thus one will have many As, Bs. For the Tengyur the first collection, on Tantra, has the complete Tibetan alphabet with a then with i and u; that is from Ka up to Tshu. Then it starts again from the Prajnaparamita to the end the volumes being marked from Ka to Po...
  • Their content is classified thematically into general Collections like the Sutras, the Tantras, the Mantras etc.
  • These general collections are themselves divided, thematically, into different levels of subdivisions up to the texts themselves. The texts are named by a title and assigned to an author.
  • This classification can be used to start a general study of the contents of the Canon. If one is searching for a particular text, or a collection of texts, from a specific author one has to identify in what volume and what sequence these text are classified; like we recently deed for the texts of Atisha.

The same applies if one searches the original text of a famous sutras that is translated like the Lotus Sutra, the Avatamsaka, Lankavatara, Lilitavistara, the texts of Asanga, Shantideva, Nagarjuna etc.

To facilitate this research an index is needed. In Tibetan the last volume Kartcha of the Kangyur and Tengyur fulfills this purpose. Our modern tools of tables and other electronic means facilitates this research.

For our introductory presentation we have made tables more or less developed.

  1. A Very Short Index  showing the main collections as they are physically organized or thematically classified in 1 page. 
  2. A Short Index,  that has the main divisions of the collections in 2 pages.
  3. A Long Index  that contains all the thematic subdivisions up to the texts themselves having 8 pages.
  4. A Complete Index  having the names of all the texts; 80 pages for the Kangyur (First part of the Kangyur on Sutras is done; the second part on Tantra and the index of the Tengyur are in preparation).
  5. An Extensive List will contain not only the title of the text but the name in Sanskrit, the name of the authors and translators, the page and the line of the volume where to find it. They have around 300 pages for the Kangyur (done) and 700 for the Tengyur (work in preparation).

To illustrate the classifications and subdivisions in our tables:

  • The columns at the left to the title indicate the rank of subdivision from I,II,III and 1],2],3] in the first column / 1),2),3) in the second/ A,B,C in the third / 1-,2-,3- in yellow column/ a,b,c /1,2,3,/ 1º,2º,3º and 1ª,2ª,3ª in the last column.
  • The first column at the right of the titles contain the number of the text in progressive order 1,2,3,4 up to 4496. The main titles of classifications have the number of texts they contain like orientated sidewise The titles of the classification just preceding the number of the text mention the number of texts they contain in the form of 15) to distinguish them from the number of the text.
  • The second column gives the reference of the volumes. The volumes are classified by number and Tibetan letters. When the volume contains many texts these are mentioned by their sequential number 1,2,3 etc.

The picture below shows the main elements of the tables.

Quadro Kangyur e Tengyur

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