The Formation of Canons in the Early Indian Nikayas or Schools in the Light of the New Gandhari Manuscript Finds
Keywords:formation of Buddhist canons, transmission of āgama/nikāya collections, Gāndhārī manuscripts, Gandhāran text culture
The new Gandhari manuscript finds from Afghanistan and Pakistan, which date from approximately the first century BCE to the third or fourth century CE, are the earliest manuscript witnesses to the literature of the Indian Buddhist nikayas or schools. They preserve texts whose parallels are found in the various Tripitakas, or what remains of them, preserved in other languages and belonging to various nikayas, including sections of agamas such as the Ekottarikagama and Vana-samyutta of the Samyutta-nikaya/Samyuktagama and anthologies of such sutras, besides many texts that are not generally classed as "canonical", such as commentaries. These very early collections of texts raise questions concerning canon-formation, such as whether the Gandharan communities that produced these manuscripts had fixed agama collections and closed canons or whether this material witnesses a stage in which collections and canons were still relatively fluid and open, and whether these manuscripts, which span several centuries, witness a shift towards fixity. This paper addresses these issues and re-examines our understanding of the formation of the canons of the early Indian nikayas in light of the new Gandhari manuscript finds.
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