East Asian Apocryphal Scriptures: Their Origin and Role in the Development of Sinitic Buddhism

Charles Muller

Bulletin of Toyo Gakuen University, vol. 6 (1998)

[p. 63]


The term apocrypha has somewhat recently been borrowed into Buddhist studies, especially East Asian Buddhist studies, from biblical studies, where it is used to designate a class of literature which although not necessarily considered heretical, had not, for various reasons, been included into the biblical canon during its formation during the first few centuries after Christ, usually due to doubts of authorship or questions of doctrine. Although the term has various shades of meaning, in its most common usage it came to carry pejorative connotations.1 Because of this, there is some degree of trepidation felt when applying the term to the type of Buddhist texts which are the subject of this article. While certain texts are fit to be classified with the "spurious" connotations of the term apocrypha, a significant portion of them were extremely well written works, whose contents accorded with the most profound of the Buddhist doctrines.

In the field of East Asian Buddhist studies, the term has been applied to those texts which were actually written in China (and possibly other East Asian regions), for which claims of authenticity were made by offering the appearance of being Indian creations. These claims were made in the form of colophons attached to the texts, which indicated translatorship (and sometimes authorship) as well as time and place of attributed provenance. The apocryphal East Asian Buddhist texts were


traditionally categorized into two types, known in Chinese as i-ching (疑經 "scriptures of doubtful authenticity") and wei-ching (僞教 "spurious scriptures"). The latter term is a disparaging one, as it refers to texts which are judged to espouse doctrines not in accordance with the Buddhist dispensation, while the former term is ambivalent, indicating a doubt about whether the attributed author or translator indeed played a part in the production of the text. Some of the "doubtful" works would also eventually be considered spurious, while others would later be accepted into the canon as authentic, either because their contents were adjudged as being in accord with the Buddhist doctrine, or because the proper circumstances prevailed which allowed for their inclusion. For example, the scripture might have been relevant to a popular position within a certain current doctrinal controversy, or political exigency. Works which entered the canon due to doctrinal validity or their skillful presentation of an important Buddhist problematik are represented by such texts as the Ta-sheng ch'i-hsin lun (大乘起信論; Treatise on Awakening of Mahāyāna Faith) or Yüan chüeh ching (圓覺經; Sūtra of Perfect Enlightenment). Other texts such as the Lao-tzu Hua-hu ching (老子化胡經; Sūtra on the Conversion of the Barbarians), which was written to establish the primacy of Taoism, were eventually rejected.2

The writing of East Asian apocryphal sūtras originates in the period beginning with the first introduction of Buddhism into East Asia from India and Central Asia, as East Asian Buddhists began to write texts to which they attributed Indian origin and the speech of the Buddha. While the nature and aim of these texts was quite diverse, all had in common the desire to express something which the writer felt had not been properly communicated in the bona fide translated texts. If one reflects on the history of the formation of the Buddhist canon prior to the entry of the religion to China as compared to with other major textual religious traditions such as Christianity and Islam, this sort of practice does not seem so out of place, since the Buddhist canon, unlike that of these other religions was an "open" rather than "closed" one.

The initial collection of Śākyamuni's teachings was oral, with the written canon not fully developing until a few centuries later. From the outset, the theoretical possibility of adding to the canon existed, since according to the basic principles of the Buddhist religion, anyone could attain Buddhahood, and thus preach the correct dharma. During the rise of the new Mahāyāna movement in India around the turn of the millennium, Mahayanist philosophers needed to express their new philosophy in accordance with the developments within the tradition and in the society. In this effort, they felt it efficacious to compose their writings as sūtras in the form of actual sermons delivered by Śākyamuni which they claimed had been kept hidden for several centuries. Thus, in view of the most basic meaning of the term, we might say that these Indian Mahāyāna texts were in fact more "apocryphal" than the texts


later produced in East Asia.

Varieties of Apocryphal Texts

A major portion of the earlier East Asian apocryphal texts attempted to overcome problems of initial acceptance of the Indian religion to its new home. Since Buddhism was a new and relatively abstruse religion, some authors composed texts in Confucian and Taoist parlance in order to facilitate understanding. Other texts were written in order to create a harmonious atmosphere between Buddhism and the indigenous traditions, while others were written to affirm the superiority of Buddhism. Still other "sūtras" such as the above-mentioned Sūtra on the Conversion of the Barbarians, were written by opponents of Buddhism for the purpose of showing it to be of a lower order than the indigenous traditions. In order for Buddhism to be understood by the common people, texts were written which dealt with matters of common worship, life after death and morality within the family. Texts were also written in order to gain acceptance with the rulership, or to serve the aims of a particular ruler, and other texts were written to protect believers from wrathful, unbelieving monarchs.

As the new religion became further assimilated, texts were composed for the purpose of clarifying certain points of doctrine which were thought to be thus far inadequately treated; or to reconcile philosophical and soteriological dilemmas, which although not problematic in India, were unacceptable or unattractive in their current form to the East Asian mindset. Some of these texts even served as the foundation for the creation of entirely original forms of East Asian Buddhism. Beyond these, throughout the early and late periods of the assimilation of Buddhism into East Asia, texts were written that were ostensibly the product of divine inspiration, or at least which made claims to be the truly revealed teaching of the Buddha. There were other texts that were written as abstractions, or simplifications of lengthy and complex sūtras. Among all of these categories, there were huge variations in quality.

Of course the mere composition of such a text in itself was no guarantee of long-lasting canonicity, since if the text was judged by later critics not to be up to metaphysical par, or not fitting into a certain political, social or religious climate, it might well fall out of currency and disappear.3 In any case, East Asian writers of new Buddhist texts, who wanted their particular piece to become canonical, followed a strategy of attempting to write in a style and format as close to the Indian texts as possible. If style, format, content, as well as other considerations, such as luck and timing were sufficient, a text stood a good chance of making it into the Chinese canon.


Attention to the apocryphal phenomenon in this century was brought about mainly due to the works of such Japanese Buddhologists as Yabuki Keiki (矢吹慶輝), Hayashiya Tomojirō (林屋友次郞), Mochizuki Shinkō (望月信亨) and Tokiwa Daijō (常磐大定) in the early in middle part of the century, while more recently the topic has been treated in the works of such scholars as Mizuno Kōgen (水野弘元) and Makita Tairyō (牧田諦亮). The most comprehensive of all works which treat apocrypha is Mochizuki's monumental Bukkyō kyōten seiritsushi ron (佛教經典成立史論), in which the author devoted several hundred pages to the in-depth analysis of the origin of numerous important apocryphal texts. In terms of dealing directly with the apocryphal phenomenon, of next importance is the more recent Gikyō kenkyū (僞經研究) by Makita Tairyō.

Recently "apocryphal studies" has become a prominent topic for Western scholars of East Asian Buddhism, who, in their efforts to put together a cogent history of the development of East Asian Buddhist thought, have found that the apocryphal texts played a seminal role in the creation of distinctive forms of East Asian Buddhism. In the English language, an extremely valuable volume, Chinese Buddhist Apocrypha, was published in 1990, edited by Robert Buswell, containing the articles by ten eminent scholars of East Asian Buddhism. Another of Buswell's works, The Formation of Ch'an Ideology in China and Korea, also treats a major aspect of the apocryphal phenomenon in considerable depth.

Catalogues of the Scriptures4

Guardians of the early East Asian Buddhist canon were aware, early on, of the profusion of non-authentic texts. Their composition of catalogues was in large part precisely for the purpose of separating the dragons from the snakes and the jewels from the stones.5 From the time of the first classical period Chinese catalog of Buddhist works, that by Tao-an (312-385) in 374,6 to the last catalog, compiled by Chih-sheng (d.u.) in 730, catalogers examined, commented on and made judgments as to the authenticity of suspect works. We know about Tao-an's first, non-extant catalog through its influence on the earliest complete and extant catalog, the Ch'u-san-tsang chi-chi (A Compilation of Notes on the Translation of the Tripiṭaka; 出三藏集記), compiled around 515 by Seng-yu (僧祐; 445-518). Seng-yu, who completed his catalog shortly before his death, compiled an extensive list which relied on the (currently missing) earlier catalogs available to him at the time, along with his own research. In addition to its exhaustive lists of sūtras, it contains introductory essays on the sūtra translations and biographies of the early translators, making it the most complete and reliable early reference work known.7 Seng-yu's listing included both suspicious and spurious sūtras, but without making a rigorous distinction


between the two types.

The next important catalog was the seven-fascicle Chung-ching mu-lu (衆經目錄; Catalog of Scriptures) compiled in 594 by twenty leading Buddhist scholars under the leadership of Fa-ching (法經; d.u.), also known as Fa-ching's catalogue (法經錄). This was a comprehensive catalog of Chinese language sūtras which was compiled by referring to all the listings of scriptures recorded in previous catalogues from the Six Dynasties period. The catalogue's systematic arrangement included 2,257 works in 5,310 fascicles, understood to be the total amount of sūtras then extant in China. The compilers of this catalogue distinguished themselves by making clear note of the dubious provenance of such texts as the Jen-wang ching (仁王經; Sūtra for Humane Kings) and the Ta-sheng ch'i-hsin lun. Another Chung-ching mu-lu was compiled eight years later (602) during the Sui by Yen-ts'ung (557-610) and a group of Buddhist experts, for the express purpose of distinguishing between extant and non-extant works, which had not been done in the prior catalog. This work is distinguished by the fact that it allows for the canonical inclusion of certain texts such as the Fan-wang ching (梵網經; Sūtra of Brahma's Net), Jen-wang ching and Ta-sheng ch'i-hsin lun.

This catalogue was followed by a couple of other major compilations, such as the Ta T'ang nei-tien lu (Great T'ang Record of Scriptures) completed in 664 by the vinaya master Tao-hsüan (道宣; 596-667), and the Ta-chou k'an-ting chung-ching mu-lu (Catalogue of Scriptures Authorized by the Great Chou) done in 695 by Ming-ch'uan (d.u.) and some seventy monks. But due to the great number of translations that were produced after the careers of such important scholars as Hsüan-tsang (玄奘; 596-664), Bodhiruci (672-727), Śikṣānanda (652-710) and I-Ching (義淨; 635-713), there was a need for another appraisal of the Buddhist canon, and this monumental work was carried out by Chih-sheng (智昇 d.u.) in 730, called the K'ai-Yüan shih-chiao lu (開元釋教錄; Record of Śākyamuni's teachings compiled during the K'ai-yüan period). This work, which listed 1,076 extant works, included a total of 406 titles under the section of apocryphal scriptures, dividing into those of doubtful authenticity and those considered definitely spurious. Thus the issue of apocryphal texts was of foremost attention throughout the compilation of the Chinese Buddhist canon.

Modern Taxonomies

Depending upon the perspective of the taxonomist, the way of categorizing these texts can be quite various. For example, a poignant contrast can be seen in the methods of categorization of apocryphal texts by the two most important modern Japanese scholars of apocrypha, Mochizuki and Makita. Mochizuki's division of the


apocryphal texts reflects his interest in Buddhist philosophy and doctrine. In his Bukkyō kyōten seiritsushi ron, he divided apocryphal texts into five categories: (1) those containing themes from Taoism and popular faith, such as the T'i-wei P'o-li ching (提謂波利經; Sūtra of Trapuśa and Ballika) and the Kuan-ting ching (灌頂經; Sūtra of Consecration); (2) works teaching state-protection, which also included Mahāyāna precepts or the stages of the path of bodhisattva practice. In this category are such influential texts as the Jen-wang ching, Fan-wang ching and the P'u-sa ying-lo pen-yeh ching (菩薩本業瓔珞經; Sūtra of the Original Acts which Adorn the Bodhisattvas); (3) works on esotericism which focused on tathāgatagarbha thought, which includes such scriptures as the Chan-ch'a shan-o yeh-pao ching (占察善惡業報經; Sūtra on the Divination of the Effect of Good and Evil Actions), the Shou-leng-yen ching (Sūtra of the Heroic March) and the Yüan chüeh ching; (4) The Ta-sheng ch'i-hsin lun, a śāstra, rather than a sūtra, considered in a class by itself, and (5) other śāstras attributed to eminent Indian writers such as Aśvaghoṣa and Nāgārjuna.8

Makita's categorization, on the other hand, reflects a sociological and historical perspective in his division into six categories: (1) works supporting the positions of the ruling class, such as the Ta-yün ching (大雲經; Great Cloud Sūtra ) which was utilized by the Empress Dowager Wu Tse-t'ien (r. 684-704; 武則天后); (2) works which were critical of the policies of the ruling class. Common in this category were prophetic works which were connected with the doctrine of the three stages of the dharma, such as the Hsiang-fa chüeh-i ching (像法決疑經; Sūtra of Resolving Doubts During the Age of the Semblance Dharma); (3) works intended to compare or rank Buddhism with the Chinese indigenous tradition, for example, the Lao-tzu hua-hu ching which held Taoism as the origin of Buddhism. Also included in this category are, on the other hand, pro-Buddhist texts which justified Buddhist practices that offended traditional Chinese morality, such as leaving the family, lack of ancestor worship, etc. (4) Scriptures advocating special doctrines and beliefs which were instrumental in the development of East Asian Buddhist thought. (5) works whose titles included the name of a certain living individual, such as the Sūtra on Prince Moonlight (Yüeh-kuang t'ung-tzu ching, 月光童子經). (6) works dealing with healing, fortune-telling and other worldly concerns.

Listing his and Mochizuki's classification systems next to each other for comparison, Makita notes the various overlaps and correspondences between the two schema, for example that Mochizuki's category #1 could be included in his #3, and that Mochizuki's #2 is similar to his #1, etc.9 But as we can see, the method of classifying these works depends largely upon the methods and aims of the individual scholar, or even within the oeuvre of a single scholar, upon the time and situation.10 For example, in two separate works on apocrypha, Mizuno Kōgen


categorizes apocryphal texts a bit differently.11 The categorization in the latter work, Buddhist Sūtras, is instructive for our purposes. Mizuno starts by broadly classifying all apocryphal works into the two categories of "genuine" and "spurious," genuine referring to the fact that even though the texts in question are not authentic Indian scriptures they are in complete harmony with the fundamental spirit of Buddhism. Even though their authors are unknown they must have composed their sūtras with the intention of disseminating the teachings of Buddhism more correctly.12

Mizuno defines as spurious those texts "which either fail to encompass the true spirit of Buddhism or include statements patently inconsistent with the Buddhist teaching," categorizing these spurious texts into four groups: (1) sūtras expounded by someone in the throes of some sort of fanatic possession claiming to reveal the word of the Buddha; (2) sūtras expounded in order to take advantage of Buddhism for some purpose; (3) sūtras created in order to palm folk beliefs off as the word of the Buddha and (4) sūtras that were mere abridgments of more complex, repetitive Indic sūtras.13 Among the genuine texts, Mizuno lists the Sūtra of Brahma s Net (Fan-wang ching), the Sūtra of the Original Acts Which Adorn Bodhisattvas (P'u-sa ying-lo pen-yeh ching), the Sūtra of Contemplation of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life (Kuan wu-liang-shou ching), the Sūtra of Innumerable Meanings (Wu-liang-i ching), the Sūtra of Adamantine Absorption (Kŭmgang sammaegyŏng), the Sūtra of Perfect Enlightenment (Yüan chüeh ching) and the Sūtra of the Heroic March (Shou-leng-yen ching).14

Foundational Apocrypha

Even though we have provided the apocryphal taxonomies of only three scholars, it should be clear that this sort of categorization could be carried out in numerous other ways, depending upon the aims of the particular study. One might, for example, be inclined to divide apocryphal texts by time period, region of provenance, linguistic/literary patterns, etc. And while the above initial categorization by Mizuno into the two groups of genuine apocrypha and spurious apocrypha might seem a bit arbitrary—or even simplistic, it does bring to light one of the major facets of apocryphal studies, which has to date, received the lion's share of scholarly attention. That is, those six texts that Mizuno describes as "genuine," along with a couple of other important indigenous works such as the Sūtra of Benevolent Kings (Jen-wang ching) and the Treatise on Awakening of Mahāyāna Faith (Ta-sheng ch'i-hsin lun) have become, in the history of East Asian Buddhism, far more than just part of the canon expressing acceptable Buddhist doctrine. Rather, they played a vital role in the dynamic process of transformation undergone by Buddhism during its six


or seven century course of changing from an imported ideology into a thoroughly sinified native tradition. Although they were written ostensibly for the purpose of re-expressing Indian ideas in a more East Asian framework, they ended up becoming the vehicles for the expression of new East Asian interpretations of Buddhism, a religion which had been in the process of digestion by the most brilliant East Asian minds for several centuries.

For this reason, we might say that these texts are "more than canonical," in view of their seminal role in bringing about the acceptance and transformation of Buddhism. This is true at the popular level, the political domain and in the establishment of the most cogent metaphysical positions of the East Asian Buddhist philosophers. As Michel Strickmann has noted, among these Chinese [apocryphal] works are certain of the most authoritative books in the East Asian Buddhist tradition, including the Jen-wang ching, Fan-wang ching and the Ta-sheng ch'i-hsin lun. These three texts alone provided the foundations, respectively, for the Buddhist protection of the state, the internal legislation of the religious life, and an advanced philosophical analysis.15

Among these three, we can probably single out the Ch'i-hsin lun as being the single most influential work, for its influence on subsequent Hua-yen and Ch'an metaphysics and soteriology. It was commented on over one hundred times, and became the single most influential text in the history of Korean Buddhism. The Jen-wang ching and Fan-wang ching were instrumental in the early institution of Buddhism not only in China, but in Korea and Japan, where the Jen-wang ching guaranteed the Buddha's protection of the state, and the Fan-wang ching offered more adaptable set of Mahāyāna precepts for the saṅgha and lay people. Also important along with the Ch'i-hsin lun for their influence on the development of Ch an/S&obrev;n/Zen thought are the Kŭmgang sammaegyŏng, Shou-leng-yen ching and the Yüan chüeh ching. The above mentioned Kuan wu-liang-shou ching and Wu-liang-i ching, along with the A-mi-t'o ching (Amitābha sūtra) fully formed the basis for the East Asian Pure Land sect, all three receiving extensive commentarial treatment from major East Asian exegetes.

While, as Mizuno indicates, the doctrines of these works are in complete harmony with the fundamental spirit of Buddhism, even a brief glance through them by someone familiar with both indigenous sinitic philosophy and the Indian Mahāyāna textual corpus yields the recognition of themes, terms and concepts from indigenous traditions playing a dominant role in the text, to an extent which makes it obvious that they must have been written in East Asia. Especially in the above-mentioned texts that are connected with the development of the Ch'an school, such terms that were only current in East Asia, such as innate enlightenment (本覺 pen-chüeh) and actualized enlightenment (始覺 chih-chüeh) and other terms connected with the


discourse of the tathāgatagarbha-ālayavijñāna problematik (the debate as to whether the human mind is, at its most fundamental level, pure or impure)16 appear in such number that the difference from the bona fide translations from Indic languages is obvious. Furthermore, the entire discourse of innate/actualized enlightenment and tathāgatagarbha-ālayavijñāna opposition can be seen as strongly reflecting a Chinese philosophical obsession dating back to at least the time of Mencius, when Mencius entered into debate with Kao-tzu on the original purity of the mind.17

The indigenous provenance of such texts is also indicated by their clear influence and borrowing from other current popular East Asian works, whether or not these other works were Indian or East Asian composition. Robert Buswell has shown in his study of the origins of the Kŭmgang sammaegyŏng how, in addition to such sinitic concepts as shou-i (preserving the one 守一; from Taoist tradition), the sūtra's author was clearly basing his discourse on the Ch'i-hsin lun. The Ch'i-hsin lun also served as the source of the metaphysical framework of the influential apocryphal texts, the Yüan chüeh ching and Shou-leng-yen ching.


One of the most pervasive and most obvious sources of evidence of East Asian provenance to which little attention has thus far been paid, is the usage of the indigenous t'i-yung (體用 essence-function ) structure as an organizing principle for the articulation of Buddhist concepts. Indian Mahāyāna Buddhism had come to East Asia armed with such important philosophical polarities as emptiness/form, absolute truth/relative truth, Buddha/sentient being, enlightenment/ignorance, nirvāṇa/saṃsāra, etc., and one of the most important exercises of Mahāyāna contemplation was to grasp the relationship of these polarities as being one of non-difference. Especially in the Indian Madhyamaka school, the correct understanding, or Buddhist awakening, consisted in perceiving how these apparent contradictions were simultaneously possible.

East Asian Buddhist thinkers, trying to work out these problems in their own way, over time instituted their own native hermeneutic of essence-function. The t'i-yung framework had informed the East Asian worldview from the time of the writing of its earliest classical texts, a key philosophical and hermeneutic principle held in common by both Confucianism and Taoism. It was thus natural (and perhaps necessary) for Buddhist doctrine, in the process of becoming fully sinified, to become re-articulated in terms of essence and function. Examples of this process are ubiquitous in the 6-8th century, deeply sinified Buddhist literature that formed the basis for Ch'an and Hua-yen. The author of the Ch'i-hsin lun directly utilized the terms t'i and yung (adding an intermediate concept of hsiang — aspects ) to express the implications of the one mind and its vast possibilities of function, and the


same structure was utilized by the author of the Kŭmgang sammaegyŏng. In the Hua-yen school, the t'i-yung structure was recast in a new Buddhist terminology of li ( "principle") and shih ( "phenomena"), where li expressed the Buddhist concepts of śūnyatā and/or enlightenment and shih expressed the meaning of rūpa (form) or the manifestation of enlightenment. This t'i-yung/li-shih structure permeated the literature of most of the East Asian indigenous schools, most obviously in non-apocryphal works such as the Liu-tsu tan-ching (六祖壇經 Platform Sūtra of the Sixth Patriarch), the writings of the Hua-yen masters and Ch'an discussions of host and guest etc.

Another apocryphal text deeply informed by essence-function metaphysics is the Yüan chüeh ching, (Sūtra of Perfect Enlightenment) a work whose discussions of inherent and actualized enlightenment are fully informed by the t'i-yung paradigm. One of the sūtra's most overt conversions of an Indian concept into East Asian t'i-yung framework is in the fifth chapter, where the Consciousness-only school's doctrine of the two hindrances is reformulated in sinitic essence-function terms,18 with the "hindrance of what is known (所知障)" redefined as the Hindrance of Principle (理障) and the "hindrance of defilement (煩惱障)" expressed as the Hindrance of Phenomena (事障). Examples of the type of sinitic thinking seen in the Yüan chüeh ching are also numerous in the other texts that we have mentioned above.

The Case of Korea

While apocryphal texts such as the Fan-wang ching19 and Ch'i-hsin lun played a seminal role in the development of early Japanese Buddhism, it is quite clear that apocryphal works in general had greater and more lasting impact on the forms of Buddhism which developed in Korea. The Jen-wang ching was always important in East Asia in terms of establishing Buddhism as a state religion, but in Korea, it was even more central because of the distinctive depth to which Korean Buddhism became the religion of the state.

In terms of doctrinal foundation, such texts as the Ch'i-hsin lun, Yüan chüeh ching, Shou-leng-yen ching and Kŭmgang sammaegyŏng were of deepest significance in Korea. The case of the Kŭmgang sammaegyŏng is especially instructive, as it has recently been made clear to Western scholarship that there is a distinct possibility that this text was written in Korea, rather than on the Chinese mainland.20 But more important than the Kŭmgang sammaegyŏng in terms of the pervasiveness of influence on Korean thought is the Ch'i-hsin lun (Awakening of Faith). The popularity of the Ch'i-hsin lun, like the Kŭmgang sammaegyŏng, was considerably enhanced by its becoming the subject of exegesis by Korea's most important Buddhist commentator Wŏnhyo (元曉; 617-686). Among of all the eighty-odd exegeses composed by


Wŏnhyo it is his two works on the Ch'i-hsin lun which have commanded the most attention. Not only have they been read and studied continuously in the subsequent Korean tradition, but they also had a deep impact on a number of influential Chinese thinkers, most important of whom was Fa-tsang (法藏; 643-712). In Korea, a new indigenous school of thought called Pŏpsŏng (法性; "dharma-nature") eventually formed based on the teachings of Wŏnhyo and the Ch'i-hsin lun.

An examination of the works of later Korean Buddhist scholiasts shows that by far the major portion of their focus was on indigenous East Asian works, many of overt East Asian provenance, but many of them apocryphal. For example, Korea's other Buddhist giant—Chinul, cited East Asian works almost exclusively, among these, the apocryphal Ch'i-hsin lun and the Yüan chüeh ching being among the most often quoted. These two texts in particular held deep attention throughout the subsequent Korean tradition, and today, along with the Shou-leng-yen ching, form the major component of the advanced curriculum for study in Korean Sŏn monasteries. In this way, the Korean Buddhist tradition has developed in such a way that most of the scriptural influence is quite far removed from actual Indian texts, the major exception being the Avataṃsaka-sūtra.

The field of East Asian Buddhist studies in general is a wide-open one, offering a plethora of choices for possible research. But among possible choices within this general area, it is clear that the sub-field of apocrypha-related texts, the factors related to their creation, and their role and influences, is an important and potentially rewarding one. During the past decade or so, there has been increasing evidence of the fruits of interest in this class of text, as numerous translations, full-length studies and articles on apocryphal texts are appearing.


A. Primary Sources

Dai nihon zokuzōkyō 大日本續藏經 (The Japanese Supplement to the Buddhist Canon). Kyoto: Zokyo Shoin, 1905-1912.

Han'guk pulgyo chŏnsŏ 韓國佛教全書 (The Complete Writings of Korean Buddhism). Seoul: Dongguk University Press, 1986.

Taishō shinshū daizōkyō 大正新脩大藏經 (Revised Tripiṭaka completed during the Taishō period). Edited by Takakusu Junjirō 高楠順次郞 and Watanabe Kaikyoku 渡邊海旭. Tokyo: Daizōkyōkai, 1924-1935.

A-mi-t'o ching 阿彌陀經 (Amitābha-sūtra; Smaller Sukhāvatī-vyūha). 1 fasc., trans. in 402 by Kumārajīva. T 366.12.346b-348b.

Ch'an-cha shan-o yeh-pao ching 占察善惡業報經 (Sūtra on the Divination of the Effect of Good and Evil Actions). T 839.17.901c-910c.

Ch'u-san-tsang chi-chi 出三藏集記 (A Compilation of Notes on the Translation of the Tripitaka). Compiled around 515 by Seng-yu (445-518) T 2145.55.1a-114a.

Chung-ching mu-lu 衆經目錄 (Catalog of Scriptures). 7 fasc., by Fa-ching 法經 et.al. T 2146.55.115-149.

Chung-ching mu-lu 衆經目錄 (Catalog of Scriptures). 5 fasc., by Yen-ts'ung. T 2147.55.150a-180b.

Chung-ching mu-lu 衆經目錄 (Catalog of Scriptures). 5 fasc. by Ch'ing-t'ai 靜泰 T 2148.55.180c-218

Fan-wang ching 梵網經 (Sūtra of Brahma's Net). T 1484.24.997a-1010a.

Fo-hsing lun. 佛性論 4 fasc., Trans. Paramārtha. T 1610.31.787a-813a.

Hōkyōki 寶慶記. One fascicle, by Dōgen. See Chinese text in Kodera (below).

Hsiang-fa chüeh-i ching 像法決疑經 (Sūtra of Resolving Doubts During the Age of the Semblance Dharma). 1 fasc., T 2870.85.1335-1338.

Jen-wang hu-kuo po-jo po-lo-mi-to ching 仁王護國般若波羅蜜經. 2 fasc., trans. Fu-kung 不空 T 246.8.825a-846a.

Kisillon so 起信論疏. 2 fasc., by Wŏnhyo 元曉; HPC 1.698-722; T 1844.44.202a-226a.

Kuan-ting ching 灌頂經. 4 fasc., T 1331.21.495a-536b.

Kuan Wu-liang-shou fo ching 觀無量壽佛教. 1 fasc., T 365.12.340c-346b.

Kŭmgang sammaegyŏng 金剛三昧經 (Chin-kang san-mei ching; Vajrasam?dhi-sūtra). T 273.9.365c-374b.

Kŭmgang sammaegyŏng non 金剛三昧經論. 3 fasc., By Wŏnhyo 元曉. T 1730.34.961a-1008a. cf. T 273.

Liu-tsu t'an ching 六祖壇經. T 2008.48.346a-362b.

P'u-sa ying-lo pen-yeh ching 菩薩本業瓔珞經. 2 fasc. T 1485.24.1010b-1023a.

Shou-leng-yen ching 首楞嚴經. (T 945.19.106b-155b).

Ta-sheng ch'i-hsin lun 大乘起信論. T 1666.32.575b-583b.

Ta T'ang nei-tien lu 大唐內典錄. 10 fasc. by Tao-hsüan 道宣. T 2149.55.219a-342a.

Taesŭng kisillon so 大乘起信論疏. 2 fasc., by Wŏnhyo T 1844.44.202a-226a

Wu-liang-shou ching 無量壽經. 2 fasc., T 360.12.265c-279a.

Yüan chüeh ching 圓覺經. 1 fasc. T 842.17.913a-922a.

Yüeh-kuang t'ung-tzu ching 月光童子經 1 fasc., T 534.14.815-817

B. Secondary Works in Korean and Japanese

Hayashiya Tomojirō 林屋友次郞. Kyōroku kenkyū 經錄研究 (Studies in Buddhist Catalogues). Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1941.

Makita Tairyō 牧田諦亮. Gikyō kenkyū 疑經研究 (Studies on Apocryphal Sūtras). Kyoto: Jimbun kagaku kenkyūsho, 1976.

Mizuno Kōgen 水野弘元. "Gisaku no Hokkukyō ni tsuite" (Komazawa daigaku bukkyōgakubu kenkyū kiyō 19, 1961 pp. 11-14)

Mochizuki Shinkō 望月信亨. Bukkyō kyōten seiritsushi ron 佛教經典成立史論 (Studies on the History of the Composition of Buddhist Scriptures). Kyoto: Hōzōkan, 1946.

Yabuki Keiki 矢吹慶輝. Sangaikyō no kenkyū 三階教研究 (Studies on the Teaching of the Three Stages). Tokyo: Iwanami shoten, 1927.

C. Secondary Works in English

Barnestone, Willis. The Other Bible: Ancient Esoteric Texts. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1984.

Buswell, Robert E. The Formation of Ch'an Ideology in China and Korea. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1989.

---, ed. Chinese Buddhist Apocrypha. Honolulu: Hawai`i UP, 1990.

Ch'en, Kenneth K.S. Buddhism in China: A Historical Survey. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1964.

Groner, Paul S. The Fan-wang ching and Monastic Discipline in Japanese Tendai in Chinese Buddhist Apocrypha, edited by Robert E. Buswell, Jr., p. 251-290

Kodera, Takashi James. Dōgen's Formative Years in China: An Historical Study and Annotated Translation of the Hōkyōki. Boulder: Prajna Press, 1980.

Mizuno, Kogen. Buddhist Sūtras: Origin, Development, Transmission. Tokyo: Kosei Publishing, 1982.

Smith, Barbara Herrnstein. "Contingencies of Value." In Canons, edited by Robert von Hallberg.

Strickmann, Michel. "The Consecration Sūtra: A Buddhist Book of Spells"; in Chinese Buddhist Apocrypha, edited by Robert E. Buswell, Jr.

Tokuno, Kyoko. "The Evaluation of Indigenous Scriptures in Chinese Buddhist Bibliographical Catalogues." In Chinese Buddhist Apocrypha, edited by Robert E. Buswell, Jr.

von Hallberg, Robert, ed. Canons. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1984.


1. Apocrypha is a term of Greek origin, derived from apokruphos, referring to writings that are "secret." Strictly speaking, it refers to the fourteen books of scriptural style and of late composition which were excluded from the canon of the Old Testament (this is a protestant usage, Catholics terming the same books "deuterocanonical"). In addition to history and doctrine, there is an emphasis on the apocalypse and gnosticism in many of these books. The most complete work on Abrahamic apocrypha is probably Willis Barnestone's The Other Bible: Ancient Esoteric Texts. Please see his introduction to this work on the various types of Christian and Jewish apocryphal texts. Also see Robert Buswell's discussion of the term on pages 3-7 of his introduction to Chinese Buddhist Apocrypha. Return to text

2. By Wang Fu. This text claimed that after his disappearance, Lao-tzu went to India, converted people there, and became the Buddha. Return to text

3. For an excellent examination of the complexity of factors involved in the attainment of canonicity by a text, see Barbara Herrstein Smith's essay "Contingencies of Value" in von Hallberg's volume entitled Canons (pp. 5-39). Smith especially clarifies the dynamics of the interplay of the extremely various types of "value judgments" involved in canon formation. Although her analysis is directly concerned with the formation of the modern/Western literary canon, many of her observations can well be applied to the formation of other canons, including that of East Asian Buddhism. Return to text

4. For much of the background to the material in this section I am indebted to Kyoko Tokuno's essay in Chinese Buddhist Apocrypha, entitled "The Evaluation of Indigenous Scriptures in Chinese Buddhist Bibliographical Catalogues" pp. 31-74. Return to text

5. Makita, 99. Return to text

6. The Tsung-li chung-ching mu-lu 綜理衆經目錄 (Comprehensive Catalog of Scriptures) compiled in 374 (not extant); generally known by the abbreviated title An-lu 安錄 (An's Catalogue). Return to text

7. Mizuno, 103. Return to text

8. As listed in Mochizuki's Chapter on Non-Buddhist, Doubtful and Spurious Sūtras and Śāstras pp. 393-695. Also see Makita, Gikyō kenkyū p. 117. Return to text

9. Gikyō kenkyū p. 118-119. Return to text

10. This point about the difficulties in coming up with consistent method of categorizing apocryphal texts is discussed at some length by Buswell in his introductory essay to Chinese Buddhist Apocrypha. See especially pp. 9-13. Return to text

11. In "Gisaku no Hokkukyō ni tsuite" (Komazawa daigaku bukkyōgakubu kenkyū kiyō 19, 1961 pp. 11-14) and Buddhist Sūtras (1982, p. 118). Although not exactly the same, these two schema are similar, being based more or less on the author's motive for writing. Return to text

12. Buddhist Sūtras, p. 117. Return to text

13. Ibid., 118. Following these passage he gives a series of examples of texts of these four categories. Return to text

14. Ibid., 117. Return to text

15. "The Consecration Sūtra: A Buddhist Book of Spells" in Chinese Buddhist Apocrypha, p. 78. Return to text

16. For a clear and concise explanation of the nature of this problematik, see Robert Buswell, Formation of Ch'an Ideology, pp. 78-115. Return to text

17. Contained in the Mencius. See especially the first several sections of Book 6A. Return to text

18. Yüan chüeh ching Chapter 5, starting from T 842.17.916b20. Return to text

19. For a treatment of how the Fan-wang ching was used for the establishment of the Mahāyāna precepts in Japanese Buddhism, see Paul Groner's The Fan-wang ching and Monastic Discipline in Japanese Tendai in Chinese Buddhist Apocrypha. Return to text

20. This argument for the Korean provenance of the Kŭmgang sammaegyŏng is a central theme in Robert Buswell's Formation of Ch'an Ideology in Early China and Korea. This text also makes an extensive inquiry into the origin of some of the key themes of sinitic Buddhist thought which were developed through apocryphal texts. Return to text

Updated: 2006-10-08