Catalogues of Scriptures

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Catalogues of scriptures (jinglu) are bibliographical records of Chinese Buddhist literature of Indian, Central Asian, and indigenous provenance. Their beginnings can be traced with reasonable certainty to the mid-third century c.e., a century after the translation of Buddhist literature began in China. Compilation of catalogues in China continued throughout subsequent centuries, generating a total of approximately eighty catalogues by the end of the eighteenth century, though only one-third of them are extant today. Catalogues were also compiled in Korea and Japan whenever recensions of the Sinitic Buddhist canon were introduced and domestic editions compiled. Most Chinese catalogues were private undertakings by a single individual, usually a monk, although a few are official, state-sponsored compilations made by a group of learned monks appointed for the task. Buddhist catalogues were a natural outgrowth of the Chinese secular bibliographical tradition that was in place by the first century c.e., and their compilation is a quintessentially East Asian phenomenon, there being nothing equivalent to them in Indian Buddhist literature. The catalogues offer indispensable source material for reconstructions of Buddhist history in not only East Asia but India as well.

Some 80 percent of the catalogues date from the Tang dynasty (618–907) or earlier, from the period when the substantial part of the translations of Buddhist scriptures into Chinese was accomplished. The primary goal of this group of catalogues was the verification of textual history and authenticity, and the determination of canonicity—a function of the conditions of the time when new translations were continually being added to a still-fluid Buddhist canon, and texts of indeterminate history or questionable identity proliferated. The fact that texts were disseminated at this time through hand-copying was a factor in this proliferation, for anyone with the means and inclination could, and often did, write new manuscripts and portray them as authentic Buddhist scripture. Thus the catalogues of this period were both prescriptive and proscriptive in function, in that they classified texts to be either included in or excluded from the canon. In a real sense, they held the key to the fate of texts and, by extension, the formation of the Buddhist canon in China. By contrast, post-Tang catalogues were essentially descriptive and were indexes to the printed canons, merely listing their established and fixed entries.

The Chu sanzang jiji (A Compilation of Notices on the Translation of the Tripiṭaka, ca. 515) by Sengyou (445–518) is not only the earliest extant catalogue, but also preserves part of an even earlier catalogue by the renowned monk-scholar Dao'an (312–385). The value of this catalogue also derives from the fact that it set the standard for cataloguing methods by employing a minute typological classification based on textual and doctrinal characteristics. Most of the cumulative list of divisions and categories of Buddhist literature that appear in medieval catalogues originated in the work of Sengyou: new or old translations; anonymous and variant translations; spurious scriptures; abridged scriptures; extant and nonextant translations; MahĀyĀna and HĪnayĀna literature in the three divisions of scripture, discipline, and treatise; translator known or unknown. Indigenous compilations, such as prefaces to scriptures, histories of Buddhism, biographies of monks and translators, and Buddhist catalogues themselves were also included to illustrate the proper transmission of Buddhism and its literature.

The Lidai sanbao ji (Record of the Three Treasures throughout Successive Dynasties, 597) by Fei Changfang (d.u.) introduced a chronological catalogue of translations arranged according to the dates and dynasties of translators, an innovation that was adopted in subsequent catalogues. Unfortunately, Fei also altered or fabricated numerous translator and author attributions to minimize the number of scriptures of questionable pedigree, as a way of ensuring the credibility of the Buddhist textual transmission. This catalogue was a case where criteria for textual authenticity were compromised for polemical reasons. A state-commissioned catalogue, the Da-Zhou kanding zhongjing mulu (Catalogue of Scriptures, Authorized by the Great Zhou, 695), kept many of Fei's arbitrary attributions and helped create an enigmatic category of scriptures that were both inauthentic and yet canonical.

The Kaiyuan shijiao lu (Record of Śakyamuni's Teachings, Compiled during the Kaiyuan Era, 730) by Zhisheng (d.u.) was the most critical and thorough catalogue in its evaluation of textual histories and represented the culmination of the art of Buddhist cataloguing that had begun nearly half a millennium earlier. Its influence is evident in the contents and organization of East Asian printed canons, all the way up to the modern standard edition, the Taishō shinshū daizōkyō (1924–1934). However, even this catalogue, with all its critical apparatus, accepted some of the problematic attributions that originated in the Lidaisanbao ji. Thus, despite the wealth of invaluable historical material they contain, not all catalogues, or the attributions included therein, are uniformly dependable. Their data must be used cautiously, by thoroughly cross-referencing information found in the different extant catalogues.

See also:Apocrypha; Printing Technologies


Hayashiya Tomojirō. Kyōroku kenkyū (Studies on Buddhist Catalogues). Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1941.

Kawaguchi Gishō. Chūgoku Bukkyo ni okeru kyōroku kenkyū (Studies on Buddhist Catalogues in Chinese Buddhism). Kyoto: Hōzōkan, 2000.

Tokuno, Kyoko. "The Evaluation of Indigenous Scriptures in Chinese Buddhist Bibliographical Catalogues." In Chinese Buddhist Apocrypha, ed. Robert E. Buswell, Jr. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1990.

Kyoko Tokuno