Buddhism Chinese Āgamas
Bhikkhu Anālayo
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0250


The expression “Chinese Āgamas” refers to collections of early Buddhist discourses, counterparts to the four Pāli Nikāyas, that have been translated into Chinese in part or as a whole. In addition to the four main Chinese Āgamas, shorter texts containing partially preserved Āgama collections are extant in Chinese translation, alongside a number of single discourses translated individually. Comparative study of the contents of these discourse collections enables reconstructing early stages in the development of Buddhist doctrine and practice. This requires recognition of parallel versions, an appreciation of the circumstances of the respective translation, including a recognition of the probable language of the source text and the identity of the translator(s), and awareness of the possible school affiliation of the reciters of the Indic original. For the most part, the consultation of Āgama material still requires Chinese language skills, although by now translations into English of two Āgamas are in the process of being published, in addition to which several individual discourses have also been translated.

Āgama Texts in Chinese

In addition to the main four Chinese Āgamas―the Dīrgha-āgama (Taishō entry1), the Madhyama-āgama (Taishō 26), the Saṃyukta-āgama (Taishō 99) and the Ekottarika-āgama (Taishō 125), the Chinese canonical collection of texts contains two groupings of Saṃyukta-āgama discourses (Taishō entries 100 and 101) and a grouping of Ekottarika-āgama discourses (Taishō 150A), as well as a number of translations of individual Āgama discourses. Such individual discourses can be found under Taishō numbers 2–25 (Dīrgha-āgama), 27–98 (Madhyama-āgama), 102–124 (Saṃyukta-āgama), and 127–149 (Ekottarika-āgama). Anālayo 2015 offers a basic survey of the Chinese Āgamas. Minh Chau 1991 compares the Madhyama-āgama (Taishō 26) with the Majjhima-nikāya, and Anālayo 2011 compares in turn the Majjhima-nikāya with all its parallels. Choong 2000 studies the first part of the Saṃyukta-āgama (Taishō 99). Bingenheimer 2011 studies extracts from a partial Saṃyukta-āgama collection (Taishō 100). Harrison 1997 and Harrison 2002 offer studies of two shorter collections, one with Saṃyukta-āgama discourses and the other with Ekottarika-āgama discourses (Taishō entries 101 and 150A). Dhammadinnā 2013, Dhammadinnā 2014, and Dhammadinnā 2017 are edited proceedings of workshops with research on the Ekottarika-āgama (Taishō 125), the Dīrgha-āgama (Taishō 1), and the Madhyama-āgama (Taishō 26), respectively.

  • Anālayo. A Comparative Study of the Majjhima-nikāya. 2 vols. Taipei: Dharma Drum, 2011.

    Detailed comparative study of the discourses of the Majjhima-nikāya in the light of their parallels in the Chinese Āgamas. Volume 1 and Volume 2 available online.

  • Anālayo. “Āgama/Nikāya.” In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Vol. 1. Edited by Jonathan Silk, Oskar von Hinüber, and Vincent Eltschinger, 50–59. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2015.

    Introduction into the four Chinese Āgamas and their Pāli parallels.

  • Bingenheimer, Marcus. Studies in Āgama Literature, with Special Reference to the Shorter Chinese Saṃyuktāgama. Taiwan: Shin Weng Feng, 2011.

    Collected studies with translations of discourses from the “other” Saṃyukta-āgama (Taishō 100).

  • Choong, Mun-keat. The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism: A Comparative Study Based on the Sūtrāṅga Portion of the Pāli Saṃyutta-nikāya and the Chinese Saṃyuktāgama. Wiesbaden, Germany: Otto Harrassowitz, 2000.

    Comparative study of the first part of the Saṃyukta-āgama (Taishō 99) and its Saṃyutta-nikāya parallel.

  • Dhammadinnā. Research on the Ekottarika-āgama (Taishō 125). Taipei: Dharma Drum, 2013.

    Proceedings of a workshop held by the Āgama Research Group in Taiwan on the Ekottarika-āgama (Taishō 125).

  • Dhammadinnā. Research on the Dīrgha-āgama. Taipei: Dharma Drum, 2014.

    Proceedings of a workshop held by the Āgama Research Group in Taiwan on the Dīrgha-āgama (Taishō 1).

  • Dhammadinnā. Research on the Madhyama-āgama. Taipei: Dharma Drum, 2017.

    Proceedings of a workshop held by the Āgama Research Group in Taiwan on the Madhyama-āgama (Taishō 26).

  • Harrison, Paul. “The Ekottarikāgama Translations of An Shigao.” In Bauddhavidyāsudhākaraḥ: Studies in Honour of Heinz Bechert on the Occasion of His 65th Birthday. Edited by Petra Kieffer-Pülz and Jens-Uwe Hartmann, 261–284. Swisttal-Odendorf, Germany: Indica et Tibetica Verlag, 1997.

    Study of an extract from an Ekottarika-āgama found in the Taishō edition as no. 150A.

  • Harrison, Paul. “Another Addition to the An Shigao Corpus? Preliminary Notes on an Early Chinese Saṃyuktāgama Translation.” In Early Buddhism and Abhidharma Thought: In Honor of Doctor Hajime Sakurabe on His Seventy-Seventh Birthday. Edited by Sakurabe Ronshu Committee, 1–32. Kyoto: Heirakuji Shoten, 2002.

    Study of a Saṃyukta-āgama extract found in the Taishō edition as no. 101.

  • Minh Chau, Thich. The Chinese Madhyama Āgama and the Pāli Majjhima Nikāya. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1991.

    Comparative study of the Madhyama-āgama (Taishō 26) and the Majjhima-nikāya. Originally published 1964.

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