Can the Buddhist canons be classified into three systems according to the languages employed?

Publish Date:2023-08-02

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Yes, the division into three groups conforms to the actual situation. Buddhist circles today all acknowledge the division into three systems. Generally speaking, Buddhism in the southern countries—Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, India, Pakistan and Thailand as well as in the minorities of China’s Yunnan Province such as Dai, Benglong (now De’ang) and Bulang—falls under the Pali system, of Hinayana Buddhism, or more precisely, Theravada Buddhism, as they refer to themselves.


There used to be sectarian disputes between Mahayana and Hinayana, but the tendency to blend is increasingly apparent at present. Many people advocate that the terms, Hinayana and Mahayana, be dropped with a view to strengthen the unity and mutual respect among the Buddhists and peoples of different countries. Hence it is more appropriate to call Southern Buddhism Theravada Buddhism. The Buddhism of the Hans in China, as well as of Korea, Japan and Vietnam belongs to the Chinese system. The Buddhism of Tibet, Inner Mongolia, Tujia, Qiang, and Yugu and other nationalities of China, as well as that of Mongolia, Siberia and northern India, belongs to the Tibetan system. The latter two systems belong to Mahayana Buddhism. (From Essentials of Buddhism: Questions and Answers)

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