Twelve branches of the excellent teaching

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Twelve branches of the excellent teaching (Skt. dvādaśāṅgapravacana; Tib. གསུང་རབ་ཡན་ལག་བཅུ་གཉིས་, sungrab yenlak chunyi, Wyl. gsung rab yan lag bcu gnyis) —these are said to be the twelve text categories within the Tripitaka, and include all the teachings of the Buddha. This list is the one used in Sanskrit canons and has three more categories compared to the list found in mainstream Buddhist sources—contextual accounts, testimonies of realization and definitive explanations.

  1. sutras (Skt. sūtra, Tib. མདོའི་སྡེ་, Wyl. mdo'i sde)
  2. poetic summaries (Skt. geya, Tib. དབྱངས་ཀྱིས་བསྙད་པའི་སྡེ་, Wyl. dbyangs kyis bsnyad pa sde)
  3. prophecies (Skt. vyākaraṇa, Tib. ལུང་བསྟན་པའི་སྡེ་, Wyl. lung bstan pa'i sde)
  4. discourses in verse (Skt. gāthā, Tib. ཚིགས་སུ་བཅད་པའི་སྡེ་, Wyl. tshigs su bcad pa'i sde)
  5. intentional statements (Skt. udāna, Tib. ཆེད་དུ་བརྗོད་པའི་སྡེ་, Wyl. ched du brjod pa'i sde)
  6. contextual accounts (Skt. nidāna, Tib. གླེང་གཞིའི་སྡེ་, Wyl. gleng gzhi'i sde)
  7. testimonies of realization (Skt. avadāna, Tib. རྟོགས་པ་བརྗོད་པའི་སྡེ་, Wyl. rtogs pa brjod pa'i sde)
  8. historical explanations (Skt. itivṛttaka, Tib. དེ་ལྟ་བུ་བྱུང་བའི་སྡེ་, Wyl. de lta bu byung ba'i sde)
  9. accounts of former lives (Skt. jātaka, Tib. སྐྱེས་པའི་རབས་ཀྱི་སྡེ་, Wyl. skyes pa'i rabs kyi sde)
  10. detailed explanations (Skt. vaipulya, Tib. ཤིན་ཏུ་རྒྱས་པའི་སྡེ་, Wyl. shin tu rgyas pa)
  11. wondrous discourses (Skt. abidhutadharma, Tib. རྨད་དུ་བྱུང་བའི་ཆོས་ཀྱི་སྡེ་, Wyl. rmad du byung ba'i chos kyi sde)
  12. definitive explanations (Skt. upadeśa, Tib. གཏན་ལ་ཕབ་པའི་སྡེ་, Wyl. gtan la phab pa'i sde)

Explanation

On the day of his parinirvana, the Buddha reminded his disciples that the dharma teachings had been imparted in twelve aṅgas, or branches, each a means of evoking a different response and realization.

  1. Sūtra. Discourses on a single topic. Seeing ten advantages of this type of teaching, the Buddha often taught in this way. Sutra teachings are well-suited for presenting a single topic; they easily evoke the listener's response, they increase respect for the dharma, supporting the rapid application of the teachings to one's life, they enable the teachings to penetrate deeply, they inspire serene joy based on faith in the Buddha, faith in the Dharma, and faith in the Sangha; they support supreme happiness even in this lifetime; they please the minds of the wise through exegesis; and they are recognized as extremely wise.
  2. Geya. Discourses in verse. These are the stanzas often found at the beginning or end of a sutra. Sometimes an idea not discussed within the sutra will be explicated in verse.
  3. Vyākaraṇa. Prophecies. Thse are discussions of the past lives and future possibilities of the assembly of the Sangha. They serve to clarify points presented in a sutra.
  4. Gāthā. Verse summaries. These teachings are given in metred verse within sutras. They recapitulate the main themes and are easy to remember.
  5. Udāna. Words spoken not to instruct particular individuals but to maintain the dharma. These teachings are said to have been spoken by the Buddha with a very joyful heart.
  6. Nidāna. Explanations following a specific incident. In these teachings, the Buddha gives a principle or guideline and explains the reason for it.
  7. Avadāna. Life stories of buddhas, bodhisattvas, disciples, and various individuals.
  8. Itivṛttaka. Historical accounts such as geneologies.
  9. Jātaka. Accounts of previous lives of the Buddha.
  10. Vaipulya. Lengthy sutras with complex organisation. These include the sutras of the Mahayana, with teachings that are especially profound and vast.
  11. Abidhutadharma. Accounts of wondrous accomplishments of the Buddha, the disciples, and the bodhisattvas.
  12. Upadeśa. Topics of specific knowledge. These are exact, profound, and subtle instructions on the nature of reality.


Sūtra, geya, vyākaraṇa, gāthā, and udāna teachings make up the sutra collection of the First Turning. The aṅgas of vaipulya and abidhutadharma appear in the Second and Third Turning teachings. These express the extensive vision and wondrous accomplishments of the buddhas and bodhisattvas.[1]

References

  1. Ways of Enlightenment, Dharma Publishing pages 27-28

Alternative translations

From Ways of Enlightenment by Dharma Publishing

Twelve Branches of Scripture

  1. Single topic discourses
  2. Discourses in verse
  3. Prophecies
  4. Verse summaries
  5. Spoken to maintain the dharma
  6. Guidelines following a specific incident
  7. Life stories
  8. Historical accounts
  9. Previous lives of the Buddha
  10. Long complex sutras
  11. Wondrous acts
  12. Topics of specific knowledge

The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism;

  1. Discourses
  2. Aphorisms in mixed prose and verse
  3. Prophetic teachings or expositions
  4. Verses
  5. Utterance or meaningful expressions
  6. Framing stories or episodes
  7. Heroic tales or narratives
  8. Fables
  9. Tales of previous lives
  10. Marvellous events
  11. Catechisms or works of great extent
  12. Instructions

Gyurme Dorje, in his translation of Indo-Tibetan Classical Learning and Buddhist Phenomenology:

  1. Discourses
  2. Aphorisms in prose and verse
  3. Prophetic declarations
  4. Verses
  5. Proverbs or meaningful expressions
  6. Legends or frame stories
  7. Extensive teachings
  8. Tales of past lives
  9. Marvelous events
  10. Narratives
  11. Fables
  12. Established instructions