Tibetan Canon

The Tibetan Buddhist Canon is the body of sacred scripture in the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Though attempts to catalogue Buddhist texts in Tibet began in the ninth century CE, it was not until the fourteenth century that the Tibetan Buddhist leader Buton Rinchen Drub compiled all of the scriptures sacred to Tibet. Still, the contents of the Canon are loosely defined, with different editors over time adding or leaving out texts as they saw fit. The Tibetan Canon is divided into two general categories: Kangyur (“translated words”), which are believed to be the words of the Buddha; and Tengyur (“translated treatises”), which are commentaries on the sutras and tantras, treatises, and abstract scholastic abhidharma texts. Approximately one quarter of the Kangyur works are Tibetan translations of early Buddhist texts, and the rest are translations of Mahayana texts. The Tibetan Canon is distinct in its inclusion of esoteric tantric texts, works meant only for private transmission from master to student.
The Tibetan Canon has played a vital role in the flourishing of Buddhism in Tibet and in the development of Tibetan culture. It also distinguishes Tibetan Buddhism from Chinese Buddhism as shaped by the Chinese Canon. The secret nature of tantric texts led Tibetan Buddhism to hold monastic life in even greater esteem than in the Mahayana tradition, as the full meaning of the tantras can only be transmitted from master to student within the monastery. As the latest of the major Buddhist canons to be compiled, the Tibetan Canon represents a period in the history of Buddhism in which spiritual focus increasingly shifted toward esoteric teachings and direct experiential realization of enlightenment, as mirrored in the closely related Vajrayana Buddhist tradition that arose in the same period. Tibetan Buddhism remains perhaps the most globally visible strand of esoteric Buddhism, and the Tibetan Canon has today gained significant interest even outside of Tibet.