What Are the Three Treasuries and the Twelve Divisions?

The Twelve Divisions refer to twelve categories of Sutra text.

The Three Treasuries are the Sutras, the Vinaya and the Shastras. The Sutra Treasury discusses the study of samadhi. The Vinaya Treasury discusses the study of precepts. And the Shastra Treasury discusses the study of wisdom. After Shakyamuni Buddha entered Nirvana, the Venerable Mahakashyapa led five hundred Arhats to compile the Tripitaka (“Three Treasuries”) at the Seven-Leaf Cave. The Venerable Ananda recorded all of the Dharma which the Buddha had spoken in his life, and it became the Sutra Treasury. The Venerable Upali compiled the precepts set down by the Buddha, and they became the Vinaya Treasury. The Venerable Mahakashyapa compiled the treaties which the Buddha’s disciples had written after reading the Sutras and investigating the precepts, and that formed the Shastra Treasury.

The Twelve Divisions refer to twelve categories of Sutra text. A verse about them says,

Prose, verse, predictions,
Interjections, Dharma spoken without request,
Causes and conditions, analogies, stories of disciples’ past lives,
The Buddha’s past lives, unversalities, previously non-existent teachings,
And commentarial literature together make up the twelve divisions.

1.      Prose: This refers to the long lines of Sutra text.

2.      Verse: The verses rephrase the meanings expressed in the prose sections.

3.      Predictions: The Buddha bestows predictions upon Bodhisattvas, telling them in which kalpas (eons) they will become Buddhas, what their name will be, how long their life spans will be, how many living beings they will teach, in what Buddhaland they will dwell, and so on.

4.      Interjections: These are isolated verses not related to the Sutra text preceding and following them.

5.      Dharma spoken without request: Usually, the Buddha would speak Dharma only after someone requested it. The Amitabha Sutra was the only Sutra that the Buddha spoke without anyone requesting it.

6.      Causes and conditions: These are descriptions of the causes and condition behind certain events.

7.      Analogies:  Analogies are used to explain the principles in the Sutras.

8.      Former events: These are the deeds of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas when they were cultivating in the past.

9.      Stories of present lives: These are stories of how the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas spoke the Dharma and benefited living beings in this life.

10.  Universalities: This refers to Sutras which are vast, great, and proper, and to the state of perfect fusion without obstruction.

11.  Previously non-existent teachings: These may be spiritual penetrations and transformations which people had never seen before.

12.  Commentarial literature: These are reports written by disciples of the Buddha after they had investigated the Sutras and moral codes, or records of discussions between the Buddha and his disciples.

I have given a brief idea of the Three Treasuries and the Twelve Divisions, and I hope all of you will deeply enter the Sutra Treasury and attain wisdom like the sea.

A talk given on October 17, 1983