The Faju jing (法句經) is one of the most representative Buddhist scriptures. Since the Buddha’s teachings have been selected and assimilated, it is clear that this scripture contains the core essence of Buddhism. However, when we go into the details, we realize that it is not as simple as was thought.
Above all, we are confronted with the fact that among the various manuscripts found in India and Central Asia, the original Faju jing cannot be ascertained. This sūtra was established during the long history of Buddhism and was disseminated in various languages across the wide area. In addition, the internal history of Buddhism, defined by division into sub-schools, made it more complicated.
From the Pāli Dhammapada, Sanskrit Dharmapada, Gāndārī Dharmapada, Patna Dharmapada to the Udānavarga, the various forms of the Indian version of the Faju jing are very complex. In the case of Faju piyu jing (法句譬喩經), Chuyao jing (出曜經), and Faju yaosong jing (法集要頌經), which are considered to be of the same lineage as the Faju jing in Chinese translations, there are also complications. It does not seem to be easy to reveal the source of the first 500 verses and the newly acquired 13 chapters (with 250 verses) in the Chinese translation of this sūtra, which can be found in the preface of the Faju jing. Moreover, it seems almost impossible to determine ‘the earliest’ and ‘the most original’ form.
The existing form of the Faju jing must have gone through a series of processes in which other verses, of the same kind, were sometimes added and sometimes omitted in the process of establishing and transmitting the sūtra. During the process, it seems that the flexible attitude of Buddhists toward ‘Buddhavacana’ acts as a major factor. The major versions and fragments of Dhammapada, Dharmapada, and Udānavarga have been considered to be of the same lineage, despite the obvious differences in the arrangement of verses and chapters. In this regard, the unique characteristics of Indian and Buddhist texts, which do not allow for the original form to be determined, should be fully considered.