Buddhavacana, from Pali and Sanskrit, means "the Word of The Buddha." It refers to the works accepted within a tradition as being the teachings of The Buddha. All traditions recognize certain texts as buddhavacana which make no claim to being the actual words of the historical Buddha, such as the Theragāthā and Vimalakīrti Nirdeśa Sūtra.
In early Buddhism
According to Donald Lopez, criteria for determining what should be considered buddhavacana was developed at an early stage, and that the early formulations do not suggest that the Dharma is limited to what was spoken by the historical Buddha. The Mahāsāṃghika and the Mūlasarvāstivāda considered both The Buddha's discourses, as well those of The Buddha's disciples, to be buddhavacana.
A number of different beings such as Buddhas, disciples of The Buddha, ṛṣis, and devas were considered capable to transmitting buddhavacana. The content of such a discourse was then to be collated with the sūtras, compared with the Vinaya, and evaluated against the nature of the Dharma These texts may then be certified as true buddhavacana by a Buddha, a Saṃgha, a small group of elders, or one knowledgeable elder. In Theravada Buddhism
In Theravada Buddhism, the standard collection of buddhavacana is the Pali Canon. The oral tradition of the Theravadin recension of Buddhist texts dates back to the time of The Buddha and was arranged in its current form 80 BC. In East Asian Buddhism
According to Venerable Hsuan Hua from the tradition of Chinese Buddhism, there are five types of beings who may speak the sutras of Buddhism: a Buddha, a disciple of a Buddha, a Deva, a ṛṣi, or an emanation of one of these beings; however, they must first receive certification from a Buddha that its contents are true Dharma. Then these sutras may be properly regarded as buddhavacana. In Tibetan Buddhism
In Tibetan Buddhism, what is considered buddhavacana is collected in the Kangyur. The East Asian and Tibetan Buddhist canons always combined Buddhavacana with other literature in their standard collected editions. However, the general view of what is and is not buddhavacana is broadly similar between East Asian Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism.
Buddhavacana refers to “the word of the Buddha” and “that which is well spoken.” This concept indicates the establishment of a clear oral tradition, and later a written tradition, revolving around the Buddha’s teachings and the SANGHA, soon after the PARINIRVANA of the Buddha, in India. The
teachings that were meaningful and important for doctrine became known as the buddhavacana. There were four acceptable sources of authority, the caturmahapadesa, “four great appeals to authority,” for claims concerning the Buddha’s teachings: words spoken directly by the Buddha;
interpretations from the community of elders, the sangha; interpretations from groups of monks who specialized in certain types of doctrinal learning; and interpretations of a single specialist monk. In order to be considered as doctrinally valid statements, any opinion from one of the
four sources had to pass three additional tests of validity: does the statement appear in the SUTRAS (1) or the VINAYA (2), and (3) does the statement conform to reality (dharmata)? These procedures were probably a means of allowing words not spoken by the Buddha to be deemed as
doctrinally valid. Buddhavacana, then, is Buddhist truth, broadly defined. Buddhavacana became an important label of approval for commentary and statements from various sources. A statement labeled buddhavacana was equal to a statement made by the Buddha. Naturally buddhavacana included the
Sutras, which in all versions and schools were defined as the words of the Buddha. But with the concept of buddhavacana nonsutra works could also be considered authoritative. This was convenient for new teachings attempting to gain acceptance. One early example was VASUBHANDHU’s commentary
(bhasya) on the Madhyantavibhaga of MAITREYA, an early Mahayana work. In Vasubhandu’s commentary the words of Maitreya are considered buddhavacana because they were from Maitreya, an individual of near-Buddha qualities.