Triple Gem
Chapter Six


A) Tipitaka (The Pali Canon)- Theravada Canon
B) The Vinaya Pitaka
C) The Sutta Pitaka
D) The Abhidhamma Pitaka

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A) Tipitaka (The Pali Canon)- Theravada Canon

The Tipitaka (Pali ti, "three," + pitaka, "baskets"), or Pali Canon, is the collection of primary Pali language texts which form the doctrinal foundation of Theravada Buddhism. Together with the ancient commentaries, they constitute the complete body of classical Theravada texts.
The three divisions of the Tipitaka are:

1) Vinaya Pitaka

The collection of texts concerning the rules of conduct governing the daily affairs within the Sangha -- the community of bhikkhus (ordained monks) and bhikkhunis (ordained nuns). Far more than merely a list of rules, the Vinaya Pitaka also includes the stories behind the origin of each rule, providing a detailed account of the Buddha's solution to the question of how to maintain communal harmony within a large and diverse spiritual community.

2) Sutta Pitaka

The collection of discourses, attributed to the Buddha and a few of his closest disciples, containing all the central teachings of Theravada Buddhism. (Over seven hundred sutta translations are available here.)

3) Abhidhamma Pitaka

The collection of texts in which the underlying doctrinal principles presented in the Sutta Pitaka are reworked and reorganized into a systematic framework that can be applied to an investigation into the nature of mind and matter.

B) Vinaya Pitaka

The Vinaya Pitaka, the first division of the Tipitaka, is the textual framework upon which the monastic community (Sangha) is built. The Vinaya contains the code of rules by which monks and nuns are to conduct themselves individually (the Patimokkha), as well as the rules and procedures that support the harmonious functioning of the community as a whole.

Initially, the Sangha lived in harmony without any codified rules of conduct. Over time, however, as the Sangha grew in number and evolved into a more complex society, occasions inevitably arose when some members of the Sangha would act in unskillful ways. Whenever one of these cases was brought to the Buddha's attention, he would lay down a rule establishing a suitable punishment for the offense, as a deterrent to future misconduct. The Buddha's usual reprimand was itself a powerful corrective:

It is not fit, foolish man, it is not becoming, it is not proper, it is unworthy of a recluse, it is not lawful, it ought not to be done. How could you, foolish man, having gone forth under this Dhamma and Discipline which are well-taught, [commit such and such offense]?... It is not, foolish man, for the benefit of un-believers, nor for the increase in the number of believers, but, foolish man, it is to the detriment of both unbelievers and believers, and it causes wavering in some. (The Book of the Discipline, Part I, by I.B. Horner (London: Pali Text Society, 1982), pp. 36-7.)

Altogether, there are 227 Patimokkha rules for the bhikkhus (monks) and 311 for the bhikkhunis (nuns). As the rules were established one by one, on a case-by-case basis, the punishments naturally range widely in severity, from simple confession (e.g., if a monk behaves disrespectfully) to permanent expulsion from the Sangha (e.g., if a monk commits homicide).

The monastic tradition and the rules upon which it is built are sometimes criticized -- particularly here in the West -- as irrelevant to the "modern" practice of Buddhism. The Vinaya is seen by some as a throwback to an archaic patriarchy, based on a hodge-podge of arbitrary rules and customs that only obscure the essence of "true" Buddhist practice. This narrow view misses one crucial fact: it is thanks to the unbroken lineage of monastics who have consistently upheld and protected the Patimokkha rules for almost 2,600 years that we find ourselves today with the luxury of receiving the priceless teachings of Dhamma. Were it not for the Vinaya, and for those who continue to keep it alive even today, there would be no Buddhism.

It is helpful to remember that, throughout the entire Pali Canon, the Buddha never refers to the spiritual path he taught as simply "Vipassana" or "Mindfulness" or the like. Rather, he calls it "Dhamma-vinaya" -- the Doctrine (Dhamma) and Discipline (Vinaya) -- suggesting an integrated body of wisdom and ethical training. The Vinaya is thus an indispensible facet and foundation of all the Buddha's teachings, inseparable from the Dhamma, and worthy of study by all followers -- lay and ordained, alike.

Lay practitioners will find the Vinaya Pitaka filled with valuable practical lessons concerning human nature, guidance on how to establish and maintain a harmonious community or organization, as well as profound teachings of the Dhamma itself. But its greatest value, perhaps, lies in its power to inspire the layperson to consider the extraordinary possibilities offered by a life of true renunciation, lived in harmony with the Dhamma.

C) Sutta Pitaka

The Sutta Pitaka, the second division of the Tipitaka, consists of over 10,000 suttas, or discourses, delivered by the Buddha and his close disciples during the Buddha's forty-five year teaching career, as well as many additional verses by other members of the Sangha. Over 700 sutta translations are available on this website.
The suttas are grouped into five nikayas, or collections:

1) Digha Nikaya

The "Long" Discourses (Pali digha = "long"), which consists of 34 suttas, including the well-known Maha-Satipatthana Sutta (The Greater Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness), the Samaaphala Sutta (The Fruits of the Contemplative Life), the Maha-Parinibbana Sutta (The Buddha's Last Days), and many others.

2) Majjhima Nikaya

The "Middle-length" Discourses (Pali majjhima = "middle"), which consists of 152 suttas of varying length, including the Sabbasava Sutta (All the Taints), Cula-Kammavibhanga Sutta (Shorter Exposition of Kamma), the Anapanasati Sutta (Mindfulness of Breathing), Kayagatasati Sutta (Mindfulness of the Body), the Angulimala Sutta (The Story of Angulimala), and many more.

3) Samyutta Nikaya

The "Grouped" Discourses (Pali samyutta = "group" or "collection"), which consists of 2,889 shorter suttas grouped together by theme into 56 samyuttas.

4) Anguttara Nikaya

The "Further-factored" Discourses (Pali anga = "factor" + uttara = "beyond," "further"), which consists of 8,777 short suttas, grouped together into eleven nipatas according to the number of items of Dhamma covered in each sutta. For example, the Eka-nipata ("Book of the Ones") contains suttas about a single item of Dhamma; the Duka-nipata ("Book of the Twos") contains suttas dealing with two items of Dhamma, and so on.

5) Khuddaka Nikaya

The "Division of Short Books" (Pali khudda = "smaller," "lesser"), consisting of 15 "books" (17 in the Thai edition; 18 in the Burmese), including the Dhammapada, Therigatha (Verses of the Elder Nuns), Theragatha (Verses of the Elder Monks), Sutta Nipata, Jataka stories, etc.

D) Abhidhamma Pitaka

The seven books of the Abhidhamma Pitaka, the third division of the Tipitaka, offer an extraordinarily detailed analysis of the basic principles governing the behavior of mental and physical processes. Whereas the Sutta and Vinaya Pitakas are characterized by their practical teachings regarding the Buddhist path to Awakening, the Abhidhamma Pitaka presents an almost scientific analysis of the underpinnings of that very path. In Abhidhamma philosophy the familiar psycho-physical universe (our world of "trees" and "rocks," "I" and "you") is reduced to a complex -- but comprehensible -- web of impersonal phenomena arising and passing at an inconceivably rapid pace from moment to moment, according to clearly-defined natural laws.
The Abhidhamma Pitaka has a well-deserved reputation for being dense and difficult reading, yet many find its descriptions of the inner workings of the mind to be a valuable aid to meditation practice. The modern Burmese approach to the teaching and practice of Satipatthana meditation, in particular, draws heavily on an Abhidhammic interpretation of meditative experience.

According to one tradition, the essence of Abhidhamma philosophy was formulated by the Buddha during the fourth week after his Enlightenment, although scholars debate its authenticity as a work by the Buddha himself. Regardless of its authorship, however, the Abhidhamma stands as a monumental feat of intellectual genius.

The Abhidhamma Pitaka is divided into seven books, although it is the first (Dhammasangani) and last (Patthana) that together form the essence of the Abhidhamma teachings. The seven books are:

1) Dhammasangani ("Enumeration of Phenomena"). This book enumerates all the paramattha dhamma (ultimate realities) to be found in the world. According to one such enumeration these amount to:

- 52 cetasikas (mental factors), which, arising together in various combination, give rise to any one of...
- ...89 different possible cittas (states of consciousness)
- 4 primary physical elements, and 23 physical phenomena derived from them
- Nibbana

2) Vibhanga ("The Book of Treatises"). This book continues the analysis of the Dhammasangani, here in the form of a catechism.

3) Dhatukatha ("Discussion with Reference to the Elements"). A reiteration of the foregoing, in the form of questions and answers.

4) Puggalapaatti ("Description of Individuals"). Somewhat out of place in the Abhidhamma Pitaka, this book contains descriptions of a number of personality-types.

5) Kathavatthu ("Points of Controversy"). Another odd inclusion in the Abhidhamma, this book contains questions and answers that were compiled by Moggaliputta Tissa in the 3rd century BCE, in order to help clarify points of controversy that existed between the various "Hinayana" schools of Buddhism at the time.

6) Yamaka ("The Book of Pairs"). This book is a logical analysis of many concepts presented in the earlier books. In the words of Mrs. Rhys Davids, an eminent 20th century Pali scholar, the ten chapters of the Yamaka amount to little more than "ten valleys of dry bones."

7) Patthana ("The Book of Relations"). This book, by far the longest single volume in the Tipitaka (over 6,000 pages long in the Siamese edition), describes the 24 paccayas, or laws of conditionality, through which the dhammas interact. These laws, when applied in every possible permutation with the dhammas described in the Dhammasangani, give rise to all knowable experience.

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