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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.