Tripitaka (Pali Canon)
Monday 2 May 2016
The Tripitaka (Tipitaka in Pali) is the earliest collection of Buddhist teachings and the only text recognized as canonical by Theravada Buddhists. Many commentaries have been added over the centuries, however. Tripitaka means "three baskets," from the way in which it was originally recorded: the text was written on long, narrow leaves, which were sewn at the edges then grouped into bunches and stored in baskets. The collection is also referred to as the Pali Canon, after the language in which it was first written. It is a vast collection of writings, comprising up to 50 volumes costing $2000 in some modern sets. 2
The Tripitaka was handed down orally, then written down in the third century B.C.E. According to Buddhist tradition, the contents of the Tripitaka were determined at the First Buddhist Council, shortly after the Buddha’s death. As many as 500 of Buddha’s disciples assembled, and at the direction of Mahakashypa, Buddha’s successor, the teachings of the Buddha were recited in full. They were then verified by others who had also been present and organized into the Tripitaka (although not written at the time).
The Vinaya Pitaka (Discipline Basket) was recalled by a monk named Upali. It deals with rules and regulations for the monastic community (the sangha), including 227 rules for monks, further regulations for nuns, and guidelines for the interaction between the sangha and the laity. Most of these rules derive from the Buddha’s responses to specific situations in the community.
The Sutra Pitaka (Discourse Basket) was recited by Ananda, Buddha’s cousin and closest companion. It contains the Buddha’s teachings on doctrine and behavior, focusing especially on meditation techniques.
The Abhidharma Pitaka (Higher Knowledge or Special Teachings Basket) was recited by Mahakashyapa, the Buddha’s successor. It is essentially a collection of miscellaneous writings, including songs, poetry, and stories of the Buddha and his past lives. Its primary subjects are Buddhist philosophy and psychology. Also within the Abhidharma Pitaka is the Dhammapada (Dharmapada in Sanskrit), a popular Buddhist text. The Dhammapada consists of sayings of the Buddha and simple discussions of Buddhist doctrine based on the Buddha’s daily life.