Pali Canon

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Standard collection of Pali Canon.

The Pali Canon is the main set of scriptures in the Theravada Buddhist tradition. It's in the Pali language and is one of the most complete early Buddhist collections.[1] It comes mainly from the Tamrashatiya school of Buddhism.[2][3]

After Gautama Buddha passed away, his students, Ananda recited the Sutta Pitaka, and Upali recited the Vinaya Pitaka, two of three parts of the Tripiktaka, during the First Buddhist Council. The teachings were then preserved orally. The Tipitaka, transmitted to Sri Lanka during King Ashoka's time, was first spoken and later written down on palm leaves during the Fourth Buddhist Council in 29 BC, about 454 years after Buddha's death.[4]

The oral tradition continued alongside written scriptures for many centuries. Writing down the scriptures was a new tradition that faced opposition at first but was later accepted. The records of this event became an account of a "council" held under King Vattagamani.[5][6]

Parts of Canon[change | change source]

The Pali Canon has three main parts, called pitaka, meaning "basket." So, it's traditionally known as the Tripiṭaka, meaning "three baskets." The three pitakas are:[7][8]

  • Vinaya Piṭaka: Deals with rules and discipline of the sangha (monastic community).
  • Sutta Piṭaka: Contains discourses and sermons of Buddha, some religious poetry. It's the largest basket.
  • Abhidhamma Piṭaka: Includes treatises that explain Buddhist doctrines, especially about the mind. Also called the "systematic philosophy" basket.

The Vinaya Pitaka and the Sutta Pitaka are similar to the works of early Buddhist schools. However, the Abhidhamma Pitaka is unique to Theravada and differs from the Abhidhamma works of other Buddhist schools.[9]

History[change | change source]

Tripitaka palm-leaf manuscripts.

In the past, the Pali Canon wasn't in books but written on thin wood slices or bamboo called palm-leaf manuscripts. These leaves were tied together, covered in cloth, and kept in a box.[10]

Theravada tradition calls the Canon the Word of the Buddha (buddhavacana), even though it includes teachings by disciples. Buddhaghosa and later monks wrote commentaries summarizing the traditional interpretation of the Canon. These interpretations are found in Buddhaghosa's Visuddhimagga.[11]

According to a spokesman for the Buddha Sasana Council of Burma, the Canon has everything to guide the path to nirvana. While commentaries may have speculative content, they generally stay true to the teachings. In Sri Lanka and Thailand, "official" Buddhism often follows the interpretations of Western scholars.[12]

Although the Canon has been written for centuries, its oral nature is still important in Buddhism. People memorize and recite texts, like the Paritta, as a form of meditation. Even laypeople usually know a few texts by heart. Monks, like Vicittasara from Burma, sometimes memorize the entire Canon. The relation of the scriptures to Buddhism among monks and laypeople is complex, and not all parts of the Canon were widely used across different places. Some scholars suggest that Buddhist history is the exploration of the early scriptures' implications.[13]

Related pages[change | change source]

References[change | change source]

  1. Norman, K. R. (2001-05-21). "A Dictionary of Pali, Part I, A-Kh. Margaret Cone". Buddhist Studies Review. 18 (2): 252–253. doi:10.1558/bsrv.v18i2.14459. ISSN 1747-9681.
  2. Lee, Byung-wook (2021-03-31). "A Study on Popular Buddhism of Cheontae Jong from Viewpoint of Buddhist Reformation". Journal of Eastern-Asia Buddhism and Culture. 45: 239–274. doi:10.21718/eabc.2021.45.09. ISSN 2714-0938.
  3. Hannabuss, Stuart (2004). "Encyclopedia of Buddhism". Encyclopedia of Buddhism. 18 (6): 12–13. doi:10.1108/09504120410552426. ISSN 0950-4125.
  4. Collins, Steven (1987). "G. Dhammapala, Richard Gombrich and K. R. Norman (ed.): Buddhist studies in honour of Hammalava Saddhatissa. xvi 262 pp., front. Nugegoda, Sri Lanka: University of Sri Jayawardenapura, 1984". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. 50 (1): 170–172. doi:10.1017/s0041977x00053696. ISSN 0041-977X.
  5. Gombrich, Richard (2006-04-14). "Theravada Buddhism". Theravada. doi:10.4324/9780203130254.
  6. "Pali canon | Definition, Contents, & Facts | Britannica". Retrieved 2023-12-28.
  7. "The Pali Tipitaka". The Pali Tipitaka. Archived from the original on 2023-05-31. Retrieved 2023-12-28.
  8. "Buddhism - Pali Canon, Tipitaka, Dharma | Britannica". Retrieved 2023-12-28.
  9. Norman, K. R. (2005-09-27). Buddhist Forum Volume V: Philological Approach to Buddhism. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-135-75154-8.
  10. "Buddhism - Pali Canon, Tipitaka, Dharma | Britannica". Retrieved 2023-12-28.
  11. "Sri Lankan Pali Texts". 2012-11-24. Archived from the original on 2012-11-24. Retrieved 2023-12-28.
  12. Norman, K. R. (2005-09-27). Buddhist Forum Volume V: Philological Approach to Buddhism. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-135-75154-8.
  13. Wynne, Alexander (2007-04-16). The Origin of Buddhist Meditation. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-134-09741-8.