What is TIPITAKA?
Though one meaning of the term ‘pitika‘ is basket, however, the term ‘pitaka‘ was used in those days to denote ‘literature of dhamma‘. This logical interpretation of the word ‘Pitaka‘ as ‘religious literature‘ gets revealed through Tipitaka itself. In reality, the entire literature, which grouped words of the Buddha in three divisions and preserve them safely, came to be known as the ‘Tipitaka‘. Although traditionally Tipitaka was used to denote the religious scriptures of any tradition, with passage of time, the word ‘Tipitaka‘ came to refer exclusively to the words of the Buddha.
It has been said that the three collections (vinaya, sutta, abhidhamma) were kept separately in three different baskets or boxes hence came to be known as Tipitaka. However, this assertion doesn‘t appear logical. Firstly, although the art of writing
had been invented, it demanded great effort. Secondly, the literature of each division was so vast that to write it all on palm leaves and then to store writings in one basket would have been impractical and thirdly, in those days, the religious scriptures of old age were kept alive and intact by means of recitations and memorisations. This was the tradition at that time.
CLASSIFICATION OF TIPITAKA
1) The Vinaya Pitaka
2) The Sutta Pitaka
3) The Abhidhamma Pitaka
1) The Vinaya Pitaka:-
Vinaya literally means guidance and contains the rules of monastic discipline. The five books of Vinaya Pitaka are arranged according to subject -matter into the following parts:-
It lays down and explains all the rules which are contained in patimokkha. Patimokkha rules were formulated by the Buddha in order to regulate the individual life of the member of the order.
These rules admonished the monks and the nuns to refrain from seven different kinds of lesser and greater offences. These offences are arranged in the Suttavibhanga in a gradual manner starting from grave offences and ending with lighter ones. The punishment given varies with the nature of offence. The division of offences appears in the following manner in Vinaya Pitaka.
Parajika rules: Rules concerning those grave offences that brings about defeat i.e. breaking basic code of morality like killing, stealing, false claiming of spiritual attainment and violation of celibacy. Punishment includes removal of offender from the order.
Sanghadisesa: These offences include matters like misbehavior of monks with women-folk, greediness of monks pertaining to construction of viharas and cases like creating schism in the sangha etc. Punishment is decided through formal sangha meetings and includes temporary expulsion for meditative practices.
Aniyata: These rules were formulated to regulate apparent indecent behavior of the monk with a woman lay follower. Female lay devotee, who is both a stream enterer (sotapanna) and onlooker, is given the power to decide category of offense and accordingly punishment gets decided.
Nissaggiya pacittiya: These are rules dealing with greedy behavior of monks and nuns while procuring robes, bowls and rugs from the laity class. If they illegally obtain extra robe or bowl, the punishment lies in giving up of the extra article illegally obtained followed by confession.
Pacittiya: These rules try to prevent monks and nuns from becoming non-virtuous. The offences include using abusive language, speaking ill of others, sleeping with non-monks, digging the ground etc.
Patidesaniya: These offences require only confession on the part of the violator. Offences are related with food, like accepting food from nun, begging food from poor family etc.
Sekhiya: These are rules of etiquette numbering 75, for both monks and nuns. The rules are mainly concerned with the proper mode of imparting dhamma and behavior of monks or nuns when invited to a laity‘s house.
Adhikarana samatha: Includes seven rules for settlement of disputes, for example settlement though internal discussion or then going according to majority etc.
There are 227 rules for the Bhikkhus compared to 311 for the Bhikhunnis. Following is tabular summary of the above matter.
The second part of the Vinaya Pitaka is Khandhakas, It consists of the two books- Mahavagga and Culavagga. For members of the order, for the smooth functioning of the sangha, certain actions were supposed to be carried out jointly like admission and
ordination processes, holding of fortnightly confession meetings, observation of rain retreats, etc. For the smooth functioning of all such functions, all kind of subsidiary matters had to be defined and regularized.
Additionally, one can find in Mahavagga and Cullavagga, descriptions of early days of the life of the Buddha, origin and development of the sangha, the very first discourse explaining in detail about the teachings i.e. dhamma. It also includes biographical sketches of chief monastic disciples like Sariputta, Moggallana and lay disciples like Anathapindika, Jivaka, Visakha and the influence of dhamma and Buddha on them. One also can get detailed descriptions about two Councils that were held after Mahaparinirvana of the Buddha.
The Parivara consisting of nineteen sections serves as a kind of manual of instructions about content of Vinaya. It is compiled in the form of catechism, enabling the reader to make an enlightening survey of the Vinaya pitaka.
2. SUTTA PITIKA
The subject matter of Sutta Pitaka is the discourses of the Buddha and his chief disciples like venerable Sariputta, MoggalLana, Ananda on ―Dhamma‖. In Sutta Pitaka are found not only fundamentals of Dhamma but also practical guidelines to make the dhamma meaningful and applicable to daily life. They are in the prose form sprinkled with verses. The individual suttas vary according to the place and time of its origin. The Sutta Pitaka is
divided into five separate collections known as Nikayas. They are:
1. Dighanikaya: It is named so as it is made up of ‗long disourses‘ of the Buddha. The whole Dighanikaya is made into three divisions- Silakkhandavagga (division pertaining to morality), Mahavagga (larger division) and Pathikavagga (division beginning with the
discourse on pathika (naked ascetic). Dighanikaya contains important sutta like Mahaparinibbana sutta, Mahasatipathana sutta etc.
Mahaparinibbana sutta gives detailed description of the journey of last days of the Buddha. Buddha‘s last message to the disciples and instruction pertaining to how the stupa should be built on the relics of the Tathagata and his Arahatta disciples, where they
should be built, which are the four sacred places followers should visit etc.
2. Majjhimanikaya : This is the collection of ―middle-length‘ discourses numbering 152 suttas divided into three books known as Mulapannasa (first fifty sutta), Majjhimapannas (second fifty) and lastly, Uparipannas (last fifty two). Suttas mainly throw light on
social ideas and institutions of those days and also provide general information on the economic and political life.
3. Samyuttanikaya: The third great collection is a collection of grouped discourses. It gets its designation from the fact that suttas are here ‗grouped together‘ (samyutta) according to their contents. Number of samyuttas is 56 and that of the suttas 2889.
4. Anguttaranikaya: Fourth great collection is a collection of sermons, arranged in ascending numerical order. It contains 9557 suttas divided into eleven sections (nipatas). Suttas are arranged in such a manner that section one treats things of which only one
exists and so on. It also contains a unique chapter entitled ―Etadavagga‖ of Ekakanipatta, enumerating names of the foremost disciples amongst Bhikkhus, Bhikhunnis, Upasaka and Upasikas, who have achieved pre-eminence in one sphere of attainment or
5) Khuddakanikaya: This is the last division of Sutta Pitaka. Though it is known as a ―collection of smaller pieces‖ (as term ‗khuddaka‘ means small), it contains the largest number of treaties and most numerous categories of dhamma. It contains 18 books
1) Khuddaka Patha,
11) Niddessa (Maha & Cula)
18) Milind Panha.
1) Khuddaka Patha:
It is an anthology used as a manual for under-training monks. It contains important suttas like Ratana-sutta, Mangala-sutta, Mettasutta and kumarapanna-sutta, which is in the form of questionanswers. These suttas are arranged in a manner to form a continuous demonstration of the practice of holy life. For novices it is to be daily recited and the book is respected greatly in Ceylon and Burma.
2) Dhammapada :
It is a famous world classic which epitomizes the basic and essential teaching of the Buddha. It contains four hundred twenty three gathas (verses), arranged according to topics in 26 vaggas or chapters. It consists of gems of literary excellence filled with
appropriate similies and universal truths and is thus appealing and edifying to readers all over the world.
3) Udana: This work contains Utterances of the Buddha in verses
form inspired by a particularly intense emotion. It is a collection of
80 joyful utterances of the Buddha on unique observation of sheer
4) Itivuttaka:- Like the Udana, It contains 112 verses, passages, of
inspired sayings of the Buddha, divided into four nipatas. Here
each passage is preceded by the phrase, “Iti, vuttam Bhagavata‖
i.e. ―thus said Buddha” the book is named accordingly.
5) Suttanipata:- In an archaic style of mixed prose and verse, it is a
work of great philosophical and literary merit, and one of the most
inspiring in the whole of the Tipitaka. The language style and it‘s
content all indicate it to be the oldest book of the Pali canon. For
understanding primitive Buddhism, it is of great use. On the Bhabru
addict of Asoka, out of seven discourses mentioned, three belong
to suttanipata only.
6) & 7) Vimanavatthu and Petavatthu: These books contain vivid
accounts of the lives of the beings born in various heavenly abodes
and of beings who are born in lower realms respectively. It throws
light on good and bad deeds that enable one to gain access into
8) & 9) Theragatha and Therigatha: These two treatise contain
some of the finest pieces of poetry embodying the ecstatic sayings
of 264 Arahat theras and 73 Arahatta theris through sheer joy at the
moment of their success. They gush forth from heart recalling their
solitary life in the forest, the beauty of nature in forest and the
peace and calm that facilitates their meditation.
10) Jataka: These are 547 stories of the Buddha’s previous lives
when he was the Bodhisatta, engaged in training himself to become
Buddha. These stories are recalled by the Buddha himself in his
conversation with his disciples. In these stories are embedded
moral principles and practices that Bodhisatta observed for
attaining Buddhahood. Ten virtues to be developed are charity,
morality, renunciation, wisdom, effort, tolerance, truth, firm
determination, loving kindness and equanimity.
11) Niddesa:- Divided into two books, Mahaniddesa and
Culaniddesa, this work is a commentary by venerable Sariputta on
some important Suttas from Suttanipatta.
12) Patisambhidamagga:- Entitled “The path of Analysis,” this is
another work of venerable Sariputta analytically dealing with the
salient teachings of the Buddha, in the style of the Abhidhamma.
13) Apadana: Like the Jataka, it is a biographical work containing
the life stories of various Arahatta theras and theris. While
theragatha and therigatha reveal the moment of achievement while
Apadana describes the uphill work they undertook for these
14) Buddhavamsa: This contains the biography in verses, of the
Gotama Buddha and of the 24 previous Buddhas prior to him. The
last section accounts for how the Buddha‘s relics were distributed
15) Cariya pitaka: This contains 35 Jatakas illustrating the
Buddha’s fulfillment of the ten paramitas (virtues), which determines
the attainment of Sambodhi, Supreme Enlightenment.
16) Nettippakarama:- It is known as a book of guidance.It was
written by Mahakaccayana. It is written in the style of Abhidhamma.
It serves as exegetical work . Though not Buddha vacana this book
is considered as canonical in Ceylon and Burma.
17) Petakopadesa:- This little book methodizes important texts. It
lays down orderly procedures to explain the Dhamma. The book is
ascribed to Mahakaccana and is known as a book on ‗instruction on
the Tipitaka‘ This book is also considered canonical in Ceylon and
18) Milind Panha:- Entitled “Question’s of Milinda .” it is a book of
dialogues between Greece bacterian king Milind who ruled over
sagala (W.Punjab) and the great Arahatta Nagasena who lived
about five hundred years after the Parinibbana of the Buddha. This
work records the king’s tricky questions and the Nagsena’s
methodical answers with illustrations. This book has been famous
for its clear expositions of abstruse questions. Though not Buddha
vacana , this book is also counted as canonical in Burma and
(3) Abhidhamma Pitaka:
while the Sutta Pitaka treats the Dhamma in conventional (vohara sacca) terms the Abhidhamma Pitaka treats it entirely in terms of ultimate reality (Paramattha sacca). It resolves all phenomena into their ultimate contents (Sarupa) analytically and then aims at synthesis by finding the relations (Paccaya) between the various concomitant factors. The
language of the Abhidhamma is purely objective and impersonal, hence truly scientific. It contains no such words as , ‘I’, ‘We’, ‘He’, ‘She’, ‘Man’, ‘Tree’ ,’Cow’, ‘Mountain’, ‘God’, etc. which are just conventional names given to an object .
Here everything is expressed in terms of Khandha – (five groups or aggregates of existence), sala yatana – (five sensory organs and mind) and their respective objects, Dhatu – (eighteen elements), Indriya – (twenty-two faculties), Sacca – (the four Noble
truths). All relative concepts such as, man, tree, etc. are reduced to their ultimate contents, such as impersonal psycho-physical process which is Anicca (impermanent , changing ), Dukkha (suffering) and Anatta (without a permanent core e.g. ego or atma ,
The purpose of this analytical approach is to get rid of egocentricity or selfhood which hinders spiritual progress and is the root- cause of bondage in samsara. Abhidhamma can be called the ‘science of mind ‘ in a real sense i.e. more than modern psychology.
The most venerable Acariya Buddha-ghosa describes Abhidhamma as uccatara (higher) or Visesa (special) dhamma (teaching) of the Buddha. That is to say, a system of appraisal
purely from the Buddhist psychological and philosophical standpoints. This special higher teaching was first expounded by the Buddha at Tavatimsa (Sakka, the divine ruler’s heavenly realm) to his mother who was reborn as a deity . This exposition was in the
7th year of his ministry during the 3 months’ Rain’s- Retreat. After teaching the devas , the master repeated the teachings verbatim (Arhattas) to venerable Sariputta , who in turn taught five hundred Arahats , who memorized the Abhidhamma and passed it on to
others. It is therefore regarded as the most priceless heritage of Buddhsm.
The following seven Books of Abhidhamma have so many portals of analytical wisdom. They contain different methods of analysis and synthesis.
1) Dhammasangani :-
It provides a detailed enumeration of all phenomena , and is divided
into three divisions:-
i) An analysis of consciousness (citta) and its concomitant mental
ii)An analysis of corporeality (rupa).
iii)Summary in which all phenomena of existence are brought under
122 categories (matika), in groups of three (tika) and two (duka),
e.g. kusala (wholesome) dhamma , akusala (unwholesome)
dhamma, abyakta (indorminate) dhamma. When analysed, these
three comprehend everything, mundane and super mundane. It is
invaluable as a source -book of psychology.
2) Vibhanga: It consists of 18 independent treatises (vibhangas) ,
each of which is divided into three parts :-
i) Sutta explanation.
ii) Abhidhamma explanation.
iii) Summary in question -answer form.
In this analytical procedure, it is distinct from that of
3) Dhatukatha :- This and the next book, Pugglapannatti, are small
sized books , written in the form of a catechism Dhatukatha
consists of 14 chapters in which all phenomena of existence are
discussed with reference to the three categories of Khandha,
Ayatana and Dhatu.
4) Puggalapannatti :-
It resembles the style of the Anguttara Nikaya and consists of 10
chapters in which various types of individuals (Puggala) are
discussed, often with similes and comparisons along the Path.
This work was compiled by the venerable Moggaliputta Tissa, the
presiding Arahat of the third Great Council, in order to uproot all
points of controversy regarding Buddha dhamma . There are 23
dialogue -form chapters dealing with some 21 controversies in a
purely logical style.
This is a work of applied logic which deals with the delimitation as
to the range and content of all the doctrinal terms and concepts.
Yamaka clears up all ambiguities and distortions which may creep
into the manifold doctrines of Abhidhamma. For every discussion,
throughout the work there are two sets of questions in contrast e.g.
(a) Are all wholesome phenomena (kusala dhamma) , wholesome
roots? (kusala mula) or
(b) Are all wholesome roots, wholesome phenomena ?
7) Patthana :-
This is a gigantic work which together with Dhammasangani,
constitutes the quintessence of Buddhist Philosophy. Patthana
elucidates the profound philosophy of Relations (Paccaya)
otherwise known as the ‗law of conditionality.‘ This law is based on
Paccayas, conditions or relations, which in different
combinations and permutations, keep the ‘wheel of existence’
(samsara) moving. These Paccayas explain the law of universal