Back to Basics: Tipitaka

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The Tipitaka (from Pali language is made of two words— ti, which means three, and pitaka, meaning a basket),  is an extensive body of canonical pali literature, which are a collection of the Buddha’s teachings. These teachings were expounded by the Buddha for 45 years from his enlightenment to mahaparinirvana.These teachings were regularly recited by the sangha, and passed on to the next generation through oral recitation. The teachings of Buddha cover a wide field of subjects intended both for lay disciples, monks and nuns. 

Tipitaka is the traditional term used for describing the Buddhist scriptures. It has three divisions. The metaphor basket signifies being handed over or passed on from one to another. Thus, these three divisions, put together in a basket which has been carried forward, are referred to as Tipitaka.

These three divisions are –

  • Vinaya Piṭaka (Book of rules and discipline)
  • Sutta Pitaka (Discourse of Buddha)
  • Abhidhamma Piṭaka (Ultimate teachings)

Vinaya Pitaka

This contains the collection of texts about the rules of conduct that govern the daily affairs within the sangha—the community of bhikkhus (ordained monks) and bhikkhunis (ordained nuns). Along with the set of rules, this pitaka also highlights the stories behind the origin of each of the rules. These provide details on the solutions offered by the Buddha for maintaining communal harmony within a spiritual community that is large and diverse in nature.

Sutta Pitaka

The collection of general discourses and sermons intended for both the sanghaand lay disciples, which were delivered by the Buddha on various occasions. Some of the sermons were given while Buddha was traveling to various villages and towns.

Abhidhamma Pitaka

This provides philosophical discourse and interpretation of Buddhist doctrine. Abhidhamma deals with ultimate truth, investigates mind and matter and the relationship between them. It contains texts that underline the principles advocated in the Sutta Pitaka, which are further reworked and reorganised in this pitaka.

References

Tipitaka: The Pali Canon”, edited by Access to Insight. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/index.htm

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