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- Last Updated: March 12, 2013
- Originally Published: July 15, 2012
- The Faithology Editorial Staff
Introduction to the Tipitaka
The majority of the texts deemed sacred to Indian Buddhists have been collected in a compilation referred to as the Tipitaka.This collection has the distinction of being the only complete Buddhist canon that survives in an Indian language. The Tipitaka is not only the oldest collection of literature written in the Pali language, but it is also the oldest known collection of Buddhist scriptures.
Even though the Tipitaka was not committed to writing until several centuries after the death of the, it was originally believed that Pali was the language spoken by Siddhartha Gautama (c. 6th-4th cen. BCE); scholars have since demonstrated that the language Gautama actually spoke remains unknown. They have determined that Pali was a later development, current during the time in which Buddhist texts were committed to writing.
The Tipitaka represents the complete canon of early Indian Buddhism, accepted by the vast majority of Theravada Buddhists. Mahayana Buddhists revere it as well, although they accept a number of texts surviving in Sanskrit, Chinese, or Tibetan translation that are not deemed canonical by Theravada Buddhists. There are also a handful of texts deemed canonical by some Theravada Buddhists that do not appear in the Tipitaka.
The Tipitaka is so named because it is presently divided into three main sections, or "baskets."However, prior to the convening of the First Buddhist Council circa 542 BCE, it was originally divided into "nine limbs". The divisions of the Tipitaka are as follows:
- The Vinaya Pitaka is the shortest collection and the earliest to have been committed to writing. As its name suggests, it contains the , the monastic codes for monks and nuns. These codes are still ideally in practice in the majority of Theravada monasteries, though some monasteries have relaxed their regulations somewhat.
- The Sutta Pitaka is the largest of the three divisions. It contains all the doctrinal and ethical discourses and sermons attributed to the Buddha, and includes a smaller number of teachings from his disciples.
- The contains schematics concerning doctrinal material found in the suttas. These works are centered on topics related to Theravada scholastic thought. However, this basket of the Tipitaka was only accepted by two of the early Buddhist schools (the Theravada and the Sarvastivada); each school's version of its contents survives in very different forms.
There are also a number of important early Buddhist texts that exist outside the Tipitaka. These include a number of commentaries and also Buddhist literature composed in Southeast Asia.