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Translations of
English Three Baskets
Pali Tipi?aka
Burmese ?
[p?da? ?óbò]
Japanese (?)
(r?maji: sanz?)
(Preah trai bekdok)
Korean ()
(RR: samjang)
Sinhalese ?
Thai ?
Vietnamese Tam t?ng
Glossary of Buddhism

The Tripi?aka (Sanskrit ) or Tipi?aka (Pali ), is the traditional term for the Buddhist scriptures.[1][2] The version canonical to Theravada Buddhism is generally referred to in English as the Pali Canon. Mahayana Buddhism also holds the Tripitaka to be authoritative but, unlike Theravadins, it also includes in its canon various derivative literature and commentaries that were composed much later.[1][3]

The Tripitaka was composed between about 500 BCE to about the start of the common era, likely written down for the first time in the 1st century BCE.[3] The Dipavamsa states that during the reign of Valagamba of Anuradhapura (29-17 BCE) the monks who had previously remembered the Tipitaka and its commentary orally now wrote them down in books, because of the threat posed by famine and war. The Mahavamsa also refers briefly to the writing down of the canon and the commentaries at this time. Each Buddhist sub-tradition had its own Tripitaka for its monasteries, written by its sangha, each set consisting of 32 books, in three parts or baskets of teachings: (1) the basket of expected discipline from monks (Vinaya Pi?aka), (2) basket of discourse (S?tra Pi?aka, Nikayas), and (3) basket of special doctrine (Abhidharma Pi?aka).[1][3][4] The structure, the code of conduct and moral virtues in the Vinaya basket particularly, have similarities to some of the surviving Dharmasutra texts of Hinduism.[5] Much of the surviving Tripitaka literature is in Pali, with some in Sanskrit as well as other local Asian languages.[4]


Tripi?aka (Sanskrit) or Tipi?aka (Pali) literally translates as 'Three Baskets' (pitaka (?) or pita () meaning "basket or box made from bamboo or wood" according to Monier-Williams.)[6] The 'three baskets' were originally the receptacles of the palm-leaf manuscripts in which were preserved the Sutta Pitaka, the Vinaya Pitaka and the Abhidhamma Pitaka the three divisions that constitute the Pali Canon.[7] These terms are also spelled without diacritics as Tripitaka and Tipitaka in scholarly literature.[1]


The dating of the Tripitaka is unclear. Max Muller states that the current structure and contents of the Pali Canon took shape in the third century BCE after which it continued to be transmitted orally from generation to generation (just like the Vedas and the early Upanishads)[8] until finally being put into written form in the 1st century BCE (nearly 500 years after the lifetime of Buddha).[8]

According to A. K. Warder the Tibetan historian Bu-ston said that around or before the 1st century CE there were eighteen schools of Buddhism and their Tripitakas were written down by then.[9] However, except for one version that has survived in full, and others of which parts have survived, all of these texts are lost to history or yet to be found.[9]

The tripitaka was compiled and put into writing for the first time during the reign of King Walagambahu of Sri Lanka (1st century BCE). According to Sri Lankan sources more than 1000 monks who had attained Arahantship were involved in the task. The place where the project was undertaken was in Aluvihare, Matale, Sri Lanka.[9] The resulting texts were translated into four related Indo-European languages of South Asia: Sanskrit, Pali, Paisaci and Prakrit, sometime between 1st century BCE and 7th century CE.[9] Portions of these were later translated into a number of East Asian languages such as Chinese, Tibetan and Mongolian by ancient visiting scholars, which though extensive are incomplete.[10]

Wu and Chia state that emerging evidence, though uncertain, suggests that the earliest written Buddhist Tripitaka texts may have arrived in China from India by the 1st century BCE.[11]

The three categories

The Tripitaka is composed of three main categories of texts that collectively constitute the Buddhist canon. These are: the Sutta Pitaka, the Vinaya Pitaka and the Abhidhamma Pitaka. The S?tra Pi?aka is older than the Vinaya Pi?aka, and the Abhidharma Pi?aka represents a later tradition of scholastic analysis and systematization of the contents of the sutta pitaka originating at least two centuries after the other two parts of the canon. The Vinaya Pi?aka appears to have grown gradually as a commentary and justification of the monastic code (Pr?timok?a), which presupposes a transition from a community of wandering mendicants (the S?tra Pi?aka period ) to a more sedentary monastic community (the Vinaya Pi?aka period). Even within the S?tra Pi?aka it is possible to detect older and later texts.


Rules and regulations of monastic life that range from dress code and dietary rules to prohibitions of certain personal conducts.


The Buddha delivered all his sermons in Magadhan, the local language of north-eastern India where the Buddha was born, raised and educated. These sermons were rehearsed orally during the meeting of the First Buddhist council just after the Parinibbana of the Buddha. The teachings continued to be transmitted orally until they were written down in the first century BCE.


Philosophical and psychological analysis and interpretation of Buddhist doctrine.

In Indian Buddhist schools

Each of the Early Buddhist Schools likely had their own recensions of the Tripi?aka. According to some sources, there were some Indian schools of Buddhism that had five or seven pi?akas.[12]


The Mah?sghika Vinaya was translated by Buddhabhadra and Faxian in 416 CE, and is preserved in Chinese translation (Taish? Tripi?aka 1425).

The 6th century CE Indian monk Param?rtha wrote that 200 years after the parinirva of the Buddha, much of the Mah?sghika school moved north of R?jag?ha, and were divided over whether the Mah?y?na s?tras should be incorporated formally into their Tripi?aka. According to this account, they split into three groups based upon the relative manner and degree to which they accepted the authority of these Mah?y?na texts.[13] Param?rtha states that the Kukku?ika sect did not accept the Mah?y?na s?tras as buddhavacana ("words of the Buddha"), while the Lokottarav?da sect and the Ekavy?vah?rika sect did accept the Mah?y?na s?tras as buddhavacana.[14] Also in the 6th century CE, Avalokitavrata writes of the Mah?sghikas using a "Great ?gama Pi?aka," which is then associated with Mah?y?na s?tras such as the Prajñ?paramit? and the Da?abh?mika S?tra.[15]

According to some sources, abhidharma was not accepted as canonical by the Mah?sghika school.[16] The Therav?din D?pava?sa, for example, records that the Mah?sghikas had no abhidharma.[17] However, other sources indicate that there were such collections of abhidharma, and the Chinese pilgrims Faxian and Xuanzang both mention Mah?sghika abhidharma. On the basis of textual evidence as well as inscriptions at N?g?rjunako, Joseph Walser concludes that at least some Mah?sghika sects probably had an abhidharma collection, and that it likely contained five or six books.[18]


The Caitikas included a number of sub-sects including the P?rva?ailas, Apara?ailas, Siddh?rthikas, and R?jagirikas. In the 6th century CE, Avalokitavrata writes that Mah?y?na s?tras such as the Prajñ?paramit? and others are chanted by the Apara?ailas and the P?rva?ailas.[15] Also in the 6th century CE, Bh?vaviveka speaks of the Siddh?rthikas using a Vidy?dh?ra Pi?aka, and the P?rva?ailas and Apara?ailas both using a Bodhisattva Pi?aka, implying collections of Mah?y?na texts within these Caitika schools.[15]


The Bahu?rut?ya school is said to have included a Bodhisattva Pi?aka in their canon. The Satyasiddhi stra, also called the Tattvasiddhi stra, is an extant abhidharma from the Bahu?rut?ya school. This abhidharma was translated into Chinese in sixteen fascicles (Taish? Tripi?aka 1646).[19] Its authorship is attributed to Harivarman, a third-century monk from central India. Param?rtha cites this Bahu?rut?ya abhidharma as containing a combination of H?nay?na and Mah?y?na doctrines, and Joseph Walser agrees that this assessment is correct.[20]


The Prajñaptiv?dins held that the Buddha's teachings in the various pi?akas were nominal (Skt. prajñapti), conventional (Skt. sa?v?ti), and causal (Skt. hetuphala).[21] Therefore, all teachings were viewed by the Prajñaptiv?dins as being of provisional importance, since they cannot contain the ultimate truth.[22] It has been observed that this view of the Buddha's teachings is very close to the fully developed position of the Mah?y?na s?tras.[21][22]


Scholars at present have "a nearly complete collection of s?tras from the Sarv?stiv?da school"[23] thanks to a recent discovery in Afghanistan of roughly two-thirds of D?rgha ?gama in Sanskrit. The Madhyama ?gama (Taish? Tripi?aka 26) was translated by Gautama Sa?ghadeva, and is available in Chinese. The Sa?yukta ?gama (Taish? Tripi?aka 99) was translated by Gu?abhadra, also available in Chinese translation. The Sarv?stiv?da is therefore the only early school besides the Theravada for which we have a roughly complete S?tra Pi?aka. The S?rv?stiv?da Vinaya Pi?aka is also extant in Chinese translation, as are the seven books of the Sarv?stiv?da Abhidharma Pi?aka. There is also the encyclopedic Abhidharma Mah?vibha stra (Taish? Tripi?aka 1545), which was held as canonical by the Vaibhika Sarv?stiv?dins of northwest India.


Portions of the M?las?rv?stiv?da Tripi?aka survive in Tibetan translation and Nepalese manuscripts.[24] The relationship of the M?las?rv?stiv?da school to Sarv?stiv?da school is indeterminate; their vinayas certainly differed but it is not clear that their S?tra Pi?aka did. The Gilgit manuscripts may contain ?gamas from the M?las?rv?stiv?da school in Sanskrit.[25] The M?las?rv?stiv?da Vinaya Pi?aka survives in Tibetan translation and also in Chinese translation (Taish? Tripi?aka 1442). The Gilgit manuscripts also contain vinaya texts from the M?las?rv?stiv?da school in Sanskrit.[25]


A complete version of the D?rgha ?gama (Taish? Tripi?aka 1) of the Dharmaguptaka school was translated into Chinese by Buddhaya?as and Zhu Fonian () in the Later Qin dynasty, dated to 413 CE. It contains 30 s?tras in contrast to the 34 suttas of the Theravadin D?gha Nik?ya. A. K. Warder also associates the extant Ekottara ?gama (Taish? Tripi?aka 125) with the Dharmaguptaka school, due to the number of rules for monastics, which corresponds to the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya.[26] The Dharmaguptaka Vinaya is also extant in Chinese translation (Taish? Tripi?aka 1428), and Buddhist monastics in East Asia adhere to the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya.

The Dharmaguptaka Tripi?aka is said to have contained a total of five pi?akas.[20] These included a Bodhisattva Pi?aka and a Mantra Pi?aka (Ch. ), also sometimes called a Dh?ra Pi?aka.[27] According to the 5th century Dharmaguptaka monk Buddhaya?as, the translator of the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya into Chinese, the Dharmaguptaka school had assimilated the Mah?y?na Tripi?aka (Ch. ?).[28]


The Mahsaka Vinaya is preserved in Chinese translation (Taish? Tripi?aka 1421), translated by Buddhaj?va and Zhu Daosheng in 424 CE.


Small portions of the Tipi?aka of the Kyap?ya school survive in Chinese translation. An incomplete Chinese translation of the Sa?yukta ?gama of the Kyap?ya school by an unknown translator circa the Three Qin () period (352-431 CE) survives.[29]

In the Theravada school

The complete Tripi?aka set of the Therav?da school is written and preserved in Pali in the Pali Canon. Buddhists of the Therav?da school use the Pali variant Tipitaka to refer what is commonly known in English as the Pali Canon.[30]

In Mah?y?na schools

The term Tripi?aka had tended to become synonymous with Buddhist scriptures, and thus continued to be used for the Chinese and Tibetan collections, although their general divisions do not match a strict division into three pi?akas.[31] I


An organised collection of Buddhist texts began to emerge in the 6th century, based on the structure of early bibliographies of Buddhist texts. However, it was the 'Kaiyuan Era Catalogue' by Zhisheng in 730 that provided the lasting structure. Zhisheng introduced the basic six-fold division with sutra, vinaya, and abhidharma belonging to Mah?y?na and H?nayana.[32] It is likely that Zhisheng's catalogue proved decisive because it was used to reconstruct the Canon after the persecutions of 845 CE, however it was also considered a "perfect synthesis of the entire four-hundred-year development of a proper Chinese form of the Canon." [33]

As a title

The Chinese form of Tripi?aka, "s?nzàng" (), was sometimes used as an honorary title for a Buddhist monk who has mastered the teachings of the Tripi?aka. In Chinese culture this is notable in the case of the Tang Dynasty monk Xuanzang, whose pilgrimage to India to study and bring Buddhist texts back to China was portrayed in the novel Journey to the West as "Tang Sanzang" (Tang Dynasty Tripi?aka Master). Due to the popularity of the novel, the term "s?nzàng" is often erroneously understood as a name of the monk Xuanzang. One such screen version of this is the popular 1979 Monkey (TV series).[]

The modern Indian scholar Rahul Sankrityayan is sometimes referred to as Tripitakacharya in reflection of his familiarity with the Tripi?aka.[]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Tipitaka Encyclopædia Britannica (2015)
  2. ^ "Buddhist Books and Texts: Canon and Canonization." Lewis Lancaster, Encyclopedia of Religion, 2nd edition, pg 1252
  3. ^ a b c Barbara Crandall (2012). Gender and Religion, 2nd Edition: The Dark Side of Scripture. Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 56-58. ISBN 978-1-4411-4871-1.
  4. ^ a b Richard F. Gombrich (2006). Theravada Buddhism: A Social History from Ancient Benares to Modern Colombo. Routledge. p. 4. ISBN 978-1-134-21718-2.
  5. ^ Oskar von Hinuber (1995), Buddhist Law according to the Theravada Vinaya: A Survey of Theory and Practice, Journal of International Association of Buddhist Studies, volume 18, number 1, pages 7-46
  6. ^ Sir Monier Monier-Williams; Ernst Leumann; Carl Cappeller (2002). A Sanskrit-English Dictionary: Etymologically and Philologically Arranged with Special Reference to Cognate Indo-European Languages. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 625. ISBN 978-81-208-3105-6.
  7. ^ An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices; Peter Harvey, Cambridge University Press,2012.
  8. ^ a b Friedrich Max Müller (1899). The Six Systems of Indian Philosophy. Longmans, Green. pp. 19-29.
  9. ^ a b c d A. K. Warder (2000). Indian Buddhism. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 282-283. ISBN 978-81-208-1741-8.
  10. ^ A. K. Warder (2000). Indian Buddhism. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 3. ISBN 978-81-208-1741-8.
  11. ^ Jiang Wu; Lucille Chia (2015). Spreading Buddha's Word in East Asia: The Formation and Transformation of the Chinese Buddhist Canon. Columbia University Press. pp. 111-123. ISBN 978-0-231-54019-3.
  12. ^ Skilling, Peter (1992), The Raksa Literature of the Sravakayana, Journal of the Pali Text Society, volume XVI, page 114
  13. ^ Walser 2005, p. 51.
  14. ^ Sree Padma. Barber, Anthony W. Buddhism in the Krishna River Valley of Andhra. 2008. p. 68.
  15. ^ a b c Walser 2005, p. 53.
  16. ^ "Abhidhamma Pitaka." Encyclopædia Britannica. Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2008.
  17. ^ Walser 2005, p. 213.
  18. ^ Walser 2005, p. 212-213.
  19. ^ The Korean Buddhist Canon: A Descriptive Catalog (K 966)
  20. ^ a b Walser 2005, p. 52.
  21. ^ a b Dutt 1998, p. 118.
  22. ^ a b Harris 1991, p. 98.
  23. ^ Bhikkhu Sujato: The Pali Nik?yas and Chinese ?gamas
  24. ^ Preservation of Sanskrit Buddhist Manuscripts In the Kathmandu
  25. ^ a b Memory Of The World Register: Gilgit manuscripts
  26. ^ Warder, A.K. Indian Buddhism. 2000. p. 6
  27. ^ Baruah, Bibhuti. Buddhist Sects and Sectarianism. 2008. p. 52
  28. ^ Walser 2005, p. 52-53.
  29. ^ A Dictionary of Buddhism, by Damien Keown, Oxford University Press: 2004
  30. ^ Matthew Meghaprasara (2013). New Guide To The Tipitaka: A Complete Guide To The Pali Buddhist Canon. A Sangha of Books. p. 5. ISBN 978-1-926892-68-9.
  31. ^ Mizuno, Essentials of Buddhism, 1972, English version pub Kosei, Tokyo, 1996
  32. ^ Storch 2014: 125
  33. ^ Storch 2014: 123.

Further reading

  • Walser, Joseph (2005), N?g?rjuna in Context: Mah?y?na Buddhism and Early Indian Culture, Columbia Univ Pr, ISBN 978-0231131643
  • Dutt, Nalinaksha (1998), Buddhist Sects in India, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 81-208-0428-7
  • Harris, Ian Charles (1991), The Continuity of Madhyamaka and Yogacara in Indian Mahayana Buddhism, Brill Academic Pub, ISBN 9789004094482

External links

Pali Canon:

Myanmar Version of Buddhist Canon (6th revision):

Chinese Buddhist Canon:

Tibetan tradition:

Tripitaka collections:

Sri Lankan version of Tipitaka:

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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