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The Pali Canon
The Tipitaka (Pali ti, “three,” + pitaka, “baskets”), or Pali canon, is the collection of primary Pali language texts which form the doctrinal foundation of Theravada Buddhism. The Tipitaka and the paracanonical Pali texts (commentaries, chronicles, etc.) together constitute the complete body of classical Theravada texts.
The Pali canon is a vast body of literature: in English translation the texts add up to thousands of printed pages. Most (but not all) of the Canon has already been published in English over the years. Although only a small fraction of these texts are available on this website, this collection can be a good place to start.
The three divisions of the Tipitaka are:
- Vinaya Pitaka
- The collection of texts concerning the rules of conduct governing the daily affairs within the Sangha — the community of bhikkhus (ordained monks) and bhikkhunis (ordained nuns). Far more than merely a list of rules, the Vinaya Pitaka also includes the stories behind the origin of each rule, providing a detailed account of the Buddha’s solution to the question of how to maintain communal harmony within a large and diverse spiritual community.
- Sutta Pitaka
- The collection of suttas, or discourses, attributed to the Buddha and a few of his closest disciples, containing all the central teachings of Theravada Buddhism. (More than nine hundred sutta translations are available on this website.) The suttas are divided among five nikayas (collections):
- Abhidhamma Pitaka
- The collection of texts in which the underlying doctrinal principles presented in the Sutta Pitaka are reworked and reorganized into a systematic framework that can be applied to an investigation into the nature of mind and matter.
For further reading
- Where can I find a copy of the complete Pali canon (Tipitaka)? (Frequently Asked Question)
- Beyond the Tipitaka: A Field Guide to Post-canonical Pali Literature
- Pali Language Aids offers links that may be useful to Pali students of every level.
- Handbook of Pali Literature, by Somapala Jayawardhana (Colombo: Karunaratne & Sons, Ltd., 1994). A guide, in dictionary form, through the Pali canon, with detailed descriptions of the major landmarks in the Canon.
- An Analysis of the Pali Canon, Russell Webb, ed. (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1975). An indispensable “roadmap” and outline of the Pali canon. Contains an excellent index listing suttas by name.
- Guide to Tipitaka, U Ko Lay, ed. (Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications, 1990). Another excellent outline of the Tipitaka, containing summaries of many important suttas.
- Buddhist Dictionary, by Nyanatiloka Mahathera (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1980). A classic handbook of important terms and concepts in Theravada Buddhism.
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