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Tipitaka Scripture

A Survey with guide to popular editions in English

Basic Teachings of the Buddha by Buddha and Glenn Wallis (Modern Library Classics: Modern Library) In Basic Teachings of the Buddha, Glenn Wallis selects sixteen essential dialogues drawn from more than five thousand Pali-dialect suttas of the Buddhist canon. The result is a vibrant introductory guide to studying Buddhist thought, applying its principles to everyday life, and gaining a deeper understanding of Buddhist themes in modern literature. Focusing on the most crucial topics for today’s readers, Wallis presents writings that address modern psychological, religious, ethical, and philosophical concerns. This practical, inspiring, and engaging volume provides an overview of the history of Buddhism and an illuminating analysis of the core writings that personalizes the suttas for each reader.

This little book manages to introduce the general sweep of Buddhisms, while focusing upon a select number of suttas that typify for us the most germane aspects of Buddha’s basic teaching. Wallis also provides guidance in how to read critically these archaic-in-style dialogues. Useful and well-focused introductory study belongs on a short list for supplementary texts to religions of the world.


The voluminous Tipitaka, which contains the essence of the Buddha's Teaching, is estimated to be about eleven times the size of the Bible. The word Tipitaka means three Baskets. They are the Basket of Discipline (Vinaya Pitaka), the Basket of Discourses (Sutta Pitaka) and the Basket of Ultimate Doctrine (Abhidhamma Pitaka).


The Vinaya Pitaka, which is regarded as the sheet anchor of the Holy Order, deals mainly with the rules and regulations of the Order of Bhikkhus (monks) and Bhikkhunis (nuns). For nearly twenty years after the Enlightenment of the Buddha, no definite rules were laid down for control and discipline of the Sangha (Order). Subsequently as occasion arose, the Buddha promulgated rules for the future discipline of the Sangha. Reasons for the promulgated of rules, their various implications and specific ceremonies of the Sangha are fully described in the Vinaya Pitaka. The history of the gradual development of Sasana from its very inception, a brief account of the life and ministry of the Buddha additional, and details of the three Councils are some other relevant contents of the Vinaya Pitaka. Indirectly it reveals useful information about ancient history, Indian customs, ancient arts and sciences. One who reads the Vinaya Pitaka cannot but be impressed by the democratic constitution of the Sangha, their holding of possessions in common, the exceptionally high moral standard of the Bhikkhus, and the unsurpassed administrative abilities of the Buddha, who anticipated even the present Parliamentary system.

Sutta Pitaka

The Sutta Pitaka consists chiefly of instructive discourses delivered by the Buddha to both the Sangha and the laity on various occasions. A few discourses, expounded by disciples such as the Venerable Sâriputta, Moggallâna, and Ânanda, are incorporated and are accorded as much veneration as the Word of the Buddha Himself, since they were approved by Him. Most of the sermons were intended mainly for the benefit of Bhikkhus, and they deal with the Holy Life and with the exposition of the Doctrine. There are several other discourses which deal with both the material and the moral progress of His lay-followers. The Sigâlovâda Sutta, for instance, deals mainly with the duties of a layman. There are also a few interesting talks given to children.

This Pitaka

The Sutta Pitaka consists of the following five Nikâyas (Collections):

1. Dîgha Nikâya (Collection of Long Discourses)

2. Majjhima Nikâya (Collection of Middle-length Discourses)

3. Saæyutta Nikâya (Collection of Kindred Sayings)

4. Aõguttara Nikâya (Collection of Gradual Sayings)

5. Khuddaka Nikâya (Smaller Collection)
This fifth is subdivided into fifteen books:
1. Khuddaka Pâtha (Shorter Texts)
2. Dhammapada (The Way of Truth)
3. Udâna (Paeans of Joy)
4. Itivuttaka (“Thus said” Discourses)
5. Sutta Nipâta (Collected Discourses)
6. Vimâna Vatthu (Stories of Celestial Mansions)
7. Peta Vatthu (Stories of Peta)
8. Theragâthâ (Psalms of the Brethren)
9. Therîgâthâ (Psalms of the Sisters)
10. Jâtaka (Birth Stories of the Bodhisatta)
11. Niddesa (Expositions)
12. Paöisambhidâmagga (Book on Analytical Knowledge)
13. Apadâna (Lives of Arahants)
14. Buddhavaæsa (History of the Buddha)
15. Cariyâ Piöaka (Modes of Conduct)

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.
The Vinaya Pitaka, the first division of the Tipitaka, is the textual framework upon which the monastic community (Sangha) is built. The Vinaya contains the code of rules by which monks and nuns are to conduct
themselves individually (the Patimokkha), as well as the rules and procedures that support the harmonious functioning of the community as a whole.
Initially, the Sangha lived in harmony without any codified rules of conduct. Over time, however, as the Sangha grew in number and evolved into a more complex society, occasions inevitably arose when some members of the Sangha would act in unskillful ways. Whenever one of these cases was brought to the Buddha's attention, he would lay down a rule establishing a suitable punishment for the offense, as a deterrent to future misconduct. The Buddha's usual reprimand was itself a powerful corrective:
It is not fit, foolish man, it is not becoming, it is not proper, it is unworthy of a recluse, it is not lawful, it ought not to be done. How could you, foolish man, having gone forth under this Dhamma and Discipline which are well-taught, [commit such and such offense]?...It is not, foolish man, for the benefit of un-believers, nor for the increase in the number of believers, but, foolish man, it is to the detriment of both unbelievers and believers, and it causes wavering in some. (The Book of the Discipline, Part I, by I.B. Horner (London: Pali Text Society, 1982), pp. 36-7.)

Altogether, there are 227 Patimokkha rules for the bhikkhus (monks) and 311 for the bhikkhunis (nuns). As the rules were established one by one, on a case-by-case basis, the punishments naturally range widely in severity, from simple confession (e.g., if a monk behaves disrespectfully) to permanent expulsion from the Sangha (e.g., if a monk commits homicide).
The monastic tradition and the rules upon which it is built are sometimes criticized -- particularly here in the West -- as irrelevant to the "modern" practice of Buddhism. The Vinaya is seen by some as a throwback to an archaic patriarchy, based on a hodge-podge of arbitrary rules and customs that only obscure the essence of "true" Buddhist practice. This narrow view misses one crucial fact: it is thanks to the unbroken lineage of monastics who have consistently upheld and protected the Patimokkha rules for almost 2,600 years that we find ourselves today with the luxury of receiving the priceless teachings of Dhamma. Were it not for the Vinaya, and for those who continue to keep it alive even today, there would be no Buddhism.

Sutta Pitaka
The collection of discourses, attributed to the Buddha and a few of his closest disciples, containing all the central teachings of Theravada Buddhism. (Over six hundred sutta translations are available here.)
The Sutta Pitaka, the second division of the Tipitaka, consists of over 10,000 suttas, or discourses, delivered by the Buddha and his close disciples during the Buddha's forty-five year teaching career, as well as many additional verses by other members of the Sangha. Over 700 sutta translations are available here at Access to Insight.
The suttas are grouped into five nikayas, or collections:

Digha Nikaya The Long Discourses

The "Long" Discourses (Pali digha = "long"), which consists of 34 suttas, including the well-known Maha-Satipatthana Sutta (The Greater Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness), the Samaññaphala Sutta(The Fruits of the Contemplative Life), the Maha-Parinibbana Sutta (The Buddha's Last Days), and many others. Silakkhandha-vagga -- The Division Concerning Morality (13 suttas)
Maha-vagga -- The Large Division (10 suttas)
Patika-vagga -- The Patika Division (11 suttas)

An excellent modern translation of the complete Digha Nikaya is Maurice Walshe's The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Digha Nikaya (Wisdom)

 Majjhima Nikaya

The "Middle-length" Discourses (Pali majjhima = "middle"), which consists of 152 suttas of varying length, including the Sabbasava Sutta (All the Taints), Culakammavibhanga Sutta (Shorter Exposition of Kamma), the Anapanasati Sutta (Mindfulness of Breathing), Kayagatasati Sutta (Mindfulness of the Body), the Angulimala Sutta (The Story of Angulimala), and many more.
The Majjhima Nikaya, or "Middle-length Discourses" of the Buddha, is the second of the five nikayas, or collections, in the Sutta Pitaka of the Tipitaka.
This nikaya consists of 152 discourses by the Buddha and his chief disciples, which together constitute a comprehensive body of teaching concerning all aspects of the Buddha's teachings.

An excellent modern translation of the complete Majjhima Nikaya is The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya, translated by Bhikkhu Ñanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi (Wisdom Publications). The Introduction to that book contains an extraordinary synopsis of the Buddha's teachings in general, and of their expression in the Majjhima in particular. 

Samyutta Nikaya

The "Grouped" Discourses (Pali samyutta = "group" or "collection"), which consists of 2,889 shorter suttas grouped together by theme into 56 samyuttas.
The Samyutta Nikaya, the third division of the Sutta Pitaka, contains 2,889 suttas grouped into five sections (vaggas). Each vagga is further divided into samyuttas, each of which in turn contains a group of suttas on related topics. The samyuttas are named according to the topics of the suttas they contain. For example, the Kosala Samyutta (in the Sagatha Vagga) contains suttas concerning King Pasenadi of Kosala; the Vedana Samyutta (in the Salayatana Vagga) contains suttas concerning feeling (vedana); and so on.

An excellent modern translation of the Samyutta Nikaya is Bhikkhu Bodhi's The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya (Wisdom Publications)

Anguttara Nikaya

The "Further-factored" Discourses (Pali anga = "factor" + uttara = "beyond," "further"), which consists of 8,777 short suttas, grouped together into eleven nipatas according to the number of items of Dhamma covered in each sutta. For example, the Eka-nipata ("Book of the Ones") contains suttas about a single item of Dhamma; the Duka-nipata ("Book of the Twos") contains suttas dealing with two items of Dhamma, and so on.
The Anguttara Nikaya, the fourth division of the Sutta Pitaka, consists of suttas arranged in eleven sections (nipatas) according to numerical content. For example, the first nipata -- the "Book of the Ones" -- contains suttas concerning a single topic; the second nipata -- the "Book of the Twos" -- contains suttas concerning pairs of things (e.g., a sutta about tranquillity and insight; another about the two people one can never adequately repay (one's parents); another about two kinds of happiness; etc.); the third nipata contains suttas concerning three things (e.g., a sutta on the three kinds of praiseworthy acts; another about three kinds of offense), and so on.
At first this may seem to be a rather fussy and pedantic classification scheme, but in fact it often proves quite useful. For example, if you dimly recall having once heard someone say something about the five subjects worthy of daily contemplation, and you'd like to track down the original passage in the Canon, you might begin your search in the "Book of the Fives" in the Anguttara.


Khuddaka Nikaya

The "Division of Short Books" (Pali khudda = "smaller," "lesser"), consisting of 15 "books" (17 in the Thai edition; 18 in the Burmese), including the Dhammapada, Therigatha (Verses of the Elder Nuns), Theragatha (Verses of the Elder Monks), Sutta Nipata, Jataka stories, etc. The Khuddaka Nikaya, or "Collection of Little Texts" (Pali khudda = "smaller; lesser"), the fifth division of the Sutta Pitaka, is a wide-ranging collection of "books" containing complete suttas, verses, and smaller fragments of Dhamma teachings. Many of these have been treasured and memorized by devout Buddhists around the world for centuries; some offer inspired and inspiring verses of Awakening by the early monks; and some are just plain obscure, never having even been translated into the English language.