Pali canon

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The main body of the Buddhist canonical texts developed in the period between Buddha's death (483 b.c.) and Asoka's reign (273231 b.c.), though its oral tradition was committed to writing in the Pāli language only in the reign of Vattāgamani Abhaya (2917 b.c.), in Ceylon. The Tipiaka (Skt. Tripiaka ), The Three Baskets of Theravāda tradition, consists of three main divisions.

The first is the Vinaya Piaka, The Basket of Rules for the orders of monks, nuns, and lay people, subdivided into three collections: (1) Suttavibha·aga, under 15 headings grouping the rules for individual discipline and the disciplinary action required in case of infringement; (2) Khandhaka, in 22 chapters outlining the norms for the organization of the orders; (3) Parivāra, containing 19 supplementary sections on the foundation of the order of nuns and the sacred councils, which were convoked at Rājagha and Vaiśālī.

The second is the Sutta Piaka, The Basket of Discourses, attributed to Buddha, divided into five sections (nikāya ): (1) Dīgha Nikāya, a series of 34 long lectures on points of doctrine (reward of asceticism, attitude to caste, points of contact and contrast with Brahmanism), including the Mahāparinibbānasuttanta (The Great Chapter of Complete Nirvāna), an account of the last days of Buddha; (2) Majjhima Nikāya, a series of 152 medium-length sermons and dialogues on points of Buddhist religion; (3) Sayutta Nikāya, a series of more than 2,700 short statements on related topics, including the Dhammacakkapavattanavagga, the so-called Sermon of Benares on setting in motion the wheel of the law; (4) A·aguttara Nikāya, a progressive series of 11 sections arranged according to the number of topics expounded in each; (5) Khuddaka Nikāya, "minor series" of 15 works including the exquisite and ancient stanzas of the Dhammapada (Way of the Law), the Theragāthā, and Therīgāthā, psalms for choir recitation, and the Jātaka containing 547 stories of former lives of Buddha, along with the Nidānakathā, the oldest connected biography of Buddha in three parts.

The third is the Abhidhamma Piaka, The Basket of Supplementary Doctrines, treating in systematic fashion doctrinal questions evidently raised at a later epoch in debates among rival schools and comprising seven works: Puggalapaññatti; Dhātukathāpakarana; Dhammasagani; Vibhanga; Patthānapakaraa; Yamaka; and Kathāvatthu.

See Also: buddhism.

Bibliography: b. c. law, A History of Pāli Literature, 2 v. (London 1933). m. winternitz, A History of Indian Literature, tr. s. katkar (London 192734) v. 2. g. borsani, Prospetti e Indice del Tipiaka (Milan 1942). a. s. rosso, "Buddhism in India, Ceylon and Burma," Worldmission 3 (1952) 6282. a. bareau, Les Premiers conciles bouddhiques (Paris 1956). w. rahula, The History of Buddhism in Ceylon: The Anuradhapura Period, 3d Century, B.C.l0th Century A.D. (Colombo, Ceylon 1956). w. t. de bary et al., comps., Sources of Indian Tradition (Records of Civilization 56; New York 1958). g. f. allen, ed. and tr., The Buddha's Philosophy: Selections from the Pāli Canon and an Introductory Essay (New York 1959). a. b. govinda, The Psychological Attitude of Early Buddhist Philosophy and Its Systematic Representation according to Abhidhamma Tradition (London 1961). c. h. philips, ed., Historians of India, Pakistan and Ceylon (New York 1961).

[a. s. rosso]

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Pali canon (pä´lē), sacred literature of Buddhism. The texts in the Pali canon are the earliest Buddhist sources, and for Theravada Buddhists, who claim to conserve the original teachings of the Buddha, they are still the most authoritative sacred texts. Pali, the language in which the canon is written, is a Prakrit (vernacular dialect) of classical Sanskrit (see Prakrit literature). The word Pali literally means a "line" or "norm," hence the extended meaning of "scriptural text."

The teachings of the Buddha were first transmitted orally, and were not committed to writing until the 1st cent. BC Over the succeeding centuries, the Buddha's teachings were both systematized and expanded upon. The canon is generally called the Tripitaka [threefold basket]; the name refers to the baskets passed from hand to hand by construction workers, and is thus a metaphor for the passing on of tradition. The first part, the Vinayapitaka [basket of discipline], contains rules for Buddhist monks; it was kept secret from laymen. The Suttapitaka, or Sutrapitaka [basket of teaching], is divided into five nikayas [collections]. The first four, containing discourses and verse statements of varying lengths and forms, are the main authority for the doctrines of early Buddhism. The fifth nikaya is a miscellany of anecdotes and dialogues. Some of these anecdotes are related to the Avadanas [stories of great deeds] found in the Sanskrit literature of the Mahayana branch of Buddhism. The Jatakas, fables of the Buddha's former births in various animal forms, occur also in the fifth nikaya. The third and final basket is the Abhidhammapitaka [basket of metaphysics], mainly an analytical and methodological elaboration of the previous pitakas. Probably the best-known work in the Pali canon is the Dhammapada [path of righteousness or truth], an anthology of maxims arranged in 423 stanzas. Of the extracanonical works, the Milindapanha [the questions of Milinda], which describes the dialogue between the Indo-Bactrian king Menander (Milinda) and the Buddhist sage Nagasena, is outstanding.

After the decline of Buddhism in India, Pali literature was preserved in Sri Lanka, where a vast body of commentary and elaboration of the canon developed. In later times the most notable writer in Pali was Buddhaghosa, who flourished in the 5th cent. Pali is still written in Sri Lanka and to a lesser extent in SE Asia. The Pali Text Society, founded in London in 1882, has published several hundred volumes of texts as well as English translations of Pali literature.


See M. Winternitz, A History of Indian Literature (3 vol., 1927–63); S. C. Banerji, An Introduction to Pali Literature (1964); W. Geiger, Pali Literature and Language (tr., rev. ed. 1968); H. Nakamura, Indian Buddhism (1980).

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Pāli Canon. The earliest collections of Buddhist authoritative texts, more usually known as Tipiṭaka (Tripiṭaka), ‘Three Baskets’, because the palm-leaf manuscripts were traditionally kept in three different baskets: Vinaya, (Monastic) Discipline; Sutta, Discourses; Abhidhamma, Further Teachings. The Sutta-pitaka consists of five Nikāyas (Collections): Dīgha (thirty-four ‘long’ discourses/dialogues); Majjhima (150 ‘middle length’ discourses); Saṃyutta (7,762 ‘connected’ discourses, grouped according to subject-matter); Aṅguttara (9,550 ‘single item’ discourses); Khuddaka (fifteen ‘little texts’, listed under Khuddaka). Much has been tr. by the Pali Text Society.

See also BUDDHIST SCRIPTURES; and for further detail, TRIPIṬAKA.

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Piṭaka (Pali, ‘basket’), gathered collection of Buddhist texts. The ‘three baskets’, i.e. Tripiṭaka, form a fundamental collection, equivalent to a canon of scriptures.