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Tripiṭaka (Skt., ‘Triple Basket’; Chin., Sants'ang; Jap., Sanzō; Korean, Samjang). The threefold collection of authoritative texts in Buddhism. It is used more loosely in Mahāyāna Buddhism to mean the entire body of the Buddhist scriptures, corresponding to the Pāli Tripiṭaka in its general meaning, although the content and arrangement of the Mahāyāna canons, of which the chief are the Chinese Tripiṭaka and the Tibetan canon, are significantly different.

The Pali Tripiṭaka is the most fundamental collection extant, though it is believed that each of the original eighteen schools of Buddhism had tripiṭakas of their own. It is divided into three parts, Sutra/Sutta Pitaka (discourses), Vināya (rules for the saṅgha) and Abhidharma/Abhidhamma (philosophical and psychological analysis). During the Mahāyāna period, new texts were added to the canon, both Mahāyāna sūtras and śāstra material, written by influential thinkers such as Nāgārjuna. At a later date still, Tantric material was introduced. This explains why the old threefold division is obscured in the Chinese and Tibetan tripiṭakas (the Tib. tripiṭaka is divided between bka-ʾgyur, containing works attributed to the Buddha himself, amounting to more than 100 vols., and bstan-ʾgyur, 220 vols. of mainly commentaries). See also KOREAN TRIPIṬAKA.

Buddhaghosa records the early fivefold division of the Sutta piṭaka into Dīgha Nikāya, Majjhima Nikāya, Saṃyutta Nikāya, Aṅguttara-Nikāya, and Khuddaka-Nikāya (not all of which is recognized as canonical by all schools). In the Indian (Skt.) canon (little of which has survived outside translation), the corresponding divisions of the Sūtra piṭaka are Dīrghāgama, Madyamāgama, Saṃyuktāgama, Ekottarāgama, and Kṣudrakāgama: more is included in the āgamas than in the nikāyas, the arrangement is often different, and the texts also may be different in details of expression; the differences do not affect the overall content of teaching.

The Vinaya piṭaka is divided into three parts: Suttavibhaṅga, containing the Pātimokkha casuistic rules; the Khandhaka, containing complementary rules which address communal life and ceremonies, and seek to avert schism; and the Parivāra, ancillary works which amount to an appendix making the earlier parts more manageable.

The Abhidhamma piṭaka is made up of logical and philosophical analysis gathered under headings (mātikā) which give brief notes on the doctrine in question. In the Theravāda tradition, there are seven books; other schools have different collections, but all undertaken in the same style.

The development of the sūtra tradition led to four major collections: Prajñāpāramitā (Perfection of Wisdom), (Mahā)ratnakūṭa (found mainly in 5th-cent. Chinese translations, sūtras which seem to be a compendium of Mahāyāna teaching), Buddhāvataṃsaka (see AVATAṂSAKA for an example), and Mahāsaṃnipāta (a diverse collection showing an interest in magic).

The addition of Tantric texts represents the last stage of the Buddhist canon. They are now divided into four groups: (i) Kriyātantra, describing relatively obvious and accessible rituals; (ii) Caryātantra, more advanced ‘outer ritual’ and the beginnings of ‘inner yoga’; (iii) Yogatantra, the workings of ‘inner yoga’ in meditation and trance; (iv) Anuttarayogatantra, esoteric rituals, often concerned with the workings of sexual symbolism, accessible only to the initiated.

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