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Three Baskets

Tipitaka (scripture) (Pali, "Three Baskets"), the fundamental scriptural canon of Buddhism, divided by subject into three collections of writings.


The Tipitaka is revered by Theravada Buddhists as the complete scriptural collection of the teachings of the founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama (563?-483?BC), known as the Buddha, or Enlightened One. Mahayana Buddhists also esteem the Tipitaka, but regard the Mahayana sutras (discourses of the Buddha) as more important. The contents of the Tipitaka were initially handed down by the Buddha's disciples as oral traditions and written down at a later date. According to early Buddhist sources the Tipitaka was written down in the second half of the 1st century BC, in the Pali dialect of the Sanskrit language. The Buddha apparently preferred vernacular tongues like Pali, a popular dialect, to Sanskrit, a literary language favored by India's priestly and learned circles. However, after the Buddha's death, his followers eventually accepted the Sanskrit language and translated his teachings into Sanskrit. This scriptural collection is known in Sanskrit as the Tripitaka. Large portions of what is believed to have been the Sanskrit Tipitaka were translated into Chinese, and some texts exist in Tibetan versions. The complete canon survives only in Pali.


The process of compiling the Tipitaka began with the first Buddhist council, held at Rajagaha (present-day Rajgir) soon after the Buddha's death. The council of 500 arhats, or worthy ones, was convened to seek consensus on the doctrine (dhamma) contained in the Buddha's discourses (suttas in Pali; sutras in Sanskrit), and on the monastic discipline (vinaya) taught by the Buddha. After this consensus was reached, the suttas were eventually divided into several collections, memorized and transmitted by different groups of specialist teachers as far as Sri Lanka, where the Pali canon was written down.


In its present format, the Tipitaka is composed of the Vinaya Pitaka, the Sutta Pitaka, and the Abhidhamma Pitaka. The Vinaya Pitaka contains the rules of conduct for Buddhist monks and nuns. It consists of three groups of texts: the Sutta-vibhanga (Division of Rules), the Khandhakas (Sections), and the Parivara (Accessory). The Sutta-vibhanga begins with the Patimokkha (Code of Rules), which consists of commentary on the sutta. This is followed by the Mahavibhanga, which explains the regulations for monks, and the Bhikkhuni-vibhanga, which explains the regulations for nuns. It is a set of 227 rules for monks and 311 for nuns. Each rule is accompanied by a story explaining the circumstances in which it was established by the Buddha. The 22 Khandhakas explain regulations concerning the structure, function, and life of the sangha, or monastic community. They deal with such matters as ordination, the monastic calendar, food, and clothing. A large portion of the first Khandhaka provides a partial biography of the Buddha, and the last two deal with the early Buddhist councils. The Parivara is generally considered to be a supplement to the Vinaya. Composed in question-and-answer form, it essentially summarizes the rules and regulations explained at length in the Sutta-vibhanga and the Khandhakas. In addition to the Pali Vinaya followed by the monks of the Theravada tradition, several other Vinayas are preserved as living traditions that can be traced back to the Buddha

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