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{short description of image} History
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Classification: (1) Vinaya, (2) Sutta, (3) Abhidhamma

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'A Guide to Tipitaka' Professor U Ko Lay

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Alphabetical List

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Buddhist Literatures in Archives in Burma (Myanmar)

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Tipitakadhara Sayadaws of Burma (Myanmar)


       Although the Buddha has left no written records of His Teachings after attaining parinibbana (Demise) in 543 BC, His disciples preserved them, generation after generation, by committing to memory.

       Subhadda, a bhikkhu in the Buddha's time, disparaged the Buddha's Teachings on the seventh day after the Buddha had passed away. " Venerable Mahakassapa was very alarmed and organised a Council of leading Arahants to collect and rehearse the teachings of the Buddha. This First Buddhist council was held at Rajagaha, 3 months later, with Five hundreds Arahants, including Venerable Ananda and Venerable Upali who led the sessions on the Doctrine and the Discipline aspects. These foremost disciples managed to arrange the Tipitaka, the Buddhist Bible, in its present form.

       The Second Councilwas held near the city of Vesali in 100 B.E. (Buddhist Era) (443 B.C). It was held because the bhikkhus of the Vajji clan from Vesali practised ten unlawful modifications in the Rules of the Order. The seven hundred Arahants, led by Venerable Yasa, Venerable Sabbakami and Venerable Revata, took part in that council.

       The Third Council was held in the city of Pataliputta in 235 B.E, (308 B.C). Sixty thousand ascetics had already infiltrated into the Samgha Order and polluted the Master's Teaching by their corrupt and heretical views. That is the main reason why the Third Council was held by one thousand Arahants, presided over by Venerable Mahamoggaliputta Tissa. After the Third Council, nine missions were sent to nine different places, as far as Indonesia, to propagate the Sasana.

       The Fourth Council was held in Sri Lanka, in 450 B.E (94 B.C). Later in 83 B.C., the Tipitaka was, for the first time committed to writing in Ceylon (Sri Lanka, now) on the ola leaves. Five hundred bhikkhus, led by Venerable Mahadhammarakkhita, inscribed the entire words of the Buddha's Teachings on palm leaves. When books of these leaves were piled together, it was said to exceed the heights of six elephants.

       The Fifth Council was convened at Mandalay in Burma (Myanmar now) in 2415 B.E (AD 1871). The scriptures were inscribed on seven hundred and twenty-nine marble slabs at the foot of Mandalay Hill.

       The Sixth and the last Great Councilwas held at Rangoon (Yangon now) again in Burma in 2498 B.E (AD1954). The Most Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw and Mingun Sayadaw took the leading roles in that council. At that Council, not only the canonical Pali Texts of the Buddha but also the commentaries and sub-commentaries were re-examined and approved.

       Thanks to the efforts of those noble persons, supported by the rulers and followers, over more than 25 centuries since the Master's demise, the Tipitaka has been preserved in its pristine purity, well-protected from the ill-conceived attempts of some selfish critics who tried unsuccessfully to pollute the pure Teaching.


       This voluminous Tipitaka is estimated to be about eleven times the size of the Bible and the word Tipitaka means 'Three Baskets' literally. This teachings taking place in the course of 45 years of His Buddhahood have been divided into three collections, the Basket of Discipline (Vinaya Pitaka), the Basket of Discourses (Sutta Pitaka) and the Basket of Ultimate Philosophy (Abbidhamma Pitaka).

       In Vinaya pitaka, Buddha used His authority over the members of the Order of Samgha or Sangha, also known as Bhikkhus (monks) and Bhikkhunis (nuns), to lay down rules and disciplines (highest code of ethics) for them to follow. These rules were introduced gradually by Him as occasion arose mostly in the second half of the 45 years of His Ministry. The reasons and implications of these strict rules and procedures for conducting specific Samgha ceremonies are fully described in the Vinaya pitaka.

       In Sutta pitaka, or conventional teaching, the Buddha explained His teachings which included practical aspects of tranquillity and insight meditations in the form of instructive discourses delivered to both the Samgha and the laity although most of the sermons were intended mainly for the benefit of Bhikkhus.

       The third collection, Abhidhamma pitaka, is the higher teaching of the Buddha, describing the ultimate realities in the Universe and Nibbana. This philosophical contents of the Buddha's teaching is regarded as the most important of the Tipitaka and a good understanding of this Division is essential to comprehend the profound Teachings of the Buddha, paving the way to ultimate liberation through meditation.

       The most wonderful thing about all these massive instructions, both in theory and practical aspects, is that it can be verified at any time by any able person who will steadfastly practise with Nibbana as the ultimate goal and realises the Truths and joins the exclusive membership of Enlightened Beings (Ariya persons) even in this very life.

       The size of the Tipitaka Texts do not frighten the followers as the Buddha made it clear in His numerous discourses that only the knowledge realised through meditation is the final key to Nibbana, the ultimate peace. But before we become enlightened in this life or future lives, we as Buddhists, have to live the Buddhist way of life, in accordance with what the Buddha taught. So, preservation of the Buddha's Teaching (Buddha's Sasana) is very important for us as well as for the future generations.


(Monastic Discipline)

Patimokkha ( codes of training rules for bhikkhus and bhikkhunis)

227 rules for monks (311 for nuns)

  1. Parajika Pali ( Major Offences )
  2. Pacittiya Pali
  3. Mahavagga Pali
  4. Cullavagga Pali
  5. Parivara Pali


( Basket of Discourses )

The Sutta Pitaka consists of instructive discourses delivered by the Buddha on various occasions.

  1. Digha Nikaya( Collection of 34 ' Long Discourses ' in 3 volumes )
  2. Majjhima Nikaya ( Collection of 152 ' Middle-length Discourses ' in 3 volumes )
  3. Samyutta Nikaya ( Collection of 7,762 ' Connected Discourses/ Kindred Sayings ' in 5 volumes )
  4. Anguttara Nikaya ( Collection of 9,775 Single-item Upwards Discourses/ Gradual Sayings in 11 volumes )
  5. Khuddaka Nikaya
    ( Collection of 15 ' Little Texts ' in 18 volumes )
    • Apadana: stories on past lives of early monks and nuns/ Lives of Arahants
    • Buddhavamsa: 'Chronicle' of 24 previous Buddhas
    • Cariya Pitaka: building up the ' Perfections ' of a Bodhisatta in previous lives
    • Dhammapada: 423 verses on Dhamma/ the Way of Truth
    • Itivuttaka: 112 short " Thus said" Discourses
    • Jataka: a collection of 547 (550) stories of previous lives of the Buddha
    • Khuddaka-patha: a collection of ' Little Readings/ Shorter Texts ' for recitation
    • Niddesa: an ' Exposition ' on part of Sutta-nipata
    • Patisambhida-magga: Book on Analytical Knowledge
    • Peta Vatthu: stories of Petas/ the departed on rebirths
    • Sutta Nipata: a collection of 71 verse on Collected Discourses
    • Theragatha: verses about early monks attaining enlightment/ Psalms of the Brethren
    • Therigatha: verses about early nuns attaining enlightment/ Psalms of the Sisters
    • Udana: 80 short Paeans of Joy
    • Vimana Vatthu: stories on heavenly rebirths/ Celestial Mansions


( Basket of Further Teachings )

The Abhidhamma Texts were added in the 3rd Century BC, aiming to present the the teachings of the Suttas.

( 7 Texts in 12 volumes )
  1. Dhamma-sangani ( Enumeration/Classification of Dhamma )
  2. Dhatu-katha( Discourse on Elements )
  3. Vibhanga( Book of Analysis/ Divisions )
  4. Patthana( Book of Causal Relations )
  5. Puggalapannatti ( The Book on Individuals )
  6. Kathavatthu {short description of image}( Points of Controversy )
  7. Yamaka ( The Book of Pairs )


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