Pali canon

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Pali canon

(pä`lē), sacred literature of BuddhismBuddhism
, religion and philosophy founded in India c.525 B.C. by Siddhartha Gautama, called the Buddha. There are over 300 million Buddhists worldwide. One of the great world religions, it is divided into two main schools: the Theravada or Hinayana in Sri Lanka and SE Asia, and
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. 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 literaturePrakrit literature.
By the 6th cent. B.C. the people of India were speaking and writing languages that were much simpler than classical Sanskrit. These vernacular forms, of which there were several, are called the Prakrits [Skt.,=natural].
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). 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. B.C. 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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References in periodicals archive ?
The Pali canon speaks broadly about the virtues of hearing the Buddha's teaching, i.e., that hearing is a condition for understanding and progress on the Buddhist path.
Comparing issues of soteriology in the Pali Canon, Sayers finds that Buddhist texts do not register the same ideological conflict between ritual and renunciation.
A Historical Analysis of the Mahaparanibbana Sutta of the Digha Nikaya of the Pali Canon. Singapore: Ti-Sarana Buddhist Association, (1997).
(13) Recent scholarship has downplayed the local or customary aspects of the genre altogether to suggest that the varieties of written law encountered in precolonial Southeast Asia--whether dhammasattha, royal law, or vinaya--are united in frictionless consensus about the nature of law, equally conditioned and legitimated by a vision of Buddhism derived from the Pali canon and its commentaries.
* Doctrinal Buddhism refers to the teachings of the Buddha and practices contained in the Pali Canon sutta (San: sutra; "discourses") and related literatures.
By rediscovering the central importance of the Pali Canon, and promoting a rational, non-superstitious approach to Dhamma, they laid the foundations for modern Thai Buddhism.
Working on the assumption that textual strata within the Pali Canon contain veridical representations of the earliest historical period, they infer that the turmoil of rapid social transformation had effectively ended prior to the Buddha's preaching of the Dhamma, the actual setting of which was one of "relative prosperity and socio-economic consolidation" (p.
The literature compiled by the various Buddhist councils of the monks "to fix a canon of religion (Dhamma) and of orderly discipline (yinaya)" (5) constitutes the Tipitika, the Pali canon of Buddhist literature.
A special focus is laid upon his early career, foundation of the order, Buddhist mission, psychological aspect of the historical Buddha, his last years, the great decease (passing away of the Buddha), Buddhist Councils and the Pali canon.
In this paper, I will use three types of examples to illustrate Buddhist attitudes towards violence: (1) The Pali Canon: This canon is more authentic for Theravada Buddhists than the following two resources since they believe that it contains the word(s) of the Buddha (Buddhavacana) and his message of human liberation from suffering as can be seen through the lives and practices of his noble disciples.
Chapter four elicits similar results when applying the methodological tools to the Buddhism of the Pali canon.
Some Jataka tales are scattered in various sections of the Pali canon of Buddhist writings.