Pali canon

(redirected from Pali Tipitaka)

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 ?
Thus we cannot assume simply because certain individuals in Burma preserved, honoured, and reproduced the Pali Tipitaka and its commentaries that legal actors were therefore motivated primarily by concepts of order and law derived from that corpus, or that the shape of law in the region was congruent with the norms it prescribed.
The Pali Tipitaka has been translated into English by renowned Pali scholars in the old days.
If we go by the Pali Tipitaka as it is, the Buddha did not put a ban on the eating of flesh.
It appears that later scribes interpolated the portions relating to meat-eating into the Pali Tipitaka. For over 300 years the scriptures were transmitted orally and as of now they do contain early and later portions.
In the article Cone refers as predecessors to the Sanskrit Nighantu, Yaska's Nirukta, and Amarasimha, and in Pali to some sections of the Vinaya, the Niddesa (a commentary to parts of the Sutta Nipata early enough to have been included in the Pali Tipitaka), the exegetical works Petakopadesa and Nettipakarana, perhaps from the early centuries of the first millennium A.D., and the still useful twelfth century Abhidhanappadipika, written in Sri Lanka.