[GOTO 95 logo]

[ Home | Weather | Wiki | RSS | HN | xkcd ] [ Search | Settings | About ]


[ Related articles | Random article | Open in Wikipedia ]

Illustrated Sinhalese covers (inside) showing the events Wellcome L 0031774 "Tipitaka" redirects here. For the character in the Journey to the West, see Tang Sanzang.

Tipitaka or Tripitaka or ?????? (Sinhala:á), meaning "Triple Basket", is the traditional term for ancient collections of Buddhist sacred scriptures.

The Pali Canon maintained by the Theravada tradition in Southeast Asia, the Chinese Buddhist Canon maintained by the East Asian Buddhist tradition, and the Tibetan Buddhist Canon maintained by the Tibetan Buddhist tradition are some of the most important Tripitaka in contemporary Buddhist world.

Tripitaka has become a term used for many schools' collections, although their general divisions do not match a strict division into three pitakas.

Table of contents
  1. Etymology
  2. Textual categories
  3. Earlier Tripitakas
  4. Pali Canon
  5. Chinese Buddhist Canon
  6. Tibetan Buddhist Canon
  7. As a title
  8. See also


Tripitaka (Sanskrit: ????????), or Tipitaka (Pali), means "Three Baskets". It is a compound Sanskrit word of tri (????) or Pali word ti, meaning "three", and pitaka (????) or pita (???), meaning "basket". The "three baskets" were originally the receptacles of the palm-leaf manuscripts on which were preserved the collections of texts of the Suttas, the Vinaya, and the Abhidhamma, the three divisions that constitute the Buddhist Canons. These terms are also spelled without diacritics as Tripitaka and Tipitaka in scholarly literature.

Textual categories

The Tripitaka is composed of three main categories of texts that collectively constitute the Buddhist canon: the Sutra Pitaka, the Vinaya Pitaka, and the Abhidhamma Pitaka.

Sutras were the doctrinal teachings in aphoristic or narrative format. The historical Buddha delivered all of his sermons in Magadhan. These sermons were rehearsed orally during the meeting of the First Buddhist council just after the Parinibbana of the Buddha. The teachings continued to be transmitted orally until eventually being written down in the first century BCE. Even within the Sutra Pitaka it is possible to detect older and later texts.

The Vinaya Pitaka appears to have grown gradually as a commentary and justification of the monastic code (Pratimoksa), which presupposes a transition from a community of wandering mendicants (the Sutra Pitaka period) to a more sedentary monastic community (the Vinaya Pitaka period). The Vinaya focuses on the rules and regulations, or the morals and ethics, of monastic life that range from dress code and dietary rules to prohibitions of certain personal conducts.

Earlier Tripitakas

Each of the early Buddhist Schools likely had their own versions of the Tripitaka. According to some sources, there were some Indian schools of Buddhism that had five or seven pitakas. According to Yijing, an 8th-century Chinese pilgrim to India, the Nikaya Buddhist schools kept different sets of canonical texts with some intentional or unintentional dissimilarities. Yijing notes four main textual collections among the non-Mahayana schools: Yijing notes that though there were numerous sub-schools and sects, the sub-sects shared the Tripitaka of their mother tradition (which he termed the "four principal schools of continuous tradition" or the "arya" traditions). However, this does not mean that the various sub-schools did not possess their own unique Tripitaka. Xuanzang is said to have brought to China the Tripitaka of seven different schools, including those of the above-mentioned schools as well as the Dharmaguptaka, Kasyapiya, and Mahisasaka.

According to A. K. Warder, the Tibetan historian Bu-ston said that around or before the 1st century CE there were eighteen schools of Buddhism each with their own Tripitaka transcribed into written form. However, except for one version that has survived in full and others, of which parts have survived, all of these texts are lost to history or yet to be found.


The Mahasamghika Vinaya was translated by Buddhabhadra and Faxian in 416 CE, and is preserved in Chinese translation (Taisho Tripitaka 1425).

The 6th century CE Indian monk Paramartha wrote that 200 years after the parinirvana of the Buddha, much of the Mahasamghika school moved north of Rajagrha, and were divided over whether the Mahayana sutras should be incorporated formally into their Tripitaka. According to this account, they split into three groups based upon the relative manner and degree to which they accepted the authority of these Mahayana texts. Paramartha states that the Kukkutika sect did not accept the Mahayana sutras as buddhavacana ("words of the Buddha"), while the Lokottaravada sect and the Ekavyavaharika sect did accept the Mahayana sutras as buddhavacana. Also in the 6th century CE, Avalokitavrata writes of the Mahasamghikas using a "Great Agama Pitaka," which is then associated with Mahayana sutras such as the Praj˝aparamita and the Dasabhumika Sutra. According to some sources, abhidharma was not accepted as canonical by the Mahasamghika school. The Theravadin Dipavamsa, for example, records that the Mahasamghikas had no abhidharma. However, other sources indicate that there were such collections of abhidharma, and the Chinese pilgrims Faxian and Xuanzang both mention Mahasamghika abhidharma. On the basis of textual evidence as well as inscriptions at Nagarjunakonda, Joseph Walser concludes that at least some Mahasamghika sects probably had an abhidharma collection, and that it likely contained five or six books.


The Caitikas included a number of sub-sects including the Purvasailas, Aparasailas, Siddharthikas, and Rajagirikas. In the 6th century CE, Avalokitavrata writes that Mahayana sutras such as the Praj˝aparamita and others are chanted by the Aparasailas and the Purvasailas. Also in the 6th century CE, Bhavaviveka speaks of the Siddharthikas using a Vidyadhara Pitaka, and the Purvasailas and Aparasailas both using a Bodhisattva Pitaka, implying collections of Mahayana texts within these Caitika schools.


The Bahusrutiya school is said to have included a Bodhisattva Pitaka in their canon. The Satyasiddhi Sastra, also called the Tattvasiddhi Sastra, is an extant abhidharma from the Bahusrutiya school. This abhidharma was translated into Chinese in sixteen fascicles (Taisho Tripitaka 1646). Its authorship is attributed to Harivarman, a third-century monk from central India. Paramartha cites this Bahusrutiya abhidharma as containing a combination of Hinayana and Mahayana doctrines, and Joseph Walser agrees that this assessment is correct.


The Praj˝aptivadins held that the Buddha's teachings in the various pitakas were nominal (Skt. praj˝apti), conventional (Skt. samvrti), and causal (Skt. hetuphala). Therefore, all teachings were viewed by the Praj˝aptivadins as being of provisional importance, since they cannot contain the ultimate truth. It has been observed that this view of the Buddha's teachings is very close to the fully developed position of the Mahayana sutras.


Scholars at present have "a nearly complete collection of sutras from the Sarvastivada school" thanks to a recent discovery in Afghanistan of roughly two-thirds of Dirgha Agama in Sanskrit. The Madhyama Agama (Taisho Tripitaka 26) was translated by Gautama Samghadeva, and is available in Chinese. The Samyukta Agama (Taisho Tripitaka 99) was translated by Gunabhadra, also available in Chinese translation. The Sarvastivada is therefore the only early school besides the Theravada for which we have a roughly complete Sutra Pitaka. The Sarvastivada Vinaya Pitaka is also extant in Chinese translation, as are the seven books of the Sarvastivada Abhidharma Pitaka. There is also the encyclopedic Abhidharma Mahavibhasa Sastra (Taisho Tripitaka 1545), which was held as canonical by the Vaibhasika Sarvastivadins of northwest India.


Portions of the Mulasarvastivada Tripitaka survive in Tibetan translation and Nepalese manuscripts. The relationship of the Mulasarvastivada school to Sarvastivada school is indeterminate; their vinayas certainly differed but it is not clear that their Sutra Pitaka did. The Gilgit manuscripts may contain Agamas from the Mulasarvastivada school in Sanskrit. The Mulasarvastivada Vinaya Pitaka survives in Tibetan translation and also in Chinese translation (Taisho Tripitaka 1442). The Gilgit manuscripts also contain vinaya texts from the Mulasarvastivada school in Sanskrit.


See also: Gandharan Buddhist texts

A complete version of the Dirgha Agama (Taisho Tripitaka 1) of the Dharmaguptaka school was translated into Chinese by Buddhayasas and Zhu Fonian (???) in the Later Qin dynasty, dated to 413 CE. It contains 30 sutras in contrast to the 34 suttas of the Theravadin Digha Nikaya. A. K. Warder also associates the extant Ekottara Agama (Taisho Tripitaka 125) with the Dharmaguptaka school, due to the number of rules for monastics, which corresponds to the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya. The Dharmaguptaka Vinaya is also extant in Chinese translation (Taisho Tripitaka 1428), and Buddhist monastics in East Asia adhere to the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya.

The Dharmaguptaka Tripitaka is said to have contained a total of five pitakas. These included a Bodhisattva Pitaka and a Mantra Pitaka (Ch. ??), also sometimes called a Dharani Pitaka. According to the 5th-century Dharmaguptaka monk Buddhayasas, the translator of the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya into Chinese, the Dharmaguptaka school had assimilated the Mahayana Tripitaka (Ch. ????).


The Mahisasaka Vinaya is preserved in Chinese translation (Taisho Tripitaka 1421), translated by Buddhajiva and Zhu Daosheng in 424 CE.


Small portions of the Tipitaka of the Kasyapiya school survive in Chinese translation. An incomplete Chinese translation of the Samyukta Agama of the Kasyapiya school by an unknown translator circa the Three Qin (??) period (352-431 CE) survives.

Pali Canon

Main article: Pali Canon

The Pali Canon is the complete Tripitaka set maintained by the Theravada tradition as written and preserved in Pali.

The dating of the Tripitaka is unclear. Max MŘller states that the current structure and contents of the Pali Canon took shape in the 3rd century BCE after which it continued to be transmitted orally from generation to generation until finally being put into written form in the 1st century BCE (nearly 500 years after the lifetime of Buddha). The Theravada chronicle called the Dipavamsa states that during the reign of Valagamba of Anuradhapura (29-17 BCE) the monks who had previously remembered the Tipitaka and its commentary orally now wrote them down in books, because of the threat posed by famine and war. The Mahavamsa also refers briefly to the writing down of the canon and the commentaries at this time. According to Sri Lankan sources more than 1000 monks who had attained Arahantship were involved in the task. The place where the project was undertaken was in Aluvihare, Matale, Sri Lanka. The resulting texts were later partly translated into a number of East Asian languages such as Chinese, Tibetan and Mongolian by ancient visiting scholars, which though extensive are incomplete.

Each Buddhist sub-tradition had its own Tripitaka for its monasteries, written by its sangha, each set consisting of 32 books, in three parts or baskets of teachings: Vinaya Pitaka ("Basket of Discipline"), Sutra Pitaka ("Basket of Discourse"), and Abhidhamma Pitaka ("Basket of Special [or Further] Doctrine"). The structure, the code of conduct and moral virtues in the Vinaya basket particularly, have similarities to some of the surviving Dharmasutra texts of Hinduism. Much of the surviving Tripitaka literature is in Pali, with some in Sanskrit as well as other local Asian languages. The Pali Canon does not contain the Mahayana Sutras and Tantras as Mahayana schools were not influential in Theravada tradition as in East Asia and Tibet. Hence, there is no major Mahayana (neither Hinayana or Pratyekabuddhayana) schools in Theravada tradition. The Tantric schools of Theravada tradition use Tantric texts independently, and not as the part of the Collection.

Some of the well known preserved Pali Canons are the Chattha Sangayana Tipitaka, Buddha Jayanthi Tripitaka, Thai Tipitaka, etc.

Chinese Buddhist Canon

Main article: Chinese Buddhist canon

The Chinese Buddhist Canon is the Tripitaka set maintained by the East Asian Buddhist tradition is written and preserved in Chinese.

Wu and Chia state that emerging evidence, though uncertain, suggests that the earliest written Buddhist Tripitaka texts may have arrived in China from India by the 1st century BCE. An organised collection of Buddhist texts began to emerge in the 6th century CE, based on the structure of early bibliographies of Buddhist texts. However, it was the 'Kaiyuan Era Catalogue' by Zhisheng in 730 that provided the lasting structure. Zhisheng introduced the basic six-fold division with sutra, vinaya, and abhidharma belonging to Mahayana, Pratyekabuddhayana and Sravakayana . It is likely that Zhisheng's catalogue proved decisive because it was used to reconstruct the Canon after the persecutions of 845 CE, however it was also considered a "perfect synthesis of the entire four-hundred-year development of a proper Chinese form of the Canon."

Some of the well known preserved Chinese Canons are the Taisho Tripitaka, Tripitaka Koreana, etc.

Tibetan Buddhist Canon

Main article: Tibetan Buddhist canon

The Tibetan Buddhist canon is a collection of sacred texts recognized by various sects of Tibetan Buddhism. In addition to sutrayana texts, the Tibetan canon includes tantric texts. The Tibetan Canon underwent a final compilation in the 14th century by Buton Rinchen Drub.

The Tibetan Canon has its own scheme which divided texts into two broad categories: Some of the well known Tibetan Canons are the Dege, Jiang, Lhasa, etc.

As a title

The Chinese form of Tripitaka, "sanzÓng" (??), was sometimes used as an honorary title for a Buddhist monk who has mastered the teachings of the Tripitaka. In Chinese culture, this is notable in the case of the Tang Dynasty monk Xuanzang, whose pilgrimage to India to study and bring Buddhist texts back to China was portrayed in the novel Journey to the West as "Tang Sanzang" (Tang Dynasty Tripitaka Master). Due to the popularity of the novel, the term "sanzÓng" is often erroneously understood as a name of the monk Xuanzang. One such screen version of this is the popular 1979 Monkey (TV series).

The modern Indian scholar Rahul Sankrityayan is sometimes referred to as Tripitakacharya in reflection of his familiarity with the Tripitaka.

See also

Search Wikipedia

Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License 3.0.
These pages best viewed with Netscape Navigator 1.1 or later.
Privacy policy and personal data management.

[W3 Validator] [Netscape Now] [FREE Internet Explorer]