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What Buddhists Believe
Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera

Chapter 5 - Basic Doctrines

Tri-Pitaka (or Tipitaka)

Tripitaka is the collection of the teachings of the Buddha over 45 years in the Pali language, and it consists of Sutta - conventional teaching, Vinaya - disciplinary code, and Abhidhamma - moral psychology.

The Tripitaka was compiled and arranged in its present form by those Arahants who had immediate contact with the Master Himself.

The Buddha has passed away, but the sublime Dhamma which He unreservedly bequeathed to humanity still exists in its pristine purity.

Although the Master has left no written records of His Teachings, His distinguished disciples preserved them by committing to memory and transmitting them orally from generation to generation.

Immediately after the final passing away of the Buddha, 500 distinguished Arahants held a convention known as the First Buddhist Council to rehearse the Doctrine taught by the Buddha. Venerable Ananda, the faithful attendant of the Buddha who had the special privilege of hearing all the discourses the Buddha ever uttered, recited the Dhamma, whilst the Venerable Upali recited the Vinaya, the rules of conduct for the Sangha.

One hundred years after the First Buddhist Council, during King Kalasoka, some disciples saw the need to change certain minor rules. The orthodox monk said that nothing should be changed while the others insisted on modifying some disciplinary rules (Vinaya). Finally, the formation of different schools of Buddhism germinated after this council. And in the Second Council, only matters pertaining to the Vinaya were discussed and no controversy about the Dhamma was reported.

In the 3rd Century B.C. during the time of Emperor Asoka, the Third Council was held to discuss the differences of opinion held by the Sangha community. At this Council the differences were not confined to the Vinaya but were also connected with the Dhamma. At the end of this Council, the President of the Council, Ven. Moggaliputta Tissa, compiled a book called Kathavatthu refuting the heretical, false views and theories held by some disciples. The teaching approved and accepted by this Council was known as Theravada. The Abhidhamma Pitaka was held in Sri Lanka in 80 B.C. is known as the 4th Council under the patronage of the pious King Vattagamini Abbaya. It was at this time in Sri Lanka that the Tripitaka was first committed to writing.

The Tripitaka consists of three sections of the Buddha's Teachings. They are the Discipline (Vinaya Pitaka), the Discourse (Sutta Pitaka), and Ultimate Doctrine (Abhidhamma Pitaka).

I. Vinaya Pitaka

The Vinaya Pitaka mainly deals with the rules and regulations of the Order of monks (Bhikkhus) and nuns (Bhikkhunis). It describes in detail the gradual development of the Sasana (Dispensation). It also gives an account of the life and ministry of the Buddha. Indirectly it reveals some useful information about ancient history, Indian customs, arts, sciences, etc.

For nearly twenty years since His Enlightenment, the Buddha did not lay down rules for the control of the Sangha. Later, as the occasion arose, the Buddha promulgated rules for the future discipline of the Sangha.

This Pitaka consists of the five following books:

Parajika Pali (Major Offences)
Pacittiya Pali (Minor Offences)
Mahavagga Pali (Greater Section)
Cullavagga Pali (Smaller Section)
Parivara Pali (Epitome of the Vinaya)

II. Sutta Pitaka

The Sutta Pitaka consists chiefly of discourses delivered by the Buddha Himself on various occasions. There are also a few discourses delivered by some of His distinguished disciples, such as the Venerable Sariputta, Ananda, Moggallana, etc., included in it. It is like a book of prescriptions, as the sermons embodied therein were expounded to suit the different occasions and the temperaments of various persons. There may be seemingly contradictory statements, but they should not be misconstrued as they were opportunely uttered by the Buddha to suit a particular purpose.

This Pitaka is divided into five Nikayas or collections, viz:--

Digha Nikaya (Collection of Long Discourses)
Majjhima Nikaya (Collection of Middle-length Discourses)
Samyutta Nikaya (Collection of Kindred Sayings)
Anguttara Nikaya (Collection of Discourses arranged in accordance with number)
Khuddaka Nikaya (Smaller Collection)

The fifth is subdivided into fifteen books:

Khuddaka Patha (Shorter Texts)
Dhammapada (The Way of Truth)
Udana (Heartfelt sayings or Paeons of Joy)
Iti Vuttaka ('Thus said" Discourses)
Sutta Nipata (Collected Discourses)
Vimana Vatthu (Stories of Celestial Mansions)
Peta Vatthu (Stories of Petas)
Theragatha (Psalms of the Brethren)
Therigatha (Psalms of the Sisters)
Jataka (Birth Stories)
Niddesa (Expositions)
Patisambhida (Analytical Knowledge)
Apadana (Lives of Saints)
Buddhavamsa (The History of Buddha)
Cariya Pitaka (Modes of Conduct)

III. Abhidhamma Pitaka

The Abhidhamma is, to a deep thinker, the most important and interesting, as it contains the profound philosophy of the Buddha's teaching in contrast to the illuminating but simpler discourses in the Sutta Pitaka.

In the Sutta Pitaka one often finds references to individual, being, etc., but in the Abhidhamma, instead of such conventional terms, we meet with ultimate terms, such as aggregates, mind, matter, etc.

In the Sutta is found the Vohara Desana (Conventional Teaching), whilst in the Abhidhamma is found the Paramattha Desana (Ultimate Doctrine).

In the Abhidhamma everything is analysed and explained in detail, and as such it is called analytical doctrine (Vibhajja Vada).

Four ultimate things (Paramattha) are enumerated in the Abhidhamma. They are Citta, (Consciousness), Cetasika (Mental concomitants), Rupa (Matter) and Nibbana.

The so-called being is microscopically analysed and its component parts are minutely described. Finally the ultimate goal and the method to achieve it is explained with all necessary details.

The Abhidhamma Pitaka is composed of the following works:--

Dhamma-Sangani (Enumeration of Phenomena)
Vibhanga (The Book of the Treatises)
Katha Vatthu (Point of Controversy)
Puggala Pannatti (Description of Individuals)
Dhatu Katha (Discussion with reference to Elements)
Yamaka (The Book of Pairs)
Patthana (The Book of Relations)

* * *

According to another classification, mentioned by the Buddha Himself, the whole Teachings is ninefold, namely: 1. Sutta, 2. Geyya, 3. Veyyakarama, 4. Gatha, 5. Udana, 6. Itivuttaka, 7. Jataka, 8. Abbhutadhamma, 9. Vedalla.

Sutta - These are the short, medium, and long discourses expounded by the Buddha on various occasions, such as Mangala Sutta (Discourse on Blessings), Ratana Sutta (The Jewel Discourse) Metta Sutta(Discourse on Goodwill), etc. According to the Commentary the whole Vinaya Pitaka is also included in this division.

Geyya - These are discourses mixed with Gathas or verses, such as the Sagathavagga of the Samyutta Nikaya.

Veyyakarana - Lit. exposition. The whole Abhidhamma Pitaka, discourses without verses, and everything that is not included in the remaining eight divisions belong to this class.

Gatha - These include verses found in the Dhammapada (Way of Truth), Theragatha (Psalms of the Brethren). Therigatha (Psalms of the Sisters), and those isolated verses which are not classed amongst the Sutta.

Udana - These are the 'Paeons of Joy' found in the Udana, one of the divisions of the Khuddaka Nikaya.

Itivuttaka - These are the 112 discourses which commence with the phrases _ 'Thus the Blessed One has Said'. Itivuttaka is one of the fifteen books that comprise the Khuddaka Nikaya.

Jataka - These are the 547 birth-stories related by the Buddha in connection with His previous births.

Abbhutadhamma - These are the few discourses that deal with wonderful and marvelous things, as for example the Accariya-Abbhutadhamma Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya (No. 123).

Vedalla - These are the pleasurable discourses, such as Chulla Vedalla, Maha Vedalla (M.N. Nos 43,44), Samma Ditthi Sutta (M.N.No.9), etc. In some of these discourses, the answers give to certain questions were put with a feeling of joy.


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Source: Buddhist Study and Practice Group, http://www.sinc.sunysb.edu/Clubs/buddhism/

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