The Pali canon


The Pali Canon: its role in Buddhism as a whole.

The Pali Canon (Tipitaka) is a collection of scriptures containing the teachings the Buddha made while alive. Theravada and some Tibetan schools place the most value on them.

Tripitaka means ‘three baskets’:

Vinaya – the rules for the sangha.
Sutta – The Buddha’s teachings and storys, including his life.
Abhidhamma – Philosophical discussion by Buddhist monks held after the death of the Buddha attempting to interpret, understand and elaborate on the Buddha’s teachings.

The authority of the Vinaya for the Theravada sangha

Vinaya means ‘discipline’. It contains the Patimokka, the rules governing the behaviour and discipline of the monks and nuns. 

227 rules for monks and 311 for nuns. The rules trace back to the Buddha but some were added or developed later. Upali was one of the 10 chief disciples of the Buddha who recalled from memory all of the Vinaya rules, reciting them to the arhats at the council who agreed with their accuracy.

The rules therefore gain their authority by coming from the Buddha. They were first recorded by oral tradition and eventually written down.

The Buddha created rules to deal with misconduct and disagreement and minimise conflict. Breaking the code of conduct would disrupt the goal of Nirvana.

The Suttavibhanga contains the Patimokkha

The dasa sila (10 rules). They were expanded into the 227/311 rules.

Eight categories of wrongdoing, including four parajikas (disrobing offenses)- sex, stealing, murder and falsely claiming spiritual abilities.

Second section of the Vanaya – Khandhaka. The Buddha’s life after enlightenment and his disciples and the first two Buddhist councils. 

Guidance on etiquette and manners 

Third secion: Paravara – rules and guidance on how to follow the Vinaya. Used in the training for becoming a monk/nun.

The wider authority and significance of the Sutta Pitaka,

Collections of teachings attributed to the Buddha and some of his disciples. Recited at the First Council by Ananda, the buddha’s most dedicated disciple.

Contains the four noble truths. Intended for lay Buddhists, not just the monastics. 

Five sections:

Digha Nikaya 

the relevance of the Abidhamma for the commentarial
development of Buddhism. The importance of the Pali Canon as a source of wisdom.



The relative importance of the Pali Canon in Buddhism.
• The significance of the Vinaya for the sangha.