The Pali canon


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

The authority of the Vinaya for the Theravada sangha,

the wider authority and
significance of the Sutta Pitaka, The importance of the Pali Canon as a source of wisdom.

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 & 8 fold path. Intended for lay Buddhists, not just the monastics.

Five sections:

Digha Nikaya\

This scripture contains the discourses of Buddha (plus a few sermons by various disciples of Buddha). It is divided into 5 sections;

Digha Nikaya: (collection of long dialogues) this book contains 34 of Buddha’s sermons covering topics such as; false teachings; the advantages of the homeless life; super natural powers and higher states of consciousness; the evil of animal sacrifices; the issues of the soul; the ethics of teaching; the stories of six previous Buddhas; the twelve links of causation; the parinivarna of Buddha and his last words; four types of meditation; why Buddha does not work miracles or explain the origins of the universe; the 32 marks of a great man. It also contains a sermon by Ananda about morality, meditation and wisdom.

Majjhima Nikaya: (collection of medium length dialogues) this book contains 152 sermons, divided into 15 subsections. Many of these discourses are about Buddha, his life and his enlightenment. For example discourse 4 gives Buddha’s account of his enlightenment; discourse 21 gives the simile of the saw  – that one should maintain compassionate love and self-control even under the worst of circumstances, you should love your enemies even if they would saw you into pieces. Discourse 26 gives an account of Buddha’s renunciation, search and attainment of enlightenment. The Digha Nikaya also contains a sermon (number 44) by a female disciple of the Buddha, showing how women have had an importance place in Buddhism from the start. Discourse 55 explains Buddha’s position on eating meat – animals should not be killed for food, but one can accepts meat if it is offered but not specially killed for that person. Discourse 117 explains the Noble Eightfold Path; 129 explains rewards and punishments after death for good and bad actions in life; 141 outlines the Four Noble Truths.

Samyutta Nikaya: (collection of ‘grouped’ discourses) this book contains 2,889 short discourses covering the demon Mara; the twelve links of paticcasamuppadda (dependent orgination); the five skandhas; the different levels of jhana; nirvana; the 37 qualities leading to enlightenment; the Eightfold Path and the Four Noble Truths.

Anguttara Nikaya: (collection of ‘gradual sayings) this book contains 2,308 short sayings on topics such as the Buddha; two types of karma (those fulfilled in this life and those fulfilled in the next life); the three good acts; the four types of love; four wrong views 0f belief; four good results of making offerings to monks; the four pilgrimage sites and the 5 mental hindrances.

Khuddaka Nikaya: (collection of small texts and some of the most famous) this book contains 15 works including sermons on the threefold refuge formula; the metta sutta on loving kindness; the Dhammapada; parables such as the Blind men and the Elephant; the definition of nirvana; descriptions of the temptations of Mara; the Jataka tales (Buddha’s past lives) etc.

the relevance of the Abidhamma for the commentarial development of Buddhism.

the relevance of the Abidhamma for the commentarial development of Buddhism

Abhidhamma Pitaka and interpretation and understanding of the Buddha’s teachings and a consideration of whether this is the work of the Buddha himself.

This scripture is not the direct word of the Buddha, but a philosophical treatment of the Dharma presented by the Buddha. Abidharma means higher teaching and is for the more advanced, scholarly Buddhists. It is thought to have been composed at the Third Council in the 3rd century when the community was concerned with the purity of the scriptures. It consists of seven different works including an analyses the nature of existence; categories of different types of human personality (important for teaching meditational techniques); an analysis of Buddhist psychology and an investigation of the workings of causation and interdependence.

The relative importance of the Pali Canon in Buddhism.

Vinaya essential for theravada and Vajryana (tibet) – helps with daily monastic life
However, in Mahayana it isn’t given the same emphasis because they believe in later texts that are sometimes thought to show the Pali cannon to be a lesser teaching (upaya)

Today’s society may make the rules outdated and most lay buddhists are not monastics so it would be irrelevant for them. Monks and nuns can’t survive without handling money in western countries. They also cannot rely on Dana because they don’t live in Buddhist majority countries. They have to have their own money and buy their own food.

However, Sutta pitaka important as guidance for monastics and lay buddhists – contains word of Buddha and is thus authoritative. It gives advice on practical issues – relationships, employment, handling of money and avoiding addictions.
However, the laity don’t have much access to the Sutta Pitaka compared to the monastics.

The sutta pitaka contains the most important aspects of Buddhism – the story of the Buddha and the noble truths.
However, the Abhidharma is too philosophically complex to be relevant to lay buddhists.

The Buddha said his teachings were like a raft – just a means to the end of nirvana. Therefore, the Pali canon should not be seen as important as enlightenment – the ultimate goal of Buddhism.

The significance of the Vinaya for the sangha

Great significance and uses in getting rid of material attachment and the three poisons, to focus on the path of Arhatship and nirvana.
Not significant: for the lay buddhists – who are part of the sangha (community) understood in a wide sense.
However, the monks who are guided by the Vinaya become good role models for the lay buddhists, so it is significant even for the lays.

Is significant: the rules maintain order in a monastic community.
Not useful for lay buddhists, however.
But, the lay buddhists do rely on the orderly monastic community for rituals and teachings.

The rules of the Vinaya are patriarchial and irrelevant – women had stricter controls on becoming ordained and more rules to follow.
However, such prejudices do not reflect Buddhist teachings but only the prejudices of culture.
However, there is still inequality in the Buddhist Theravada Sangha. Gross says this is because the texts are contradictory.