Sutta Pitaka

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The Sutta Pitaka is one of the three pitakas (three "baskets") of the Pali Canon. This "basket" contains the discourses of the Buddha (referred to as suttas).

The Pali sutta pitaka is divided into five collections, called nikayas in Pali. Hence, these texts are commonly referred to as the Nikayas.


The Sutta Pitaka contains more than 10,000 suttas (discourses) attributed to the Buddha or his close companions.

Richard Gombrich thinks most of the first four nikayas (see below) go back to the Buddha, in content but not in form.[1] The late Professor Hirakawa Akira says[2] that the First Council collected only short prose passages or verses expressing important doctrines, and that these were expanded into full length suttas over the next century.

Five nikayas (collections)

There are five nikayas (collections) of suttas:

  1. Digha Nikaya the "long" (dīgha) discourses.
  2. Majjhima Nikaya, the "middle-length" (majjhima) discourses.
  3. Samyutta Nikaya the "connected" (saṃyutta) or "thematically linked" discourses.
  4. Anguttara Nikaya the "numerical" (aṅguttara) discourses.
  5. Khuddaka Nikaya, the "minor collection".

Digha Nikāya

This includes The Greater Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness, The Fruits of the Contemplative Life, and The Buddha's Last Days. There are 34 long suttas in this nikaya.

Majjhima Nikāya

This includes Shorter Exposition of Kamma, Mindfulness of Breathing, and Mindfulness of the Body. There are 152 medium-length suttas in this nikaya.

Samyutta Nikaya

There are, according to one reckoning, 2,889, but according to the commentary 7,762, shorter suttas in this Nikaya.

Anguttara Nikāya

These teachings are arranged numerically. It includes, according to the commentary's reckoning, 9,565 short suttas grouped by number from ones to elevens. According to Keown, "there is considerable disparity between the Pāli and the Sarvāstivādin versions, with more than two-thirds of the sūtras found in one but not the other compilation, which suggests that much of this portion of the Sūtra Piṭaka was not formed until a fairly late date."[3]

Khuddaka Nikāya

This is a heterogeneous mix of sermons, doctrines, and poetry attributed to the Buddha and his disciples. The contents vary somewhat between editions.



For English translations of texts of the Pali Canon, see:


  • Pali Text Society
  • Teachings of the Buddha by Wisdom Publications. A series of translations on the first four nikayas.

Selections (including material from at least two nikayas):

  • Buddhist Suttas, ed & tr T. W. Rhys Davids, Sacred Books of the East, volume XI, Clarendon/Oxford, 1881; reprinted by Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi (& ?Dover, New York)
  • The Word of the Buddha, ed & tr Nyanatiloka, 1935
  • Early Buddhist Poetry, ed I. B. Horner, Ananda Semage, Colombo, 1963
  • The Book of Protection, tr Piyadassi, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, Sri Lanka, 1981; translation of the paritta
  • In the Buddha's Words, ed & tr Bodhi, Wisdom Pubns, 2005
  • Early Buddhist Discourses, ed & tr John J. Holder, 2006
  • Sayings of the Buddha, ed & tr Rupert Gethin, Oxford University Press, 2008
  • Basic Teachings of the Buddha, ed & tr Glenn Wallis, New York: Random House, 2007

Parallel texts

The Sutta Pitaka/Nikayas of the Pali Canon correspond to the Agamas of the Early Buddhist schools. Four of the five agamas are preserved in Chinese translation within the Chinese Canon.

See also


  1. Theravada Buddhism, 2nd edn, Routledge, London, 2006, pages 20f
  2. Hirakawa, History of Indian Buddhism, volume 1, 1974, English translation University of Hawai'i Press, pages 69f
  3. A Dictionary of Buddhism, by Damien Keown, Oxford University Press: 2004

External links

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