Quality rating: satisfactory (3/5)

Pali Canon

From Encyclopedia of Buddhism
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The Pāli Canon refers to the standard collection of scriptures in the Theravadan tradition, as preserved in the Pāli language.[1]

This canon is traditionally referred to as the Tipiṭaka (literally "three baskets"), refering to the three major sections of the canon.[lower-alpha 1] These three sections are:

  1. Vinaya Pitaka, the disciplinary codes for monastics and lay people
  2. Sutta Pitaka, discourses of the Buddha
  3. Abhidhamma Pitaka, defines and categorizes many of the topics in the suttas

This canon is one of the three major Buddhist Canons, the other two being the Chinese Buddhist Canon, and the Tibetan Buddhist Canon.


Peter Harvey states:

Our knowledge of the teachings of the Buddha is based on several canons of scripture, which derived from the early Sangha's oral transmissions of bodies of teachings agreed on at several councils. The Theravdin Pali Canon is preserved in the Pali language, which is based upon a dialect close to that spoken by the Buddha, Old Magadha. It is the most complete extant early canon, and contains some of the earliest material. Most of its teachings are in fact the common property of all Buddhist schools, being simply the teachings which the Theravdins preserved from the early common stock. While parts of the Pali Canon clearly originated after the time of the Buddha, much must derive from his teachings.[2]

Buswell and Lopez state:

The various Mainstream Buddhist Schools in India had their own distinctive version of each of the piṭakas; the Pāli version transmitted to Sri Lanka is the most complete to survive in an Indic language, although sections of those of other schools, such as the Dharmaguptaka, Sarvāstivāda, and Mulasarvastivada, are preserved in Chinese, Tibetan, and in Sanskrit or Middle Indic fragments.[3]

Rupert Gethin states:

Theravāda Buddhist tradition traces the Pali canon back to a recension of Buddhist scriptures brought from northern India to Sri Lanka in the third century BCE by Mahinda, a Buddhist monk who was the son of the emperor Aśoka. Mahinda and his company brought no books, the texts being in their heads, but the tradition is that the Pali texts were subsequently written down for the first time in the first century BCE. The historical value of this tradition is uncertain. Most scholars would be sceptical of the suggestion that the Pali canon existed exactly as we have it today already in the middle of third century BCE. We know, however, that what the commentators had before them in the fifth century CE in Sri Lanka corresponded fairly exactly to what we have now, and the original north Indian provenance and relative antiquity of much of the Pali canon seems to be guaranteed on linguistic grounds. Significant portions of the material it contains must go back to the third century BCE.[4]


Standard edition of the Thai Pali Canon

The first complete printed edition of the Canon was published in Burma in 1900, in 38 volumes.[5] The following editions of the Pali text of the Canon are readily available in the West:

  • Pali Text Society edition, 1877–1927 (a few volumes subsequently replaced by new editions), 57 volumes including indexes
  • Thai edition, 1925–28, 45 volumes
    • Electronic transcript: BUDSIR on Internet[6]
  • Sixth Council edition, Rangoon, 1954–56, 40 volumes
    • Electronic transcript by Vipāssana Research Institute available online[7] in searchable database free of charge, or on CD-ROM (p&p only).[8]
    • Another transcript of this edition, produced under the patronage of the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand, World Tipitaka Edition, 2005, 40 volumes, was published by the Dhamma Society Fund,[9]
  • Sinhalese (Buddha Jayanti) edition, 1957–?1993, 58 volumes including parallel Sinhalese translations, searchable, free of charge (not yet fully proofread.) Available at Journal of Buddhist Ethics.[10]
  • Sinhalese (Buddha Jayanti). Image files in Sinhala script. The only accurate version of the Sri Lankan text available, in individual page images. Cannot be searched though.[11]
    • Transcript in BudhgayaNews Pali Canon.[12] In this version it is easy to search for individual words across all 16,000+ pages at once and view the contexts in which they appear.


The climate of Theravāda countries is not conducive to the survival of manuscripts. Apart from brief quotations in inscriptions and a two-page fragment from the eighth or ninth century found in Nepal, the oldest manuscripts known are from late in the fifteenth century,[13] and there is not very much from before the eighteenth.[14]


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


The Pali Canon (Tipitaka) contains the following categories of texts:

According to tradition, the abhidhamma refers to the absolute teaching, while the suttas are adapted to the hearer. Most scholars describe the abhidhamma as an attempt to systematize the teachings of the suttas.[15][16]

Comparison with other canons

Within the Theravada tradition, the Pali Canon is traditionally referred to as the Tipitaka (literally the "three baskets").

When compared to the other Buddhist Canons:

  • The Chinese Canon includes a section of sutras (called the Agamas) that is equivalent to the Sutta Pitaka (called Nikayas in Pali) of the Pali Canon.
  • The Tibetan Canon includes some texts that are equivalent to both the Sutta Pitaka of the Pali Canon and the Agamas of the Chinese Canon.
  • Both the Chinese and Tibetan canons include complete sections of Vinaya and Abhidharma texts that are derived from early Buddhist traditions. These texts are derived from different traditions than that of the Pali Canon; thus these sections of the other canons are similar to these sections in the Pali Canon, but the differ in the details.
  • Both the Chinese and Tibetan canons include sections on Mahayana sutras, as well as commentaries, that are not found in the Pali Canon
  • The Tibetan Canon includes sections of Vajrayana texts that are not found in the Pali Canon.


  1. See also Three pitakas for a description on how this term is used in different traditions.


  1. Gombrich 2006, p. 3.
  2. Harvey 1990, p. 3.
  3. Princeton Dict icon 166px.png Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. tripiṭaka
  4. Gethin 1998, Introduction.
  5. Grönbold 1984, p. 12 (as noted there and elsewhere, the 1893 Siamese edition was incomplete).
  6. "BUDSIR for Thai Translation". Budsir.org. Retrieved 2012-10-14. 
  7. "The Pali Tipitaka". Tipitaka.org. Retrieved 2012-10-14. 
  8. "Vipassana Research Institute". Vri.dhamma.org. 2009-02-08. Retrieved 2012-10-14. 
  9. "Society worldtipitaka". Dhammasociety.org. 2007-08-29. Retrieved 2012-10-14. 
  10. Sri Lanka Tripitaka Project
  11. "Sri Lankan Pāḷi Texts". Retrieved 2013-01-15. 
  12. "Pali Canon Online Database". BodhgayaNews. Retrieved 2012-10-14. 
  13. von Hinüber 2000, pp. 4–5.
  14. "Pali Text Society". Palitext.com. Retrieved 2012-10-14. 
  15. Harvey 1990, p. 83.
  16. Gethin 1998, p. 44.


Further reading

  • Hinüber, Oskar von (2000). A Handbook of Pāli Literature. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-016738-7.
  • B. C. Law, History of Pali Literature, volume I, Trubner, London 1931
  • Russell Webb (ed.), Analysis of the Pali Canon, The Wheel Publication No 217, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, Sri Lanka, 3rd ed. 2008. ISBN 955-24-0048.
  • Ko Lay, U. (2003), Guide to Tipiṭaka, Selangor, Malaysia: Burma Piṭaka Association. Editorial Committee 
  • Norman, K.R. (1983), Pali Literature, Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz 
  • Norman, K.R. (1996), Collected Papers, volume VI, Bristol: Pali Text Society 
  • Pali Canon Online Database, Bodhgaya News, retrieved 2012-10-14 

External links

English translations

Pali Canon online

  • SuttaCentral (Mahāsaṅgīti (World Tipiṭaka) edition (A corrected version of the VRI 6th Council Pali text. Also includes translations in multiple languages.)
  • Vipassana Research Institute (Based on 6th Council - Burmese version) (this site also offers a downloadable program which installs the entire Pali Tipitaka on your desktop for offline viewing)
  • Tipitaka (Sri Lankan version)
  • Tipiṭakapāḷi (Sri Lankan version) image files of Buddha Jayanti edition
  • Thai Tripitaka (Thai version)
This article includes content from Pāli Canon on Wikipedia (view authors). License under CC BY-SA 3.0. Wikipedia logo