Three pitakas

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Translations of
Three piṭakas
English Three Baskets
Pali Tipiṭaka
Sanskrit Tripiṭaka
Bengali ত্রিপিটক
Burmese ပိဋကတ် သုံးပုံ
[pḭdəɡaʔ θóʊɴbòʊɴ]
Chinese 三藏
Japanese 三蔵 (さんぞう)
(rōmaji: sanzō)
Khmer ព្រះត្រៃបិដក
(Preah trai bekdok)
Korean 삼장 (三臧)
(RR: samjang)
Sinhalese ත්‍රිපිටකය
Tibetan སྡེ་སྣོད་གསུམ་
(Wylie: sde snod gsum
THL: denö sum
Thai พระไตรปิฎก
Vietnamese Tam tạng

Three Pitakas (Skt. tripiṭaka; Pali. tipiṭaka Tib. denö sum) — refers to three 'baskets' or 'collections' into which the Word of the Buddha is divided. These three baskets are:

Generally speaking:

  • The Vinaya provides codes of conduct, particularly for monastics - this includes accounts of how rules came about by mentioning the particular context and who was involved.
  • The Sutras are discourses recounted together with their particular context, i.e. the location of the teaching, who was present and who asked a question, and so on.
  • The Abhidharma takes the various topics covered in the sutras and arranges them according to their classifications and divisions.

The major traditions of Buddhism have different versions of the three pitakas, as explained below.

Theravada tradition

The core texts for the Theravada tradition are referred to as the Pali canon. This canon consists of the Pali language versions of the three pitakas.

In this tradition, the sutras (aka the sutra pitaka) are also referred to as the Nikayas.

Contemporary scholar Paul Williams states:

In the Theravada tradition...all the contents of the Tipitaka are held to stem from the Buddha himself either directly or through his active approval of the teaching of other enlightened monks. The first basket (pitaka) is the Vinaya Pitaka, which broadly speaking treats issues of monastic discipline (Vinaya). The Sutta Pitaka is the section of Discourses (sutta; Sanskrit: sutra). In its Pali version it is divided into four sections known as Nikayas: the Digha, Majjhima, Samyutta, and Anguttara Nikayas. There is also a supplementary collection called the Khuddaka Nikaya. The equivalent material to the Nikayas in collections preserved outside the Pali tradition, particularly in Chinese translation, is called Agamas rather than Nikayas. Finally, and no doubt somewhat later in origin than the other pitakas, is the Abhidhamma Pitaka, the pitaka of 'Higher (or "Supplementary") Teaching'.[1]

East Asian tradition

The core texts for the East Asian Buddhist tradition are referred to as the Chinese Buddhist Canon or as the Chinese Tripitaka. In this context, the term tripitaka or three pitakas refers to the different types of teaching within the Chinese canon (sutras, vinaya, and abhidharma).

However, unlike the Theravadan Pali Canon, the Chinese Canon is not literally divided into three sections. The Chinese Canon has a major section on Vinaya, and one on Abhidharma, but there are also many sections of sutras, and also sections on tantras and other types of texts.

The Chinese Canon does include a section call "agamas" which contains similar texts to the Theravadan Sutta Pitaka (called nikayas in the Pali tradition), but these Chinese texts are based on Sanskrit sources, not on Pali texts.

The Chinese canon also contains major sections of Mahāyāna sūtras that are not part of the Theravada tradition.

Tibetan tradition

The core texts for the Tibetan Buddhist tradition are referred to as the Tibetan Buddhist Canon. Within the Tibetan tradition, the term tripitaka or three pitakas is used as a general description of types of texts, but like the Chinese Canon, the Tibetan Canon is not literally divided into three sections.

The Tibetan Canon has sections for the Vinaya and Abhidharma, but there are also many sections of sutras, as well as sections of tantras and other types of texts.

According to Khenpo Ngawang Pelzang, the three pitakas can be related to the threefold training as follows (Pelzang, p. 6):

  • The Vinaya teaches the Higher Training of Discipline
  • The Sutras teach the Higher Training of Meditation
  • The Abhidharma teaches the Higher Training of Wisdom

The Tibetan scholar Mipham Rinpoche suggests an alternative classification in which:

  • the Sutras teach all three trainings,
  • the Vinaya teaches discipline and meditation, and
  • the Abhidharma teaches wisdom.

Mipham Rinpoche also stated that:

  • through the Vinaya one overcomes negative conduct,
  • through the Sutras one overcomes doubt, and
  • through the Abhidharma one overcomes faulty views.

Further reading:

  • Khenpo Ngawang Pelzang, A Guide to the Words of My Perfect Teacher, translated by Padmakara Translation Group (Boston & London: Shambhala, 2004), pages 6-7.
  • Thinley Norbu, The Small Golden Key (Shambhala Publications, 1999), ‘9. The Tripitaka and the Three Trainings'.
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Tripiṭaka (Sanskrit) or Tipiṭaka (Pali) literally translates as 'Three Baskets' (pitaka or pita meaning "basket or box made from bamboo or wood" according to Monier-Williams.)[2]

The 'three baskets' were originally the receptacles of the palm-leaf manuscripts that constituted the Sutta Pitaka, the Vinaya Pitaka and the Abhidhamma Pitaka the three divisions that constitute the Pali Canon.[3] These terms are also spelled without diacritics as Tripitaka and Tipitaka in scholarly literature.[4]


  1. Williams, Paul (2002-12-07). Buddhist Thought (pp. 31-32). Taylor & Francis. Kindle Edition.
  2. Sir Monier Monier-Williams; Ernst Leumann; Carl Cappeller (2002). A Sanskrit-English Dictionary: Etymologically and Philologically Arranged with Special Reference to Cognate Indo-European Languages. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 625. ISBN 978-81-208-3105-6. 
  3. An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices; Peter Harvey, Cambridge University Press, 2012.
  4. Tipitaka Encyclopædia Britannica (2015)

This article uses material from Three pitakas on Wikipedia (view authors). License under CC BY-SA 3.0. Wikipedia logo