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:

  • Vinaya pitaka (Pali, Sanskrit)
  • Sutta pitaka (Pali; Sanskrit: Sutra pitaka)
  • Abhidhamma pitaka (Pali; Sanskrit: Abhidharma pitaka)

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

In the Theravadan tradition, the Pali term tipiṭaka is the traditional name for the Pali Canon. Ti is the Pali word for "three". Pitaka is Pali for "basket".

The Pali Canon is literally organized into three major sections, known as the pitakas or "baskets". The three pitakas of the Pali canon are:

  • Vinaya Pitaka, which is primarily concerned with issues of monastic discipline (Vinaya).
  • Sutta Pitaka is the section of Discourses (i.e. suttas).
    • In the Pali Canon, this section is divided into five sub-sections known as Nikayas
    • The equivalent material to the Nikayas in the Chinese Buddhist Canon is called Agamas rather than Nikayas.
  • Abhidhamma Pitaka, the pitaka of 'Higher (or "Supplementary") Teaching'

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.[1]

East Asian tradition

In the East Asian Buddhist tradition, the term tripitaka (C. sānzàng) is often used to refer to the texts of the the Chinese Buddhist Canon. The canon is also traditionally referred to as The Great Scripture Store (C. dazangjing).

In this context, the term tripitaka refers to the different types of teaching (sutras, vinaya, and abhidharma) within the Chinese canon. 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, and there is one section of sutras (called the Agamas) that is equivalent to the Theravadan Sutta Pitaka. The Chinese canon also contains:

  • major sections of texts that are not eqivalent to texts in the Pali Canon, such sections on Mahāyāna sūtras and tantras
  • many other texts that are not found in either the Pali or Tibetan canons

Most of the texts of the Chinese Canon are based on Sanskrit sources, rather than Pali texts.

Tibetan tradition

In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the term tripitaka (T. denö sum) or three pitakas is one of the terms used to refer to the texts of the the Tibetan Buddhist Canon.

In this context, the term three pitakas refers to the different types of teaching (sutras, vinaya, and abhidharma) within the Tibetan canon. However, unlike the Pali Canon, the Tibetan Canon is not literally divided into three sections.

The Tibetan Canon has sections for the Vinaya and Abhidharma. The Tibetan Canon also has many sections of sutras, but it does not contain a section that is equivalent to the agamas or nikayas of the other canons. The Tibetan canon also contains:

  • major sections of texts that are not eqivalent to texts in the Pali Canon, such sections on Mahāyāna sūtras and tantras.
  • many texts that are not found in either the Pali or Chinese canons, such as:
    • tantras that are not found in the Chinese canon.
    • commentaries from Indian teachers

Classification systems

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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Early Buddhist schools

Each of the Early Buddhist Schools likely had their own recensions of the three pitakas. According to some sources, there were some Indian schools of Buddhism that had five or seven piṭakas.[2]


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.)[3]

The "three baskets" were originally the receptacles of the palm-leaf manuscripts that constituted the three sections of the Pali Canon: the Sutta Pitaka, the Vinaya Pitaka and the Abhidhamma Pitaka.[4] These terms are also spelled without diacritics as Tripitaka and Tipitaka in scholarly literature.[5]


  1. Williams, Paul (2002-12-07). Buddhist Thought (pp. 31-32). Taylor & Francis. Kindle Edition.
  2. Skilling, Peter (1992), The Raksa Literature of the Sravakayana, Journal of the Pali Text Society, volume XVI, page 114
  3. 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. 
  4. An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices; Peter Harvey, Cambridge University Press, 2012.
  5. Tipitaka Encyclopædia Britannica (2015)

External links

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