guide to tipitaka

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The Tipi¥aka is an extensive body of Canonical Pæ¹i literature in which are enshrined the Teachings of Gotama Buddha expounded for forty-five years from the time of his Enlightenment to his parinibbæna.

The discourses of the Buddha cover a wide field of subjects and are made up of exhortations, expositions and injunctions.

Even from the earliest times some kind of classification and systematization of the Buddha’s Teachings had been made to facilitate memorization, since only verbal transmission was employed to pass on the Teachings from generation to generation. Three months after the parinibbæna of the Buddha, the great disciples recited together all the Teachings of their Master, after compiling them systematically and carefully classifying them under different heads into specialized sections.

The general discourses and sermons intended for both the bhikkhus and lay disciples, delivered by the Buddha on various occasions (together with a few discourses delivered by some of his distinguished disciples), are collected and classified in a great division known as the Suttanta Pi¥aka.

The great division in which are incorporated injunctions and admonitions of the Buddha on modes of conduct, and restraints on both bodily and verbal actions of bhikkhus and bhikkhunøs, which form rules of discipline for them, is called the Vinaya Pi¥aka.

The philosophical aspect of the Buddha’s Teaching, more profound and abstract than the discourses of the Suttanta Pi¥aka, is classified under the great division known as the Abhidhamma Pi¥aka. Abhidhamma deals with ultimate Truths, expounds ultimate Truths and investigates Mind and Matter and the relationship between them.

All that the Buddha taught forms the subject matter and substance of the Pæ¹i Canon, which is divided into these three divisions called Pi¥akas - literally baskets. Hence Tipi¥aka means three baskets or three separate divisions of the Buddha’s Teaching. Here the metaphor ‘basket’ signifies not so much the function of ‘storing up’ anything put into it as its use as a receptacle in which things are handed on or passed on from one to another like carrying away of earth from an excavation site by a line of workers.

The Tipi¥aka into which the Pæ¹i Canon is systematically divided and handed down from generation to generation together with Commentaries forms the huge collection of literary works which the bhikkhus of the Order have to learn, study and memorize in discharge of their gantha dhura, the duty of studying.


It is a great privilege for me to have been entrusted with the task of compiling this 'Guide to Tipi¥aka'. So far as it is known, there is not a single work that deals, in outline, with the whole of Tipi¥aka. It is sincerely hoped that this compilation will be found useful and handy by the general reader who wishes to be provided with a bird’s eye view of the vast and magnificent canonical scenery which represents all that the Buddha (and some of his disciples) had taught and all that has been treasured in the Tipi¥aka.

In compiling this work, the Pæ¹i Texts as approved by the Sixth International Buddhist Synod together with their Burmese translations have been closely adhered to. Acknowledgements are due to Dagon U San Ngwe and U Myo Myint who provided notes for some of the chapters. Additional information and facts were gathered from various other sources. The following complete set of 'Questions and Answers' recorded at the Sixth International Buddhist Synod proved to be a mine of information on the contents of the Tipi¥aka.

1. Vinaya Pi¥aka - Questions and Answers, Vol. I
2. Vinaya Pi¥aka - Questions and Answers, Vol. II
3. Suttanta Pi¥aka - ‘Døgha Nikæya’ Questions and Answers.
4. Suttanta Pi¥aka - ‘Majjhima Nikæya’ Questions and Answers, Vol. I
5. Suttanta Pi¥aka - ‘Majjhima Nikæya’ Questions and Answers, Vol. II
6. Suttanta Pi¥aka -‘Saµyutta Nikæya’ Questions and Answers, Vol. I
7. Suttanta Pi¥aka -‘Saµyutta Nikæya’ Questions and Answers, Vol. II
8. Suttanta Pi¥aka -‘A³guttara Nikæya’ Questions and Answers, Vol.I
9. Suttanta Pi¥aka - ‘A³guttara Nikæya’ Questions and Answers, Vol. II
10. Abhidhamma Pi¥aka - ‘Khuddaka Nikæya’ Questions and Answers.

In conclusion, I wish to put on record my deep gratitude to the members of the Editorial Committee, Burma Pitaka Association, who had spent long hours going through the script with meticulous care and from whose indefatigable labour and erudite counsel this compilation has much benefited.

February, 1984. U Ko Lay

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