Recording the Buddha’s teachings was perhaps the most important legacy left to us by the Buddha’s followers of monks and nuns. The Tripitaka (its name in Sanskrit) or Tipitaka (in Pali) are a large body of the Buddha’s teachings that were recorded after the Buddha’s passing away. It was at the First Buddhist Council that the Buddha’s teachings were first recalled and committed to memory. The Tripitaka (also known as the Pali Canon) is composed of the Vinaya, Sutras and Abhidhamma (or Abhidharma). These form the foundations for what are considered some of the most important Buddhist scriptures.
There is no single book that can be pointed to as a ‘Buddhist bible’, rather there are volumes of teachings that are attributed to the Buddha, and you would need a whole bookcase to house them all. Fortunately, there is no requirement for a Buddhist practitioner to read the whole Pali Canon, and Buddhist literature is not limited to the Pali Canon alone, but they possess some of the most fundamental teachings required for a basic Buddhist education (namely, The Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path).
In the Suggested Reading section of my website you can find many great Buddhist books I highly recommend reading.
As I mentioned in the video, the Dhammapada is a great place to start if you want to read some texts from the Tripitaka.
For a gradual introduction into the sutras, you might find this book a great introduction: What The Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula. This is one of the first Buddhist books I ever read. It might be a bit too scholarly for some people, especially with its inclusion of many Pali words and footnotes. However, this book is a classic and is likely to answer many questions that people new to Buddhism will probably have. It is also only 151 pages compared to my next recommendation (In the Buddha’s Words) which is 512 pages in length. What The Buddha Taught also reads more like a book (rather than being a compilation of sutras) and is designed to lead the reader through the basics of Buddhism.
What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula
However, if you have your heart set on reading the Nikayas, you might be interested in this book: In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon. It is an anthology of some of the best sutras from the Nikayas.
In the Buddha’s Words by Bhikkhu Bodhi
The Tripitaka literally means “three baskets”. It contains the vinaya, sutras (discourses) and Abhidharma.
Lists all the precepts (monastic rules and disciplines) for both monks and nuns. It contains 3 books, a breakdown of which can be viewed here.
Contains all the discourses and popular teachings of the Buddha. Contains the 5 following volumes “nikayas”:
Digha Nikaya – “Collection of Long Discourses”
Majjhima Nikaya – “Collection of Middle Length Discourses”
Samyutta Nikaya – “Kindred Sayings”
Anguttara Nikaya – “Gradual Collection”
Khuddaka Nikaya – “Compact Discourses” (largest volume, has 15-18 books)
This nikaya contains some or all of the following texts:
1. Khuddakapatha – “short passages” on refuge, 10 precepts and metta
2. Dhammapada – considered one of the most popular pieces of Theravada literature.
Short verses spoken by the Buddha on various occasions.
My favorite online translation of the Dhammapada (click on the chapters to read the Dhammapada)
Another online version (has great illustrations and explanations)
An alternate translation by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
3. Udana – “inspired utterances”
4. Itivuttaka – “as it was said”, 112 short teachings
5. Sutta Nipata – 71 short suttas divided into 5 vaggas (chapters). Contains the famous Metta Sutta.
6. Vimanavatthu – 85 short stories written in verse. Describes the life and deeds of a character who has attained residence in a heavenly mansion due to his/her meritorious deeds.
7. Petavatthu – 51 verse narratives describing specifically how the effects of bad acts can lead to rebirth into the unhappy world of pretas (ghosts).
8. Theragatha – “Verses of the Elder Monks” A collection of short poems recited by monks during the Buddha’s time. Many verses illustrate the difficulty of monks having to overcome the temptations of Mara (their own desire, aversion and ignorance).
9. Therigatha – “Verses of the Elder Nuns” A collection of short poems recited by nuns during the Buddha’s time. Their poems are testament to the fact that women are capable of becoming enlightened too.
11. Niddesa – a commentary on parts of the Sutta Nipata.
12. Patisambhidamagga – “path of discrimination” Tradition ascribes it to the Buddha’s disciple Sariputta. It comprises 30 chapters on different topics, of which the first, on knowledge, makes up about a third of the book.
13. Apadana – a collection of biographical stories, consists of about 600 poems, mostly biographical stories of monks and nuns. They tell of practicing merit in previous lives and how this has ripened into the fortunate karma of them being the disciples of the Buddha.
14. Buddhavamsa – “Chronicle of Buddhas” In this book the Buddha recalls his past life as Sumedha where he took a vow to become a Buddha and it outlines how he thought out the 10 Perfections he would need to practice to become an Enlightened One.
15. Cariyapitaka – “proper conduct”, contains short stories in verse that match the Buddha’s previous births in the Jataka stories. It specifically draws attention to practicing the Ten Perfections in order to become a Buddha.
16. Nettipakarana or Netti (included in Burmese and Sinhalese editions, but not in Thai edition)
17. Petakopadesa (included in Burmese and Sinhalese editions, but not in Thai edition)
18. Milinda Panha – “Questions of Milinda” (included in Burmese edition, but not in Sinhalese and Thai editions) – This is a dialogue between King Menander I (Milinda) of Bactria (of the 2nd century BC) and a monk and sage named Nagasena.
This is the third basket of the Tripitaka. It contains the Buddha’s teachings on psychology, philosophy and metaphysics. The Abhidharma Pitaka consists of seven books.
Topics include mental states, states of consciousness, elements, personality types, law of conditionality, Buddhist cosmology (worlds and states of being, origin and destruction of the universe).
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