In its present format, the Tipitaka is composed of the Vinaya Pitaka, the Sutta Pitaka, and the Abhidhamma Pitaka. The Vinaya Pitaka contains the rules of conduct for Buddhist monks and nuns and explains regulations concerning the structure, function, and life of the sangha (monastic community).
The Sutta (Discourse) Pitaka contains the actual
discourses of the Buddha, supplemented by extensive commentaries,
associated material, and myths and legends. It includes some of the most
important doctrinal statements on anatman (the absence of a permanent
soul) and pratityasamutpada (dependent origination) of existence and
suffering. It also includes independent poems, hymns of praise by monks
and nuns, popular doctrinal statements such as the famous Dhammapada
(Religious Sentences), and the Jatakas, stories of former lives of the
The Abhidhamma Pitaka contains scholarly works presenting largely Theravada doctrinal positions on topics from the Buddha's teaching. These works are chiefly of interest to advanced students of Buddhism. Mahayana schools have often substituted their own treatises for this collection.
According to early Buddhist sources, the Tipitaka was written down after 50 BC, in the Pali dialect of the Sanskrit language. The name means "three baskets" in Pali. The Tipitaka spread with the expansion of Buddhism. Five versions of the Vinaya exist in Chinese translation, and one in Tibetan translation. The Pali Tipitaka is the only one preserved in its entirety.
For several centuries after
the death of the Buddha, the scriptural traditions recited at the
councils were transmitted orally. These were finally written down in
about the 1st century BC. The Buddhist canon is known as the Tipitaka.
It consists of three collections of writings: the Sutra Pitaka, a
collection of discourses; the Vinaya Pitaka, the code of monastic
discipline; and the Abhidharma Pitaka, which contains philosophical,
psychological, and doctrinal discussions and classifications.
Theravada Buddhists have traditionally considered the Tipitaka to be
the remembered words of Siddhartha Gautama. Mahayana Buddhists have
never bound themselves to a closed canon of sacred writings.