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 Buddha.
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.