Pali Canon

The Pali Canon is the body of scripture in Theravada Buddhism. After four centuries of oral transmission, the Fourth Buddhist Council in Sri Lanka recorded the Pali Canon in writing by 29 BCE, making it one of the first Buddhist canons to be committed to writing and the only canon of early Buddhism to survive to the present in its entirety. It takes its name from the language in which it was recorded, the Indian language Pali. The Pali Canon is also known as the Tipitaka (Pali for “three baskets”) because its texts fall into three categories (pitakas; Pali for “basket”): the Vinaya Pitaka (“Discipline Basket”), which deals with monastic rules; the Sutta Pitaka (“Sayings Basket”), which contains discourses of the Buddha and his disciples; and the Abhidhamma Pitaka ("Further Doctrine Basket"), which contains scholastic summaries systematizing the material from the Suttas.
As the oldest surviving Buddhist writings, the Pali Canon provides significant insight into the core teachings of early Buddhism prior to its division into separate schools. For the Theravada tradition, it contains all the knowledge and wisdom necessary to guide one to nirvana. The importance of the Canon is evident in the use of Pali as the liturgical language in Theravada Buddhism throughout its history, an effort to maintain the purity of the Buddha’s teachings. Today the Canon’s original oral form remains celebrated; monks memorize and recite Canon texts as a form of meditation. But this reliance on the Pali text, a liturgical language without any native speakers, has tended to impede access to the content of the Canon among the laity.
 
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