The Three Baskets
The Three Baskets are called the Tipitaka in the ancient language of Pali and the Tripitaka in Sanskrit. They identify the basic scripture or canon at the heart of Buddhism’s teachings.
What the Torah is to Judaism, the New Testament to Christianity, and the Koran to Islam, so are the Three Baskets to Buddhism. They form the foundation of the written word or dharma.
The teachings are divided into three parts. The Vinaya Pitaka is the collection of texts concerning the rules of conduct governing the daily affairs within the sangha (the community of monks and nuns during the Buddha’s time). The Sutta Pitaka is the collection of discourses attributed to the Buddha, and the Abhidhamma Pitaka is the collection of texts concerning the nature of mind and matter.
Before the teachings were written down, some five hundred years after the time of Siddhartha, the Buddha, the teachings were memorized and taught orally. The earliest writings of the texts were on long, narrow leaves, sewn together on one side and bound in bunches, then stored in baskets; therefore the origin of the name, the Three Baskets.
Vinaya Pitaka – Discipline Basket
The first basket, the Vinaya Pitaka, explains and analizes the R and Rs set forth for the monks and nuns to follow in their monastic life. The several hundred regulations are concerned with basic morality, but include details on robe-making, monk and nun interaction, and other essentials for successful life in the sangha.
Sutta Pitaka – Discourse Basket
The second basket, the Sutta Pitaka, is similar to a transcription of the conversations between the Buddha and the monks and nuns, the Buddha’s sermons and verbal discourses and teachings. Additional information about the Suttas (Pali) or Sutras (Sanskrit) are discussed under those titles.
Abhidhamma Pitaka – Philosophy Basket
The third basket, the Abhidhamma Pitaka, which means further or special teachings, is a systematic philosophical and sometimes “scientific” description of the nature of mind, matter and time.