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Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Buddhist Texts

The Buddhist Texts

The Teachings of the Buddha, known also as the Dhamma, were collated into three separate sets of books. These books are collectively known as the Tipitaka. The total amount of material is vast and is estimated to be more than twice that of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Although some changes and revisions in the Tipitaka are inevitable over the 2,500 years or so it has been in existence, it is estimated that up to 90% of the Teachings remain unaltered. This is because when it was recited, it was done so with several hundred monks reciting together at the same time. When it was finally committed to writing around 80 BC, large groups of monks also undertook this task in unison. This made changing or altering the Tipitaka very difficult. Reproductions of the original texts survive today and are well preserved in Sri Lanka.

The Sutta Pitaka

Subdivided into five separate collections, the Sutta Pitaka contains all of the Buddha's discourses as well as several from his most senior disciples. The Buddha was extremely successful in his Teachings as he used the language of the common people, which is called Pali.

He adapted the manner and style of His discourses such that he used simpler concepts for the ordinary folk, and more complex ideas for educated and intellectual audiences. He taught everyone from peasants to kings.

The Teachings range from guidelines for individual behaviour to highly sophisticated commentaries on politics and social philosophy. They are pragmatic and readily applicable to daily life. And despite being taught more than 2,500 years ago, His Teachings are still very much pertinent today.

The Vinaya Pitaka

Also divided into five books, the Vinaya Pitaka lays down the rules and guidelines for the Sangha or the community of monks and nuns. With every monk and nun having equal rights, the Sangha is possibly the earliest form of a democratically governed organization still functioning today.

The Abhidhamma Pitaka

Known as the Higher Teachings of the Buddha, the Abhidhamma Pitaka is a monumental and extremely complex and sophisticated approach to the Dhamma. It contains the Buddhist doctrines arranged and classified in a highly systematic set of seven books.

Although traditionally attributed to the Buddha, many commentators now regard the Abhidhamma as the work of later scholar monks who distilled the Teachings of the Buddha into this amazing set of documents.

It deals with the concepts of existence and reality. It analyzes the human thought processes and examines the constituents of mind and matter. Many of its concepts relating to reality and perception have anticipated the works of modern thinkers and scientists.

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