Pāli - Tipiṭaka
Pāli - Tipiṭaka
The Buddha wanted people from all social background to understand his teachings, to understand how to practice Dhamma. He chose to teach in common dialects and not in Sanskrit, a scholarly language at the time. When the Buddha passed away at the age of eighty, one monk, old in age but not wisdom, expressed his joy as ‘they were now freed of his clutches, free to do as they liked’. The Buddha’s own teaching after all was: Attāhi attano nāho — You are your own master.
Mahākassapa, an elderly monk, an arahant, fully liberated, and one of the chief disciples of the Buddha, heard this and decided to initiate preservation of the actual teachings against future distortion. He realized monks like the old one could easily misquote the teachings in the future, substituting their own words and removing essential disciplines — all of which did eventually happen.
In the forty-five years the Buddha taught Dhamma, he gave 82,000 discourses; his leading arahant disciples gave another 2,000 - 84,000 in all. Mahākassapa called a conference of 500 arahants who were eyewitnesses to the Buddha’s teaching, to recite, compile and authenticate the actual words - the First Council. These 500 arahants committed the teachings of the Buddha to memory and — through a then oral tradition — passed them on through generations. Orally, the teachings of the Buddha spread through India to Sri Lanka during King Ashoka’s time (c. 3rd century BCE), continually translated into the local dialects and languages. Because of the threat posed by famine and war, the teachings were written down (1st century BCE). At that time, several different carefully memorized versions existed; it was the Pāli version that was complete and was written down. Pāli eventually became a revered, standard, and international tongue. Just as Sanskrit is the canonical language of Hinduism and Latin the canonical language of Catholicism, Pāli is the classical language in which the teachings of the Buddha have been preserved.
Written down, the teachings of the Buddha are known as the Pāli Canon, or the Tipiṭaka. ‘Ti’- ‘piṭaka’ literally means three baskets: (1) the basket of expected discipline from monks (Vinaya Piṭaka), (2) basket of discourse (Sūtta Piṭaka, Nikayas), and (3) basket of special doctrine (Abhidhamma Piṭaka).
Both the language Pāli and the Tipiṭaka were introduced to Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Pāli died out as a literary language in mainland India in the 14th century but survived elsewhere until the 18th.
Besides the Tipiṭaka the commentaries (the Aṭṭhakathā) and sub-commentaries (Tika) were also written down in Pāli. The commentaries were most likely written down around the same time as the Pāli Canon; the sub-commentaries date from the 12th century onwards.
In our Onalaska walk-in store we have several bookshelves dedicated to the Tipiṭaka. We have on display: the Tipiṭaka in Devanagari script (140 volumes) from Vipassana Research Institute (VRI), the Tipiṭaka in Romanised Pāli (56 volumes) and the associated English translations (33 volumes) from Pali Text Society.
Since the Vipassana tradition of U Ba Khin is a householder’s tradition, the VRI series starts from the Sutta’s (actual discourses) rather than the traditional order Vinaya (rules for monastics).