Religious figures and sacred texts

  • Created by: mckenj99
  • Created on: 07-01-18 18:22

The Pali Canon

The Pali Canon, sometimes known as the Tipitaka, is a collection of Budhist scriptures from Therevandan Buddhism. It was not written down until 300 years after the death of the Buddha. 

The Tipitaka was established through meetings of the three councils, Rjagaha, Vesali and Pataliputra. 

The 1st Council - Rjagaha 

Established the principle of practice for the sangha and established the teachings of the Buddha that had been trasnmitted orally. 

The 2nd Council - Versali

This is where there was the first split between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhists. 

The 3rd Council - Pataliputra

This is where the basic principles of the Vinaya for the Theravada tradition was created. It was also where the Theravada split occured. 

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Three baskets

There are three baskets within the Tipitaka: 

1. Vinaya - Discipline basket - This is the disciple and rules that the monks follow

2. Sutta Pitaka - The Sermon basket - Includes the Buddhas teachings 

3. Abidamma - Analytical and philosophical basket - Includes philosophical reflections between Buddhist thoughts and Indian concepts of reality. 

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Authority of the Vinaya

Vinaya means discipline so the Vinaya Pitaka is often called the Book of Discipline. 

The Vinaya provides a complete way of life, a rule of conduct, for monks, nuns and novices; the general principles are never lost sight of, and they provide a means of generating a host of detailed and particular prescriptions. 

The Vinaya is important because it provides 'guidelines' for monks and nuns. It is the book of discipline and therefore tells Buddhists what they should and should not do. Without it there would be no clear expectations for monks and Buddhists to follow making discipline very lax. 

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Authority of the Sutta Pitaka

The Sutta Pitaka contains the Buddha's teaching recorded mainly as sermons delivered in historical settings. 

It includes the Dhammapada which means 'the path or verse of truth' and is the best known of all the Buddhist scriptures in the west. 

It also includes the Metta Sutta, a scripture in which the Buddha describes how an individual can live a life of loving-kindness. 

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Relevance of the Abidhamma

The Buddha taught specific people in specific circumstances according to their ability. Once these teachings were taken out of their context, they became difficult to understand.

It became necesary to write commentaries on the Dhamma, and when these commentaries were collected together they became the third 'basket' of the Tipitaka. 

The Abidhamma Pitaka contains 7 seperate works. 

The Abhidamma contains philosophical analysis of the Buddha's teaching. The underlying doctrinal principles presented int he suttas are organised into systematic framework. These texts address topics such as human psychology and the relationship between mind and matter. 

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Importance of the Pali Canon


  • It is important to Theravda Buddhists as it is their core scripture. 
  • Contains the Vinaya, code of discipline. 
  • Mahayana Buddhists accept the Pali Canon.

Not Important 

  • Western/Convert Buddhits find it hard to accept the authority of the traditional scriptures.
  • Some believe the heart Stura is the most important text - most influential to Mahayana B.
  • You can find wisdom from other places, e.g. community of elders, meditation or guru.
  • In Mahayana traditions, all Buddhist texts are seen as provisional skilful means only, so no text is more valid than any other.
  • The Buddha himself said to question all teachings 
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The Heart Sutra

The Heart Sutra is a famous sutra from Mahayana Buddhism and is one of the most influential Mahayana texts. 

The sutra focuses upon the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Avelokitsvara, and contains within it many key themes from the Mahayana tradition. 

The early lines of the Sutra discuss the five skhandas - form, sensation, perception, mental formation and consciousness. 

Avelokitesvara has seen that the skhandas are empty and thus has been freed from suffering. 

The sutra also goes onto say that all phenomena aer expressions of emptiness. 

The sutra suggests that the ultimate truth is that there are no distincitive things or beings. There is, at the level of ultimate truth, no path, no wisdom and no attainment. 

Link to AS work on the three lakshanas (Anatta)

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Parable of the Burning House

The parable of the burning house is a story in the Lotus Sutra about a man who has to use skilful means to lead his children away from danger. The parables main teachings include - Skilful means, Bodhisattvas and the idea that there are many Buddhas. 

The parable is popular for its acclaimed teachings on Upaya. Buddhists also believe that it has magical powers and that it opens up the possiblity of Buddhahood to all people. 

The parable also contains metaphors for the human conditions: 

  • The house - The world
  • The children - Ignorace 
  • The fire - The three root poisions
  • The three carts - Skilful means
  • The jewlled carriage - Illumination 

In this parable the father is the Buddha and the children are sentient beings trapped in the burning house. The burning house represents the world burning with the fires of old age, sickness and death. The teachings of the Buddha are like the father getting the children to leave their pleasures for a greater pleasure, Nirvana.

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