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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Tripitaka

(Tripiṭaka) The Sanskrit name for the early Buddhist scripture, called the Pali Canon. It is a compound word formed from tri, “three,” and pitaka, “basket” and refers to the fact that the early Buddhist manuscripts, written on long strips of palm leaf, were stored in three large baskets, one each for the Sutta (Sk. Sutra) or collection of Buddha’s discourses, the Vinaya or monastic disciplinary rules, and Abhidhamma (Sk. Abhidharma) or “development of the “dharma,” sometimes thought erroneously to be metaphysical speculation. The term pali literally means “limit” and probably indicated that it was considered to be a final version of the Canon, decided at a council of monks in the 3rd cent. BCE during the reign (c. 269-c. 232 BCE) of the remarkable Mauryan Buddhist Emperor, King Asoka (Sk. Asoka). The British who took India and Ceylon (i.e., Sri Lanka) as part of their Empire, misunderstood the meaning of the term “pali” and it has now come to refer to the language (probably a version of the Magadha dialect) in which the Canon was written.

R.W.B.

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