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Tripiṭaka (Sanskrit; Pali: Tipitaka; Devanagari: त्रिपिटक; Bengali: ত্রিপিটক; lit. three baskets) is a traditional term used by various Buddhist sects to describe their various canons of scriptures. Buddhists of the Theravāda school use the Pali variant Tipitaka to refer what is commonly known in English as the Pali Canon. Later Buddhist traditions also use other terms for their collections of scriptures, such as Kangyur (Tibetan Buddhism) and 大藏經 Dà Zàng Jīng (Far East Mahayana Buddhism).

As the name suggests, a Tripiṭaka traditionally contains three "baskets" of teachings: a Sūtra Piṭaka (Sanskrit; Pali: Sutta Pitaka), a Vinaya Piṭaka (Sanskrit & Pali) and an Abhidharma Piṭaka (Sanskrit; Pali: Abhidhamma Piṭaka).

Extant Versions

Each of the Early Buddhist Schools likely had their own recensions of the Tripitaka, which mainly differed on the subject of Abhidharma. In terms of Vinaya and Sutras, the contents were remarkably similar. The following survive:

  • Theravāda - The complete Tripiṭaka of the Theravāda school, written and preserved in Pali in the Pali Canon
  • Sārvāstivāda - The complete or near-complete Tripiṭaka of the Sārvāstivāda school, written in Sanskrit and preserved in Sanskrit, Chinese and Tibetan:
    • Sūtra Piṭaka:
      • Saṃyukta Āgama - a complete Chinese translation was done by Guṇabhadra during the Song dynasty (435-443CE), although two folios are now missing. Portions also survive in Tibetan translation.
      • Madhyama Āgama - a complete translation was done by Saṃghadeva during the Eastern Jin dynasty (397-398CE). The Madhyama Āgama of the Sarvāstivāda school contains 222 sūtras, in contrast to the 152 suttas in the Pāli Majjhima Nikāya. Portions also survive in Tibetan translation.
      • Dīrgha Āgama - a "very substantial" portion survives in Sanskrit, and portions survive in Tibetan translation.
      • Ekottara Āgama - a complete version in Chinese, translated by Dharmanandi of the Fu Qin state (397CE) and altered by Saṃghadeva in the Eastern Jin, although it may also be from the Mahāsaṃghika school.
    • Vinaya Piṭaka - survives in Chinese translation
    • Abhidharma Piṭaka - seven books, surviving in Chinese translation
  • Dharmaguptaka - Portions of the Dharmaguptaka Tripiṭaka, written in Gāndhārī and preserved in Gāndhārī and Chinese translation (see also Gandhāran Buddhist Texts):
    • Sūtra Piṭaka:
      • Various individual sūtras in Gāndhārī
      • Dīrgha Āgama - a complete translation into Chinese was done Buddhayaśas and Zhu Fonian in the Late Qin dynasty (413 CE). It contains 30 sūtras in contrast to the 34 suttas of the Theravadin Dīgha Nikāya.
    • Vinaya Piṭaka - survives in Chinese translation
    • Abhidharma Piṭaka - Various texts in Gāndhārī
  • Mahāsaṅghika - Portions of the Mahāsaṅghika Tripiṭaka survive in Chinese translation:
    • Sūtra Piṭaka - a complete version of the Ekottara Āgama , translated by Dharmanandi of the Fu Qin state (397CE) and altered by Saṃghadeva in the Eastern Jin, although it may also be from the Sarvāstivāda school as noted above
    • Vinaya Piṭaka - survives in Chinese translation.
  • Mahīśāsaka - Portions of the Mahīśāsaka Tripiṭaka survive in Chinese translation:
    • Vinaya Piṭaka - survives in Chinese translation.
  • Mūlasārvāstivāda - Portions of the Mūlasārvāstivāda Tripiṭaka survive in Tibetan translation and Nepalese manuscripts. The relationship of the Mūlasārvāstivāda school to Sarvāstivāda school is indeterminate; their vinayas certainly differed but it is not clear that their Sūtra Piṭaka did:
    • Sūtra Piṭaka - the Gilgit manuscripts may contain Āgamas from the Mūlasārvāstivāda school in Sanskrit.
    • Vinaya Piṭaka survives in Tibetan translation. The Gilgit manuscripts contain vinaya texts from the Mūlasārvāstivāda school in Sanskrit.
  • Kāśyapīya - Small portions of the Tipiṭaka of the Kāśyapīya school survive in Chinese translation
    • Sūtra Piṭaka - an incomplete Chinese translation of the Saṃyukta Āgama of the Kāśyapīya school by an unknown translator circa the Three Qin (三秦) period (352-431 CE) survives. :)

Use of the term in Indo-Tibetan and East Asian Mahāyāna

In the Mahāyāna a mixed attitude to the term Tripiṭaka developed. On the one hand, a major Mahāyāna scripture, the Lotus Sutra, uses the term to refer to the literature of the early schools, as distinct from the Mahāyāna's own scriptures, and this usage became quite common in the tradition. On the other hand, the term Tripiṭaka had tended to become synonymous with Buddhist scriptures, and thus continued to be used for the Chinese and Tibetan collections, even though their contents do not really fit the pattern of three piṭakas. In the Chinese tradition, the texts are classified in a variety of ways, most of which have in fact four or even more piṭakas or other divisions. In the few that attempt to follow a genuine threefold division the term Abhidharma Pitaka is used to refer vaguely to non-canonical literature, whether Indian or Chinese, with only the other two piṭakas being regarded as strictly canonical. In the Tibetan tradition, on the other hand, when attempts are made to explain the application of the term Tripiṭaka to the Kanjur, the Tibetan canon of scripture, the Abhidharma Piṭaka is considered as consisting of the Prajñāpāramitā.

The Chinese form of Tripiṭaka, "SanZang" (三藏), was sometimes used as an honorary title for a Buddhist monk who has mastered all the Tripiṭaka canons, most notably in the case of the Tang Dynasty monk Xuanzang, whose pilgrimage to India to study and bring Buddhist text back to China was portrayed in the novel Journey to the West as "Tang Sanzang". Due to the popularity of the novel, the term in "Sanzang" is often erroneously understood as a name of the monk Xuanzang. One such screen version of this is the popular 1979 Monkey (TV series).

The modern Indian scholar Rahul Sankrityayan is sometimes referred to as Tripitakacharya in reflection of his familiarity with the Tripiṭaka.

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