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Buddhist Literature

A short time after the Buddha's death or after "the lamp of wisdom had been blown out by the wind of impermanence", disputes arose among the followers about certain matters of the teachings. To settle them a council was called at Raajagrha, near Magadha. When the whole order was assembled, Kaashyapa, the most learned of the Buddha's disciples recited the metaphysical views set forth in the Abhidhammapitaka. Upaali, the oldest, recited the laws and rules set forth in the Vinayapitaka and Ananda, the Buddha's favorite disciple recited the Suttapitaka containing stories and parables. There are also references to the second council at Vaishaali and the third council at Paataliputra under Emperor Ashoka.

For a long time the teaching of the Buddha was transmitted through the regular succession of teachers and disciples, and was reduced to writing only in 80 BC in the reign of King Vattagaamani.

The Paali canon as seen above is made up of three divisions or pitakas (baskets) : 1. Sutta or tales, 2. Vinaya or discipline and 3. Abhidhamma or metaphysical doctrines.

The Suttapitaka has five divisions called the Nikhaayas : 1. Digha Nikhaaya, 2. Majjhima Nikhaaya, 3. Samyutta Nikhaaya, 4. Anguttara Nikhaaya and 5. Khuddaka Nikhaaya.

The Vinayapitaka which deals with ecclesiastical discipline and prescribes rules and regulations to govern the life of the monks is split up into three main divisions : 1. Suttavibhanga, 2. Khandaka and 3. Parivaara.

The Abhidhammapitaka which deals with psychology, ethics and metaphysics is divided into seven divisions : 1. Dhammasangani, 2. Vibhanga, 3. Kathaavattu, 4. Puggalapannatti, 5. Dhaatu, 6. Yamaka, 7. Patthaana.

This is the Paali canon setting forth the doctrines known as the Theravaada, since they were collected at the first council by the 'theras' or elders.