Though the Buddhist literature was written in Pali, Magadhi and other dialects only the Pali version has survived in its entirety. The Pali canon consists of Three Pitakas (baskets) and is therefore known as Tripitaka (three baskets). These are Vinaya (conduct) Pitaka, Sutta (sermon) Pitaka and Abhidhamma (metaphysics) Pitaka. Vinaya Pitaka has been placed at the head of the canons.
It deals with monastic discipline and comprises of Patimokkha, Sutta Vibhanga, Kandhakas and Parivara. Originally it contained 152 rules, which were later extended to 227. The Sutta Pitaka incorporates great literary works of Buddhism in prose and verse. It comprises of five collections called Nikayas – Digha Nlkaya, Majjhima Nikaya, Samyutta Nikaya, Anguttara Nikaya and Khuddaka Nikaya. These are either sermons of Buddha preceded by a short introduction or dialogue in prose. T
he Jatakas, more than 500 in number formed a part of the Sutta Pitaka and were the most popular medium of Buddhist propaganda. They contained fables, fairy tales, romances, adventures and narratives in which the central figure was always the Bodhisattava. As the name ‘Jataka’ suggests they were mostly associated with the birth of Gautam. Besides providing valuable material on social and economic conditions they give details about common men.
The Abhidhamma Pitak (basket of transcendental doctrine) deals with the same subjects as Sutta Pitaka but in a more scholastic way. It is written in the form of questions and answers with an appeal to dogmatism. It consists of seven books of which Kathavathu or Vijnanapada, attributed to MogaliputtaTissa is the most important.