Pali, lit. "basket of threads", or "basket of discourses".

The second division of the Pali Canon (Tipitaka), the sutta pitaka is perhaps the most well-known of the divisions. Grouped into five nikayas or collections and containing more than 10,000 discourses, the Sutta Pitaka presents the teachings of the Buddha as a series of encounters between the early Sangha and various inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent.

The discourses collected in this section relate the events of the Buddha's life, as well as the unfolding of his teaching. The Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta ("Setting the wheel of the Dhamma in motion") contains the first discourse following the Buddha's enlightenment; the Maha-Parinibbana Sutta records the events leading up to the death of the Buddha. The Sutta Pitaka also contains, among the shorter books, The Dhammapada, probably the most widely read of the Theravada scriptures.

The Sutta Pitaka is divided into five Nikayas. They are organized primarily by the length of the text, but two of the divisions (the Anuttara Nikaya and the Samyutta Nikaya) group their texts by content.

  • The Digha Nikaya: The Long discourses. Organized by length, contains a number of early events in the Buddha's teachings career, as well as his last teachings.
  • The Majjhima Nikaya: The Middle-length discourses. A number of important philosophical points are introduced in these teachings.
  • The Khuddaka Nikaya: The Short discourses. A number of short books on a variety of topics. Includes the Dhammapada, some verse poetry, information on elder monks and nuns of the Buddha's order, and a number of apocryphal books.
  • The Samyutta Nikaya: The Grouped discourses. Grouped according to topic- discourses involving princes, discourses on anger, etc.
  • The Anguttara Nikaya: The Numerical or Further-factored discourses. Grouped by the number of factors discussed in the discourse. Very useful for remembering texts (recall that the Pali Canon was an oral tradition for centuries), and for reference. Know that the Buddha taught that three things described the world? Look in the Book of Threes. Five types of people? Look in the Book of Fives. Initially counter-intuitive, but ultimately useful.

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