Manusya, Journal of Humanities


P.A. Payutto

Publication Date



The Pali Canon refers to the set of scriptures in which the Buddha's teachings, the Dhamma "Doctrine" and Vinaya "Discipline", are enshrined. The Pali term Tipitaka "three baskets [of teachings]" denotes the three major divisions of the Canon. As the Buddha clearly stated that the Dhamma and Vinaya were to succeed him as Teacher after his passing away, it follows that the Pali Canon is in effect where Buddhists can still have an audience with their Teacher and learn his Teaching even though he passed away over 2,500 years ago. The First Rehearsal, whose purpose was to collect and organize the word of the Buddha, did not take place until three months after his demise. As it was conducted by an assembly of 500 Arahant elders (thera), this event also gave rise to what is now known as Theravāda Buddhism. During the rehearsal, once any given portion of the teachings was agreed upon, it was chanted in unison by the assembly. The text chanted was thereby formally endorsed as the model to be committed word for word to the memory and to be passed on to others and handed down to posterity. The teachings thus orally transmitted were first written down during the Fourth Rehearsal, conducted in Sri Lanka around B.E. 460. The Pali Canon of Theravāda Buddhism, after two and a half millennia and six major rehearsals, has been generally recognized as the oldest, most original, most complete, and most accurate record of the Buddha's teachings still available today. As the Principal and ultimate authoritative reference, the Pali Canon provides the standards or criteria for judging whether a given teaching or way of practice truly belongs to Buddhism. It is thus the duty and responsibility of all Buddhists to preserve and protect the Pali Canon, which is crucial for the survival of Buddhism, and hence for the welfare and happiness of the world. This paper offers an overview of the Pali Canon by addressing such crucial questions as: What is the Pali Canon? Why is it so important? What is a rehearsal and how was it conducted? How has the Pali Canon been preserved and handed down to us? What is its relevance in the modern world? A concise summary of the Pali Canon is also provided, with a discussion of its supplemental scriptures.

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