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death with equanimity

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(Chapter IV, cont.)

4.3 – 4.31

4.3 Buddhist Canonical Literature –

The oldest Buddhist works that are available today are in the Pāli language. The collection of Buddha’s teachings in the Pāli language “Pāli Nikāya” is known as Tripiṭka. The three divisions “Piṭaka” of the Pāli collection are – Sutta, Vinaya and Abhidhamma. These were not composed at the same time. The Suttapiṭaka and the Vinayapiṭaka are comparatively older. According to Dīpavaṁśa, these “Suttapiṭaka and Vinayapiṭaka” were read at the very first religious conclave at Vaiśāli, the mention of Abhidhammapiṭaka is not found in this context. However, according to Cullavagga only the Vinayapiṭaka was read at this conclave. Abhidhammapiṭaka was composed much later. Other Pāli works such as Viśuddhimaggo, Milindapraśna, Nettipakaraṇa etc are also of a considerably later origin. The explanatory works on the Pāli canonical works such as Aṭṭhakathās on the Piṭakas, Dhammapada and the Jātakas are of still later origin.

4.31 Tripiṭaka –

As mentioned earlier, the Pāli collection “Pāli Nikāya” was divided into three divisions called Piṭakas. These three divisions were –

  1. Vinaya Piṭaka,

  2. Sutta Piṭaka, and

  3. Abhidhamma Piṭaka.

A brief description of their contents is as follows: –

4.311 Vinaya Piṭaka –

The rules and regulations that Lord Buddha laid down for ensuring righteous conduct by the Buddhist clergy “monks to start with and, later, the nuns too”, are called Prātimokṣa “Pātimokkha” or the path to spiritual salvation. Vinaya Piṭaka deals with these very rules and regulations. Vinaya Piṭaka enjoys the first and the foremost place amongst the Piṭakas, but it does not mean that it was composed the first of all. The importance of Prātimokṣas is evident from the fact that Lord Buddha had, himself, said that the Prātimokṣās and the Śikṣāpadas will continue to remind the Buddhist monks “and the nuns” of their spiritual duties even when He would not be there to do so and thus ensure the permanence of the order.

It seems that there were only 152 rules and regulations in the beginning and their number increased to 227 at the time of composition of the Vinaya Piṭaka. Suttavibhaṅga, the first part of the Vinaya Piṭaka is, in essence, the explanatory notes on the aphorisms that lay down these 227 rules and regulations.

The second part of Vinaya Piṭaka is Khandhaka. Both, the Mahāvagga and the Cullavagga are included in Khandhaka. Mahāvagga contains the rules and regulations pertaining to monastic ordination “Pravrajyā”, practice “Uposatha”, stay during the rainy season “Varṣāvāsa”, warding off “Pravāraṇā” etc. The Cullavagga is a compendium of the rules and regulations pertaining to mutual relationships between the monks, the places of stay for the monastic orders and special rules of conduct for the nuns.

Mahāvagga also contains an interesting description of various spiritual practices undertaken by Lord Buddha and this part of His biography seems to be the oldest available. Mahāvastu and Lalitavistara also contain similar and corroborating descriptions.

The last part of Vinaya Piṭaka is ‘Parivāra’. It is possible that this part was composed much later. May be that it was composed by a Siṁhala monk. It incorporates a number of indices in the style of Vedic series.

4.312 Sutta Piṭaka –

Sutta Piṭaka is a collection of Lord Buddha’s teachings and dialogues aimed at general universal weal. It incorporates the following five collections –

  1. Dīghanikāya,

  2. Majjhimanikāya,

  3. Saṁyuttanikāya,

  4. Aṅguttaranikāya, and

  5. Khuddakanikāya.

These collections have collected Lord Buddha’s sermons as well as dialogues with various inquisitive monks and others in very interesting style along with their contexts. Generally, the aphorisms contained in these collections are in prose.

4.3121 Dīghanikāya –

Dīghanikāya, the very first collection, contains thirty–four aphorisms. These aphorisms are very lengthy and, therefore, they have been referred to as DīghaDīrgha” or large. They contain an interesting exposition on righteousness “Śīla”, equanimity “Samādhi” and intellect “Prajñā”. The collection of contemporary Indian philosophical and religious thoughts in its first – Brahmajālasutta contains very important matter on ancient philosophical history of India. In the second – Sāmaññaphala – sutta, there is a collection of the views of the religious masters contemporary to Lord Buddha. Bhagvān Buddha’s view on the systems of castes and creeds “Varṇa–dharma vyavasthā” are contained in the third – Ambaṭṭha sutta that paints a vivid picture of the ancient Indian social order. The fifth – Tevijja sutta presents Lord Buddha’s critique on the Vedic religion wherein He opposes the ritual sacrifices marked by violence and also presents His views on the real form of sacrifices from the spiritual point of view. Dīghanikāya contains many such aphorisms, which add to our knowledge about the contemporary religious, philosophical and social circumstances and clarify Lord Buddha’s views on these issues.

4.3122 Majjhimanikāya –

The second nikāya – Majjhimanikāya is a collection of 152 aphorisms of medium lengths. Like in the aphorisms of Dīghanikāya, these, too, contain Lord Buddha’s teachings and dialogues. These aphorisms describe many an important subject like four noble truths “Ārya–satya”, Nirvāṇa, Karma, right material view “Satkāya–dṛṣṭi”, spiritualism “Ātmavāda”, meditation “Dhyāna”, etc and present the Buddhist views in these regards. In the Assalāyana–sutta of this collection, the flaws of the caste–system “Varṇa–vyavasthā” have been highlighted and the contemporary Indian social milieu has been beautifully portrayed. The style of this nikāya is marked by exposition of its views through parables, stories and similes. The 86thsutta “maximor aphorism” tells the story of Aṅgulimāla in the epic style that he was a notorious robber who when motivated by the Lord became a monk and attained salvation. It also contains many a story in the style of the Jātakas. Besides these, this nikāya also contains very important biographical material about Lord Buddha and many of His principal disciples, which is worthy of note. The famous Parinibbāna–sutta that contains a vivid portrayal of the time of Buddha’s nirvāṇa is also in this nikāya. The study of this nikāya clearly presents a picture of India of Lord Buddha’s time.

4.3123 Saṁyuttanikāya –

The third nikāya – the Saṁyuttanikāya is a collection of 56 mixed aphorisms “saṁyuttas” grouped into five vaggas “classes” called 1. Sagātha Vagga containing eleven saṁyuttas, 2. Nidāna Vagga containing ten saṁyuttas, 3. Khandha Vagga containing thirteen saṁyuttas, 4. Salāyatana Vagga containing ten saṁyuttas and 5. Mahāvagga comprising twelve saṁyuttas. Details about some of the saṁyuttas is as follows. The Devatā–saṁyutta contains a collection of the words of the gods. The Māra–saṁyutta describes the efforts of the Māra “Devil” to shake Buddha away from his meditation. The Bhikkhuṇi–saṁyutta has the descriptions of the efforts of Māra to shake the nuns from the righteous path. Anattamagga–saṁyutta describes the beginninglessness of the world and fearful sufferings that the worldly beings undergo there. The subject of meditation is covered in the Dhyāna–saṁyutta and that of the qualities and flaws of women and the miserable result of getting involved with them in the Mātugāma–saṁyutta. Sakka–saṁyutta has the description of the devotion of Indra, the king of gods, for Lord Buddha. The last saṁyutta – Sacca–saṁyutta, contains the analyses of the four noble truths “Caturāryasatya”.

This work is also important from poetic considerations and contains a lot of material pertaining to poetry. In this work there is an interesting dialogue between Lord Buddha and the Yakṣa similar to the dialogue between Yudhisṭhira and Yakṣa contained in the Mahābhārata. The Māra and the Bhikkhuṇī saṁyuttas have a good collection of the folk poetic compositions.

4.3124 Aṅguttaranikāya –

Aṅguttaranikāya, the fourth nikāya, has 2308 suttas and they respectively contain the groups of one to eleven objects serially. The first nipāta contains the descriptions of those, which are singletons, the second nipāta those of the objects that exist in twos and so on till in the eleventh nipāta there is an enumeration of objects, which are available in groups of eleven each. It is natural that a wide miscellany of objects of various subjects and denominations have been covered in this nikāya.

4.3125 Khuddakanikāya –

The last of the nikāyas – Khuddakanikāya, contains a collection of brief sermons or short teachings by Lord Buddha. This collection incorporates the following treatises:–i

  1. Khuddakapāṭha – It contains the teachings, which are the most essential ones for any one being initiated into the Buddhist order. The teachings like ten moral lessons “Daśa Śikṣāpada”, parts of the mortal body “Ura Śarīra Avayava”, the three–way shelter “Triśaraṇa”, etc.

  2. Dhammapada – The most famous of the Buddhist canonical lore, Dhammapada, is a poetical composition and a collection of the moral teachings of Lord Buddha. However, it is not that all the verses of Dhammapada have been composed and preached by Lord Buddha Himself. This is a collection of traditional wisdom of the saints and the wise of all ages only recited in the Pāli language for the benefit of the Pāli speaking folks. Some verses are, of course, Lord Buddha’s compositions. Verses 44 and 45 of this work clearly indicate that this work is a collection of selected verses from all over.ii There are many verses in this work that are available, verbatim, except for the linguistic changes in other Saṁskṛta and Prākṛta works such as Mahābhārata, Manusmṛti, Uttarādhyayana, etc. It will not be wrong to assume that Tathāgata – Lord Buddha – composed or quoted some popular poetic quotations and termed them as DhammaPadaDharma Padya – religious verses”. After all any religious preacher–preceptor certainly likes to use existing wisdom to his advantage. Dhammapada means verses relating to righteous conduct “of the monks, nuns and the lay followers in the Buddhist context”. This work has also been widely commented upon by various scholars of Buddhist studies from the earliest times. Even before Buddhghoṣa there existed Simhalī Aṭṭhakathā “Story – kathā that clarifies the meaning – artha”, containing 305 explanatory stories, which he translated into Pāli.

  3. Udāna – While Dhammapada contains a number of verses covering a particular subject under one vagga,Udāna is a collection of only a few verses or phrases on each subject. Lord Buddha expressed Himself in only a couple of pertinent verses or phrases on any issue that He wanted to address Himself to.

  4. Itivuttaka – This collection contains the statements, which are preceded by the phrase ‘the Lord said so. . .’ This work is a glowing example of similes and beautiful compositions.

  5. Suttanipāta – It is a collection of the oldest teachings by Lord Buddha.

  6. Vimānavatthu – It contains a description of the divine existence.

  7. Pettavatthu – It contains a description of the life in the nether worlds “Pretayoni”.

  8. Theragāthā – This work contains the poetic expressions of the Buddhist monks and is a good collection of folk poetic compositions.

  9. Therīgāthā – This work contains the poetic expressions of the Buddhist nuns and is a good collection of folk poetic compositions.

  10. JātakaJātaka is a collection of 547 stories depicting the righteous acts of Lord Buddha in His previous births. These stories can be considered as representatives tales of the life, society and historical events in ancient India and these are, therefore, very important for us. Also, it is difficult to come by another work that can equal its value in the field of moral teaching.

  11. Niddeśa – This work is explanatory to the Aṭṭhakavagga and the Khaggavisāṇa–sutta of the Suttanipāta.

  12. Paṭisambhidāmagga – This work describes the subjects like Prāṇāyāma “controlled breathing”, Dhyāna “meditation”, karma “action”, Ārya Satya “noble truths “, Maitrī “friendship”, etc.

  13. Avadāna – While the Jātakas contains descriptions of Lord Buddha’s previous births and good deeds done then, the Aavadāna does that for the other venerable Arhatas.

  14. Buddhavaṁśa – It contains the biographical sketches of the twenty–three Buddhas before Śākyamuni Gautama Buddha.

  15. Cariyāpiṭaka – This is the last volume of the Khuddakanikāya and contains a collection of thirty–five Jātakas. It contains a description of the Pāramitās, accomplished by Lord Buddha, in his previous births.

4.313 Abhidhammapiṭaka –

Based on the teachings of Lord Buddha, the Buddhist philosophical thoughts have been organised in this piṭaka. It has the following seven volumes:–iii

  1. Dhammasaṅgaṇi contains a classification and explanation of the beliefs of the other faiths.

  2. Vibhaṅga It proceeds with the classification presented in the Dhammasaṅgaṇi and dwells on the complexities of predications contained therein.

  3. DhātukathāThis work contains explanations pertaining to the Dhātus “elements” in dialogue form.

  4. Puggala–paññattiThis work classifies human beings in various categories on the basis of their virtues and vices. In this regard it is similar to the 3rd and the 4thnipātas of the Aṅguttaranikāya.

  5. KathāvatthuIt is the most important treatise that contributed to the progress of the Buddhist thought and presented a historical perspective to its progress in India and abroad. Even though it is included amongst the volumes of the Piṭakas, its author was Tiṣṭa–Moggaliputta who was the chairperson of the third conclave. Also, although this work was composed in the third century BC by the aforementioned Ācārya, the differences of opinions that arose in the Buddhist thought in the later periods were respectively added later. This work was composed in the dialogue style. The work is marked by the style wherein first the other school of thought is presented as fore–view “Pūrva–pakṣa” and then it is refuted by giving suitable arguments against it and own view “Uttara–pakṣa or Sva–pakṣa” is established by advancing arguments in its favour. Specially, the question of the existence or otherwise of the soul has been dealt with in great detail and the Buddhist view of non–existence of soul has been established. Other similar questions have also been dealt with in a similar manner.

  6. YamakaIn this work the questions have been answered in two ways. Also, those questions that could not be effectively answered in the works up to the Kathāvatthu have been dealt with in this work.

  7. PaṭṭhānaThis work is also known as Mahāpakaraṇa. Twenty–four cause and effect relationships between names and forms have been dealt with in this works and it has been said that only the ‘nirvāṇa’ remains undefined, everything else is very well–defined.

iSection – 4.3

Bauddha–Dharma Darśana, Ibid, pp. 32, 33.

ii “Ko imaṁ paṭhaviṁ vijessati, Yamalokaṁ ca imaṁ sadevakaṁ |

Ko dhammapadaṁ sudesitaṁ, kusalo pupphamiva pacessati || 44 ||

Sekho paṭhaviṁ vijessati, Yamalokaṁ ca imaṁ sadevakaṁ |

Sekho dhammapadaṁ sudesitaṁ, kusalo pupphamiva pacessati || 45 ||”

Dhammapadaṁ, ‘Ed.’ Dr. Satya Prakash Sharma, Sahitya Bhandar Meerut, 6th Ed., 1995, Pupphavaggo Catuttho, p. 19.

iii Bauddha–Dharma Darśana, Ibid, pp. 32, 33.

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