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The Sutta Pitaka (suttapiṭaka; or Suttanta Pitaka; Sanskrit सूत्र पिटक Sutra Pitaka) is the second of the three divisions of the Tipitaka or Pali Canon, the great Pali collection of Buddhist writings, the scriptures of Theravada Buddhism. The Sutta Pitaka contains more than 10,000 suttas (teachings) attributed to the Buddha or his close companions.
The scriptures tell how the First Council held shortly after the Buddha's death collected together the discipline (vinaya), and the dhamma in five collections. Tradition holds that little was added to the Canon after this. Scholars are more sceptical, but differ in their degrees of scepticism. Dr Richard Gombrich, Academic Director of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, former Boden Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford University and former President of the Pali Text Society, thinks most of the first four nikayas (see below) go back to the Buddha, in content but not in form. The late Professor Hirakawa Akira says that the First Council collected only short prose passages or verses expressing important doctrines, and that these were expanded into full length suttas over the next century. L. S. Cousins, former lecturer in the Department of Comparative Religion at Manchester University and former President of the Pali Text Society, holds that in early times sutta was a pattern of teaching rather than a body of literature. Dr Gregory Schopen, Lecturer in Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Buddhist Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, says that it is not until the fifth to sixth centuries C.E. that we can know anything definite about the contents of the Pali Canon.
There are five nikayas (collections) of suttas:
- Digha Nikaya (dīghanikāya), the "long" discourses.
- Majjhima Nikaya, the "medium-length" discourses.
- Samyutta Nikaya (saṃyutta-), the "clustered" discourses.
- Anguttara Nikaya (aṅguttara-), the "gradual collection".
- Khuddaka Nikaya, the "minor collection".
This includes The Greater Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness, The Fruits of the Contemplative Life, and The Buddha's Last Days. There are 34 long suttas in this nikaya.
This includes Shorter Exposition of Kamma, Mindfulness of Breathing, and Mindfulness of the Body. There are 152 medium-length suttas in this nikaya.
There are, according to one reckoning, 2,889 shorter suttas clustered together by subject. fr:Sutta Pitaka
These teachings are arranged numerically. It includes, according to the commentary's reckoning, 9,557 short suttas grouped by number, from ones to elevens.
This is a heterogeneous mix of sermons, doctrines, and poetry attributed to the Buddha and his disciples. The well-known Dhammapada is in this section.
The first four nikayas and more than half of the fifth have been translated by the Pali Text Society. The first three have also been translated in the Teachings of the Buddha series by Wisdom Publications, with a translation of the fourth in preparation.
- Theravada Buddhism, 2nd edn, Routledge, London, 2006, pages 20f
- Hirakawa, History of Indian Buddhism, volume 1, 1974, English translation University of Hawai'i Press, pages 69f
- "Pali oral literature", in Buddhist Studies, ed Denwood and Piatigorski, Curzon, London, 1982/3, page 3
- Bones, Stones, and Buddhist Monks, University of Hawai'i Press, 1997, page 24
-  Access to Insight translations of Pali Suttas in English
- Pali Tet and English Translations
- How old is the Sutta Pitaka? - Alexander Wynne, St John's College, Oxford University, 2003.
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