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Pali Canon

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The Pali Canon is the scripture collection of Theravada Buddhism.[1] "Pali Canon" is the usual English name;[2] it is also known by the name "Tipiṭaka".[3] It is in Pali,[4] which is a language of ancient India.[5] Mahayana Buddhism tends to regards the Tipiṭaka as a sort of "Old Testament"[6]. Most scholars recognize the Canon as the oldest source for the Buddha's teachings.[7]


The Canon is traditionally regarded by the Theravada as the Word of the Buddha (died around 400 BC[8]), though not always literally.[9] It is said in the Canon itself that whatever is well said is the Word of the Buddha.[10] Modern scholars tend to regard at least large amounts of the Canon (with disagreements on how much) as the work of a number of unknown authors ([2]).

According to a tradition generally regarded quite favourably by scholars, the Canon was written down from oral tradition in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in the last century BC.[11] The oldest known manuscript fragment of the Canon dates from the 8th or 9th century, but in general manuscripts have not survived from before the 15th century, and the majority are probably no older than the 18th.[12]

The Canon has now been printed and posted on the internet: see links below.

The vast majority of commentarial literature is connected with just four names: Buddhaghosa, Dhammapala, Sariputta and Nanakitti.[13]

Table of contents

English titles are taken from the Pali Text Society: titles of translations published by them, except for 2 books they haven't yet translated.

  • Vinaya Pitaka (Book of the discipline)
  • Sutta or Suttanta Pitaka
    • Digha Nikaya (Dialogues of the Buddha)
    • Majjhima Nikaya (Middle length discourses of the Buddha)
    • Samyutta Nikaya (Connected discourses of the Buddha)
    • Anguttara Nikaya (Numerical discourses of the Buddha)
    • Khuddaka Nikaya: the contents of this section vary between editions, with some including all the following but others omitting one or more ([3]); Professor Norman asks how one is supposed to tell whether books included in printed editions are regarded as canonical.[14]
      • Khuddakapatha (Minor readings)
      • Dhammapada (Word of the doctrine)
      • Udana (Verses of uplift)
      • Itivuttaka (As it was said)
      • Suttanipata (Group of discourses)
      • Vimanavatthu (Stories of the mansions)
      • Petavatthu (Stories of the departed)
      • Theragatha (Poems of early Buddhist monks)
      • Therigatha (Poems of early Buddhist nuns)
      • Apadana (Legends[15])
      • Buddhavamsa (Chronicle of Buddhas)
      • Cariyapitaka (Basket of conduct)
      • Jataka (Stories of the Buddha's former births)
      • Niddesa (Exposition[16])
        • Maha Niddesa
        • Culla or Cula Niddesa
      • Patisambhidamagga (Path of discrimination)
      • Netti (The guide)
      • Petakopadesa (Piṭaka-disclosure)
      • Milindapanha (Milinda's questions)
  • Abhidhamma Pitaka
    • Dhammasangani (A Buddhist manual of psychological ethics)
    • Vibhanga (Book of analysis)
    • Dhatukatha (Discourse on elements)
    • Puggalapannatti (Designation of human types)
    • Kathavatthu (Points of controversy)
    • Yamaka (Book of pairs)
    • Patthana (Conditional relations)

Where next?

  • Parallel volume-by-volume table of contents of a number of editions; see [4] for the code letters used there.
  • Detailed outlines (from shortest to longest)
    • An Analysis of the Pāli Canon, edited by Russell Webb, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, Sri Lanka, 3rd edition, 2008; online at [5]; includes extensive bibliography
    • An Outline Of the Pāḷi Canon, compiled from various sources by Allan R. Bomhard, Charleston Buddhist Fellowship, Charleston, SC USA, 2013 (2557); online at [6]
    • Guide to Tipiṭaka, compiled by U Ko Lay, Burma Piṭaka Association, Rangoon, 1986; reprinted in India, Malaysia, Taiwan and Thailand; now online at numerous websites, e.g. [7], [8], [9], [10]
    • A History of Pali Literature by Bimala Churn Law, originally published in 2 volumes in 1933 (Volume I on the Canon), reprinted in 1 volume, online at [11]
  • The Lion's Roar: an Anthology of the Buddha's Teachings Selected from the Pāḷi Canon, David Maurice, Rider, London, 1962; American printing Citadel, New York, 1967: online at [12]; this seems to be the only anthology including selections from all three pitakas; it also represents all five nikayas, but not all the individual books listed above
  • The Pali Text Society publishes Pali texts, translations, an Introduction to Pali, a Pali-English Dictionary, etc.; if some of the tabs at the top of the home page don't work on your computer, click on Sitemap at left
  • Complete text (in Pali)
    • image files
      • Braḥ Traipiṭakapāḷi, 110 volumes, Phnom Penh, 1931-1969: [13]
      • Buddhajayanti Tripitaka, 52 volumes [in 58], published under the patronage of the government of Ceylon/Sri Lanka, 1957-1989:
      • Chaṭṭhasaṅgītipiṭakaṁ, 40 volumes; various printings:
        • Ministry of Religious Affairs, Yangon, 2008: [16]; complete set, including commentaries and subcommentaries, can be downloaded free of charge from [17]
        • [18]
        • [19] (click on Eng to get the page in English instead of Burmese); also includes English translations of a lot of the Canon
    • text files
      • Sri Lanka Tripitaka Project: [20]; also includes many other Pali texts
      • Sutta Central: [21]; see [22], [23] for background on this; also includes early Buddhist literature in other languages
      • Vipassana Research Institute, Igatpuri, India: [24]; also includes commentaries, subcommentaries and other Pali texts
    • watch this space:
      • [25]: site provider hopes to add more editions
      • [26] has carried an under construction notice for many months
      • [27]


  1. Gethin, Sayings of the Buddha, Oxford World Classics, 2008, page xiii
  2. Gombrich, foreword to Pali Text Society edition of Geiger, Pali Grammar; there are typographical variants: Pali/Pāli/Pāḷi Canon/canon
  3. Harvey, Introduction to Buddhism, Cambridge University Press, 2nd ed, 2012, page 459
  4. Harvey, Introduction to Buddhism, Cambridge University Press, 1st ed, 1990, page 3
  5. Harvey, Introduction to Buddhism, Cambridge University Press, 1st ed, 1990, page xx
  6. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2002 printing, volume 11, page 791 (article Tipitaka)
  7. Mousa, World Religions Demystified, McGraw-Hill, 2014, page 35; Schopen, Bones, Stones, and Buddhist Monks, University of Hawai'i Press, Honolulu, 1997, pages 23f / reprinted from Studien zur Indologie und Iranistik, volume 10 (1985), page 9 / also quoted in "The historical authenticity of early Buddhist literature: a critical evaluation", Vienna Journal of South Asian Studies, Vol XLIX (2005)/[1], page 37
  8. consensus of scholars: Gethin, Sayings of the Buddha, Oxford World Classics, 2008, page xv
  9. Gombrich, Theravada Buddhism, Routledge, London, 1st edn, 1988 / 2nd edn, 2006, page 20
  10. The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha, Wisdom Publications / Pali Text Society, page 1120; Gradual Sayings, Pali Text Society, volume IV, page 112
  11. Gethin, Buddhist Path to Awakening, Brill, Leiden / New York / Köln, 1992, page 8
  12. Gethin, Sayings of the Buddha, Oxford University Press, pages xxiif
  13. Journal of the Pali Text Society, volume XXVI, page 134
  14. Philological Approach to Buddhism, School of Oriental and African Studies, London, 1997, page 141; also quoted by Oliver Freiberger in Kanonisierung und Kanonbildung in der asiatischen Religionsgeschichte, ed Max Deeg et al, Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vienna, 2011, page 218
  15. "Illustrator of ultimate meaning" (in 1 volume with "Minor readings"), page 2
  16. Suttanipata translation, page 18