Understanding Buddhist Scriptures
The teachings of the Buddha are referred to as Buddhist scriptures in general. Tripitaka is the traditional term for Buddhist scriptures, where various schools’ collections are divided into three pitakas (baskets). The Sutra Pitaka refers to the basket of Discourse, Vinaya Pitaka is the basket of Discipline, while Abhidhamma Pitaka is the basket of Further Doctrine. Scriptures are categorized according to the nature and origin of is content. This Tripitaka system is commonly acknowledged by various schools of Buddhism.
1) Sutra Pitaka – The Basket of Discourse is a compilation of what the Buddha has taught through his forty-five years of teaching after his enlightenment.
2) Vinaya Pitaka – The Basket of Discipline is the codes of conduct established for monastics as well as lay practitioners in the Buddhist communities. These rules were established during the time of the Buddha as preventative measures to misconducts and gradually refined into systematic Buddhist precepts through time.
3) Abhidhamma Pitaka – The Basket of Further Doctrine is a detailed scholastic analysis and further insights on the Buddha’s teachings. Majority of the scriptures within this category are compiled by Bodhisattvas and ancient renowned Buddhist scholars, instead of the Buddha himself.
Buddhist monastics who are qualified to teach on the Buddhist scriptures are referred to as Venerable Dharma Masters. Those who specialize in sutra teaching are Sutra Dharma masters; Vinaya teachers are the Discipline masters; and Adhidhamma teachers are the scholastic masters. A Tripitaka Master, such as Dharma Master Hsuan Tsang, is a highly respected profound scholar with deep insights on the entire Tripitaka collections.