Getting Started With the Dhamma - A Beginner's Guide

Our short Beginner's Guide will introduce you to the Dhamma, provide an overview of the terminology used and then redirect you to your first encounter with the Buddha's teachings.

Max MakkiMarch 10, 2018

The Three Baskets (Tipitaka)

The Tipitaka (Three Baskets), also spelled Tripitaka, is a major compendium of Buddhist religious texts. Also known as the Pali Canon (the texts were written in the Pali language), the contents of the Tipitaka are considered authoritative to both the Theravada and Mahayana sects. As the name implies, the Tipitaka is comprised of three categories:

  • Vinaya Pitaka: The Monk's way of life
  • Sutta Pitaka: The sermons and discourses
  • Abhidhamma Pitaka: The psychological and philosophical discussions and interpretations

The Basket of the Discipline (Vinaya Pitaka)

The Vinaya Pitaka (Basket of the Discipline) is the first basket of the Tipitaka and covers an extensive set rules and guidelines which Buddhist monks and nuns must uphold. Far from a relic of ancient times, the Vinaya establishes a particularly Buddhist morality which in turn preserves Buddhism's free and open nature. This can be seen even in our modern time, where materials produced by monastics are readily available for all, and are not generally gated by the lay follower's monetary disposition in life. Contrast that with the plethora of other religions in which one must pay for access to religious works.

Contents of the Vinaya Pitaka

  • Suttavibhanga: The founding rules of conduct for monks and nuns
  • Khandhaka, Mahavagga: Rules for monastic ordination and uposatha (observance) days as well as stories about the awakening of the Buddha and his disciples
  • Khandhaka, Cullavagga: Rules for addressing offenses within the community and further elaboration regarding monastic etiquette
  • Parivara: A summary and analysis of the previous Vinaya texts

The Discourse Basket (Sutta Pitaka)

The Sutta Pitaka (Discourse Basket) is a collection of teachings attributed to the Buddha and influential persons from within his circle. The text consists of five Nikayas (Volumes) which are organized along various criteria such as length and theme.

The Five Volumes

  • Digha Nikaya: The lengthy discourses
  • Majjhima Nikaya: The middle-length discourses
  • Samyutta Nikaya: The connected discourses
  • Anguttara Nikaya: The numerical discourses
  • Khuddaka Nikaya: The short discourses

The Basket of Abhidhamma (Abhidhamma Pitaka)

The Abhidhamma Pitaka (Basket of Abhidhamma) is the third and final basket of the Tipitaka. It is believed to have been created by the Buddha shortly after he attained enlightenment. Tradition holds that the Buddha traveled to the realm of the Devas (gods in heaven) where he taught the Abhidhamma to large assemblies of celestial beings. He later transmitted the teachings to his disciple, Sariputta, who then organized it in its current form.

The Seven Books of the Abhidhamma Pitaka

  • Dhammasangani: Enumeration of Phenomena
  • Vibhanga: The Book of Treatises
  • Dhatukatha: Discussion of the Elements
  • Puggalapa├▒├▒atti: Description of People
  • Kathavatthu: Points of Controversy
  • Yamaka: The Book of Pairs
  • Patthana: The Book of Relations

Opalnote's Path to Becoming a Dhamma Resource

Opalnote's initial focus will be on the Tipitaka's second basket, the Sutta Pitaka. Our focus will shift to the Vinaya and Abhidhamma once the texts of the Sutta Pitaka are translated. We have chosen this path because our target audience is the laity, and the Sutta Pitaka is an excellent starting point for those new to the Dhamma.

We will begin compiling our Dhamma resource with the Digha Nikaya. We will then work our way through the Majjhima, Samyutta, Anguttara and Khuddaka, in that order.

Begin Reading the Dhamma