The sacred scriptures of the Buddhists are in Pali. The word Pali means simply 'text' or 'sacred text'. Since Lord Buddha spoke in Pali, the pali canon is regarded as the most authentic version of Buddha - word. The Buddhist scriptures in pali are commonly referred to as Tipitaka (Tripitaka) i.e. 'Threefold Basket'. The three 'Baskets of the law' (Pitakas) are:
1. Vinaya-Pitaka 2. Sutta-Pitaka and 3. Abhidhamma-Pitaka.
The Pali canon was first of all codified at the first council held at Rajagriha, immediately, after the death of Buddha, under the president-ship of Kashyapa, his oldest disciple. A hundred years later, a new edition of the scriptures were drawn by the second council held at Vaishali, under the president-ship of Sabbakami. The Pali canon was further edited by the third council which was convenced by Ashoka at Patna (Pataliputra). Later, son and daughter of Ashoka introduced Buddhism into Sri Lanka. The sacred scriptures were written for the first time on Palm leaves in Sri Lanka.
The Vinaya pitaka-mainly deals with rules and regulation which the Buddha promulgated, for the future discipline of the order of monks and nuns. The Satta Pitaka consists chiefly of discourses both small and long as delivered by the Buddha himself on various occasions. There are also few discourses delivered by some of his distinguished disciples. The 'Dhammapada' (way of truth), containing summary of Buddha's universal teachings, is regarded as one of the great religious text of the world. The Abhidhanma Pitaka contains the profound philosophy of the Buddha's teaching.
The Pali canon is further divided into nine parts on the basis of the matter they contain. Such nine divisions are:-
Sutta Nikaya (Sermons in prose)
Geyya Nikaya (Sermons in prose and verse)
Gatha (stories, psalms)
Udana (Pithy Sayings)
It-Vuttaka ("Thus-said " short speeches of Buddha)
Jataka (Birth Stories)
Abbhutadhamma (stories of miracles)
Vedalla (Teachings in the form of questions/answers)
India now has the entire Pali canon, in 41 volumes of 400 pages each written in Devanagari script.
As Buddhism spread, more and more people took to the road to Nirvana, Pali gave way to Sanskrit. There are very few Sanskrit texts belonging to the Hinayana (Theravada) school. Bulk of the Buddhist literature, in Sanskrit, belongs to Mahayana school. Among the Mahayana Sutras, texts or dharmas, also called the Vaipulya sutras are regarded as the most important.
Astasahasrika - Prajna - Paramita
Saddharma - Pundarika
Suvarna - Prabhasa
Tathagata - gughuka