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The Pali Canon is one the earliest existing scripture collections of the Buddhist tradition. They were recited orally from the time of the Buddha and were put into writing in Sri Lanka in about 30 BCE. Written in the Pali language, these texts form the scripture of the Theravada school of Buddhism.
The writings fall into three general categories and the scrolls that recorded them were therefore kept in three baskets. Because of this, a Buddhist scripture collection is traditionally known as a tipitaka.
The first category, the Vinaya Pitaka, was the code of ethics to be obeyed by the early sangha, monks and nuns. Some rules and practices were regarded by the Buddha as essential and foundational to the pursuit of his philosophical teachings. Others were invented on a day-to-day basis as the Buddha encountered various behavior problems with the monks.
The second category is the Sutta Pitaka (literally "basket of threads", Sanskrit: Sutra Pitaka) consists primarily of accounts of the Buddha's life and teachings. The Sutta Pitaka has numerous subdivisions. The suttas it contains are recognized as authentic by every Buddhist school, although Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhists also recognize additonal sutras. Practitioners outside of the Theravada school refer to Pali Canon suttas as agamas or nikayas.
The third category, the Abhidhamma Pitaka, is a collection of texts in which the underlying doctrinal principles presented in the Sutta Pitaka are reworked and reorganized into a systematic framework that can be applied to an investigation into the nature of mind and matter. The Abhidhamma per se is specific Theravada Buddhism; however, other schools have their own collections of commentaries which take the place of the Abhidhamma Pitaka in their respective tipitakas.