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Nikāya is a word of meaning "collection", "assemblage", "class" or "group" in both Pāḷi and Sanskrit.[1] It is most commonly used in reference to the Buddhist texts of the Sutta Piṭaka, but can also refer to the monastic divisions of Theravāda Buddhism.


Text collections

In the Theravāda canon (in particular, the "Discourse Basket" or Sutta Piṭaka) the meaning of nikāya is roughly equivalent to the English collection, and is used to describe groupings of discourses according to theme, length, or other categories. For example, the Sutta Piṭaka is broken up into five nikāyas:

In the other early Buddhist schools the alternate term āgama was used instead of nikāya to describe their Sutra Piṭakas. Thus the non-Mahāyāna portion of the Sanskrit-language Sutra Piṭaka is referred to as "the Āgamas" by Mahāyāna Buddhists. The Āgamas survive for the most part only in Tibetan and Chinese translation. They correspond closely with the Pāḷi nikāyas.

Monastic divisions

Among the Theravāda nations of Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka, nikāya is also used as the term for a monastic division or lineage; these groupings are also sometimes called "monastic fraternities" or "frateries". Nikāyas may emerge among monastic groupings as a result of royal or government patronage (such as the Dhammayuttika Nikāya of Thailand, due to the national origin of their ordination lineage (the Siyam Nikāya of Sri Lanka), because of differences in the interpretation of the monastic code, or due to other factors (such as the Amarapura Nikāya in Sri Lanka, which emerged as a reaction to caste restrictions within the Siyam Nikāya). These divisions do not rise to the level of forming separate sects within the Theravāda tradition, because they do not typically follow different doctrines or monastic codes, nor do these divisions extend to the laity.

See also


  1. ^ Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), p. 352, entry for "Nikāya" at (retrieved 2007-11-06).



1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

Nikaya (" collection"), the name of a division of the Buddhist canonical books. There are four principal Nikayas, making together the Sutta Pitaka ("Basket of Discourses"), the second of the three baskets into which the canon is divided. The fifth or miscellaneous Nikaya is by some authorities added to this Pitaka, by others to the next. The first two Nikayas, called respectively Digha and Majjhima (Longer and Shorter), form one book, a collection of the dialogues of the Buddha, the longer ones being included in the former, the shorter ones in the latter. The third, called the Anguttara (Progressive Addition), rearranges the doctrinal matter contained in the Dialogues in groups of ethical concepts, beginning with the units, then giving the pairs, then the groups of three, four, five, &c., up to ten. In the Dialogues the arrangement in such numbered groups is frequent. In an age when books, in our modern sense, were unknown, it was a practical necessity to invent and use aids to memory. Such were the repetition of memorial tags, of cues (as now used for a precisely similar purpose on the stage), to suggest what is to come. Such were also these numbered lists of technical ethical terms. Religious teachers in the West had similar groups - the seven deadly sins, the ten commandments, the four cardinal virtues, the seven Sacraments, and many others. These are only now, since the gradual increase of books, falling out of use. In the 5th century B.C. in India it was found convenient by the early Buddhists to classify almost the whole of their psychology and ethics in this manner. And the Anguttara Nikaya is based on that classification. In the last Nikaya, the Samyutta (The Clusters), the same doctrines are arranged in a different set of groups, according to subject. All the Logia (usually of the master himself, but also of his principal disciples) on any one point, or in a few cases as addressed to one set of people, are here brought together. That was, of course, a very convenient arrangement then. It saved a teacher or scholar who wanted to find the doctrine on any one subject from the trouble of repeating over, or getting some one else to repeat over for him, the whole of the Dialogues or the Anguttara. To us, now, the Samyutta seems full of repetitions; and we are apt to forget that they are there for a very good reason.

During the time when the canon was being completed there was great activity in learning, repeating to oneself, rehearsing in company and discussing these three collections. But there was also considerable activity in a more literary direction. Hymns were sung, lyrics were composed, tales were told, the results of some exciting or interesting talk were preserved in summaries of exegetical exposition. A number of these have been fortunately preserved for us in twenty-two collections, mostly of very short pieces, in the fifth or miscellaneous Nikaya, the Khuddaka Nikaya. The text of the Dialogues fills about 2000 pages 8vo in the edition prepared for the Pali Text Society, of which five vols. out of six had been published in 1909, and the first had been translated into English. The Samyutta, of about the same size, and the Anguttara, which is a little smaller, have both been edited. Of the twenty-two miscellaneous books twenty have been edited (see Rhys Davids, American Lectures (1896), pp. 66-79), five have been translated into English and two more into German.

See Digha Nikaya, ed. Rhys Davids and Carpenter (3 vols.); Samyutta Nikaya (5 vols.), ed. Leon Feer, vol. vi. by Mrs Rhys Davids, containing indices; Anguttara Nikaya, ed. R. Morris and E. Hardy (5 vols.); all published by the Pali Text Society. Also Rhys Davids, Dialogues of the Buddha, vol. i. (Oxford, 1899); A. J. Edmunds, "Buddhist Bibliography," in Journal of the Pali Text Society (1903), pp. 5 -12. (T. W. R. D.)


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