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  Sri Lanka
Cambodia • Laos
Burma • Thailand



Pali Canon




Pre-sectarian Buddhism
Early schools • Sthavira
Asoka • Third Council
Mahinda • Sanghamitta
Dipavamsa • Mahavamsa




Saṃsāra • Nibbāṇa
Middle Way
Noble Eightfold Path
Four Noble Truths
Enlightenment Stages
Precepts • Three Jewels


Pali literature is concerned mainly with Theravada Buddhism, of which Pali is the traditional language.



Main article: Pali Canon

The earliest and most important Pali literature constitutes the Pali Canon, the scriptures of Theravada. These are mainly of Indian origin, and were written down in Ceylon in the last century BCE from oral tradition.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka became the headquarters of Theravada for centuries, and most Pali literature in this period was written there, though some was also produced in outposts in south India. After a gap following the completion of the canon in which little or no Pali literature was produced, it restarted with the Dipavamsa, a verse chronicle of Buddhism in India and Ceylon, followed by a similar, but longer, work, the Mahavamsa. Then came Buddhaghosa's Visuddhimagga, which came to be regarded as the standard summary of the traditional interpretation of the scriptures, in the fourth or fifth century. Buddhaghosa also compiled commentaries on much of the Canon, work continued by his successors, who also produced subcommentaries on many commentaries, and sometimes even subsubcommentaries. There were also handbooks summarizing some aspects of the teachings, and other literature, all or nearly all concerned with Buddhism, at least ostensibly. From the early thirteenth century the writing af Pali literature in Ceylon went into a steep decline, though it never ceased entirely. Instead, Buddhist literature was written in Sinhalese.


From the fifteenth century onwards, Pali literature has been dominated by Burma, though some has also been written in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, as well as Ceylon. This Burmese literature has in turn been dominated by writings directly or indirectly concerned with the Abhidhamma Pitaka, the part of the Canon variously described as philosophy, psychology, metaphysics etc.

See also

External links

Further reading

  • Norman, K.R. Pali Literature, Otto Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden, 1983
  • Hinüber, Oscar v. Handbook of Pali Literature, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, 1996
  • Warren (ed & tr), Buddhism in Translations, Harvard University Press, 1896
  • Malalasekera, G.P. The Pali Literature of Ceylon, Colombo 1928; Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, 1994 (see
  • Russell Webb (ed.) An Analysis of the Pali Canon, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy; 1975, 1991 (see


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