The standard early list of the nine divisions of the Buddha's teachings

In the Introduction to his Itivuttaka translation Thanissaro Bhikkhu refers to the “standard early list of the nine divisions of the Buddha’s teachings”.

I can’t find this list by searching the Internet.
Thanks in advance for providing it.


I’m guessing it might simply refer to the older, seemingly pre-Nikāya-Āgama, classification of the suttas into nine categories according to genre/writing type:

sutta (prose discourses), geyya (mixed prose and verse), veyyākaraṇa (answers to questions), gāthā (verse), udāna (inspired utterances), itivuttaka (memorable sayings), jātaka (stories of past births), abbhutadhamma (marvelous qualities), and vedalla (catechism).

(have taken this list from p.6 in the Intro to Bhikkhu Bodhi’s “In the Buddha’s Words” where it is briefly referred to).

Must admit I only really became familiar with this nine-fold scheme from Choong Mun-keat’s comparison between portions of the SN and SA; his book depends heavily on certain theories about these divisions and the structure of the SA/SN.

Actually, while it hadn’t occurred to me or even crossed my mind before (given that the book “The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism” by Choong Mun-keat is actually his PhD thesis), it is actually a published PhD thesis so, I guess, still under copyright by the publisher, so I’d better remove the link to it! :frowning_face:


Thanks suaimhneas.

Surprising to find the Jatakas in this list as, as far as I understand, they were written around the time of Asoka thus not EBTs.

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I can’t say I’m familiar with the ins and outs of this categorization scheme. The inclusion of the jātaka probably just means that at least some of the accounts of this type were early, that it was a recognized genre, even if many of these sorts of accounts are late.

As fate would have it, Mun-keat himself once shared with me a link to a, shall we say, unauthorized download of this very book. :woman_shrugging:

As to the list, I discuss it at some length in A History of Mindfulness, partly drawing from Mun-keat, who in fact is following Yin Shun.


@alaber, here is the relevant section of Ven. Sujato’s “A History of Mindfulness”:


many thanks Matt

For the record, here’s my current translation, together with a scrappy note I made:

statements, songs, discussions, verses, inspired sayings, legends, stories of past lives, amazing stories, and analyses.

  • sutta = statement: Normally all of these fall within the Suttas, so clearly sutta here has a narrower meaning. In Indic use generally it means “short doctrinal statement, epitome”, and that use is found in Buddhism too, eg. the patimokkha is called the sutta.
  • geyya = song: The comm explains as mixed prose and verse, hence Ven Bodhi’s trans. May well be correct, but the word can only mean “song”.
  • veyyākaraṇa: the normal meaning of veyyākaraṇa is “answer”, and discourses in Q&A format are very common, in fact almost everything longer than a basic “statement” is in this form. Ven Bodhi’s “exposition” is misleading, as an exposition is essentially a long monologue, which is quite rare, and in any case it’s not what veyyākaraṇa means.
  • gāthā: Thera-Therī, etc
  • udāna: possibly includes Dhammapada. (In the EBTs, dhammapada is only used in the sense of “basic principle”.)
  • itivuttaka: Ven Bodhi’s has “quotation”, which is literal. But I suspect it actually means “legend”, i.e. tales of the past, “so it was said…”. cf. itihāsa
  • jātaka refers to the few stories of past lives found in the EBTs.
  • abbhutadhamma are the mentions of amazing qualities, usually of the Buddha, sometimes, a wheel-turning king, or Ānanda, etc. This genre is especially closely linked with Ānanda.
  • vedalla: Ven Bodhi has Q&A, but there are only a couple of explicit Vedallas, and lots of Q&As. Anyway, veyyākaraṇa literally means “answer”, while vedalla means “vi-dala”, to split apart, i.e to analyse.

Thank you dear Banthe.

Will it be correct to say that these classifications have no great interest to practitioners today (may be ok for scholars) as what is accessible to us today, for example the Pali Canon, is not following these classifications?

I have a concern with itivuttaka which you translate as “legend”. Does this apply to “the” itivuttaka that Thanissaro Bhikkhu translated in 2001/2013? In another words what Khujjuttara has collected is considered “legends” not real teachings of the Buddha.

The main interest is in understanding the way that the first generation of Buddhists conceived their scriptures. According to tradition, this was the system that prevailed before the current nikaya system was developed, so if we can trace signs of this we may have a better understanding of how that process unfolded.

The relation between the names of items in the list and the current books of the same names is uncertain. The obvious conclusion is that the Jatakas refer to the book of that name, Itivuttaka to the book of that name, and so on.

However, this is problematic, since several of these books, for example the Jatakas, are clearly later. In addition, some books, for example Dhammapada, are absent from the list. So the list must have a fairly loose relation to the extant books.

In the case of Jatakas, for example, the term itself fairly clearly determines what it is. So it seems likely that the fairly small number of “Jataka” stories found in the EBTs became applied to the later collection in the same sense.

In the case of itivuttaka, the name itself is vague and uncertain, and it’s quite possible it became applied in a quite different sense.

The suggestions above are an attempt to get at what I think the original sense was. Itivuttaka is similar in sense to such terms as itihāsa, which is used in the Brahmanical sense for “just so” stories, i.e. legends of the past. I suspect that, as that sense receded, it became applied more or less arbitrarily to the current collection. But of course, this could be wrong!


Thanks for this precisions.

Please comment on the EBT quality of what Khujjuttara had collected.

Well, i haven’t studied the Itivuttaka closely, but it is generally taken to be part of the early texts, but perhaps on average a little later than the 4 nikayas.

Dear Banthe, do you intend to translate the suttas found in the various books of the Kuddaka (e.g. Dammapada, Sutta-nipata, etc.) ?

I do, yes. My plan is to finish the four main nikayas and publish them first. Then I’ll work through the 6 early books of the Khuddaka over the next year or two, not doing it so intensively. I’d also like to translate the substantive early Sanskrit suttas; there’s not so many of them.


Sadu, sadu, sadu.
Can’t wait to start the French versions.