Beyond the Tipiṭaka

A Field Guide to Post-canonical Pāḷi Literature

© 2002 access-to-insight



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Note on the 2016 ABT edition

I have somewhat updated this document, which in substance was prepared by John Bullit for Access to Insight in 2003. Diacritics have been added by Ashin Sopāka. Corrections and rearrangements have been made by myself, without notice. One major difference is the inclusion of Ven Buddhadatta’s works amongst the commentaries, which is how they have always been treated by the tradition, and not in the Abhidhamma Manuals and Miscellaneous sections. I have not expanded it greatly, but have made a couple of additions, when materials didn’t seem to be known to the original author. For comprehensive coverage of these materials see Ven. Nyanatusita’s, A Reference Table of Pali Literature (Wheel BP607S).

Anandajoti Bhikkhu
November, 2016


A quick glance through the pages of the Pāli Text Society’s publications catalog should be enough to convince anyone that there is much more to classical Pāḷi literature than the Tipiṭaka alone. Intermingled with the familiar Nikāyas, Vinaya texts, and Abhidhamma are scores of titles with long, scarcely-pronounceable Pāḷi names. Although many western students of Buddhism may be unacquainted with these works (indeed, most have never been translated into English), these books have for centuries played a crucial role in the development of Buddhist thought and practice across Asia and, ultimately, the West. In fact, in some countries they are as deeply treasured as the suttas themselves. But what are these ancient books, and what relevance do they have to the western student of Buddhism in the 21st century? Although complete answers to these questions lie well beyond the range of my abilities, I hope that this short document will provide enough of a road map to help orient the interested student as he or she sets out to explore this vast corpus of important Buddhist literature.

This article is in two parts. The Introduction provides historical background to the texts and offers some thoughts on why these texts are so valuable to the Theravāda tradition. The Field Guide is essentially an annotated table of contents, in which I borrow heavily from a variety of sources to describe each text.


The origins of