It contains word for word almost the whole of the life of Gautama given by Turnour, from a commentary on the Buddhavansa, "which is the account of the Buddhas contained in the second Pitaka." An account taken by Spence Hardy from Cingalese books of a comparatively modern date.
Yet it was modelled on existing institutions and the Vinaya Pitaka itself represents him as prescribing the observance of times and seasons, not so much because he thought it necessary as because the laity suggested that he would do well to follow the practice of the Titthiya schools. By this phrase we are to understand the adherents of Makkhali Gosâla, Sâñjaya Belaṭṭhiputta and others.
In the Mahâ and Culla-vaggas of the Vinaya Pitaka we possess a large collection of regulations purporting to be issued by the Buddha for the guidance of the Order on such subjects as ceremonial, discipline, clothes, food, furniture and medicine. The arrangement is roughly chronological. Gotama starts as a new teacher, without either followers or a code.
The Cullavagga is similar in construction but less connected in style . The Vinaya contains several important and curious narratives and is a mine of information about the social conditions of ancient India, but much of it has the same literary value as the book of Leviticus. Of greater general interest is the Sutta Pitaka, in which the sermons and discourses of the Buddha are collected.
The Chinese pilgrim Hsüan Chuang states that the sect of the Mahâsanghikas, which in his opinion arose in connection with the first council, compiled a Pitaka of dhâraṇîs. The tradition cannot be dismissed as incredible for even the Dîgha-Nikâya relates how a host of spirits visited the Buddha in order to impart a formula which would keep his disciples safe from harm.
The Sarvâstivâdins compiled an Abhidhamma Pitaka of their own, apparently in the time of Kanishka, and the Dharmagupta school also seems to have had its own version of this Pitaka . The date of the Pali Abhidhamma is very doubtful and I do not reject the hypothesis that it was composed in Ceylon, for the Sinhalese seem to have a special taste for such literature.
Bunyiu Nanjio's "Catalogue of the Chinese Translation of the Buddhist Tripitaka," Sutra Pitaka, Nos. 399, 446. It was the former of these that came on this occasion to the thoughts and memory of Fa-Hsien.
The point of view of the Abhidhamma is certainly later than that of the Sutta Pitaka and in some ways marks an advance, for instead of professing to report the discourses of Gotama it takes the various topics on which he touched, especially psychological ethics, and treats them in a connected and systematic manner.
The whole assembly, bathed in tears, were deeply moved as he pronounced the words "I heard"; and so he announced the law as to the time, as to the place, as to the person; as he spoke, so was it written down from first to last, the complete Sûtra Pitaka.
Some of these, for instance the Pitaka of the Vetulyakas, were decidedly heretical according to the standard of local orthodoxy but others probably presented variations of reading and arrangement rather than of doctrine. Anesaki has compared with the received Pali text a portion of the Saṃyuktâgama translated by Guṇabhadra into Chinese.