The Nine-Fold Division of the Buddha’s Teaching

The following is abstracted from a longer translation of a section of the Dīgha Commentary dealing with the various classifications of the Buddha’s Teaching. These include the Five-Fold Division, the Nine-Fold Division and the 84,000 Dhammas.

Three of these Alternative Divisions in both Pāḷi and English can be found in the Reference section of my Ancient Buddhist Texts website.

The earliest known classification of the teachings of the Buddha was not the Nikāya arrangement we have now, but a nine-fold classification that is already mentioned in the discourses themselves, as in the Anguttaranikāya (AN 7.68) where the Buddha asks:

And how, monastics, does a monastic know the Dhamma?

and answers:

Here, monastics, a monastic knows the Dhamma (thus):

Discourse, Prosimetrum, Explanation, Verse, Exalted Utterance,
Thus-Said, Birth-Story, Wonderful Thing and Elaboration.

Exactly what these terms may have meant to the Buddha and his immediate disciples is not known to us now, as they were never defined in the Discourses themselves, but when the Great Commentator Ven Buddhaghosa was writing the Introduction to the commentary on the Discourse Collection, beginning with the Dīghanikāya, he provided a late explanation for the terms, which at least tells us what it came to be thought of as comprising, and it is this which is translated below.

There are various anomalies, as is pointed out in the some of the notes: we have eighty-two Udānas listed, but only eighty in the eponymous book of that name, and there are said to be over five hundred and fifty Birth Stories, although only five hundred and forty-seven come down in the book of the name. It maybe that the Commentator intended to include Jātakas not included in the book, like that contained in the Mahāsudassanasutta (DN 17) and elsewhere, which didn’t make it into the Canonical book.

The explanation of the list is well worth studying, and it is interesting in any case to find the whole of the Vinayapiṭaka included under Discourse (Sutta); and the whole of the Abhidhammapiṭaka included in Explanations (Veyyākaraṇa).

Ānandajoti Bhikkhu
August 2014


Three Alternative Divisions

What is the nine-fold division?

All of this:





Exalted Utterance,



Wonderful Thing,


these are the nine segments.

1. Sutta, Discourses

Herein, both Analyses, [1]
(both) Expositions, [2]
(both) Chapters, [3]
the Appendix, [4]
and in the Discourse Collection: [5] the Discourse on the Great Blessings, [6]
the Discourse on the Treasures, [7]
the Discourse concerning Nālaka, [8]
the Discourse on being Quick, [9]
and other words of the Realised One named as discourses, so should Discourses be understood.

2. Geyya, Prosimetrum

All the discourses (mixed) with verses, so should Prosimetrum be understood, and especially almost [10] the Chapter with Verses in the Themes. [11]

3. Veyyākaraṇa, Explanations

The whole Abhidhamma Basket,
all discourses without verses,
whatever Buddha words were uncollected in the other eight divisions, [12]
so should Explanations be understood.

4. Gāthā, Verses

The Dhamma Verses, [13]
the Verses of the Elder Monks, [14]
the Verses of the Elder Nuns, [15]
in the Discourse Collection [16] those not called Discourses, which are purely in verses,
so should Verses be understood.

5. Udāna, Exalted Utterance

The eighty-two discourses [17] having verses connected with the production of well-being and knowledge, so should Exalted Utterance be understood.

6. Itivuttaka, Thus-Saids

The over one hundred and ten discourses [18] having the introductory formula: “This was said by the Gracious One,” so should the Thus-Saids be understood.

7. Jātaka, Birth Story

The more than five hundred and fifty birth stories [19] beginning with the Leafless Birth Story, so should the Birth Story be understood.

8. Abbhutadhamma, Wonderful Things

(The discourses) having the introductory formula: “There are these four wonderful and marvellous things about Ānanda, monks,” [20] and all the discourses connected with wonderful and marvellous things, so should the Wonderful Things be understood.

9. Vedalla, Elaboration

The Short Elaboration, [21]
the Great Elaboration, [22]
the Right View, [23]
Sakka’s Questions, [24]
the Classification of the Processes, [25]
the Great Discourse on the Full Moon [26] and so on,
and all the discourses having questions about the attainment of knowledge and satisfaction, so should Elaboration be understood.

Such is the nine-fold division.


Possibly Related Posts:


  1. Bhikkhusuttavibhaṅga and Bhikkhunīsuttavibhaṅga of the Vinayapiṭaka.
  2. Mahāniddesa and Cullaniddesa, early Canonical commentaries on the Suttanipāta.
  3. Also a pair, comprising the Mahāvagga and Cullavagga, but otherwise divided into twenty-two chapters.
  4. The last book of the Vinayapiṭaka, and therefore it is notable that all the present Vinayapiṭaka is said to be encompassed by this term.
  5. The fifth collection in the Khuddakanikāya, which will be mentioned again below.
  6. Sn 2:8.
  7. Sn 2:1.
  8. Sn 3:11.
  9. Sn 4:13.
  10. Almost (pi) is said as parts of the first Theme on Devatā would better fit into Gāthā.
  11. Comprising now the First Major section of the Saṁyuttanikāya.
  12. So we have a catch-all for anything that doesn’t fit the other categories.
  13. Second book of the Khuddakanikāya.
  14. Eighth book of the Khuddakanikāya.
  15. Ninth book of the Khuddakanikāya.
  16. Fifth book of the Khuddakanikāya.
  17. There are now only eighty discourses in the Udāna, which comprises the third book of the Khuddakanikāya.
  18. There are now one hundred and twelve discourses in this collection, which comprises the fourth book of the Khuddakanikāya.
  19. There are now only five hundred and forty-seven birth stories in this collection, which comprises the thirteenth book of the Khuddakanikāya.
  20. AN 4.129, it also occurs within the Mahāparinibbānasutta, DN 16.
  21. MN 44.
  22. MN 43.
  23. MN 9.
  24. DN 21.
  25. Unidentified.
  26. MN 109.

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