We are very fortunate to be living in a time when the entire Sutta Pitaka has been translated into clear modern English. As a beginner, one should not be overly hung up on choosing the “best” translation. All of the translators on this page have created texts that you can read with confidence. They are all slightly different, as you will read in the comments below. And as you read and learn, you may develop preferences of one over another. You may even be motivated one day to learn the Pali language. But in the mean time, you can start by choosing any of these translations and not worrying that you are going to be misinformed.
With a few exceptions, this list is restricted to complete translations that are available in print or as a pdf that can be printed.
Translations by Bhante Bodhi are very faithful to the original Pali and are usually in line with what have come to be standard translations of technical terms. His English is fluent if a bit formal. The new reader can benefit from copious footnotes and introductions. (Note: Bhikkhu Bodhi is the editor of The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha found under Nyanamoli Bhikkhu) (available from Wisdom Publications)
- The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Saṁyutta Nikāya
- The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Aṅguttara Nikāya
- The Suttanipata: An Ancient Collection of the Buddha’s Discourses Together with Its Commentaries
- In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon
- The Buddha’s Teachings on Social and Communal Harmony: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon
The majority of Ajahn Thanissaro’s translations are of the first four nikayas, but none of the nikayas are complete. His anthologies are found in a (now) four volume set titled Handful of Leaves. Although incomplete, for a beginner they contain more than enough to get a solid grounding. He is well known for novel translations of key technical terms, most famously “stress” as a translation of dukkha. If you are a big fan of his voluminous writings and translations of modern Thai teachers, then his sutta translations will be a good fit. He also has five complete translations from the Khuddaka Nikaya. As well, he has many anthologies based on important topics. (Available in print from Metta Forest Monastery and download online.)
- Handful of Leaves, anthology from Digha, Majjhima, Samyutta, and Anguttara Nikayas
- Khuddakapatha: Short Passages
- The Dhammapada
- Udana: Exclamations
- Itivuttaka: This was said by the Buddha
- Sutta Nipata: The Discourse Group
- Numerous anthologies on important Dhamma concepts
Published in 2018, this is the first time that the first four nikayas have been translated and published simultaneously by a single author. From the translator: “My goal was to make a translation that was freely available, accurate, and consistent. In doing so, I wanted to make it more readable and approachable than former translations.” There was also an attempt to use gender neutral language whenever possible. When read on-line at SuttaCentral.net it is possible to see the original Pali along with the English. Print publication of the nikayas is pending. You can find links to ebooks of all of his translations on this site here.
The translation Majjhima Nikaya shares many of the qualities of the later works written by the editor, Bhikkhu Bodhi. The language is lucid and slightly formal. The Life of the Buddha translation is distinctive in its drastic reduction of repetitions which may be useful temporarily for beginners. (The Majjhima Nikaya is available from Wisdom Publications; Life of the Buddha is available from the Buddhist Publication Society.)
- The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: a Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya. About a third of the suttas are available in a free ebook here.
- The Life of the Buddha, According to the Pali Canon (Free PDF)
Maurice O’C. Walshe
This is currently the only complete translation of the Digha Nikaya easily available to purchase in print. It is one of the older modern translations. The only shortcoming is found in the footnotes where the author shares more of his own ideas and biases than necessary. But this does not really affect the translation. (available from Wisdom Publications)
- The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Dīgha Nikāya
Ven. Kiribathgoda Gnanananda Thero
The translations published by Mahamevnawa Buddhist Monastery attempt to use as simple and modern language as possible. As such they are well suited to non-native English speakers and those without a background in Buddhism. (Available at their monasteries or Amazon.com) You can read all of these on line as well at SuttaFriends.org.
- Dhammapada: What Does the Buddha Really Teach
- This Was Said by the Buddha: The Itivuttaka
- Stories of Heavenly Mansions from the Vimanavatthu
- Stories of Ghosts from the Petavatthu
- The Voice of Enlightened Monks: The Thera Gāthā
- The Voice Of Enlightened Nuns: The Therī Gāthā
KR Norman is the only translator in this list who works professionally as a Pali scholar. While his translations are not completely literal, they are as close as possible while still being very readable. He refrains from any innovation in terminology. For these reasons, his translations are great especially for Pali students. (Available from the Pali Text Society)
- Word of the Doctrine (Dhammapada)
- The Rhinoceros Horn and Other Early Buddhist Poems (Sutta Nipāta)
- Poems of Early Buddhist Monks (Theragāthā)
- Poems of Early Buddhist Nuns (Therīgāthā)
John D. Ireland
These two translations, published as a single volume, benefited greatly by the editorial work of Bhante Bodhi. They are lucid and faithful to the original Pali. (Available from the Buddhist Publication Society. This website has a free download of the Itivuttaka.)
- The Udāna and the Itivuttaka, Two Classics from the Pali Canon
The translations below are just a fraction of the work done by Bhante Anandajoti, but they are the only complete works from the Sutta Pitaka. All of his translations are available in line by line Pali and English as well as English only. They are available in many digital formats including audio recording. (Available from ancient-buddhist-texts.net)
- The Short Readings (Khuddakapāṭha, Khuddakanikāya 1)
- Dhammapada (Dhamma Verses, KN 2)
- Exalted Utterances – Udāna (KN 3)
Venerable Acharya Buddharakkhita
Although this is Bhante Buddharakkhita’s only complete translation from the sutta pitaka, he was a prolific author of books on the suttas. This translation of the Dhammapada is both fluent, accurate, and poetic—a rare accomplishment. The newest edition is available in print from the Buddhist Publication Society. An older edition is available free on line, including here.
- The Dhammapada