Sutta Reading Frequently Asked Questions

Can anyone read suttas?

Of course. You just need to know the right place to start. If you are new to sutta reading, check out a very good anthology created by Bhikkhu Bodhi, In the Buddha’s Words. You can read a review here.

Do you have to learn Pali to read the suttas?

Fortunately there are now very clear and modern translations of the suttas from the original language of Pali into English as well as many other languages. Of course, if someone wants to learn Pali they will be able to read the texts themselves, but it is not essential. You can learn a little bit about the different translators of the Pali Suttas that are available.

Are the Suttas just for the bhikkhus or monastics?

Many suttas begin with the Buddha addressing the bhikkhus. Bhikkhu just means monk. This is who was listening at the time, not necessarily the only people who can benefit from hearing the discourse. A small number of those suttas deal specifically with monastic life, but even those are beneficial for non-monastics to read.

Where should I start reading?

We recommend starting with an anthology to get a broad overview of the Buddha’s teachings. You can find recommendations on the anthology page.

What’s all this talk about heaven and hell? I thought there was no such thing in Buddhism.

The Buddha talked extensively about both heaven and hell as places of rebirth, along with the human, animal, and ghost world. Unlike the belief in other religions, the Buddha understood that all of these births are impermanent. You can download some handouts that explain some details about these different realms.

Because the Buddha was not himself a god, many people have the incorrect idea that there are no gods in Buddhism.