Canonical Collections For Sutta Reading Practice

This is a quick guide to the Sutta Pitaka as it relates to daily sutta reading practice. You may also want to consult the articles on choosing a text based on your current experience level and time commitment. The list below follows the traditional organization of the canon. See the sources page for information on how to obtain these books, as well as the page Building a Sutta Library. Because it is recommended that we use a printed book for sutta practice, only print books, downloadable PDFs, and some Kindle documents are mentioned. This is not meant to be a comprehensive bibliography. You may want to consult the glossary for unfamiliar terms.

All of the books below contain introductions and/or notes that will allow you to approach the text directly even without much knowledge of Buddhism.

Digha Nikaya (DN)

Long Discourses. Contains 34 suttas that range in length from 5 to 47 pages. Many suttas are readily accessible to a newcomer and many are quite deep and detailed. In terms of a daily sutta practice, this text may be best suited to someone who is already familiar with one of the other nikāyas. Published books:

  • Long Discourses, translated by Bhikkhu Sujato. Not currently available in print. Available for free download as Kindle, EPUB, and PDF.
  • The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Dīgha Nikāya by Maurice Walsh, Wisdom Publications. Complete text.
  • Found in Handful of Leaves Volume 1, translated by Ajahn Thanissaro. This anthology contains complete translations of ten suttas, and partial translations of two. Print copies from Metta Forest Monastery. Download E-books from DhammaTalks.org.

Majjhima Nikaya (MN)

Middle Length Discourses. Contains 152 suttas, most from 5 to 10 pages long. This is an excellent text for a newcomer or an experienced practitioner. It is perfectly suited for a one-sutta-per-day practice, about 15-25 minutes each day. For more details, see Majjhima Nikaya as a Daily Practice. Published books:

Samyutta Nikaya (SN)

Connected Discourses. Contains thousands of short suttas grouped by topic into 56 chapters. There is a wide variety of genres in this collection: verse, prose, questions and answers, stories, doctrinal analysis, similes, etc. Because most of the suttas are short, if one reads one sutta a day, it may require several years to complete this collection. Instead, a fixed reading time may be more appropriate, say from 10-30 minutes per day. If you have the patience and background to move through long series of analytical suttas, this text would work for a beginner, but it may be better suited to someone already familiar with one of the other nikāyas. If you are using this as your first text for practice, you may want to consider using the Handful of Leaves edition. Published books:

Anguttara Nikaya (AN)

Numerical Discourses. Contains thousands of suttas mostly one or two pages long. The suttas are grouped by the number of items around which the exposition revolves. For instance, suttas that cover three items are grouped in the Book of Threes; suttas that cover four items are grouped in the Book of Fours, etc. This collection contains lots of rich advice for practice in daily life. The suttas are generally well suited for a newcomer, especially if you use an anthology. If your time to read is limited, this collection would be well suited for a one-sutta-per-day practice. Otherwise you can read from it for a set amount of time each day. Published books:

Khudhaka Nikaya

Short Books: This nikāya is a group of smaller autonomous books, explained individually below. These texts are all good to use for daily practice. You may want to choose one to use as a backup text if you are doing a more involved practice with one of the Nikayas listed above.

Khuddakapāṭha (Khp)

This is a collection of 9 suttas. Important to read and perfect to use to get started with a one sutta a day practice. Because the collection is so small and because most suttas appear in other traditional collections, there is no stand alone print edition available. To get started quick, simply print one of the PDFs linked to below. Published books:

  • The Short Readings (Khuddakapāṭha, Khuddakanikāya 1), Translated by Ānandajoti Bhikkhu. Download from ancient-buddhist-texts.net in English (65kb) or Pāḷi and English (146kb). Look for the download link. Complete text. Complete audio recording available.
  • Khuddakapatha: Short Passages, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Complete Collection. Print copies available free from the Metta Forest Monastery as part of the Sutta Nipata publication. Download e-book from DhammaTalks.org.

Dhammapada (Dhp)

This is a collection of 423 short verses, grouped into 26 chapters. This is an excellent text for newcomers and experienced practitioners alike. It takes about 4 minutes to read one chapter so it is well suited to someone with a short amount of time available. Even just reading a single verse each day will instill your life with the Blessed One’s wisdom. It is also a good secondary/backup practice text. Be sure to find a translation that is made in line with the tradition that you are practicing. Recommendations for Theravada practitioners are found below. All are complete texts.

Udana (Ud)

This collection contains 80 suttas composed of (usually) a story in prose form followed by an inspired verse. Although it is short enough to be read completely in a few hours, it is better as a short one-sutta-per-day practice. Published books:

Itivuttaka (Itv)

This collection contains 112 suttas of prose followed by verse. Most suttas are two pages or less. This is an excellent text for newcomers and experienced practitioners alike. Good for a short one-sutta-per-day practice. It is also a good secondary practice text. If you are new to the sutta, you may want to start with chapter two, read to the end, and then read chapter one. Published Books

Sutta Nipāta (Sn or Snp)

Seventy one sets of verses, sometimes preceded by a prose story. Many of these suttas will be easily accessible to the newcomer; many of them are deep and profound. To use as a daily practice this collection may be better suited to someone with a background in the concepts of Theravada Buddhism. Good for a one-sutta-per-day practice. With this text especially, expect to spend some time in contemplation. Published Books:

  • The Suttanipata: An Ancient Collection of the Buddha’s Discourses Together with Its Commentaries, by Bhikkhu Bodhi, Wisdom Publications. Complete text. This edition also contains a translation of the ancient commentary. (This actually take up the majority of the book.)
  • The Rhinoceros Horn and Other Early Buddhist Poems (Sutta Nipāta), translated by K. R. Norman, with alternative translations by I. B. Horner and Ven. Walapola Rahula, Pali Text Society. Paperback edition available. Complete text.
  • Sutta Nipata: The Discourse Group, translated by Ajahn Thanissaro. Print version available free from Metta Forest Monastery. E-book from Dhammatalks.org.

Vimanavatthu (Vv)

Vimanavatthu Stories of Heavenly Mansions Book Cover

Stories of devata mansions. The two main themes of this book are 1) the comforts of the deva realm and 2) the actions that lead to rebirth in the heavenly world. Would be a good text for practice by someone with knowledge of Theravada concepts. Published Books:

  • Stories of Heavenly Mansions from the Vimanavatthu. Mahamegha. This is a new translation in very simple modern language.  They are written in script form as they are mostly dialogues. Minimal amounts of the commentary are included to help make sense of the stories. Available in print and Kindle. Complete Translation.
  • Minor Anthologies Vol. IV : Vimānavatthu (Stories of the Mansions) and Petavatthu (Stories of the Departed). This is a single volume of both books. ISBN 13: 978-086013073-4 Published by the Pali Text Society. The translation is quite readable. Complete translation including excerpts from the commentary. This translation is closer to the Pali than the Mahamegha translation.

Petavatthu (Pv)

Stories of ghosts, or stories of the departed. Almost all of these suttas are conversations and most of those are between humans and ghosts. The remainder usually deal with someone overcome by grief. The three main themes are 1) the suffering of the ghost world, 2) causes for rebirth in the ghost world, and 3) overcoming grief.

  • Stories of Ghosts from the Petavatthu. Mahamegha Publications. This is a new translation in very simple modern language. They are written in script form as they are mostly dialogues. Minimal amounts of the commentary are included to help make sense of the stories. Available  in print and Kindle. Complete Translation.
  • Minor Anthologies Vol. IV : Vimanavatthu (Stories of the Mansions) and Petavatthu (Stories of the Departed). This is a single volume of both books. ISBN 13: 978-086013073-4 Published by the Pali Text Society. The translation is quite readable. Complete translation including excerpts from the commentary. This translation is closer to the Pali than the Mahamegha translation.

Thera-Therigatha

Verses of Arahant Bhikkhus and Bhikkhuṇis. Two excellent collections for practice. The ultimate source for inspiration and reminder of the goal of the practice. Just reading a few verses a day can be beneficial. Consider reading a few verses each day as a supplement to any practice. Published Books:

Theragatha (Thag)

  • Verses of the Senior Monks: Theragatha Ebook by Bhikkhu Sujato and Jessica Walton. EPUB, Kindle, PDF
  • The Voice of Enlightened Monks: The Thera Gatha. Mahamegha. This is a new translation in very simple modern language.  Available from Mahamevnawa in print and Kindle. Complete Translation.
  • Poems of Early Buddhist Monks (Theragāthā), translated by K. R. Norman, Pali Text Society. Paperback edition available. Complete text.

Therigatha (Thig)

  • Verses of the Elder Nuns, translated by Bhikkhu Sujato and Jessica Walton. Published on Sutta Central and available for free download in multiple formats
  • The Voice Of Enlightened Nuns. Mahamegha. This is a new translation in very simple modern language.  Available from Mahamevnaw in print and Kindle. Complete Translation.
  • Poems of Early Buddhist Nuns (Therīgāthā), Translated by Mrs. C.A.F. Rhys Davids and K. R. Norman (two different complete translations bound in the same volume), Pali Text Society. Paperback edition available. Complete text. You can download a complete ebook of CAF Rhys Davids translation here.

Anthologies

Jataka (Ja)

The canonical part of this collection are only verses. What are commonly known as the Jataka stories are actually the commentary stories behind them. When looking for a translation, you should try to find one that includes not only the story of the past (usually the most famous part) but also the story of the “present” which was the instigating situation for the Buddha to tell the story.

  • The Jataka or Stories of the Buddha’s Former Births, edited by E. W. Cowell. This is the only complete translation into English. You can download e-book versions here.
  • Jataka Tales of the Buddha: An Anthology, by Ken & Visakha Kawasaki. Although this is just an anthology, it contains all of the major stories and most of the others.

Related articles:

Digha Nikaya translated by Bhikkhu Sujato—Free Epub, Kindle, PDF

Now you can download a variety of formats of the complete Digha Nikaya, the Long Discourses, translated into English by Bhikkhu Sujato for Sutta Central. They are available for free distribution. If you find any errors, please report them directly to the SuttaCentral.net discussion forum.

If you are going to use the ebook edition for a daily sutta reading practice, you may want to use a checklist to keep track and have a physical reminder of what you have read. You can download checklists here.

And of course you can read it on-line at SuttaCentral.net.

Related

Highlights of the Nikayas Handouts

The following hnadouts are perfect to use in classes or workshops on the Sutta Pitaka. They show the structures of the Nikayas and give some highlights of topics covered.

Related: