This chart (as shown in the image above) lists the five main Nikayas and the first ten books of the Khuddaka Nikaya. It also includes the common translation of the title if there is one as well as the number of suttas or verses each contains. The exact numbers sometimes varies according the the original manuscript. These numbers are based on the Sri Lankan Buddha Jayanti Edition.
We need to not only be comfortable knowing what the books are and where to find them, but we should feel confident in pronouncing them as well. This is an MP3 recording of all the titles twice with a pause between each one so you can practice.
Test your knowledge by using this puzzle. See how quickly you can assemble the canon. The pieces can also be folded in half and used as small flash cards, or cut appart the Pali and English names for an extra challenge.
Have you memorized the list of the books in the Sutta Pitaka by heart? How has it helped you to feel comfortable and confident when approaching the teachings? Leave you comments below.
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
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. Theragatha available in paperback and hardback from lulu. The links below are to ebooks available for download from this site:
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
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.
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)
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.
Because there is no single vloume that contains all of the ancient Pali scriptures, it can be a little confusing trying to complete your collection. It can also be difficult to decide which translations are best and whether or not the book is a complete translation or just an an thology.
Below is a link to a two-page PDF that gives book recommendations and sources for building a near complete library of the teachings of the Buddha found in the suttas. It is intended to be a resource for people beginning to explore the suttas as well as people who are tasked with creating an actual sutta library for an organization. It is also very useful for Buddhist families where the parents want their children to grow up in a home that has all of the Blessed One’s teaching.
Use this list to build a basic collection of the discourses of Gotama Buddha that is very accurate and written in clear English. The following is a good foundation for a sutta library; other translations may be obtained later as interest grows. For other reliable translations, visit the Canonical Collections for Practice page at ReadingFaithfully.org. Paperback editions are listed when available. See the second page for useful anthologies and book sources. Those books marked with a * can be given priority for people just starting to read the suttas.
These are books of suttas grouped in the ancient categories. Unless otherwise indicated, they are complete translations.
TheLongDiscoursesoftheBuddha:ATranslationoftheDīghaNikāya, by Maurice Walsh (Wisdom Publications, ISBN: 978-0861711031)
* TheMiddleLengthDiscoursesoftheBuddha:ATranslationoftheMajjhimaNikaya, by Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli, edited by Bhikkhu Bodhi (Wisdom Publications, ISBN: 978-0861710720)
TheConnectedDiscoursesoftheBuddha:ATranslationoftheSaṁyuttaNikāya, by Bhikkhu Bodhi (Wisdom Publications, ISBN: 978-0861713318)The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Anguttara Nikaya, by Bhikkhu Bodhi (Wisdom Publications, ISBN: 978-1614290407)
* The Dhammapada: The Buddha’s Path of Wisdom, by Acharya Buddharakkhita (BPS, BP203S)
* TheUdānaandtheItivuttaka:TwoClassicsfromthePaliCanon, by John D. Ireland (BPS, BP214S)
The Suttanipāta: An Ancient Collection of the Buddha’s Discourses Together with Its Commentaries, by Bhikkhu Bodhi (Wisdom Publications, ISBN: 9781614294290)
Stories of Heavenly Mansions (Vimānavatthu) and Stories of Ghosts (Petavatthu), by Ven. Kiribathgoda Gnanananda Thera. Complete translations in simple, modern language. (Mahamegha Publications, available on Amazon.com)
The Voice of Enlightened Monks(Theragāthā), by Ven. Kiribathgoda Gnanananda (Mahamegha Publications, available on Amazon.com). For a more literal translation, try Poems of Early Buddhist Monks (Theragāthā), by K. R. Norman (PTS, paperback ISBN 0 86013 339 7)
The Voice of EnlightenedNuns(Therīgāthā), by Ven. Kiribathgoda Gnanananda (Mahamegha Publications, available on Amazon.com) Poems of Early Buddhist Nuns (Therīgāthā), by Mrs. C.A.F. Rhys Davids and K. R. Norman (PTS, paperback ISBN 0 86013 289 7)
JatakaTalesoftheBuddha:AnAnthology (three volume set) by Ken and Visakha Kawasaki (BPS, BP 622S / BP 623S / BP 624S) This is a collection of the commentarial stories with the verses included in the prose narration. It is a selection of the most important stories.
*IntheBuddha’sWords:AnAnthologyofDiscoursesfromthePaliCanon, Translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi (Wisdom Publications, ISBN: 978-0861714919) This is the single best starting place for beginning to read the teachings of the Buddha.
Handful of Leaves Volumes 1–4 (an anthology of the suttas), Dhammapada, Itivuttaka, Merit,IntotheStream,AMediator’sTools,BeyondCoping,ABurdenOfftheMind,MindfuloftheBody,RecognizingtheDhamma.AlltranslatedbyAjahnṬhanissaro(MettaForestMonastery,free)
EverysuttalibrarymusthaveagoodEnglishdictionaryreadilyavailableforlookingupunfamiliarwords.Itshouldbeas large as possible.
Concise Pali-English Dictionary, by A.P. Buddhadata Mahathera. Provides simple definitions for thousands of Pali words. Available from Pariyatti.org. (Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN: 978-81-208-0605-4, Paperback)
This page contains contact information specifically for print copies of sutta texts, either for purchase, free distribution or PDF Download. You may also be interested in the document Building a Sutta Library.
Sources: Printed books, commercial
wisdompubs.org. All of these books are available in both print and e-book (epub, Kindle, pdf) without DRM. Wisdom publishes:
Available directly from www.palitext.com. The North American distributor for PTS is Pariyatti.org. For people in Canada, Source Vipassana carries many of these books. NOTE! Be very, very clear that you want to purchase the English translation, otherwise they may send you the Pali. Publishes:
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
Poems of Early Buddhist Monks (Theragāthā), translated by K. R. Norman, Pali Text Society. Paperback edition available. Complete text.
Poems of Early Buddhist Nuns (Therīgāthā), Translated by Mrs. C.A.F. Rhys Davids and K. R. Norman
Minor Anthologies Vol. IV : Vimānavatthu (Stories of the Mansions) and Petavatthu (Stories of the Departed). ISBN 13: 978-086013073-4
Distributes all of Ajahn Ṭhanissaro’s sutta translations as well as short anthologies. Books are published when someone donates the printing cost, so not all titles may be available. All are available as ebooks from dhammatalks.org Note: The Handful of Leaves anthology has recently been reorganized.
Handful of Leaves Vol 1: Dīgha Nikāya, selected suttas
Handful of Leaves Vol 2: Majjhima Nikaya, selected suttas
Handful of Leaves Vol 3: Saṁyutta Nikāya, selected suttas
Handful of Leaves Vol 4: Aṅguttara Nikaya, selected suttas.
Sutta Nipata (contains Khuddakapāṭha), complete
Theragāthā & Therīgāthā, anthology
Other books featured on this website, unless otherwise noted, are available through your favorite local or online book seller.
ancient-buddhist-texts.net Complete Udāna as well as many other important suttas. Everything is available as a PDF. English translations now available as .epub and .mobi e-books on the Download Page.