Ancient Buddhist Scriptures

Everything we teach comes from the ancient sermons taught by Gautama Buddha and his enlightened disciples that lived with him. They have been preserved in the Sutta Pitaka by the Theravada Buddhist tradition.


How it was organized?

Shortly after the Buddha passed away, 500 fully enlightened monks gathered at the First Great Council to recite all of the sermons they remembered that the Buddha and his enlightened disciples preached. They then organized them into five collections known as Nikayas. Groups of monks were assigned to memorize these collections and get together frequently to recite them. At the time in India there was a strong tradition of memorization like this among members of the Brahmin caste. Eventually because of dangers such as war and famine, there was the fear that there would not be enough monks alive to keep up this tradition, so the sermons were written down in the original language of Pali. The translations we have today are from these texts.

The Nikayas have a variety of styles of text. Some are stories, some are regular sermons. Some are highly analytical teachings, and some are collections of verses. Some of the Nikayas are organized by topic. Others are organized by length of text. We are very fortunate that all of them have been translated into clear, modern English within the last 30 or so years.

For Beginners 

We recommend  In The Buddha’s Words, by Bhikkhu Bodhi. It is perfect for serious beginners. This commercially published book contains sections from the collections listed below organized around different aspects of the Buddha’s teachings: The nature of life, meditation, the nature of the mind, the life and enlightenment of the Buddha, etc. It is available through on-line retailers and can be ordered through any local bookstore.

Original teachings 

The following are the books that contain the original teachings of the Buddha. These are the translations we recommend.

Dīgha Nikāya

Long Discourses (D or DN): Contains 34 suttas that range in length from 5 to 47 pages.

Majjhima Nikāya

Middle Length Discourses(M or MN): Contains 152 suttas, most from 5 to 10 pages.

Saṁyutta Nikaya

Connected Discourses(S or SN): Contains thousands of short suttas grouped by topic.

  • The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Saṁyutta Nikāya, by Bhikkhu Bodhi, Wisdom Publications.
  • Two sections have bee published individually: Stories of Sakka, Lord of Gods, and Stories of Brahmas

Aṅguttara Nikāya

Numerical Discourses(A or AN): Contains thousands of suttas mostly one or two pages long.

Khudhaka Nikāya

Short Books: This nikāya is a group of smaller autonomous books, explained individually below.
Khuddakapāṭha (Khp): This is a collection of 10 suttas.
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.

  • Dhammapada, translated by Venerable Acharya Buddharakkhita.
  • The Dhammapada : teachings of the Buddha, by Gil Fronsdal

Udana (Ud): This collection contains 80 suttas composed of (usually) a story in prose form followed by an inspired verse.

  • The Udāna and the Itivuttaka, Two Classics from the Pali Canon, translated by John D. Ireland, Buddhist Publication Society (BPS) Complete text.

Itivuttaka (Itv): This collection contains 112 suttas of prose followed by verse. Most suttas are two pages or less.

  • The Udāna and the Itivuttaka, Two Classics from the Pali Canon, translated by John D. Ireland, Buddhist Publication Society (BPS) Complete text.

Sutta Nipāta (Sn or Snp,): Seventy one sets of verses, sometimes preceded by a prose story.

Vimānavatthu (Vv) and Petavatthu (Pv): Teachings in verse about the results of good and bad action

  • Stories of Heavenly Mansions
  • Stories of Ghosts from the Petavatthu

Theragāthā (Thag) and Therīgāthā (Thīg): Verses of Arahant Bhikkhus and Bhikkhuṇis. Two excellent collections for practice. The ultimate source for inspiration and reminder of the goal of the practice.

  • Voice of Enlightened Monks: Theragata
  • The Voice of Enlightened Nuns: Therigata

Jataka (J): The canonical part of this collection are only verses. What are commonly known as the Jataka stories are actually the commentary stories behind them.

  • Jataka Tales of the Buddha: An Anthology, Volume 1-3, by Ken Kawasaki and Visakha Kawasaki. This is a selection of the stories.