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:

Book Review—In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon by Bhikkhu Bodhi

In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon by Bhikkhu Bodhi, published by Wisdom Publications, 2005.

Why you should read it:

  • It covers all the important Buddhist concepts
  • You can see exactly what the Buddha taught, not other people’s ideas of what he taught
  • These scriptures are important to all major schools of Buddhism

Many people have an interest in learning more about Buddhism. This is a book that gives the most direct path to finding out what the Buddha actually taught in his own words. This book contains 287 pages of translations of the most ancient teachings of the Buddha, preserved in the Pali language. Each individual scripture is known as a sutta.

The suttas are organized into ten chapters:

1. The Human Condition
2. The Bringer of Light
3. Approaching the Dhamma
4. The Happiness Visible in This Present Life
5. The Way to a Fortunate Rebirth
6. Deepening One’s Perspective on the World
7. The Path to Liberation
8. Mastering the Mind
9. Shining the Light of Wisdom
10. The Planes of Realization

Each one has an introduction to explain any concepts that might be unfamiliar to the reader. The organization quickly reveals that the Buddha’s teachings span a wide range of topics ranging from ordinary happiness in this life to complete liberation from all suffering.

Samples

Here are some samples from the original book. You can also see the detailed table of contents linked to freely available translations on line here.

[su_accordion ][su_spoiler title=”Chapter 1: The Dart” open=”no” icon=”plus” anchor=”” class=””][su_note note_color=”#eeeeee”]“Bhikkhus (monks), the uninstructed worldling feels a pleasant feeling, a painful feeling, and a neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling. The instructed noble disciple too feels a pleasant feeling, a painful feeling, and a neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling. Therein, bhikkhus, what is the distinction, the disparity, the difference between the instructed noble disciple and the uninstructed worldling?”

“Venerable sir, our teachings are rooted in the Blessed One, guided by the Blessed One, take recourse in the Blessed One. It would be good if the Blessed One would clear up the meaning of this statement. Having heard it from him, the bhikkhus will remember it.”

“Then listen and attend closely, bhikkhus, I will speak.”

“Yes, venerable sir,” the bhikkhus replied. The Blessed One said this:

“Bhikkhus, when the uninstructed worldling is being contacted by a painful feeling, he sorrows, grieves, and laments; he weeps beating his breast and becomes distraught. He feels two feelings—a bodily one and a mental one. Suppose they were to strike a man with a dart, and then they would strike him immediately afterwards with a second dart, so that the man would feel a feeling caused by two darts. So too, when the uninstructed worldling is being contacted by a painful feeling … he feels two feelings—a bodily one and a mental one.

“Being contacted by that same painful feeling, he harbours aversion towards it. When he harbours aversion towards painful feeling, the underlying tendency to aversion towards painful feeling lies behind this. Being contacted by painful feeling, he seeks delight in sensual pleasure. For what reason? Because the uninstructed worldling does not know of any escape from painful feeling other than sensual pleasure. When he seeks delight in sensual pleasure, the underlying tendency to lust for pleasant feeling lies behind this. He does not understand as it really is the origin and the passing away, the gratification, the danger, and the escape in the case of these feelings. When he does not understand these things, the underlying tendency to ignorance in regard to neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling lies behind this.

“If he feels a pleasant feeling, he feels it attached. If he feels a painful feeling, he feels it attached. If he feels a neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling, he feels it attached. This, bhikkhus, is called an uninstructed worldling who is attached to birth, aging, and death; who is attached to sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair; who is attached to suffering, I say.

“Bhikkhus, when the instructed noble disciple is contacted by a painful feeling, he does not sorrow, grieve, or lament; he does not weep beating his breast and become distraught. He feels one feeling—a bodily one, not a mental one. Suppose they were to strike a man with a dart, but they would not strike him immediately afterwards with a second dart, so that the man would feel a feeling caused by one dart only. So too, when the instructed noble disciple is contacted by a painful feeling … he feels one feeling—a bodily one, not a mental one.

“Being contacted by that same painful feeling, he harbours no aversion towards it. Since he harbours no aversion towards painful feeling, the underlying tendency to aversion towards painful feeling does not lie behind this. Being contacted by painful feeling, he does not seek delight in sensual pleasure. For what reason? Because the instructed noble disciple knows of an escape from painful feeling other than sensual pleasure. Since he does not seek delight in sensual pleasure, the underlying tendency to lust for pleasant feeling does not lie behind this. He understands as it really is the origin and the passing away, the gratification, the danger, and the escape in the case of these feelings. Since he understands these things, the underlying tendency to ignorance in regard to neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling does not lie behind this.

“If he feels a pleasant feeling, he feels it detached. If he feels a painful feeling, he feels it detached. If he feels a neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling, he feels it detached. This, bhikkhus, is called a noble disciple who is detached from birth, aging, and death; who is detached from sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair; who is detached from suffering, I say.

“This, bhikkhus, is the distinction, the disparity, the difference between the instructed noble disciple and the uninstructed worldling.”

The wise one, learned, does not feel
The pleasant and painful mental feeling.
This is the great difference between
The wise one and the worldling.

For the learned one who has comprehended Dhamma,
Who clearly sees this world and the next,
Desirable things do not provoke his mind,
Towards the undesired he has no aversion.

For him attraction and repulsion no more exist;
Both have been extinguished, brought to an end.
Having known the dust-free, sorrowless state,
The transcender of existence rightly understands.

The Dart—SN 36:6

© Bhikkhu Bodhi, The Connected Discourses of the Buddha (Wisdom Publications, 2000) This excerpt from The Connected Discourses of the Buddha by Bhikkhu Bodhi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

[/su_note][/su_spoiler][su_spoiler title=”Chapter 1: The Vicissitudes of Life” open=”no” style=”default” icon=”plus” anchor=”” class=””]
[su_note note_color=”#eeeeee”]
“Bhikkhus (monks), these eight worldly conditions revolve around the world, and the world revolves around these eight worldly conditions. What eight? Gain and loss, disrepute and fame, blame and praise, and pleasure and pain. These eight worldly conditions revolve around the world, and the world revolves around these eight worldly conditions.

“Bhikkhus, an uninstructed worldling meets gain and loss, disrepute and fame, blame and praise, and pleasure and pain. An instructed noble disciple also meets gain and loss, disrepute and fame, blame and praise, and pleasure and pain. What is the distinction, the disparity, the difference between an instructed noble disciple and an uninstructed worldling with regard to this?”

“Bhante, our teachings are rooted in the Blessed One, guided by the Blessed One, take recourse in the Blessed One. It would be good if the Blessed One would clear up the meaning of this statement. Having heard it from him, the bhikkhus will retain it in mind.”

“Then listen, bhikkhus, and attend closely. I will speak.”

“Yes, Bhante,” those bhikkhus replied. The Blessed One said this:

“(1) Bhikkhus, when an uninstructed worldling meets with gain, he does not reflect thus: ‘This gain that I have met is impermanent, suffering, and subject to change.’ He does not understand it as it really is. (2) When he meets with loss … (3) … fame … (4) … disrepute … (5) … blame … (6) … praise … (7) … pleasure … (8) … pain, he does not reflect thus: ‘This pain that I have met is impermanent, suffering, and subject to change.’ He does not understand it as it really is.

“Gain obsesses his mind, and loss obsesses his mind. Fame obsesses his mind, and disrepute obsesses his mind. Blame obsesses his mind, and praise obsesses his mind. Pleasure obsesses his mind, and pain obsesses his mind. He is attracted to gain and repelled by loss. He is attracted to fame and repelled by disrepute. He is attracted to praise and repelled by blame. He is attracted to pleasure and repelled by pain. Thus involved with attraction and repulsion, he is not freed from birth, from old age and death, from sorrow, lamentation, pain, dejection, and anguish; he is not freed from suffering, I say.

“But, bhikkhus, (1) when an instructed noble disciple meets with gain, he reflects thus: ‘This gain that I have met is impermanent, suffering, and subject to change.’ He thus understands it as it really is. (2) When he meets with loss … (3) … fame … (4) … disrepute … (5) … blame … (6) … praise … (7) … pleasure … (8) … pain, he reflects thus: ‘This pain that I have met is impermanent, suffering, and subject to change.’ He thus understands it as it really is.

“Gain does not obsess his mind, and loss does not obsess his mind. Fame does not obsess his mind, and disrepute does not obsess his mind. Blame does not obsess his mind, and praise does not obsess his mind. Pleasure does not obsess his mind, and pain does not obsess his mind. He is not attracted to gain or repelled by loss. He is not attracted to fame or repelled by disrepute. He is not attracted to praise or repelled by blame. He is not attracted to pleasure or repelled by pain. Having thus discarded attraction and repulsion, he is freed from birth, from old age and death, from sorrow, lamentation, pain, dejection, and anguish; he is freed from suffering, I say.

“This, bhikkhus, is the distinction, the disparity, the difference between an instructed noble disciple and an uninstructed worldling.”

Gain and loss, disrepute and fame,
blame and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions that people meet
are impermanent, transient, and subject to change.

A wise and mindful person knows them
and sees that they are subject to change.
Desirable conditions don’t excite his mind
nor is he repelled by undesirable conditions.

He has dispelled attraction and repulsion;
they are gone and no longer present.
Having known the dustless, sorrowless state,
he understands rightly and has transcended existence.

The World—AN 8:5

© Bhikkhu Bodhi, The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha (Wisdom Publications, 2012) This excerpt from The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha by Bhikkhu Bodhi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

[/su_note][/su_spoiler][su_spoiler title=”Chapter 4: Freedom From Debt” open=”no” style=”default” icon=”plus” anchor=”” class=””]

[su_note note_color=”#eeeeee”]Then the householder Anāthapiṇḍika approached the Blessed One…. The Blessed One said to him:

“Householder, there are these four kinds of happiness that may be achieved by a layperson who enjoys sensual pleasures, depending on time and occasion. What four? The happiness of ownership, the happiness of enjoyment, the happiness of freedom from debt, and the happiness of blamelessness.

(1) “And what, householder, is the happiness of ownership? Here, a clansman has acquired wealth by energetic striving, amassed by the strength of his arms, earned by the sweat of his brow, righteous wealth righteously gained. When he thinks, ‘I have acquired wealth by energetic striving … righteously gained,’ he experiences happiness and joy. This is called the happiness of ownership.

(2) “And what is the happiness of enjoyment? Here, with wealth acquired by energetic striving, amassed by the strength of his arms, earned by the sweat of his brow, righteous wealth righteously gained, a clansman enjoys his wealth and does meritorious deeds. When he thinks, ‘With wealth acquired by energetic striving … righteously gained, I enjoy my wealth and do meritorious deeds,’ he experiences happiness and joy. This is called the happiness of enjoyment.

(3) “And what is the happiness of freedom from debt? Here, a clansman has no debts to anyone, whether large or small. When he thinks, ‘I have no debts to anyone, whether large or small,’ he experiences happiness and joy. This is called the happiness of freedom from debt.

(4) “And what is the happiness of blamelessness? Here, householder, a noble disciple is endowed with blameless bodily, verbal, and mental action. When he thinks, ‘I am endowed with blameless bodily, verbal, and mental action,’ he experiences happiness and joy. This is called the happiness of blamelessness.

“These are the four kinds of happiness that a layperson who enjoys sensual pleasures may achieve, depending on time and occasion.”

Having known the happiness of freedom from debt,
one should recall the happiness of ownership.
Enjoying the happiness of enjoyment,
a mortal then sees things clearly with wisdom.

While seeing things clearly, the wise one
knows both kinds of happiness.
The other is not worth a sixteenth part
of the bliss of blamelessness.

Freedom From Debt—AN 4:62

© Bhikkhu Bodhi, The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha (Wisdom Publications, 2012) This excerpt from The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha by Bhikkhu Bodhi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

[/su_note][/su_spoiler][/su_accordion]

Other Benefits of this book

  • Each of the suttas has a standard citation so it is easy to find them in other translations. In fact, this book is part of a series that includes translations of the first four canonical collections of suttas.
  • It contains three comprehensive indexes: subjects, people and places, and similes.

Using this book for a daily reading practice

If you want to get the deepest benifit of reading this book, it is best to read just a few of the suttas each day. This allows time for the meaning to seep into your day to day life.

About the translator

Translator Bhikkhu Bodhi
Photo credit: Ivan Boden

Bhikkhu Bodhi is an American Theravada Buddhist monk, ordained in 1972. In addition to this book, he has published a complete translation of two of the canonical collections of suttas and edited a third. His deep Buddhist faith comes through in the precision and beauty of his translation work. He is also a popular teacher of the Buddhist suttas.

How to buy

Photo credit: Ourit Ben- Haim

You can buy the print edition as well as electronic edition directly from the publisher at WisdomPubs.org. If you are planning to buy the electronic edition, buy it from them because it contains all three formats (Epub, Kindle and PDF) without any DRM restrictions. The print edition is available from on-line shop and your local bookseller can order it in if they don’t carry it.

Related

Selections from In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon

Cover of Selections from In the Buddha’s Words An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon

In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon has long been the best way to begin reading the suttas. You can read a short book review here that explains why.

This e-book contains the main introduction as  well as the introduction to each of the ten chapters. While no substitute for reading the book with the actual suttas, this can give you a good idea of the book’s contents as well as Bhikkhu Bodhi’s writing style. If you would like to start exploring the suttas included in this book now, you can use this on-line guide that links to SuttaCentral.org’s translations of the same suttas.

You can buy the complete book from Wisdom Publications as a print or electronic edition.  It is also available from on-line and regular bookshops.

These selections have been made available for non-commercial distribution by Wisdom Publications.

Related

Overview of Translators of Pali Buddhist Scriptures

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.

Honestly, the best translation to start with is the one you have. You may want to look at the article on choosing a text by your experience level or by the time you have available to practice.

With a few exceptions, this list is restricted to complete translations that are available in print or as a pdf that can be printed.

Bhikkhu Bodhi

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

Ajahn Thanissaro

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

Bhikkhu Sujato

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:

Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli

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)

  • 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 Gatha
  • The Voice Of Enlightened Nuns

KR Norman

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

Anandajoti Bhikkhu

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

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The Short Readings: Khuddakapatha as a Daily Practice

The smallest collection of suttas in the Pail canon is the Khuddhakapāṭha, “The Short Readings.” It is the first book of the Khuddaka Nikaya. Although it is small, it contains some very important suttas. Three of the most famous suttas—Mangala, Ratana, and Karaniyametta—are found here. These three suttas are commonly recited in the morning in devout Buddhist families. The Beyond the Walls Discourse is frequently chanted after a meal offering to share merits with departed relatives. And the thirty two parts of the body are the traditional parts of one of the mindfulness of the body reflections.

1. Going for Refuge
2. The Ten Training Rules
3. The Thirty Two Fold Nature (Foulness of the body)
4. The Questions to the Boy
5. The Discourse on the Blessings (Mangala Sutta)
6. The Discourse on the Treasures (Ratana Suttus)
7. The Beyond the Walls Discourse
8. The Discourse on the Amount of Savings
9. The Discourse on Friendliness Meditation (Karaniya-metta Sutta)

As a Daily Practice

This is the perfect text to get the ball rolling on your daily practice. Even the longest sutta takes only a few minutes to read. And after nine days you will have completed the book.

Available Translations

Because this collection is so small there are no stand alone print editions.

By Ānandajot Bhikkhu

Short Readings Cover ImageYou can download this translation as a PDF (20 pages) or as an epub or Kindle file. There is also an edition that includes the Pali as well as English. This may be of interest because the texts included are so often chanted. 

By Thanissaro Bhikkhu

In print, this translation is included at the end of The Sutta Nipata translation that you can request for free from Metta Forest Monastery. You can also download it as a stand alone ebook in epub, Kindle, or PDF format.

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Life of the Buddha According to the Pali Canon – Free PDF

The complete PDF version of Bhikkhu Nanamoli’s anthology Life of the Buddha According to the Pali Canon is now available as a free download from Pariyatti.org.

This anthology pieces together the biographical information about the Buddha into a continuous narrative from throughout the Pali canon. Several features make this book uniquely valuable:

  • Many books about the Buddha do not make clear where the material is coming from. In this book it gives clear references to the original texts or makes clear that material comes from the ancient commentaries.
  • Texts from the Vinaya: This is one of the only easily available English sources of text from the Vinaya in print form. Most of the Vinaya is rules for the monks and nuns but there are many important parts of the Buddha’s life explained
  • There are also texts that explain basic doctrinal information. In many cases repetitions are removed to make it easier for people new to reading suttas.

Be sure to read and understand the explanation of the “cast” of voices that the author uses to present the text, found on the page immediately before the first reading.

You may also want to print out a copy of the simple chart of the Sutta Pitaka to refer to until you are familiar with all of the citations.

Download:
https://store.pariyatti.org/Life-of-the-Buddha–According-to-the-Pali-Canon–PDF-eBook_p_1412.html

Scroll down and look for the free download link. Pariyatti is an official publisher of this book (along with the Buddhist Publication Society) so this is a legitimate offer. Now, if you buy the print edition you get a free copy of an epub and mobi. Or you can buy the epub and mobi alone.

Have you read this book? Leave a comment below.

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Benefits of Having a Backup Text for Sutta Reading Practice

Be prepared for times when reading your regular book of suttas is difficult.

The core of a daily sutta reading practice is working methodically through a single book of suttas from beginning to end. Sometimes, though, obstacles may arise that can be overcome by having a backup or alternate text.

A backup text is a second book of suttas, either a canonical collection or anthology, that we have chosen in advance. By choosing this text in advance, we already have a plan in place when we are at risk of missing our daily practice. Of course missing a day or two now and then is not such a big deal, but often external obstacles come many days in a row and internal obstacles remain unless we remove them.

Here are a few cases when a backup text may be helpful:

Time is scarce: If we have committed to reading a substantial amount of text each day, such as a sutta from the Majjhima Nikaya, there may be days when time is scarce. Rather than abandoning reading completely, or just reading part of a sutta, we can read a short passage from our backup text.

Schedule change: From time to time the irregularities of life may necessitate shifting the time of day that we do our sutta practice. If we usually practice in the morning, but have to get out of the house early on a particular day, we can use our backup text at the regular time to guarantee that we get some sutta practice in if plans don’t work out to reschedule the regular practice for later.

Travel: It is certainly possible to stick with our regular text when we travel, but if our schedule will be particularly busy, it may be more reasonable to switch to a text with shorter passages that are easier to digest. Travel presents us with all sorts of interesting experiences and gives the opportunity to find new ways to apply the Dhamma to our lives. There is no need to take a vacation from the suttas when you go on vacation.

Mood: Although we should not let our mood dictate whether we do our sutta practice, we may not have the skill or discipline in that moment to overcome our resistance. In cases like this, we may be able to trick ourselves into reading with the lure of something new and different, a.k.a. our backup text. Using our personal anthology is also a good option for situations like this. After having read a bit, we may even be able to arouse the energy to do our regular reading.

Aversion: Sometimes the hindrance of aversion may arise towards our main text. Ideally, we should work directly to overcome this hindrance through recollecting the benefits we have received from learning the Dhamma, what a rare opportunity we have to hear the Blessed One’s teaching, etc., etc. But if that is not successful, having a backup text to turn to in those situations will keep our practice on track. Again, this is a great time to use our personal anthology. When the aversion has passed, we can return to out main text with new eyes.

What makes a good backup text?

  • A canonical text with short and inspirational suttas is ideal, such as the Dhammapada or Itivuttaka. The Theragatha and Therigatha are also good because in these verses arahant monks and nuns often speak of their own difficulties in the training.
  • Chanting/pirit books that include translations of popular suttas also work well for several reasons: the texts are usually uplifting and we may have positive memories of using them when doing puja with others.
  • Any anthology that includes relatively short passages

Whatever you choose, it should be a book of suttas, not a regular book. It may be tempting to think that you need a “break” from suttas, but there is such a variety of material in the canon, it’s much more beneficial to try a different genre within the Sutta Pitaka.

Consider having a copy of your backup text on a mobile device. Often the situations when the backup text is necessary is when we are away from home, so if we have a text on a device we always have with us, we can be sure to have a text available when time does present itself.

Benefits of having a backup text for Sutta reading:

  • Helps maintain continuity of practice
  • Removes the burden of decision-making when we are already presented with an unusual or stressful situation
  • Gives an opportunity for variety
  • There may be unexpected connections between the main text and the backup text. This often has an energizing effect.
  • If we are doing a practice with a big time commitment like a daily sutta from the Middle Length Discourses, we can maintain continuity of practice on days when time is scarce.

It’s still a good idea to move methodically from beginning to end of our backup text, just like we work through our main text. Then we can start again at the beginning when we finish.

Have you used a book of suttas as a backup text? How was it helpful? What did you use? You can leave your thoughts in the comments below. (anonymously if you prefer) Your feed back can help all of us in our practice.

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Dhammapada As a Daily Practice

The Dhammapada is an excellent text for a daily sutta practice. The verses are packed with material for contemplation as well as implementation. The reading can usually be done in as little as five minutes a day plus as much reflection time as you are able to give. If you do not have an established sutta practice, this is a great text to begin with both because of the breadth and depth of the teaching as well as being very accessible. It is also very easy to commit to reading one chapter a day and develop this habit and hunger for the suttas.

Choosing a translation

If you are a Theravada Buddhist, it is important to use a translation of the Dhammapada that accurately reflects Theravada doctrine. Because of the pithy language of the original Pali text, it is easy for a translator from a non-Buddhist tradition to subtly insert concepts that are incompatible with the Dhamma. Be careful of books called “versions” or “renderings” as they sometimes play fast and loose with important concepts.

The following are good translations to use in terms of adhering to Theravada teachings:

All three are available on-line in some form but, as always, try to work directly from a book for your daily practice. To get a feel for which translation you like, read the same chapter in each one and pick the one that is most appealing. They are all good so there is no need to spend too much time laboring over your decision. Better just to get started. By reading a chapter every day you will be able to complete the book in less than a month so after several cycles of a single translation you can always try another one. If you stick with your favorite over several years you will begin to memorize important verses simply by repeated contact.

Regardless of the translation you use, at some point read Bhikkhu Bodhi’s introduction (available on line at accesstoinsight.org)

How much to read.

The easiest practice is to read one chapter per day. This has several advantages:

  • You will always have time to do this practice. (See the 2nd P) The only reason to miss a day is if you forget. There is always five minutes to read the Dhamma, no matter what your life is like.
  • There will always be at least one verse that you understand and connect with. In this way you will always have something to contemplate.
  • You can read the entire Dhammapada in less than a month, fourteen times in one year.

The last chapter is about twice as long as the rest, so you may want to split that one and read it over two days.

After having done several cycles with one chapter a day, you may want to try reading the same chapter each day for a week. This will allow you to work more deeply with the verses. In this way you will read it a total of seven times in six months.

You could also simply read until you find a verse that strikes you and then contemplate on it for some time. Mark where you stopped with a post-it flag and pick up there the next day. In this way you will be sure to cover everything eventually.

Make it your story

The ancient commentaries contain a record of the events that lead the Buddha to utter each verse. These are an excellent source of inspiration and understanding.

For a sutta practice, however, it is beneficial to imagine how the Buddha might have uttered these verses as a result of events in our own lives. Can you remember a time when you were caught in an argument, causing much suffering for yourself and other people? How would it have been for the Buddha to have appeared and uttered verse number 6:

6. There are those who do not realize that one day we all must die. But those who do realize this settle their quarrels.            A. Buddharakkhita, trans.

Imagine what it would have been like to hear the teachings in that moment. This is how we make the suttas come alive. When we do this, it will be easier to remember to bring these teachings to mind the next time a dispute arises.

Keep it a sutta practice

The Dhammapada is also an excellent text for deeper textual study, Pali language study, and even comparing different translations. However, during your designated practice time, try to work with the text on a personal, experiential level. To this end it is beneficial to:

  • Stick with a single translation at a time, at least for a year. The translations listed above will be useful to illuminate areas for personal cultivation and reflection.
  • Just read the text and not the background stories at least for the first three or four cycles.
  • Focus on implementation not interpretation.

Lofty language

As you are reading you will come across many passages that talk about arahants, fully enlightened beings. This may not always be obvious because the language used is generally non-technical. But it may be clear that it is talking about someone who has reached a high level of perfection. We have to use these verses to lift up our hearts, fill them with happiness knowing that such a state is possible, and that the path leading to that state was taught by the Blessed One. These are our heroes and we need to get to know their qualities very personally.

Conclusion

As with any sutta practice, try to connect it with a regular daily activity. Really commit to reading every day. This will give you a lot of energy for your understanding and keep the Dhamma constantly in your life. Consider using the Don’t Break the Chain technique. And remember this can be a perpetual practice, so always begin again.

Some of these verses will surely end up in your Personal Anthology. And even if you haven’t started a Personal anthology, you can easily use the Almost Anthology technique with the Dhammapada, simply flagging verses as you find them.

In his excellent introduction to Ven Buddharakkhita’s translation of the Dhammapada, Bhikkhu Bodhi makes a wonderful case for using the Dhammapada as a constant companion in your sutta practice:

As a great religious classic and the chief spiritual testament of early Buddhism, the Dhammapada cannot be gauged in its true value by a single reading, even if that reading is done carefully and reverentially. It yields its riches only through repeated study, sustained reflection, and most importantly, through the application of its principles to daily life. Thence it might be suggested to the reader in search of spiritual guidance that the Dhammapada be used as a manual for contemplation. After his initial reading, he would do well to read several verses or even a whole chapter every day, slowly and carefully, relishing the words. He should reflect on the meaning of each verse deeply and thoroughly, investigate its relevance to his life, and apply it as a guide to conduct. If this is done repeatedly, with patience and perseverance, it is certain that the Dhammapada will confer upon his life a new meaning and sense of purpose. Infusing him with hope and inspiration, gradually it will lead him to discover a freedom and happiness far greater than anything the world can offer.

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Building a Sutta Reading Library

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.

Building A Sutta Library PDF

The following is the main text of the PDF above:

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.

Canonical Collections

These are books of suttas grouped in the ancient categories. Unless otherwise indicated, they are complete translations.

  • The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Dīgha Nikāya, by Maurice Walsh (Wisdom Publications, ISBN: 978-0861711031)
  • * The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya, by Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli, edited by Bhikkhu Bodhi (Wisdom Publications, ISBN: 978-0861710720)
  • The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Saṁyutta Nikāya, 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)
  • * The Udāna and the Itivuttaka: Two Classics from the Pali Canon, 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 Enlightened Nuns (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)
  • Jataka Tales of the Buddha: An Anthology (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.

Sutta Anthologies

These are book that contain selections of suttas based on a particular topic. Anthologies are an excellent way to begin reading suttas.

  • * In the Buddhas Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon, 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, Into the Stream, A Mediators Tools, Beyond Coping, A Burden Off the Mind, Mindful of the Body, Recognizing the Dhamma. All translated by Ajahn Ṭhanissaro (Metta Forest Monastery, free)
  • The Life of the Buddha: According to the Pali Canon, by Nyanamoli Thera (BPS, BP 101S)
  • Buddha, My Refuge: Contemplation of the Buddha, by Bhikkhu Khantipalo (BPS, BP 409S)

 Reference

  • Every sutta library must have a good English dictionary readily available for looking up unfamiliar words. It should be as 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)

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Sutta Reading Practice Life List

A sutta reading practice life list is a record of all the complete sutta collections you have read, either canonical collections or anthologies, including the dates of each cycle.

There are several benefits of doing this.

  • It acts as an incentive to read a book completely. It only goes on the list if you read every single sutta.
  • It adds an incentive to read it again. You note each time, and preferably the dates, you read each book.
  • You can see at a glance what books you have not yet read. This is especially valuable for the main books in the Khuddaka Nikaya as they can be easily overlooked.
  • If you fall away from a text, the unfinished entry on the list reminds you to go back and give it another shot. Often the hindrances will be less acute on our second reading of a text.

Of course, simply reading lots of suttas in and of itself is not enough. It must be done with faith and wisdom, always trying to bring the teachings deeply into our lives. Even so, it is beneficial to be able to look back on a tangible record of all the effort you have made to connect with the teaching. As long as you don’t go around bragging about all the complete sutta collections you have read (either out loud or in your mind) you won’t have problems.

Getting started

There are two methods for recording. Either filling in a pre-made list of all the possible collections(as in this Sutta Practice Life List form PDF above), or a chronological list that you add to each time you start a book. Using the form has the advantage of reminding you of collections you have not yet worked with. In this way it becomes like a to-do list, although of course, you will want to do them again and again.

To begin, go ahead and record complete reads that you have done in the past. Just take a guess at the year. Then write in any sutta books you are currently reading from beginning to end. Estimate the month and year that you began. Put a dash so you can see that it is not complete. So it would start out something like “March2011 – ” You might even want to pencil in an empty box in the space for the completion date. When you finish the book, write the month and year. For a book like the Dhammapada that you may read hundreds of times using the chapter a day practice, you can just use tick marks to note each complete read. Consider including the initials of the translator for the different versions you read.

You may also want to note when you read a canonical anthology completely, such as all the Majjhima Nikaya suttas included in the Handful of Leaves series. In that case, either note the anthology name or just mark it with an “A” so you know it was not an entire nikaya.

In the same way, many anthologies of suttas based on a particular topic are worth recording on your life list. Some of the more popular anthologies are included on page two of the form below with space to include others. Remember this reminds us of the value in reading the book completely and then re-reading it again and again. With anthologies especially, the suttas near the end may be dealing with some of the highest and noble qualities of the Dhamma, so we want to be sure to read about them even if we are not able to manifest them in our lives right away.

There are a growing number of complete suttas collections available in audio format. Currently there is a complete Dhammapada by Gil Fronsdal, a complete Udana by Bhante Anandajoti, and a complete Itivuttaka available for download from this site. If you listen to the complete book, mark it with an “L” so you know you listened to it.

Have you used a life list for the sutta collections you have read? Share your experience in the comments below. If you would like your comment to remain unpublished, simply write “Private” at the end.

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