Buddhist scripture have been recited aloud since the time of the Buddha. In fact, without this recitation, usually as a group, we wouldn’t have the suttas with us today. You can continue this tradition by reading the suttas aloud.
Even though we don’t need to recite out loud to preserve the teachings for future generations, it is still a great practice.
Reading suttas aloud has many benefits:
If we are tired, reading out loud can help us wake up
If the mind is really distracted, it can help calm and focus the mind.
By reading aloud, we can process them through hearing as well as seeing.
Don’t worry about pronouncing all of the Pali words correctly. Sound them out the best you can, but don’t let incorrect pronunciation hold you back.
You don’t need to read the whole sutta out loud. If there is part of the sutta that doesn’t make sense, try reading that part aloud till you can track what is being said.
Sometimes repetitions start to blend together. By reading them out loud, the differences will pop out.
Have you ever thought about reading the Vinaya but aren’t sure where to start? This new edition of the section called the Khandhakas was made for you.
The Vinaya is mostly guidelines for the monastic community. It also contains countless stories about both monastics and lay people. It begins with the moment after the Buddha’s enlightenment and tells the story of the founding of the Bhikkhu Sangha until the joining of Vens. Sariputta and Maha Moggallana. It then tells stories of the ways the community was guided by the Buddha. It ends with the stories of the first two great councils.
From the Preface:
The Vinaya is a source of not only valuable spiritual teachings, but a rich collection of humanizing stories. There are stories of great virtue and great vice, great wisdom and great foolishness. Because the Vinaya Pitaka also contains an impressive amount of intricate training rules for monastics, it is often skipped over by people who might otherwise benefit. The current edition of the Khandhakas is an attempt to make it easier for people to discover their next spiritual inspiration.
Although the title of this edition specifically calls out stories, many of the passages that are also found in the Sutta Pitaka are included. As well, a rather long section, chapter 18, contains detailed instructions on how to go about the daily chores of living in a monastery. Because they are the story of every day life, they have also been included.
Within chapters an ellipsis is included where material has been removed. As well, the footnotes have been removed as they rarely related to the narrative drive of the stories. All the titles remain as they are in the original edition so if you want to learn more you can. The original publication can be found on the download page of SuttaCentral.net.
This edition is only possible through the Pali Text Society’s generous release of I. B. Horner’s complete tranlsation of the Vinaya Pitaka under a Creative Commons Licence as well as the hard work of many individuals at SuttaCentral to bring it into digital form, particularly Bhante Brahmali and Bhante Sujato.
Over the last few years there has been an emerging practice in the Christian community called Bible Art Journaling. It has probably been helped along by the adult coloring craze, scrapbooking, bullet journaling, and of course social media.
The idea is that by embellish the extra large margins of a text designed for this purpose with art work or decorative pull quotes inspired by the text, one can develop a deeper connection to the text. You can find endless examples on Google image, Instagram, Pinterest, and of course endless hours on Youtube. On line stores like Amazon and Barnes & Noble have dozens of bible specially designed for people to create art in the margins. Although the social media aspect is new, illuminated manuscripts have a long tradition in Christianity and Islam. Ajahn Sucitto has a well known illuminated version of the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta that can be seen in the book titled The Dawn of the Dhamma that can be read on line.
There is no shortage of criticism that people are taking it a bit far by completely obscuring the text with paint or drawing, which is probably well deserved. But there can be no doubt that for some folks decorating the margins with illustrations pulled from the text can be a healthy way of engaging with and remembering a text. Clearly it’s not for everyone.
Here is a text of Ven. Buddharakkhita’s translation of the Dhammapada laid out with a very large margin giving plenty of room for embellishments and illuminations. You can also get creative with the binding, and best of all you can reprint any page you want to redo.
Although the Buddha never used charts as visual aids when preaching, we can sometimes benefit from seeing the teachings laid out in a table. These three charts give a perspective on the Buddha’s teachings on the realms of rebirth.
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)
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 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.
When Bhikkhu Bodhi published his complete translation of the Anguttara Nikaya in 2012 he created a guide for new readers to follow that would take them through most of the suttas in a way connected by topic. At this time not all of his translations are available on the internet, so below is the same guide linked to translations done by Bhikkhu Sjuato on SuttaCentral.net. If you would like a sample of Bhante Bodhi’s translation, you can get a free sample ebook here.
There is now a free edition of John D. Ireland’s 1997 translation of the Itivuttaka. The translation is fluent and modern. This particular digital edition has the narrator lines reconstructed giving this collection its unique flavour.
The Itivuttaka is one of the ancient collections found in the Khuddaka Nikaya. It contains 112 short suttas organized numerically like the Anguttara Nikaya. They each contain a short teaching followed by a retelling in verse. This is a great collection to use as a super short daily reading practice.
As we read the suttas, it is important that they happened in specific places, many of which we can visit today. Below is a simple map that shows the major kingdoms and cities we learn about in the suttas. Download the pdf with two on each page and place a copy in whatever book you are working with. If you use it as a bookmark, it will encourage you to pay attention to the palaces you read about. You can make a determination to check each time you read about a place and try and find it on the map. Not every city or kingdom is listed, by you will find most of them.
Jambudipa is the name in the suttas that the Buddha used for India. It can be translated as Rose Apple (jambu) Island (dipa).
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.
Because this collection is so small there are no stand alone print editions.