Is there a holy book for buddhists as the Bible is for Jews and Christians and Quran for Muslims? Is that the Tipitaka?

A book where you can find all the teachings of Buddhism, and how to behave, rules, etc.

Where can I read it translated to English or Spanish? In the same way I can read the Bible and the Quran online.


7 Answers 7


There isn't exactly one short Buddhist bible (see Why isn't there a Buddhist Bible?).

The Tripitaka is the Pali canon, possibly the earliest (or at least, among the earliest) of the surviving Buddhist literature. It has three parts, and of these three the Sutta Pitaka is the most relevant (to us).

You can read it (or at least begin to read it) online. Web sites with the Pali suttas translated include:

  • http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ -- popular, accessible, maybe a minimum of commentary
  • http://dharmafarer.org/ -- suttas are introduced with a lot of commentary by the translator
  • http://www.buddha-vacana.org/ -- not so many of the suttas are translated, but those which are here are given with word-by-word Pali-to-English translations
  • https://suttacentral.net/ (click on "Sutta" in the heading of the page) -- perhaps the most extensive collection (for example if eventually you're looking for a specific sutta, and find that it's not one of the suttas translated on Access to Insight, then look for it here)

See also the answers to these topics:

Note that although the Pali canon (which is the associated with the Theravada tradition) is among the oldest literature, there are also newer (or later) Buddhist schools with their own canonical literature -- so if you want to find "all the teachings of Buddhism" you might also investigate Mahayana literature (including Chinese, Japanese, and Tibetan) as well as modern/contemporary literature.

The simplest answer to "how to behave, rules" might be to say "the five precepts".

I also liked, The Buddha's Teachings on Prosperity: At Home, At Work, in the World because it selects from the Pali canon the suttas which contain behaviour recommendations for lay-people. For example this answer is my summary of one its chapters (the book references specific suttas, which my summary doesn't).

Buddhism seems to me to be rather a large topic, so almost any introduction to it will give a somewhat distorted or one-sided view of it. In my answer to the topic New to Buddhism I tried to give an overview, and also said that people recommend In the Buddha’s Words by Bhikkhu Bodhi.

Another answer wrote that "Buddhism is not a religion based on a Holy Book" which is more or less true:

  • If you are one of the so-called People of the Book, perhaps you could over-estimate the importance of a "book" or Bible.
  • Even so, some words that I guess may be equally important in Buddhism include Buddhavacana, Sangha, Dhamma, (not to mention "lineage"), and various (practical) practices.

So instead of or as well as a Bible, people might recommend you look for (one or more) Buddhist teachers and/or communities.

  • An historical answer might also be that, for Buddhism, there was never an equivalent to the Christian Council of Nicaea (~325 ACE) where the different sects and texts which existed were brought together by the Emperor Constantine to forcefully broker a single 'approved' version of beliefs and texts. If that had not occurred, the concept of 'The Bible' would probably not exist. If a similar event had occurred for Buddhism, perhaps we would have a more unified canonical text equivalent. Best, Jim
    – GVCOJims
    Oct 17, 2019 at 23:17
  • 1
    What about the en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhist_councils then?
    – ChrisW
    Oct 18, 2019 at 6:38
  • Good point. However, 2 potential issues may pertain: 1. The article questioned the ‘historicity’ of the early councils. The Nicaea was a historical certainty. 2. Nicaea, had 1 ruler with the power to totally stamp out the sects and texts which disagreed with the resulting decree. Even when a king was involved with a Buddhist Council, he lacked that power. In fact, many ended in schism rather than unification. Interesting subject! As I lack knowledge of historical / liturgical details of Nicaea and the Buddhist Councils, I can't add to this. But I'd be interested to learn.
    – GVCOJims
    Oct 19, 2019 at 22:41

The main Buddhist holy book - The Sutta Pitaka - is many times larger than the Bible, consisting of more than 10,000 discourses.

However, the essential teachings the Buddha compared to a 'handful of leaves'.

The following teachings from the holy book cover the essentials:

On Higher Truth

Three Cardinal Discourses of the Buddha

The Dhammapada

For laypeople

Maha-Mangala Sutta: Blessings

Sigalovada Sutta: The Layperson's Code of Discipline

Note: In the link Three Cardinal Discourses of the Buddha, the following teachings are translated incorrectly:

  1. "in short, suffering is the five categories of clinging objects", which should be translated as "in summary, [all] suffering is clinging to the five aggregates (body, feelings, perception, mental formations & consciousness)", as explained in SN 22.1 .

  2. "It is the craving that produces renewal of being", which should be translated as: "It is the craving that produces new becoming" (since the word "being" may give the impression of a new life where as "becoming" is the process of the mental development of egoism).

  3. Now is what is impermanent painful or pleasant?”, which should be translated as: “Now is what is impermanent unsatisfactory or satisfactory?

The word 'unsatisfactory' means 'incapable of bringing true lasting happiness' (as found here in an alternate translation and in Dhammapada verse 278).

  • Can you explain to me why you choose to, and/or who else has chosen to, put the Maha-mangala Sutta among the first of the suttas?
    – ChrisW
    Jul 16, 2016 at 21:41
  • 2
    I have put the Maha-mangala Sutta as an example of a teaching for laypeople (rather than representative of an early sutta). For a beginner or non-Buddhist, the Maha-Mangala Sutta gives a simple to understand overview of the gradual nature of the Buddhist teachings. It is easy to understand. Where as the 3 cardinal discourses are technical in nature, the Dhammapada is very serious & stern and the Sigalovada Sutta is long & wordy. Jul 16, 2016 at 21:49
  • What happened to other two pitakas in the Pali Thripitaka? Why only Sutta Pitaka? Jul 17, 2016 at 13:06
  • I only mentioned the Sutta Pitaka because they are the reported words of the Buddha. However, the Pali Tripitaka is also a valid answer. Regards. Jul 19, 2016 at 19:43

The word for the Buddhist Pali (i.e,. Theravada) canon (and it is huge, too big to be put in one book) is the Tripitaka, the three baskets.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, it has three sections:

  • Vinaya, rules for monks
  • Abhidhamma, 7 sorts of commentary by monks on the suttas.
  • Sutta, a record of the sermons the Buddha gave.

These three complete the Triptaka and can't be added to. However, there are important books which don't belong to Tripitaka but are assumed to be authentic. E.g. Buddhaghosa's Visuddhimagga, which is similar to the Abhidhamma.

Other early Buddhist schools had their own Tripitaka, similar to Theravada but with different abhidhamma authors, a different vinaya, and with a slightly altered set of suttas.

The Mahayana accepts the Tripitaka (I believe that in the Taisho, the 20th century record of every canonical text in Chinese Buddhism, they use the Sarvastavadin Tripitaka, not the Theravadin) but adds:

  • Sutras (the sanskrit word for sutta), sermons of the Buddha for Bodhisattvas
  • Sastras, which are commentaries on the sutras.

While the sutras are, like the Tripitaka, complete (despite having slowly been recovered after the Buddha's death), anyone can write a sastra, though that wouldn't make it canonical.

  • Buddhaghosa's Visuddhimagga contains many views that contradict the suttas. Buddhaghosa dedicated his Visuddhimagga to his personal reincarnation in a Brahmanistic heaven. Jul 17, 2016 at 0:01
  • @Dhammadhatu It is a comprehensive manual condensing and systematizing the theoretical and practical teachings of the Buddha as they were understood by the elders of the Mahavihara Monastery in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. It is described as "the hub of a complete and coherent method of exegesis of the Tipitaka, using the ‘Abhidhamma method' as it is called. And it sets out detailed practical instructions for developing purification of mind." (Bhikkhu Nyanamoli 2011 p. xxvii.) I
    – user2512
    Jul 17, 2016 at 0:03
  • @Dhammadhatu i like some dogmas
    – user2512
    Jul 17, 2016 at 0:34

There are at least three Tripitakas: the Pali Canon is the oldest and the only surviving complete canon of a somewhat early school. In addition, there are the Tibetan Kanjur and the Chinese canon, Tantric and Mahayana respectively. Finally, the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism has the inspired terma texts of Dzogchen. I think the consensus is that the Four Great Nikayas of the Pali Canon represent the closest thing to a common ground accepted by all schools, and in fact if one studies the nikayas closely one can see the seeds and even the roots of the tree that became Buddhism there. The Four Great Nikayas, in rough chronological order, are the Digha, Majjhima, Samyutta, and Anguttara, and have all been translated into modern English. In some ways they correspond to the gospels of the Christian New Testament (so-called).

  • Sorry to ask but is there any specific translation of the Nikayas you would recommend, in book form and/or online? Or maybe they're all good enough. But the OP did ask, as well, "Where can I read it translated to English or Spanish?"
    – ChrisW
    Jul 19, 2016 at 17:22
  • M. Walshe, trans. Long Discourses of the Buddha: Translation of the Digha Nikaya. 1987; rpt. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1995. Nanamoli, trans. Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: New Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1995. Bodhi, trans. Connected Discourses of the Buddha: New Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2000. Bodhi, trans. Numerical Discourses of the Buddha: Translation of the Anguttara Nikaya. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2012.
    – user4970
    Jul 20, 2016 at 3:11
  • You can also find the Burmese edition of the Pali Canon in multiple scripts here: tipitaka.org.
    – user4970
    Jul 20, 2016 at 13:16

Any Buddhist canon is huge. If you want to get a taste of it, I would suggest the following:

  • the Dhammapada for Theravada Buddhism
  • the Diamond Sutra for Mahayana Buddhism

Actually Buddha didn't wrote any holly Books. All of the books written by Buddhist monks wrote after many years later of Buddha's Nirvana. Buddhism is not religion Based on a Holy book. It's a practical religion. It's basic Followings are:

  1. Do not take life.
  2. Do not take what is not given.
  3. Do not distort facts.
  4. Refrain from misuse of the senses.
  5. Refrain from self-intoxication through alcohol or drugs.

Learn about them first and after go for the Higher things. Search on the Internet. You will find so many books about Buddhism.


For beginners and enthusiasts, "Budhha and His Dhamma", by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar is a highly recommended book.

It contains English translations of some very important sermons delivered by Budhha and also has content of Tipitika. It gives a complete overview of the Buddha's life, right from His birth to His journey from a layman to The Enlightened One.

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