I quite fancy reading the Visuddhimagga at some point. I have heard good things about it. However I'm aware that it is a commentary on the Pali Canon and that has put me off starting it.

How much of the Pali Canon would one need to read before you could profitably read the Visuddhimagga. All of it (daunting), none of it or some. If it is some then which some. What are the parts of the Pali Canon that it would be best to read before the Visuddhimagga?

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    Just a quick sidenote here. The Visuddhimagga isn't actually a commentary per se. It's structure is just based off of a simile about the seven purifications. It's a self contained book.
    – Bakmoon
    Aug 29, 2014 at 12:36

2 Answers 2


Like much of Buddhism, your understanding of the text is probably relative to not only your familiarity with Buddhist concepts and theory, but also your own cultivation of the practices themselves.

We went through some of the Visuddhimagga in Winnipeg last year, and I had to explain and elaborate on a lot of the technical aspects of the book using the canon and commentaries. But much of it is easily accessible to the neophyte, especially the first two sections.

Absolutely, reading the entire tipitaka would be the best way to prepare for the Visuddhimagga; go for it! If you can't handle the dauntingness of such a task, beware, because a partial read of the dhamma can give you a lopsided understanding. That's what texts like the Visuddhimagga are for, to give you an overview.

A good way to get a fairly solid overview is to read a single collection, like the Digha or the Majjhima nikaya. Read both if you can, but read them in their entirety, so you get a broad look at the types of things the Buddha taught. The MN can be read one sutta at a time - you can make a chart and check off every time you finish one sutta (there's 152 of them). Bodhi's translations are good. Check out https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.yuttadhammo.buddhisttexts&hl=en

Practice meditation too; samatha if you want to understand the samadhi niddesa aspect, vipassanā if you want to understand the paññā niddesa. In fact, don't read the tipitaka unless you're meditating as well; I would imagine it difficult to understand (or easy to misunderstand) without actually practicing.

But in the end, what's to worry about? It's all good stuff, tried, tested, and trusted by meditators around the world for thousands of years. Good luck :)


Currently reading the Visuddhimagga, although only up to 1/8 of it, so I cannot answer for the work in its entirety. However, from reading so far, partly from reading the long introduction by the very skilled translator, and from reading the start of the book, I see no indication that knowledge of the Pali Canon is required. The Visuddhimagga is almost like a manual itself, although I wouldn't say that reading that would be a requirement for reading the Pali Canon.

Quite heavy text, one needs a clear mind when going through it, to take in all the details. Each topic is turned over a multitude of ways (and times), it appears very thorough.

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