I would like to ask the community here what are your favourite treaties or texts in Mahayana tradition that did personally make great impact on your practice in the way that it cut through illusion or allowed you to grow by breakthrough in understanding etc. It might have sentimental value of sorts.

It might be a bullet point list with the title and description what it is and why it had such impact on your practice.

Examples of such works could be Dogen - “Shobogenzo” or Shantideva - “Way of Bodhisattva”. It might be written from perspective of Vajrayanists but not about tantric practise per we.

  • This question is potentially divisive given that there could be an "accepted answer" to such an open ended question. A better forum for such a question might be: discourse.suttacentral.net/c/discussion, which supports open, thought provoking supportive discussion.
    – OyaMist
    Jul 15, 2018 at 15:56
  • 1
    @OyaMistAeroponics An answer's being accepted "simply means that the author received an answer that worked for them personally."
    – ChrisW
    Jul 15, 2018 at 17:40

6 Answers 6


Hope this helps!

The quintessential guide to the method aspect of the Mahayana path and one of the most beautiful works of literature ever conceived. I challenge anyone to read this book three times and not come away with an aspiration to become a Bodhisattva for the benefit of all.

The definitive explanation of the Buddha's Middle Way. This treatise explains how things exist and how they utterly do not exist. Ideally, the commentary by Aryadeva, Buddhapalita, Chandrakirti, Je Tsongkhapa and others should be read in order to understand what this treatise says and what it does not say. Probably one the most important yet misunderstood text in all of human history.

  • Analogies, metaphors, allegories, illustrating and illuminating the above including: Rope and Snake, Dreams of a Mother, Ambrosia+Water+Pus&Blood, Chandrakirti's Chariot, Ship of Theseus, many many others.

These have been extremely helpful to my mind and contemplating them has opened up my own understanding meager as it is.

Especially this verse, "As a star, a visual aberration, a lamp, an illusion, dew, a bubble, a dream, lightning, and a cloud – view all the compounded like that." This succinct instruction by the Buddha summarizes how to view all phenomena.

The last few chapters are both self-referential in delightful way and give extremely beautiful examples of Buddha Shakyamuni's actions as a Bodhisattva in previous lives. IMO, reading this Sutra is a good way of starting a New Year.

  • This verse, "As long as space endures, as long as sentient beings remain, until then, may I too remain and dispel the miseries of the world."

The quintessential sentiment of a Bodhisattva displaying profound Bodhicitta.

  • I agree Diamond Sutra had great impact on my practice it explored notions of Heart Sutra that match my meditative and mindfulness insight about interbeing. It has a great shock value when first read.
    – user13383
    Jul 16, 2018 at 18:56
  1. Vajracchedikā prajñāpāramitā sūtra (aka The Diamond Sutra) - one of the first Buddhist texts I ever encountered in my late teens. Very puzzling back in the day. Inspiring, because apparently full of meaning but absolutely incomprehensible.
  2. Shōbōgenzō by Dōgen - yes, because it very clearly expresses the spirit of Enlightenment.
  3. Vimalakīrti Nirdeśa Sūtra - clearly illustrates practical implications of prajnaparamita.
  4. "The Prayer of Kuntuzangpo" and what basically is a commentary on it, "Lamp of Mahamudra" by Tsele Natsok Rangdrol - very clearly explains the Ground Mahamudra.
  5. Śālistamba Sūtra - the best explanation of Twelve Nidanas, linking Early Buddhism and Mahayana.
  • The Diamond Cutter Sutra was going to be near the very top of my list of Sutras, but OP asked for non-Sutra refs. This verse especially, “As a star, a visual aberration, a lamp, an illusion, dew, a bubble, a dream, lightning, and a cloud – view all the compounded like that.”
    – user13375
    Jul 16, 2018 at 15:39
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    I have lifted that requirement, I think it was unnecessary. You can go ahead and add it @Yeshe
    – user13383
    Jul 16, 2018 at 16:05

I've been much impressed by (the german translatio of) "the essential teachings of Zen Master Hakuin". A partly very fierce statement - that style of teaching was really new to me and unexpected when I'd just a couple of years met buddhism. One which really took me on his line was his refusal of bad habits in contemporary zen-lineages and/or temples: very populated temples preferred by young monks because of good food, dried-out lineages: dead ("ashes") after only few generations of followers, and something else the like.
On the other hand a very clear, detailful and even challenging interpretation of the dharma: for me a true spiritual leader (and successful reformer)


Without a doubt, the Heart Sutra was the most impressive sutra I heard which basically put me on the path of the Dhamma. This is coming from a Theravadin.

1. The Form is Emptiness and Emptiness is Form.

Before I read this, I had just finished reading Krauss' book, the universe from nothing. There are many commentaries on this sutra, one of them is by Indian mystic Osho. When I listened to His commentary on Heart Sutra I could relate so much of it to physics that I never looked back. The core of this Sutra also resounds in recent research in physics like works of Bernardo Kastrop about Idealism.

2. There is no suffering and no end of suffering.

This was another Sutra which established me into immense faith in the words of the Buddha. Basically, Buddha contradicted Himself while explaining to Sariputta. The intelligence of the Buddha to put forth His ideas is unparalleled. This made me realise there is nothing dogmatic about Buddhism.

Some works by Zen masters.

3. Zen Mind beginners mind, by S. Suzuki

Not a Sutra but a scholarly work by the S. Suzuki, excellent explanation of No-mind approach towards living life. Ths made a huge impact on me because after reading this book I was in a Zen monastery and was cleaning a pathway covered with dry leaves of silver oaks, believe me, or not, I had a Kensho.

4. The way of Zen, by Alan Watts

Don't remember the exact lines or words, but this book gave me a very vivid understanding of Zen.

  • Do you understand a 'kensho' as being the same as a direct perception of emptiness? ie., achieving the first bhumi?
    – user13375
    Jul 16, 2018 at 15:43
  • @YesheTenley no i just tried to find a word from Zen literature to describe the experience I had...it wasn't emptimess but it was a sense of annata with hightened joy which lasted for few seconds...
    – user13135
    Jul 16, 2018 at 16:09
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    @Dhammadhatu I have my troubles accepting the Bodhisattava Vow other than that I see the differences as contextual. So as a Thervadin I don't have much problem praising the sutras.
    – user13135
    Jul 17, 2018 at 9:53
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    Heart sutra teaches that things are empty of Self, but that does not mean nothingness of non-conceptuality which is essentially nihilism. Mahayana is not nihilism. When you have negations in the sutra it is only to show that things aren't as they are if we frame them without considering dependent origination. And then we get the meaning,only when it is Selfless context-wise. Seeing the mountain, not seeing the mountain and seeing the mountain again.
    – user13383
    Jul 28, 2018 at 15:23
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    Its just Mahayana sutras have different tactics vs Theravada. They are meant to be figurative and non-direct in meaning in order to accelerate progress through a shock factor, rather than using direct, unambiguous meaning through vocabulary. From Tricycle magazine (Gil Fronsdal, former Theravada monk): insightmeditationcenter.org/books-articles/articles/…
    – user13383
    Jul 28, 2018 at 15:43

In all discussions of ...your favourite treaties or texts...that did personally make great impact on your practice..., one must be sharply aware and mindful of the following:

... he conceives 'the gods of Abundant Fruit as mine,' he delights in the gods of Abundant Fruit. What is the reason? Because they have not been fully understood by him, I declare.

There are those who may consider the Pali canon "non-Mahayana". However, this particular root discourse is very helpful in understanding the saying often attributed to Zen master Lin Chi:

If you meet the Buddha on the path, kill him

Even the Heart Sutta ends with

Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha

To paraphrase, Gone, gone, gone all the way over,all gone to the other shore, Enlightenment, hurrah. And that includes gone beyond favorites.

When I started studying Rinzai Zen in the 1980's I was captivated by Rinzai zen books. They became my "favorites". The pithy sayings spun my head and galvanized me into intense inquiry. And yet, the more I studied, the more favorites disappeared. I eventually found and resonated with the Heart Sutta and started chanting that core mantra. It seemed an appropriate focus to the disappearance of favorites. And then one day I met a Buddhist monk. I asked him why I could not find a copy of my favorite Heart Sutta in Benares/Varanasi when I visited that Indian city holy to Buddhism. He told me, "the Heart Sutta is Chinese." And then he directed me to the Pali Canon.

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    That doesn't mean to let go of everything. A translation is, "go, go, go beyond, go thoroughly beyond, and establish yourself in enlightenment."
    – user13375
    Jul 16, 2018 at 17:28
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    FWIW, I don't think of the pali-Canon as "non-Mahayana" either :) The important question for this thread is what @dhamma4life was intending.
    – user13375
    Jul 16, 2018 at 17:39
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    @YesheTenley yes. Answering this has been somewhat personally stressful for me. A good practice. Thank you.
    – OyaMist
    Jul 16, 2018 at 17:44
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    I prefer this translation : "Gone, gone, gone all the way over, everyone gone to the other shore, Enlightenment, hurrah!".
    – user13383
    Jul 23, 2018 at 21:49
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    Nothing wrong with the translation you had, it is one of the popular ones, however, there is a slight stress on "everyone gone" or "all gone" to point out bodhisattva's wish for all beings and it's always worth pointing out.
    – user13383
    Jul 23, 2018 at 23:04

Since I started the topic, I may post something as well.

  • Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind - Shunryū Suzuki

First book on Buddhism that I have read. It was about 14 years ago when I took it from the shelf, pointed to me by my mother. Frankly, it caused more confusion than actual merit. Concepts explained in the book are not laid out very well, and concept of non-duality presented may be counterproductive taking emptiness for nihilism by ordinary person. It is quite shocking given how popular this book still is. Nonetheless, this was the first touch and opportunity for getting to know Buddhism per se, as such it has only sentimental value.

  • Dogen - Shobogenzo

Greatly inspired by Suzuki's book I delved deep into Dogen's work and Zen in general. Shobogenzo and Dogen's postulates didn't make much sense to me at the time, but eventually, what I considered utter nonsense came back to me with the wave of understanding as a surprise, only after reading bits and pieces from Pali canon by Buddha - the proper way, ground-up as it should be. Dogen's work is a true masterpiece that anyone should read, I much believe so. I recommend Gudo Nishijima's translation along with commentary.

  • Diamond Sutra

Whoever wrote this sutra, that person was a realised being at a great level of understanding. A mother and father of all koans, it’s a Diamond that cuts through illusion, a cleaver penetrating through consciousness. With all the Theravadin heritage to Buddhism, and all the reflection that Mahayanists had at gradual, patient ways of understanding, with all the respect towards rich and rigid Pali vocabulary and knowledge-centric drills of understanding - here’s something different, the Diamond sutra, a complete antithesis of the above. The text that negates all the subtle, patient ways to experience glimpses of Enlightenment. It is meant to shock, to violently prod in order to rewire the way brain perceives and understands things. Diamond sutra is best to be taken by an inexperienced person, the unprepared lost sheep that will become a wolf and then ultimately shepherd of the sheep (Bodhisattva). It hammers with shocking and fearful statements, only to bring joy and understanding borne out of shortcutting and cracking the mind open. All to arrive at the true door of the dharma eye. There was nothing starker that stood in contrast with traditional ways of teaching, teaching not by laying out mere intellectual knowledge, but by exposing direct experience of states of mind beyond concepts and cognition. It is more than sutra - it is a deeply meditative experience, just by barely reading it.

  • Thich Nhat Hanh - A poem on Vietnam war crimes.

The poem was written shortly after Hanh's followers faced brutal execution. I cried when I first read it, it struck me deeply how much compassion a person might have, then I first realised what burden it is to take up a Bodhisattva vow and what it actually means. Link: Promise me, promise me this day, promise me now...

  • Eight Verses on Training the Mind - Geshe Langri Thangpa

Following on concept of Bodhisattva, this is a great text when one feels down and needs a hint or a reset on the path. It conveys all of the advice required to get back on track in the moments of confusion. I chose this text due to simplicity and because it's very concise (short) as a memo.

  • Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment - Atisha

Another profound text that tackles on Bodhisattva discipline, profound insight into Emptiness and meditational advice. This is from the perspective of Vajrayana and the last stanzas tackle Greater tantras. Just as Eight Verses for Training the Mind, I use it as a supplement whenever confused, and in need of clarity. An invaluable read of greatest value.

  • Nagarjuna: The Philosophy of the Middle Way - David J. Kalupahana

This book is actually very interesting as it was written by Theravadin and aims to prove that Nagarjuna was no Mahayanist. Rather, later some of the interpretations and commentaries oftentimes distorted many points of Nagarjuna's message. In my opinion the book does prove its presumption successfully. It also describes false prophet phenomenon in which Nagarjuna was given too much credit without actually being revolutionary with his philosophy. Furthermore, it tackles why Mahayanists chose a new icon that many times was worshipped and the put on pedestal above Buddha in the canon. Kalupahana there concludes that it was merely a rivalry aspect/tactics between the two schools, purely to undermine Theravada. The book also includes Kalupahana's translation of Nagarjuna's work.

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