I was raised in an area where the usual answer to the question of what Buddhism is was "I don't know, hippy stuff", and any religion outside Christianity was considered "the work of Satan".

That said, in my adult life I have been drawn to Buddhist philosophies and concepts as I understand them, but I'm not really sure where to start in my study of the religion. I've read a couple "Intro to Buddhism" type books that were very interesting and enlightening. However I'm pretty fuzzy on what historical texts I should be looking to read when it comes to the actual teachings of the Buddha as pertains to all Buddhism (not specifically Mahayana or Theravada etc.).

Basically I'm looking for some information on what writing(s) could be considered the "Bible" of Buddhism, but from what I understand there is no central text in that sense. I've found lists of sutras (and suttas? I'm not too clear on the difference), but they are extensive and not really catagorized or anything.

  • I think this is a duplicate of several existing topics -- so I'm going to close this and try to reference those topics.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 10:35
  • @ChrisW - Ah! I think that second link has the answer I was looking for. Thanks for sharing!
    – tuxmachina
    Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 10:50
  • Does it? One answer in that topic links to the "Tripitaka" -- which is too long for a beginner (hence the question "Chronological or other sequence?" and/or a book like "In the Buddha's words" which is an anthology of the most famous/important ones), and which is arguably "specifically Theravada". But I think, I'm not sure, that the suttas and/or agamas are considered fundamental by Mahayana and Theravada. Mahayana also includes other later (I don't mean "wrong") sutras in its canon.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 11:10
  • And some of the "canonical" texts are a bit analogous to books you might read by contemporary authors -- i.e. they are/were commentaries and introductions.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 11:12
  • 1
    @ChrisW those are some great examples, it's nice to see some good senses of humor when looking at a topic as heavy as spirituality/religion can be. Thanks for all the help!
    – tuxmachina
    Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 9:56

1 Answer 1


Hi Tuxmachina and welcome to this path!

There are two books that were very important when I was struggling with getting acquainted with Buddhism.

The first book I read was the Dhammapada, which is a relatively short collection of saying and teachings directed to popular audiences, and which summerize a lot of the most important ideas of the Dhamma, in a rather poetic way. It is a nice introduction to classical buddhist thought, although it is not recognized as part of the earliest text. It was probably composed (according to some scholars) after the Buddha's demise.

Here you will find a online translation of the Dhammapada: https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/dhp/index.html

The second book I could recommend is "In the Buddha's Words", written by Bhikkhu Bodhi, a Theravada monk and expert in the Pāli dialect. This book is a collection of the most important suttas (discourses, sermons and teachings) found in the Pāli Canon (the collection of suttas historically recognized by the Theravada tradition as authentic Buddha's words). The structure of the book is arranged considering some of the key aspects of the Buddha's life and teachings, and it is divided in chapters according to different doctrinal topics, and each chapter with a brief introduction written by Bhikkhu Bodhi himself. It is a long book, but I think it should not be read quickly, but gradually and with time and patience, and it is the best you can find (IMO) if you want to read directly from the source.

In the Buddha's Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon (The Teachings of the Buddha) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B003XF1LIO/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_2dbxCb0MRD47T

Here are some useful websites filled with suttas, essays, forums and wonderful introductions to Theravada Buddhism and Early Buddhist Texts: https://www.accesstoinsight.org/index.html https://suttacentral.net https://dhammawheel.com

And since we are in this digital era, I also recommend watching some YouTube channels if possible. Here you will find some of my favorites:

Yuttadhammo Bhikkhu's channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/yuttadhammo

Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCFAuQ5fmYYVv5_Dim0EQpVA

Buddhist Society of Western Australia: https://www.youtube.com/user/BuddhistSocietyWA

Doug's Secular Dharma: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCPIyEJzvW7SsbiIrooixjNA

1983dukkha: https://www.youtube.com/user/1983dukkha

Dhammanet: https://www.youtube.com/user/dhammanet

These channel contain sutta clases, dhamma talks, explanations from a secular point of view, guided meditations, etc. I should warn you that some of these wonderful teachers may have different views and interpretations on some doctrinal topics, so keep an open mind and a curious spirit to discern the most appropiate interpretation of the Buddha's teachings. Let experience, attention, analysis and wisdom be your best allies in this path.

And if you find yourself in doubts and confusion, don't hesitate about asking your question here. We all were (and are) still novices on this training and way of life.

Good luck in your path!

  • So many resources! Thank you! I'm curious though, "In the Buddha's Words" is specifically by a Theravada monk, but seems to come up a lot in "essential buddhist texts" type searches. Would it be safe to assume that the Theravada suttas he includes would pertain to other schools as well? (Mahayana and Vajrayana are the only two I'm really aware of.)
    – tuxmachina
    Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 14:04
  • @tuxmachina Hi again! This can be a confusing topic, but I'll try to explain: First of all, there no such thing as a complete scholar consensus about what exactly constitutes Early Buddhism and, probably, we'll never know for sure. And if we want to know what teachings and texts are essencial for all buddhist schools, there should be the ones closer to that Early Buddhism. Thanks to some archeological findings and textual data, we know that some of the texts we have can be traced back to (circa) the 3rd century BCE, which, if I remember correctly, was a time before any major schism. Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 20:25
  • @tuxmachina During the period of the King Ashoka of India, there was a group of missionary monk sent towards some other countries of South East Asia, and among them, Sri Lanka. And it was SL one of the only countries were Buddhism survived relatively intact since its beginnings. And from there, we have one the earliest written version (as far as we know) of the Teachings, the Pāli Canon, called so because of the dialect used (now known as Pāli), which is a variation of the possible language spoken by the Buddha. Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 20:31
  • @tuxmachina This Pāli Canon contains hundreds of suttas, divided and categorized in 5 groups: the Nikayas. But this specific sorting was exclusive to this Sri Lankan tradition (later known as Theravada, which includes schools derived from this SL tradition). We have other canons outside the Theravada, such as a chinese canon, and some other incomplete parts of other ones (in tibetan, sanskrit, prakrit, gandharan, etc.), all of which share a great part of the suttas, but sorted in a different fashion. Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 20:40
  • @tuxmachina And the fact that we have these other surviving texts which coincide in most of its suttas with the Theravāda's seems to indicate that it's not so farfetched to speculate that the Pāli Canon will be the closest thing we'll ever have to the Early Buddhist teachings. And other schools seem to -more or less- agree with this assumption. The main and most important difference between schools lies in the perceived need of posterior development of the ideas found in Early Buddhist Texts (EBTs, for short). Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 20:46

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .