Well, first of all, I don't consider myself a strict Buddhist, but I want to study Buddhism -- both Theravada and Mahayana -- for educational and spiritual purposes. I am very excited with scientific studies of Buddhist meditation, and I'm sure that the Buddhist teachings have a lot of interesting and helpful things to offer...

I have one small book on the philosophy of Buddhism, there are 19 sutras with the commentaries on each sutra. But the book is a bit wordy due to its specificity, and heavily influenced by the author... The texts (I suppose) are translated well, with the meticulous description for every specific term (like, "Tathagata", or "dukkha" etc.)...

But when I decided instead to start to read the Pali Canon directly, not this compilation, and found out that Pali Canon is huge, even Sutta Pitaka alone seems to be way bigger than the Bible... And it seems that the sutras are not composed chronologically or from simple to difficult, so I suppose there is no need to read the book in strict order...

So, how do you suggest reading the sutras? In strict order? Randomly? Or, from the 'popular' sutras to the 'unpopular' ones?

Do I even need to read the whole Sutta Pitaka? Do I need to read Abhidhamma Pitaka and if yes, in which order?

And what of Mahayana's important texts?

I'll appreciate all of your recommendations (and don't be afraid to correct my grammar, because English is not my native language).

  • 1
    I think that this question is a duplicate of Chronological or other sequence for beginners, which has several good answers already.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Apr 16, 2020 at 11:43
  • 1
    I think the question should remain open. I posted an answer on the older question but that was specific for that older questioner. It will be confusing to add to new answer to the older question. Since the scope of this question can be so large, I think we should allow this question to remain open for the sake of the questioner. Commented Apr 16, 2020 at 11:45
  • @Damocle Please clarify whether this question is a duplicate of the previous question -- whether the answers to the previous question answer your question -- or whether they're not the same, i.e. whether your question is asking something which is in some way slightly different.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Apr 18, 2020 at 7:03
  • 1
    @ChrisW I don't think that the previous question is a strict duplicate of mine, and some of my questions remain untouched by these answers. For example, I asked about whether should I read Abhidhamma, the previous question was only about suttas. Also, I asked about Mahayana's important texts, the previous question did not include this as well. Commented Apr 19, 2020 at 17:55

9 Answers 9


I would recommend that you need to have a fairly good grasp of Theravada teachings on the Four Noble Truths, and especially the truth of suffering, before you begin to hear even one word of the Mahayana. Why? The Mahayana is simply too joyful and exhilarating, not to mention seemingly over-permissive. If you don't understand the teachings on the inevitably of death, the inevitably of suffering, the inevitably of karmic consequence, then you could easily misinterpret the Mahayana into something very self-deluding and very bad.

There are too many love and sex ritual cults in the world. There are too many wealth and prosperity and positive-thinking cults. There are too many health-food philosophies and miracle faith healers. Too many "live forever and watch your enemies burn in hell" cults. Too many follow-the-leader-and-everything-will-work-out-for-you cults. Too many drug and psychadelic subcultures.

If you listen to the parts in Buddhism that say "nothing is real" and the parts that say "everything is great" and the parts that say "everybody in the world is a Buddhist even if they're awful".... It's can be easy to be convinced that Buddhism is something that it isn't. It's important to understand that the non-negotiables in Buddhism are non-negotiable.

And that understanding, that the non-negotiables are non-negotiable, forms what is called Right View in Buddhism. Right View is the first of the Noble Eightfold Path, and the tenth of the Ten Right Actions. Everything else is built on Right View; it is the starting point and the destination.


I have read MN, then SN, then AN - so that's another way to sequence it. Then you can read Questions of King Milinda. Then Tattvasiddhi Śāstra by Harivarman also known as Satyasiddhi Śāstra, Then Vasubandhu's Abhidharma-kosa. Then the Rice Seedling sutra. Then try Vimalakirti sutra. Then Diamond sutra. Then Heart sutra. Then Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamikakarika.


The book "In the Buddha's Words" by Bhikkhu Bodhi is an excellent anthology of the suttas. The PDF version can be found here.

I strongly recommend the sutta order from this anthology, and I quote it below. However, the sutta translations below may not all be from Bhikkhu Bodhi. They all come from SuttaCentral, instead of the book.

Also, some of the sutta numbers, especially those of Anguttara Nikaya, may not match the book, but they refer to the same suttas.


Back in the day people recited but a few discourses, there were no schools nor walls of text to choose from; ip there were no Abhidhamma books, no Vinayas and yet people had more attainments, were making better progress.

That time was more favorable. If you could go back in time even to years like 377BC, you would see a lot of Ariya, probably fully attained but no Mahayana texts or Theravadin Abhidhamma books.

So how essential do you think they are?

Abhidhamma is basically a different expression of the same meaning as the Sutta. It's expression is supposedly rightly inferred from the meaning & expression of pali discourses which were memorized. It is agreeable to some and disagreeable to those of other persuasions about Sutta meaning.

Afaik Theravada school forms around 300BC and their texts aren't done written down until something like a couples of hundred years later.

Mahayana texts are introduced around that time and and are also deemed heretical by some who hold that those early Mahayana texts disagree with pali discourses held as true and agreeable in meaning & expression.

It looks like the monks were inevitably developing personal commentary and ways of doing things all along, explaining things in their own words and according to their understanding. Grouping accotdingly. Therefore it was common to see people who analyzed popular notions and practices within the big schools all along.

After the 1st century a lot of supposedly correct commentary, polularizations, classifications, lore and whatnot is being written by more and more people and it has not stopped.

The quality of expression and meaning was corrupted in the process because it's hard to explain the Dhamma better than Buddha did, it is therefore non understanding of Buddha's expression that directly or indirectly prompts the adding to, complementing, the making of popularizations, simplifying, censoring or otherwise changing the expression and or meaning.

In the Sutta some people grasped the Dhamma after a verse of how Dhamma as it was generally presented by The Buddha and his direct disciples;

"Aggivessana, the Blessed One disciplines his disciples in this way; this part of the Blessed One's instruction is generally presented to his disciples: 'Form is inconstant. Feeling is inconstant. Perception is inconstant. Fabrications are inconstant. Consciousness is inconstant. Form is not-self. Feeling is not-self. Perception is not-self. Fabrications are not-self. Consciousness is not-self. All fabrications are inconstant. All phenomena are not-self.' This, Aggivessana, is the way in which the Blessed One disciplines his disciples; this part of the Blessed One's instruction is generally presented to his disciples."

It can be said that the full penetration of the meaning of this expression is the objective. Some people need more clarification than others and some won't get it even after a lifetime.

Of course in times of the Buddha people became followers not understanding the Dhamma and grew in and into it's understanding.

So the Buddha also taught the Dhamma in all essential ways including practices conducive to the development of knowledge.

It is generally accepted that the Pali texts are the things Buddha actually said to people he met.

The main collections of pali discourses are generally accepted as texts from the period of True Dhamma, a period of 500 years proclaimed in the Sutta, a period before the arising of Counterfeit Dhamma.

Imo a great teacher would proclaim the dhamma, so that it clallenges one's views, rouses effort and settles doubt. Without a teacher one has a lot of text for a teacher, so it is about becoming familiar with what is out there to separate true texts from fake dhamma.

When one has confidence in a text as being the real deal one can learn and think about it. Eventually one would understand the essentials of the doctrine as it is generally explained. Then one may come to agreement or reject the idea.

Eventually one would probably fine the true texts and come to agreement with the doctrine, understanding the meaning and expression of true Dhamma.

At that point one can effectively scrutinize the expression in all text, from Abhidhamma to Buddha quotes on the internet. In the Sutta it is explained as the ability to distinguish what is rightly spoken.

Reading the Sutta is like listening in on coversations, trying to understand exactly what is talked about and emulating the training.

Imo best sorting is according to the theme one is preocupied with, studyin it in dwtail as to the meaning & use of every word in the system of expression found therein.

As i see it, one will end up reading and refering to some discourses more than others, drawing parallels and rearranging them to extract a cohesive expression of meaning. Some of it you will inevitably memorize and theorize about.

Many discourses are useful because they are a support for what should be inferred from another discourse. Many discourses are useful because they refute what should not be inferred from another discourse. Many discourses are wordplay in that they beautify the expression, illucidate the meaning and or are inspiring.

All this one will see in the process. Learning from people on the internet is a different can of worms and i would advice against it lest the texts that are known as true are being recited.

As long as one stays intellectually honest it should work out very well.

In short, a lot of people read a whole lot of fake dhamma.

Here's a thread with some discourses i listed as of particular interest few years ago; https://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=29180&start=15#p419374


The Path is threefold, namely, wisdom, morality & concentration.

For the sake of wisdom, you can read the 1st three sermons of the Buddha:

  1. SN 56.11, the 1st sermon
  2. SN 22.59, the 2nd sermon
  3. SN SN 35.28, the 3rd sermon
  4. AN 45.8, the Noble Eightfold Path
  5. SN 22.1, about non-attachment to impermanent things.

For the sake of morality, you can read:

  1. MN 61
  2. SN 55.7
  3. AN 10.211
  4. AN 4.55
  5. DN 31

For the sake of concentration, you can read:

  1. MN 19
  2. MN 62
  3. MN 118
  4. MN 131
  5. SN 47.20
  6. SN 46.54

For a general overview, you can read: Maha-Mangala Sutta.

The Majjhima Nikaya contains some suttas that are interesting to read, often in story format, such as MN 22, MN 26, MN 37, MN 82, MN 86, MN 87, MN 95, MN 115 (non-story), MN 140 and MN 148 (non-story).

The Dhammapada is easy to read.

You can read some anthologies, such as:

  1. Samyutta Nikaya Anthology
  2. Anguttara Nikaya Anthology
  3. In The Buddha's Words by Bhikkhu Bodhi

Good householder, interested, The steps, like it was and is taught by the Noble One, Dhamma - A Gradual Training are for sure the most secure path. Only as soon one step practiced and with good conviction mantled, go to the next if not taking the wiser way and search for a teacher.

Note that this is not given for trade, exchange, stacks and other binder in the world but to escape this wheel)


You may need to commence with "The Path of Purification'' pdf - English translation Bhikkhu Nanamoli - Introduction page xlv has a section on ''Trends in the Development of Theravada Doctrine." This may give you an insight on the Need for a System to cut through all the Suttas you refer to and show 'The Way'' to Enlightenment. I believe this is the only book that brings all the teachings of the Buddha, together under one roof! The Abhidhamma is the Systemic Approach to understand Buddhism but in view of its complexity, the Path of Purification is preferred by yogis. Its a long haul though!


Some methodically read suttas in numerical order. Others read the most popular suttas. The scholarly study by historical collection and parallels. Some students follow their teacher's syllabus. Some use the Internet to search as they wish. Yet others start with an "overview sutta" such as DN33, searching and studying challenging phrases as necessary.

For searching the Pali Canon, it is helpful to use a body of work with consistent translations. Consistent terminology builds a coherent understanding of the suttas. SuttaCentral offers translations by many authors and even has translations correlated by segment number to help readers cross-reference translations in multiple contemporary languages. Voice.suttacentral.net offers audio versions of those segmented texts in multiple languages for those who prefer or can only use audio.

DN33:1.1.1: Evaṃ me sutaṃ—

DN33:1.1.1: So I have heard.

DN33:1.1.1: So habe ich gehört.

  • Good point with translations. Id advice learning the pali terms for the doctrinal nouns and to make up ur own mind about the correct translation.
    – user8527
    Commented Apr 20, 2020 at 0:03

Here below list in details of scriptures with recommended prayers in sequence for everyday practice as well as where these scriptures could help. enter image description here


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