Although I have read some basic articles and book about buddhism, they are all written by modern western sources, and I would like to get to know the foundations. Even when reading this site, I sometimes feel at a loss because I miss so many of the particular terms, and all the names of the classical texts are kind of mixed in my mind, I don't even know where to start. My question is then: What would be a good "programm" to introduce myself in buddhist (foundational) readings?

I am aware of other questions dealing with introductory texts to Buddhism, but, as I see it, that is easy to find. What I want is sort of a guide to start navigating the important foundational texts of which I keep hearing/reading a lot, but that I cannot grasp.

Also, I would love to learn at least a bit of the languages (Sanskrit, Pali) to improve my understanding of what I read, and some references in this sense would also be much appreciated.

  • 1
    Highly recommend Ven. Bodhi's "In the Buddha's Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon" which will lay a solid foundation to all the important key concepts of the Buddha's Teaching.
    – santa100
    May 20, 2020 at 14:46
  • See also "Reference lists" -- it's a list of other topics on this site, which ask for lists of books and so on. And you might find the "Useful resources" listed on this page helpful. The Dhamma lists page mentions and provides a simplified translation of many of the most important Pali words, for example dukkha and tanha etc.
    – ChrisW
    May 22, 2020 at 13:52

3 Answers 3


You can use the book by bikkhu Nyanatusita to learn the vinaya. It has the pali, then the english translation, then the definition of all the pali words. The draft from 2008 is here https://www.dhammatalks.net/Books14/Bhikkhu_Nyanatusita-Analysis_of_the_Bhikkhupatimokkha.pdf

the book from 2014 is here https://books.google.com/books?id=6s3iBQAAQBAJ

For a list of suttas and a super short summary, there is always An Analysis of the Pali Canon and a Reference Table of Pali Literature By Russell Webb and Bhikkhu Nyanatusita https://www.bps.lk/olib/bp/bp607s_Webb_Analysis-Of-The-Pali-Canon.pdf which has also a huge catalog of texts on buddhism, as of 2011, and it has also A Reference List of Pali Literature, which is also found here separately http://gretil.sub.uni-goettingen.de/gretil_elib/Nyt008__Nyanatusita_ReferenceTableOfPaliLiterature.pdf

The course by bikkhu bodhi for Pali is a good introduction https://bodhimonastery.org/a-course-in-the-pali-language.html

and the little help for Pali Verb Conjugation and Noun/Pronoun Declension Tables, by Bhikkhu Nyanatusita (2005; 486k) https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/nyanatusita/index.html

For the suttas themselves, you can begin with the short ones, so DN which is some copies of suttas form SN and AN, MN, dhammapada, sutta nipata, then SN and AN

Also do not forget the parallel suttas. Scholars already know about this since the 80s, like lamotte says in HISTORY OF INDIAN BUDDHISM (Peeters Press, 1988, page 156):

However, with the exception of the Mahayanist interpolations in the Ekottara [the Chinese equivalent to the Pali Canon's Anguttara], which are easily discernable, the variations in question affect hardly anything save the method of expression or arrangement of the subjects. The doctrinal basis common to the agamas [preserved in Chinese and partially Sanskrit and Tibetan] is remarkably uniform. Preserved and transmitted by the schools, the sutras [discourses] do not however constitute scholastic documents, but are the common heritage of all the sects.

THere is a short book The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism: A Comparative Study Based on the Sutranga Portion of the Pali Samyutta-Nikaya and the Chinese Samyuktagama by Mun-keat Choong http://www.ahandfulofleaves.org/documents/The%20Fundamental%20Teachings%20of%20Early%20Buddhism_Mun-keat.pdf

and of course lots of work by Bikkhu Analayo

A Comparative Study of the Majjhima-nikāya



Madhyama-āgama Studies


Saṃyukta-āgama Studies


Dīrgha-āgama Studies


Ekottarika-āgama Studies


Vinaya Studies https://www.buddhismuskunde.uni-hamburg.de/pdf/5-personen/analayo/vinayastudies.pdf

Early Buddhist Meditation Studies


Perspectives on Satipaṭṭhāna https://www.buddhismuskunde.uni-hamburg.de/pdf/5-personen/analayo/perspectives.pdf

  • Thank you for your complete answer
    – user13701
    May 20, 2020 at 14:59
  • 1
    "DN" isn't the "short ones" -- aren't they the longest.
    – ChrisW
    May 20, 2020 at 16:19

I found the https://www.buddha-vacana.org/ site an interesting introduction to Pali -- see for example https://www.buddha-vacana.org/sutta/samyutta/maha/sn56-011.html -- use a mouse to hover over Pali words to see a popup with a translation and a link to a dictionary definition.

Another site with Pali and English on the same page is https://www.tipitaka.net/tipitaka/dhp/ for example https://www.tipitaka.net/tipitaka/dhp/verseload.php?verse=001

And all of Ven. Sujato's translations on suttacentral have side-by-side or line-by-line copies of the Pali -- see for example https://suttacentral.net/sn56.11/en/sujato -- click on the Settings icon near the top of the page, and activate "View original text with translation" and "Activate Pali word lookup", then again use a mouse to hover over the words of interest.

Pali nouns have "case" -- i.e. nominative, accusative, ablative, etc., which show what place they have in a sentence -- that's instead of word-order being significant, and using conjunctions -- so it's like Latin or Greek.

There are several online resources for that -- grammar and dictionaries -- an introductory one is https://www.buddha-vacana.org/toolbox.html

And there are compound nouns, often you might guess how a word is compounded in order to look up each portion individually -- for example "manopubbaṅgama is a Pali compound consisting of the words mano and pubbaṅgama" (with mano being one of the words for "mind").

  • Thank you! those resources look amazing
    – user13701
    May 20, 2020 at 14:57

My advice is to stick around where people quote and recite texts known to be true.

You can learn effectively just by following the public discourse and asking questions.

What will be most important is the self-study of the referenced texts and remembering them. This is more important than how other people interpret it.

Eventually you will learn many texts, various interpretations and controversy.

Reading about the pali sutta is not as important as reading the sutta and the public discourse is more or less an introduction because questions repeat themselves quite a lot.

As you study the Buddha's pali discourses you will also learn a bit about commentary and pick up on things here & there from the public discourse.

As for Pali language you will eventually learn many technical terms from the public discourse and comparing pali translations.

If you want to learn the grammar and to expand your vocabulary you can attemp reading stories from jataka, vinaya and dhp commentaries.

For grammar one can find some course.

One can also memorize pali for recitation, ie the patimokkha. One will learn some this way but it's rather negligible in & by itself.

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