14

At least one of the "introductions to Buddhism" that I read included elements from, some biography of, the life of the Buddha, including:

  • Early life
  • Searching for enlightenment
  • Sermon at Benares (a.k.a. "Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion")
  • Death (i.e. "Behold etc. ... Work out your end with diligence").

Is the Tipitaka arranged in useful sequence? I feel like I'm walking into a library, looking at the Dewey Decimal Classification and wondering which I should read first.

I take it that the Tipitaka is not chronological!

Am I right in think that the Dhammacakkappavattana is the first and most important sutta?

If so is it sensible that, there, it is "SN 56.11" (i.e. not the first sutta)?

What other "important" suttas should I read "first"?

Is more known about the sequence in which the Buddha himself delivered them (e.g. if the Sermon at Benares was the first, was the Fire Sermon the second, and which then was the third, etc.)?

Please answer any or all questions above.

Or you could answer this question by commenting on what it says at Which suttas should I read? Do you agree with what it says there, do you have anything to add to what it says there, or to take away?

  • Reading is the bad study system. Reading and translation make reader confuse and miss many important words. So I answered the ancient study system in this answer: buddhism.stackexchange.com/a/22938/10100 – Bonn Sep 29 '17 at 17:01
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Am I right in thinking that the Dhammacakkappavattana is the first and most important sutta?

I wouldn't say most important but, taking into account other discourses, it seems it was the first discourse expounded by the Buddha.

If so, is it sensible that, there, it is "SN 56.11" (i.e. not the first sutta)?

It depends on how you'd want to organize the discourses. Since SN is organized thematically, this is one of the reasons for it being in the last section (SN 56).

What other "important" suttas should I read "first"?

I struggle with this question since there is a plethora of "important" or "good" discourses. Personally, I enjoy so many discourses in the canon that I've lost count. Nevertheless, here are some which I consider important (The subsequent bolded filtering are those discourses which I consider to be the core. I'd recommend reading all of them nonetheless):

  • Dīgha Nikāya: 1, 2, 9, 15, 16, 29
  • Majjhima Nikāya: 1, 2, 8, 9, 10, 11, 14, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 26, 28, 29, 35, 36, 38, 43, 44, 47, 55, 58, 60, 61, 63, 66, 70, 72, 74, 82, 86, 88, 95, 96, 107, 108, 109, 117, 118, 121, 125, 136, 139, 141, 149, 150
  • Saṃyutta Nikāya: 12.2, 12.15, 12.17, 12.33, 12.34, 22.2, 22.59, 22.81, 22.85, 35.28, 35.116, 36.6, 36.7, 36.8, 36.11, 38.14, 41.6, 45.8, 46.51, 46.55, 47.10, 47.19, 48.42, 51.15, 55.7, 56.11
  • Aṅguttara Nikāya: I'd recommend looking at Bhikkhu Bodhi's Thematic Guide and reading the discourses by whatever topic interests you. A discourse that usually stands out in this nikāya is AN 3.65. (I also like 3.61, 3.68 & 3.69)
  • Khuddaka Nikāya: I recommend reading fully the Dhammapada, Udāna, Itivuttaka, Sutta Nipāta, Theragāthā & Therīgāthā. They are small and easy to read. If I had to choose one, I'd say the Sutta Nipāta.

Is more known about the sequence in which the Buddha himself delivered them (e.g. if the Sermon at Benares was the first, was the Fire Sermon the second, and which then was the third, etc.)?

These are the orders I've seen:
 
1. Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta
2. Anattalakkhaṇa Sutta
3. Ādittapariyāya Sutta [Source]
 
1. Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta
2. Hemavata Sutta
3. Anattalakkhaṇa Sutta [Source]

Can't recollect anything else regarding this topic.

  • 3
    That is a great and informative answer. Its much appreciated. Thank you. – Lanka Mar 29 '15 at 15:04
9

Bhikkhu Bodhi has published an analogy of the Pali Canon called In the Buddha's Words which is arranged thematically. I found a very useful entry into the Pali Canon generally. The themes (and chapter headings) are

  1. The Human Condition
  2. The Bringer of Light
  3. Approaching the Dharma
  4. The Happiness Visible in the Present Lives
  5. The Way to a Fortunate Rebirth
  6. Deepening one's own Perspective on the world
  7. The Path to Liberation
  8. Mastering the Mind
  9. Shining the Light of Wisdom
  10. The Planes of Realisation

I found going through this gave me a good flavour of the Pali Canon.

  • 5
    I can highly recommend the anthology In the Buddha's words. In my opinion it is the best Sutta anthology of its size there is. If I spoke someone who didn't know anything about the canonical Suttas and wanted a place to start, I would immediately recommend that they get In the Buddha's Words. – Bakmoon Oct 11 '14 at 19:30
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    +1 as a great and gentle place to start and have a sense of, not only, the whole universe and vocabulary, but to get familiarized with the sutta styles. Then, a first read of the Nikayas is just straightforward (also, the recent available translations have a lot of helpful background, notes and introductory chapters). – Thiago Oct 13 '14 at 2:22
  • Please see this answer for the Preface of this book, which tells you the author's intention to make this book a map to guide the reader through the jungle of the suttas. – ruben2020 Sep 17 '17 at 4:33
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I really like Dharmafarer's Sutta Discovery series. It is free and available online as downloadable/printable PDFs. It introduces suttas in a nice sequence, not necessarily strictly chronological, but organized in a meaningful progression (starting with the Dhammacakkappavattana sutta!).

3

The Sutta Pitaka is the part of the Tipitaka that would be of most interest to laypersons practicing meditation. (The others are the Vinaya Pitaka, the rules for monks, and the Abhidhamma Pitaka, a more metaphysical compilation).

But to answer your question, the sections in the Sutta Pitaka are organized by the length of the suttas therein:

  • The first section, Digha Nikaya, contains long suttas.
  • The second section, Majjhima Nikaya, contains middle-length suttas.
  • The Samyutta Nikaya contains shorter suttas and are grouped by topic.
  • The Anguttara Nikaya is grouped into the book of the ones, book of the twos, etc. (so that if you're looking for a list of five things, you can check the book of the fives).
  • The Khuddaka Nikaya is a collection of various books, including the well-known Dhammapada, and (in some versions of the Tipitaka) the Questions of King Milinda.

One particular place I remember from going there repeatedly is the Mangala Sutta, or Discourse on Blessings. It's in: Khuddaka Nikaya > Sutta Nipata > Culavagga > 4th sutta.

This is just a quick summary gleaned off accesstoinsight.org. The website explains in further detail.

  • 1
    Arranging them by length seems the least useful way to organize them, unless you're physically sorting scrolls into baskets. – ChrisW Oct 12 '14 at 11:45
  • 1
    Actually I find the scheme useful: If I feel like spending a long time reading suttas, I'll open DN or MN, and if I feel like spending a shorter time, I'll open the other sections. But to be fair if you don't know what you're looking for, this scheme doesn't help a lot. That's why I like that ATI lets you search by subject, name, and various other keys. – Anthony Oct 12 '14 at 17:48
2

Someone posted this comment, in another topic, ...

Only a handful of core sutta is enough for enlightenment. MN 117; SN 56.11; SN 22.59; SN 22.79; SN 23.2; SN 5.10; MN 9; MN 61; DN 31; SN 55.7; AN 4.55; MN 118; MN 38; MN 37; Iti 44; Iti 49; MN 149; SN 22.53; MN 115; SN 22.81; SN 22.48 is enough.

... which I thought could be an answer to this question. So here they are, with my summary of each:

MN 117 -- "The Great Forty" -- Introduces the factors of the noble eightfold path: for example "right view", both "affected by taints" and "supramundane"; and connections between them, for example between "view" and "effort" and "mindfulness".

SN 56.11 -- "Setting in Motion the Wheel of the Dhamma" -- Introduces the middle way, and the four noble truths; and a statement that the four truths are to be understood, abandoned, realized, and developed.

SN 22.59 -- "The Characteristic of Nonself" -- Explains that if the five aggregates were self, then they would not lead to affliction and would be under our control; and that the five aggregates are impermanent and suffering, and not fit to be regarded as self, and should be viewed as ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self"; so the noble disciples experience revulsion towards the aggregates, thus becomes dispassionate, thus [his mind] is liberated.

SN 22.79 -- "Being Devoured" -- Describes what each of the five aggregates are; explains how to reflect that "I am now being devoured by" each aggregate, and to become indifferent towards the past, not seek delight in the future, and practice for revulsion towards the present, for its fading away and cessation; and says that this is called "dismantles and does not build up", "abandons and does not cling", "scatters and does not amass", "extinguishes and does not kindle".

SN 23.2 -- "Satta Sutta: A Being" -- Says that there is "a being" whenever there is passion, delight, or craving for any of the five aggregates; and that you should smash and scatter them and make them unfit for play, like children do with little sandcastles which they stop wanting to play with.

SN 5.10 -- "Vajira" -- Tells of speculative questions attributed to Mara, "By whom has this being been created?" etc.; and the bhikkhuni Vajira's reply (in verse), starting with "why assume 'a being'?" and ending "it's only suffering that arises and stands and ceases".

MN 9 -- "Right View" -- Explains in what way[s] a noble disciple is of right view: "unwholesome" is defined by the four precepts and the three poisons, the three poisons are the root of the unwholesome, the opposite is wholesome, the noble disciple abandons the roots and the "I am" conceit; the noble disciple understands four types of nutriment -- food (for form), contact (for feeling), mental volition (for consciousness), and consciousness (for name-and-form) -- that the nutriment arise and cease with the arising and cessation of craving, and that the noble eightfold path is the way leading to the cessation of nutriment; understands the four noble truths; and understands each of the twelve links of dependent origination, with the origin and cessation of each; and understands the three taints (asavas); and abolishes the three poisons and the "I am" conceit.

MN 61 -- "Discourse on an Exhortation to Rāhula at Ambalaṭṭhikā" -- Those who have no shame at intentional lying have no recluseship; reflect on a deed, when you desire (or intend) to do it, when you do it, and after you have done it; reflect on whether it harms self or others, whether it's unskilled and yields anguish, or skilled and yields happiness; for three types of deeds, i.e. bodily deeds, mental deeds, and verbal deeds; repeated reflection is the only way to purify a deed, and is how you must train yourself.

DN 31 -- "The Buddha’s Advice to Sigālaka" -- Advice to a layperson: abandon four impure actions (i.e. keep the four precepts) -- the four harmful deeds having four roots, i.e. the three poisons plus fear; avoid squandering wealth in six ways (intoxication, partying, bad companions, etc.), and six dangers (e.g. "friends and colleagues display their contempt", etc.) associated with each of these six ways; beware of four types of enemy disguised as friend (taker, talker, flatterer, and reckless companion), and be aware of four good-hearted friends (helper, constant, mentor, and compassionate), and the four things by which to identify each of these types; and protect "the six directions" (parents, teachers, family, friends and colleagues, workers and servants, ascetics and Brahmins), each in five ways.

SN 55.7 -- "The Discourse to the People of Bamboo Gate" -- Respect the four precepts and teach them to others, after reflecting on the golden rule; factors conducive to streamwinning are wise faith in each jewel of the triple gem, and accomplished moral virtue leading to mental concentration; the benefits of streamwinning are that if he wishes he could declare of himself that birth in the lower realms is destroyed for him.

AN 4.55 -- "The Same in Living" -- A householder and housewife tell the Buddha that, since being given to each other in marriage they do not recall ever transgressing against each even in thought, much less by deed, and that they want to see each other in future lives; the Buddha replies that to see one another in future lives, they they should have the same faith, the same virtuous behavior, the same generosity, and the same wisdom.

MN 118 -- "Mindfulness with Breathing" -- An introductory description of the sangha; describes what to be mindful when breathing (breathing in and out, long and short, experiencing & tranquilizing the bodily conditioner (the breathing), rapture, pleasure, experiencing & tranquilizing the mind conditioner (how rapture & happiness condition the mind), the mind, gladdening the mind, concentrating the mind, liberating the mind, impermanence, fading away, cessation, relinquishment); lists the four establishments of mindfulness (contemplating the body as a body, feelings as feelings, mind as mind, and while contemplating impermanence mind-objects and mind-objects -- ardent, mindful, putting away grief and covetousness, looking on with equanimity); lists the seven enlightenment factors (1 abiding contemplating the body as a body establishes mindfulness, 2 abiding mindful arouses investigation-of-states, 3 investigation arouses tireless energy, 4 with aroused energy arises unworldly rapture, 5 with rapture the body and mind become tranquil, 6 with bodily tranquility and pleasure the mind is concentrated, 7 looking with equanimity at the concentrated mind and abiding contemplating the four foundations of mindfulness arouses equanimity); and the seven enlightenment factors, when supported by seclusion, dispassion, and cessation, ripen in relinquishment -- that's how they are developed and cultivated, and fulfil true knowledge and deliverance.

MN 38 -- "The Greater Discourse on the Destruction of Craving" -- The Buddha reproves a bhikkhu named Sāti for holding a pernicious view, that the Dhamma teaches that "it is this same consciousness that runs and wanders through the round of rebirths, not another"; consciousness depends on the six senses, and is reckoned as "eye-consciousness" etc.; consciousness is like fire, named after what feeds it (e.g. "grass-fire" etc.); things that are conditional on nutriment end when the nutriment is ended; the parable of the raft compares the Dharma to a raft for the purpose of crossing over, not to be an object of greed and treated as a possession; there are four kinds of nutriment (also mentioned in MN 9 above); a listing of the twelve nidānas, and how they condition each others' arising and cessation; knowing and seeing in this way, the bhikkhus wouldn't ask the unanswered questions (have speculative doubts) about self, past, future, and present -- nor follow the Teacher from respect, nor acknowledge other teachers -- the Dhamma is to be experienced by the wise for themselves; the round of existence, conception to maturity, is that the embryo descends if several conditions occur, is carried in the womb, is born, is nourished, plays, enjoys the five cords of sensual pleasure; the continuation of the round is that he lusts after a form if it is pleasing, or dislikes it if it is unpleasing, doesn't abide with mindfulness of the body established, doesn't understand deliverance of the mind by wisdom wherein evil unwholesome states cease without remainder, delights in feelings which results in clinging, from which comes being, birth, ageing and death, sorrow, such is the origin of this whole mass of suffering; ending the round (gradual training) is that a Tathagata appears and teaches the Dhamma, the householder hears, gains conviction, and goes forth into homelessness, keeps the 10 precepts, abstains from wrong livelihood, is content with the necessities and being blameless, practices sense-restraint, makes himself alert, seeks a secluded place, abandons the hindrances, and enters and remains in the four jhānas; ending the round (full cessation) is that whatever he senses he does not lust after it if it's pleasing nor dislike it if it isn't, whatever he feels he does not delight in the feeling, nor welcome it or remain attached to it, so delight in feelings cease, so cessation of clinging, being, birth, ageing and death, etc.

MN 37 -- "Lesser Discourse on the Destruction of Craving" -- ???

Iti 44 -- "The Nibbāna-element" -- The Nibbāna-element with residue is when the five sense faculties remain unimpaired, by which the aharant still experiences what is agreeable and disagreeable and feels pleasure and pain -- but hate, attachment, and delusion are extinct; and the Nibbāna-element without residue, when the arahant is completely released trough final knowledge.

Iti 49 -- "Held by Views" -- Some are held back and some overreach, and only those with vision see: some are held back, delighting in being, when Dharma is taught for cessation of being, their minds don't enter or acquire confidence or settle or become resolved on it; some overreach when, disgusted by being, they rejoice in non-being and assert that the self perishes with the body at death, and that this is peaceful and excellent; those with vision see, who practice for the ending of what has come to be, so that being isn't renewed.

MN 149 -- "The Great Sixfold Base" -- ...

SN 22.53 -- "Engagement" -- Engaged is unliberated and disengaged is liberated; consciousness is engaged with the five aggregates; if a bhikkhu abandons lust for the aggregates then there is no support for the establishing of consciousness; when consciousness is unestablished, it is liberated, therefore steady, therefore content, therefore not agitated, so he attains Nibbana.

MN 115 -- "The Discourse on Many Elements" -- ...

SN 22.81 -- "Connected Discourses on the Aggregates" -- ...

SN 22.48 -- "Aggregates" -- Describes the aggregates and "the aggregates subject to clinging": for example, any kind of form (past, present, future, internal or external, gross or subtle, far or near) is called the form aggregate; and any kind of form that is tainted, that can be clung to, is called the form aggregate subject to clinging.

  • 1
    Claiming some sutta as "core" in order to disparage others is dogmatic Buddhism and inflicts serious error. – Yeshe Tenley Jul 25 '18 at 20:21
  • 1
    Are there (more specifically) some sets of others which you would recommend? Or, any specific sequence[s] in which you recommend that a beginner read them all? – ChrisW Jul 26 '18 at 8:44
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As to whether Dhammacakkappavattana is the first or most important, scholars have made it plain that our reconstruction of events does not allow us to conclude that the narration of the biography of the Buddha Gautama or a specified priority outside of traditional context will hold unchallenged by sound reason.

Perhaps the most important of sutras otherwise which you might consider, or ask your teachers about, would be the Kalama Sutra, which is called the Buddha's "Charter of Free Inquiry", as it allows a balanced approach to all other sutras going forward, both inside and outside of the sangha.

1

The Access To Insight (ATI) website has "study guides" or thematic anthologies of the suttas, which come with commentaries also. Many of them of have embedded links to the full suttas.

The Befriending the Suttas page has a nice section called Which suttas should I read?

The main self-guided tour is the Path To Freedom which has:

Here is a list of study guides. For e.g. one of the study guides is the five aggregates.

ATI also has a General Index, which list subjects from A to Z. There are also other indexes based on Author, Proper Names, Number, Similes, Suttas and Title.

1

Chronological or other sequence for beginners

'Beginners' can be a problematic word because there are two types of beginners, namely:

  1. Beginners to religion & morality (sila)

  2. Beginners to the noble path of enlightenment.

Beginners to the noble path start with the Dhammacakkappavattana.

In contrast, sequences that monks often teach to the common person are generally for beginners to morality, following the common formula of 'sila-samadhi-panna', such as found in detail in the Maha-mangala Sutta or in the following from MN 56, which begin with basic morality & end with the Four Noble Truths:

Then the Blessed One discoursed to him a graduated sermon, that is to say, he spoke on the subjects of generosity, virtue, the heavens, on the evil consequences, the vanity and the depravity of sensual pleasures and on the advantages of renunciation.

When the Blessed One perceived that the mind of Upāli, the householder, was prepared, pliant, free from hindrances, elevated and lucid, then he revealed to him that exalted doctrine of the Buddhas, viz. Suffering, its Cause, its Ceasing and the Path.

MN 56

Due to DN 31 teaching the duty of a monk is to teach lay people the path to heaven (worldly happiness) rather than the path to Nibbana, there are two sequences in Buddhism.

Am I right in think that the Dhammacakkappavattana is the first and most important sutta?

Yes, it is the most important sutta because it represents the core message of dukkha & no dukkha (MN 22); the 'Handful of Leaves' (SN 56.31); & the 'Special Unique Teaching' (MN 56) the Buddha declared only he taught. While the 2nd sutta SN 22.59 about the 3 characteristics is more profound & has more path efficacy, both SN 56.11 & SN 22.59 share the same goal, namely, explaining wrong view vs right view and leading to the end of suffering.

What other "important" suttas should I read "first"?

SN 22.59 and SN 35.28, which, together with SN 56.11, make up the first three sermons. And also SN 45.8, which explains the details of the 4th noble truth.

Is more known about the sequence in which the Buddha himself delivered them (e.g. if the Sermon at Benares was the first, was the Fire Sermon the second, and which then was the third, etc.)?

SN 22.59 was the 2nd; the Fire Sermon was the 3rd. What should be highlighted about the first 3 sermons is they are supramundane (lokuttara) or higher wisdom (adhipaññā) for the purpose of enlightenment & Nibbana of monks. They are not moral teachings for the common lay person. Thus, the first 3 sermons represent the most extreme of 'Hinayana'.

Or you could answer this question by commenting on what it says at Which suttas should I read? Do you agree with what it says there, do you have anything to add to what it says there, or to take away?

MN 117 distinguishes between between 'mundane' & supramundane right view. Thus there are mundane teachings which are about morality & skillful means for laypeople (eg. SN 55.7; DN 31; AN 4.55, etc). Therefore, there can be a different sequence, such as Bhikkhu Bodhi has attempted with 'In The Buddha's Words' book, which moves from mundane to supramundane. While this is more 'Mahayana' (broader), it certainly can create lots of confusion for students & scholars, because the mundane teachings often get imputed upon the supramundane, such as the numerous mundane corruptions of the supramundane Dependent Origination.

Thus, MN 117 is a very important sutta. While some speculative scholars have possibly argued correctly MN 117 was not spoken by the Buddha, MN 117 was certainly spoken by an arahant and was spoken to mitigate confusion between the mundane & supramundane.


Another handy sequence are the suttas taught to Rahula (MN 61; MN 62; MN 147).

  • This answer is missing the Fire Sermon -- perhaps I should add it there. – ChrisW Aug 24 '18 at 18:06

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