When starting a more in-depth study of the Dharma from a Mahayana and Vajrayana perspective, what are the core (3 most recommended) Sutras (or texts), and the reasons why they are considered important, to have on your reading list in each of those traditions?

  • A similar question for the Pali canon was Chronological or other sequence for beginners – ChrisW Jun 25 '15 at 11:22
  • see also Does Zen Buddhism have canonical texts? – Crab Bucket Jul 10 '15 at 13:50
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    I don't know enough, but I'd guess one can't go wrong with the Prajnaparamida Hrydya Sutra (heart sutra), Diamond sutra and the lotus sutra. Likewise, Kalachakra tantra and Nīlakaṇṭha Dhāraṇī are quite famous, along with the tantra of one's favorite Bodhisattva. Certain sects have clear favorites, like the Shurangama sutra. – Buddho Jul 23 '15 at 9:00
  • Thanks @Buddho. Those are on the list to read. I now understand the connection of lineage preferences to certain sutras and how this complicates my question in the Mahayana tradition! – Devindra Jul 23 '15 at 9:45

I think your question is much larger than can be answered with just three texts. Mahāyāna is not one thing, it is many Prajñāpāramitā, Madhyamaka, Pure Land, Yogacāra, Chan/Zen, Huayen etc. Similarly Vajrayāna is not one thing either.

For the Mahāyāna a comprehensive guide would have dozens of texts. At a minimum:

  • Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra
  • Mulamadhyamikākārikā śastra
  • Abhidharmakośabhāsya śāstra
  • Yogacārabhumi Sāstra
  • Sukhāvativyūha Sūtra (x2)
  • Sūtra of Huineng
  • Saddharmapuṇḍarikā Sūtra
  • Avataṃsaka Sūtra

For Vajrayāna the situation is different. Tantras cannot be read on their own. For Shingon the two main texts are

  • Mahāvairocana Sutra (aka Mahāvairocana Abhisaṃbodhi Tantra)
  • Vajraśekhara Sutra (aka Sarvatathāgata-tattvasaṃgraha)

A good introduction can be found in Kūkai: Major Works by Yoshito Hakeda. Tibetan Tantra includes many more texts, such as:

  • Guhyasamāja Tantra
  • Hevajra Tantra
  • Kālacakra Tantra

But most teaching is done through commentaries. Many of these texts cannot be understood without a commentary. Some of them require specific initiations.

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    Thanks for this. Great first post! Welcome to the site Jayarava. Look here put together by @Robin111 for some tips and suggestions for using the site. – Devindra Aug 15 '15 at 11:15
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    Welcome, Jayarava! Hope you stick around! – Thiago Aug 16 '15 at 16:17
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    They're good contributions. Welcome. And thank you, I see you've been finding and answering previously-unanswered questions. You seem to know how to use StackExchange already even though you're a new user. Perhaps you've noticed that the site is designed less for discussion/dialog and more for simple Q&A. One way in which answers are received is with votes (explained e.g. here and here). – ChrisW Aug 17 '15 at 7:10
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    IMO if your answers aren't more highly upvoted than they are, that's because they are expert-level answers which many other users aren't able to confirm (i.e. upvote) using their own knowledge. Nevertheless I hope you're assured that your answering is welcome here. I also note that you have been answering questions about Mahayana texts, which not very many other people on this site have been expert at answering: so twice-welcome. You may (please) post on the meta-site if you have any questions (or suggestions) about how this site functions. – ChrisW Aug 17 '15 at 7:19
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    Can I also add a belated welcome to the site. I'm browsing your answers now and they are really helpful and put an academic slant on some of the harder questions which I think we lack. Also personally i notice you are part of Triratna. So am I (mitra in Leeds) so it's especially good to bump into you on the site. Welcome and thanks for your contributions so far. – Crab Bucket Aug 17 '15 at 11:27

If I had to pick only three, for a practicing Buddhist (as opposed to a scholar) I would recommend:

  1. A lam rim (~syllabus) text, e.g. Treasury of Precious Qualities by Jigme Lingpa with commentary by Kangyur Rinpoche.
  2. The Way of the Bodhisattva by Shantideva.
  3. A prajnaparamita sutra e.g. Edward Conze's The Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom: With the Divisions of the Abhisamayalankara.
  • Even though Conze's is the only complete translation of the Large Perfection of Wisdom Sutra to date, it is not really very good and I would not recommend it. Firstly Conze was very loose about which text he was translating, secondly his translations are not always reliable. He has an agenda that affects how he presents the texts. The Large Sutra is bewildering even to experts. The first chapter of the 8000 line text would be a better place to start. And the Skilton & Crosby translation of Bodhicaryāvatāra is far superior. – Jayarava Aug 17 '15 at 8:20
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    I long gave up commenting on other people's answers, esp. if I think they are wrong / I know better. There are just too many perspectives on this site, some hardly reconcilable. I feel it's better to stick to my own answers and let the voters decide. It will also keep you away from conflicts with other answerers. Unless of course that's what you're looking for. – Andrei Volkov Aug 17 '15 at 11:57
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    That said, updated the Bodhicaryavatara link, thanks for the helpful suggestion. – Andrei Volkov Aug 17 '15 at 12:11
  • If you can comment on any of my answers (to identify how it's wrong, or to add something) I hope your comment is always welcome. – ChrisW Aug 18 '15 at 2:28
  • CrisW, you are special in my heart ;) – Andrei Volkov Aug 18 '15 at 11:12

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