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, 2015 at 11:22
  • see also Does Zen Buddhism have canonical texts? Jul 10, 2015 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, 2015 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, 2015 at 9:45

1 Answer 1


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, 2015 at 11:15
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    Welcome, Jayarava! Hope you stick around!
    – user382
    Aug 16, 2015 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, 2015 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, 2015 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. Aug 17, 2015 at 11:27

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