Which biography of the Buddha is written in (or translated into) English, and is the most widely read (from a Theravada perspective)?

  • 2
    Old Path White Clouds by Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh is a very beautiful book. Adding this in comments because you explicitly requested Theravada. Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, has drawn from 24 Pali, Sanskrit, and Chinese sources to create this highly acessible retelling of the story of the Buddha. This is not a scholarly study but rather a heartfelt interpretation that draws on important sources.
    – Buddho
    Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 6:32
  • 3
    A concise history of Buddhism by Andrew Skilton is a good overview of the history of Buddhism, not limited to Theravada. Again adding in comments because it is not directly Theravada.
    – Buddho
    Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 6:34
  • I think you'll find that "biography of the Buddha" and "history of Theravada" are probably two different books. I have edited this question, so that now it only asks for a book about the "biography of the Buddha". If you'd also like to ask about the "history of Theravada" I recommend you post a new question on that topic.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jul 10, 2015 at 13:58

8 Answers 8


You may see these two books:

  1. Buddha by Karen Armstrong,
  2. The Life of Buddha according to the Pali Canon by Bhikkhu Nanamoli.

A book titled In the Buddha's words is "An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon" by Bhikkhu Bodhi.

You can find it online as a PDF.

Its second chapter (only 25 pages) is titled "The Bringer of Light" and is a biography: it has section titles like, "The Buddha's Conception and Birth", "The Decision to Teach", and "The First Discourse".

Its advantage is that it's quoting suttas, so I guess that's "widely read" and reportedly autobiography.


There are many books on this topic, my favorite one is "Gotama Buddha: A Biography Based on the Most Reliable Texts" by Hajime Nakamura. It is based on a very thorough, I would even say fanatical, research into the primary sources (mostly Pali Canon) - and I found it by far the most detailed (two volumes!) and very well specified with references.


If you can read old book with very details, you want might to consider 'The Great Chronicle Of Buddha' by Mingun Sayadaw. The biography of Gautama Buddha starts at volume two, part one.


You can read AccessToInsight's "A Sketch of The Buddha's Life: Readings from the Pali Canon".

The same website also has another shorter biography of the Buddha entitled "The Buddha and His Dhamma" by Bhikkhu Bodhi.


I can't agree more with Andrei Volkov. Gotama Buddha: A Biography Based on the Most Reliable Texts" by Hajime Nakamura is one of the best.

Nakamura culled the information from Pali Canon, Chinese Agamas, Faxian & Xuanzang India Travel records, Archeological Resources and Buddhist Art.

For those who are disheartened seeing the unavailability and atrocious prices online for used ones, here is the way to get them for a decent price.

Send an email to the original publisher in Japan "[email protected]" and check if they have stock. I am able to get both the books shipped to USA west coast for 64$.


From a Theravada perspective, the life of the Buddha is given in the Vinaya and Sutta Pitaka. These texts are in an unknown language. The name that corresponds to 'the Buddha' in the canon is Sammasambuddho. A Bodhisatto becomes a Sammasambuddho as a consequence of achieving Sammasambodhi. The texts cover the life of Bodhisatto from birth to Sammasambodhi. Every single moment from Sammasambodhi to Parinibbana is accounted for in the texts.


The most comprehensive I have come across in English is:

Also comprehensive but shorter books:

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