Condensed version of Pali Canon

The Pali Canon is voluminous with many Suttas and other types of books within it. For the purpose of memorisation we can appreciate the repetitions and the patterns in which these repetitions occur. There is also the same aspect of the Dhamma explained in different ways in different parts of the canon. However the formidable nature of the Pali Canon could be a barrier for the average lay Buddhist to access the entirety of teachings within this canon.

Has there been an attempt to extract the essence of the Pali Canon (and other texts such as Visuddhimagga) and to consolidate it into a single volume (or few volumes)? I am talking along the lines of taking out the important parts from the Suttas and Abhidhamma and then setting up those teachings in an organised manner which is less wordy as well as useful for practice. Because if such a text is made with a combined effort of monastics and scholars then it would help to bridge the gap between the average lay Buddhist and the useful content within the Pali Canon in my opinion. It could even serve as a stepping stone to make more and more people feel motivated to read the Pali Canon.

So my questions are -

  1. Has there been an attempt to extract the essence of the Pali Canon (and other texts such as Visuddhimagga) and to consolidate it into a less number volumes?

  2. If such an attempt was to be made, then what would be the best course of action to bring this about as well as giving this text an official status within the Theravada community?


There is this very nice anthology by Bhikkhu Bodhi, “In the Buddha’s words”. It has some 400 pages (just have the German translation here) and gives a very good overview.


Condensing the whole tipitaka is impossible in my opinion. Listing the core Buddhist concepts on the other hand, is very possible. One of the book that is usually recommended is The Buddha and His Teachings by Ven. Narada Maha Thera.

Tipitaka also is not like a thick medicine books where there are chapters explaining different things. It is more like a poem book, pick a single poem that you like and be happy with it. Some poem will resonate more with you and some some poem will be confusing.


I think there’s definitely something to what you say. I’m not aware of something like this existing. As regards giving something official status, there’s little chance of that (or even much of a centralized official authority to do it :slight_smile: ). However, there is probably a gap for something intermediate in size between some of the existing anthologies and just directly plunging into the whole mass of the entire canon and Nikayas. There are several good anthologies (in book form or online, free or commercial), for example:

Those are particularly nice when starting off and orienting oneself and finding one’s bearings within the mass of the suttas. There doesn’t seem to be much in the middle point of this spectrum: a half-way house between an introductory or short anthology and the full set of Nikayas (though possibly Thanissaro Bhikku might have something resembling this). It might be an interesting exercise though to try to compress the Nikayas (and perhaps some of the rest of the Pali canon) down into a book about the size of one of Wisdom’s Nikaya editions.

Perhaps take 20% of the suttas in each Nikaya (4 main ones and perhaps the early part of the KN) and gather into a single volume. Probably easiest to do with the Samyutta Nikaya (SN) given the short length of its suttas and the repetition. Picking a balanced selective representative sample would be fairly doable. I’ve read very little of the AN at this point, but guess something similar could be done with that. A bit harder with the Majjhima Nikaya (MN) but I suppose one could pick a reasonable representative sample of around 30 out of the 152 suttas. The room for choice gets a lot more limited with the Digha Nikaya (DN), being able to pick only around 7 suttas from this. There are about 4 of these that would be at the top of most people’s lists, but things get a bit more subjective after that.

Anyway, when Bhante Sujato’s free translations go up on this website this year, this’ll be as simple as people putting together a suitable sutta reading list (and then one can read them here). I think these translations won’t be copyrighted (or have some fairly open-source licence anyway, usable with attribution or as long as the resulting document is still free) so I guess there’ll be little stopping anyone gathering together a subset of the suttas and sticking them into an epub or pdf. It’d be a pretty tricky balancing act though making a good list, but I suppose there are some “greatest hits” lists out there already, e.g. Leigh Brasington had one for the DN.


ERASE all the ‘evam me suttam’ passages i.e ‘Thus have i heard on one occasion’ GONE… and DELETE! discourses that are repeated only with a variation in name, and there you have it an earlier version of the pali canon…that’s what i do when doing sutta readings so there is less repetition, it helps with people not getting bored easily and is generally a nicer read…more pith less ‘samatti’

Thank you for the replies so far.

I am thinking if such a thing was to happen then it would be important to have the entire Pali Canon in a database where parts of the texts can be tagged with important terms so that when aspects of the teachings are searched for, then all the relevant passages in different parts of the canon appear under the search. This helps to gather all the relevant passages/stanzas or even entire Suttas to do with a single topic.

If such a text was to be made then the 4NT can be used as the framework where all these teachings can be placed in. It can be seen a text with 4 sections starting from Truth of Suffering, Cause, Cessation and Path of Liberation where the last section is where all the teachings and practices are places using the N8FP as a framework within this 4th section.

I am thinking whether this will be the same as Vimuttimagga and Visuddhimagga.

I was also given a free copy of Buddhadhamma by Venerable Payutto by Ajahn Gavesiko. He told me that this was like the modern version of Visuddhimagga. He encouraged me to read this first before Vimuttimagga or Visuddhimagga.

I was going to start a new thread but this one came up as similar, so I will ask my question here, I am very interested in peoples thoughts about a concordance or compression of DN MN and SN that gives each text as it first occurs and then adds all the repetition information to it , so for example you would give DN1 and then give notes of all the places (next 11 DN’s etc) where that text is repeated, all the locations the buddha is said to have repeated it, and all the variants or additional similes or modifications and where they occur, with the idea being that you would have one text, more or less for each of the doctrinal topics and a handy way to see where a given text/topic is repeated or elaborated in each of DN MN and SN. Has any such text been made, are there comprehensive indexes for the suttas that indicate this kind of information?


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Yes, I don’t think such a thing exists. The problem with all such ideas is that they apply well in a limited domain, then it kind of peters off as you spend your time thinking, does this really belong here or not … ?

But certainly, within a limited sphere this could be useful.

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I have tried to do that for what Yinshun considered as the earliest strata of “sutta” / doctrinal portion for SN, only including texts that have substantial correspondence in both SN and SA. It comes down to maybe about 100 pages of texts.

The problem of such an effort is that everyone is interested in slightly different things, so it is hard to do one that makes most people happy.


Indeed. At the end of the day, such things are more useful for academic study than anything else.

Perhaps a more fruitful undertaking would be to assemble suttas selected according to theme. We still have far too little in the way of introductory lessons offering diverse perspectives.


Given the Buddha’s emphasis on practice over metaphysics, I am inclined to think that the theorizing found in many sutta’s is secondary. I would put together only those suttas that most illuminate the eightfold path. That could probably be done in ten suttas. Think of it this way, if you only could read ten suttas to get you to nibbana, what would they be? That would be my take anyway.

There is a problem with this logic. If there is, as you say, theorizing found in many suttas, then how can you at the same time say that the Buddha had an emphasis on practice over metaphysics? Unless you are going to say that those parts weren’t taught by the Buddha. In fact, the reason that we perceive that the Buddha had an emphasis on practice over detailed analysis is simply because that is how the Buddha’s teachings have been presented to us.

However I probably also share your feeling that the project in the OP is not really necessary.

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I am referring to

So, Māluṅkyaputta, you should remember what I have not declared as undeclared, and what I have declared as declared. And what have I not declared? I have not declared the following: ‘the cosmos is eternal,’ ‘the cosmos is not eternal,’ ‘the world is finite,’ ‘the world is infinite,’ ‘the soul and the body are the same thing,’ ‘the soul and the body are different things,’ ‘a Realized One exists after death,’ ‘a Realized One doesn’t exist after death,’ ‘a Realized One both exists and doesn’t exist after death,’ ‘a Realized One neither exists nor doesn’t exist after death.’

And why haven’t I declared these things? Because they aren’t beneficial or relevant to the fundamentals of the spiritual life. They don’t lead to disillusionment, dispassion, cessation, peace, insight, awakening, and extinguishment. That’s why I haven’t declared them.

I think that, in Dharma, less is more and that the Buddha thought the same. The raft became a cruise ship full of distractions and I do not believe it came from the Buddha.

Again, the quote you give doesn’t support your assertion. The Buddha is saying there are things he declared and things he didn’t. What you are now doing is saying that the things he did declare in the suttas he didn’t actually say. Of course you are free to believe whatever you like, but I don’t see how this quote can be used to help you pick and choose what the Buddha said and didn’t say.

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I think reading 10 suttas to get to nibbana is too good to be true. That said, from my prior readings of SN / SA, I have marked out the following 20 suttas to keep re-reading:

SN12:2 / SA298 - analysis of the dependent origination
SN12:15 / SA301 - dependent origination is middle of extremes
SN12:65 / SA287 - simile of old city
SN22:57 / SA42 - analysis of 5 aggregates
SN22:59 / SA34 - traditionally the second sutta the Buddha taught
SN22:82 / SA58 - a collection of Q&As on 5 aggregates
SN35:28 / SA197 - traditionally (according to Vinaya) the 3rd sutta the Buddha taught
SN35:93 / SA214 - both 6 senses with 5 aggregates are impermanent
SN35:136 / SA308 - the core sutta in SN35 on the 6 senses
SN35:238 / SA1172 - an interesting narrative summary of the key items taught by the Buddha
SN36:23 / SA476 - summary of teachings on feelings
SN45:8 / SA784 - analysis of eightfold path
SN45:24 / SA751 - I consider this as the core sutta in SN45 on the eightfold path
SN46:6 / SA281 - a good integration of how the 4 mindfulness and 7 factors are linked to 6 senses and 3 good conduct
SN46:24 / SA704 - core sutta in SN46 (on 5 hindrances and 7 factors)
SN47:4 / SA621 - core sutta on 4 mindfulness
SN47:13 / SA638 - one of the last suttas taught by the Buddha
SN54:13 / SA810 - mindfulness of breathing
SN56:11 / SA379 - first sutta taught by the buddha (on 4 noble truths)
SN56:21 / SA403 - benefits of understanding / penetrating the 4 truths


Like B. Bodhi’s In the Buddha’s Words but for all suttas?

My current project is more on mind mapping the suttas. Not done much. Mainly for memorizing where did this come from. A complete mindmap of all the suttas, would be too much to see, too dense to see, too much time to prezi through. Still not sure the best software to do it. I don’t think Buddhanexus has this.

Yeah, I’m doing something similar over at OBU, where each topic collects suttas relevant to that topic as I reread them.

But my topics are quite broad. They’ll maybe get more specific over the next few years, but they will never be as comprehensive as a true general index, which I assume is what Bhante is thinking of.

Bhante Analayo’s encyclopedia articles are a pretty good start for double clicking on important Dharma topics.

Perhaps someone with a Buddhist wiki wants to trawl through those articles for links to all their cited suttas? cc: @ngoonera :slight_smile:

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Could you elaborate on how all of these suttas have no value?