Grouping by Disciple and Other Ways to Navigate the Nikayas

Traditionally, the Buddha’s teachings were transmitted orally. Today, thanks to the preservation efforts of the early Buddhist Councils, and the tireless work of translators, the majority of the teachings are available in modern languages for us to freely read and reflect on. With so much knowledge just a click or book purchase away, it begs the question—how do we navigate it? Should we even try?

Each text, typically, reflects an interaction in which a teacher gives a student a lesson that’s personalized for their temperament and situation. Considering this, perhaps it would be helpful to find the disciple or attendee(s) who comes closest to matching our temperament and situation (e.g. Mahānāma the Sakyan), and focus primarily on the texts featuring them—without totally excluding the other texts. Maybe such an approach could bring more continuity to study, and mitigate the need to parse the overlap between lessons.

A nice feature—that I only recently discovered—in the three nikāyas that I own from Wisdom is an index of proper names. Sutta Central also has an index of names here.

What are your thoughts?

What approach do you take to navigating the texts?


Search will be implemented in the next release of SuttaCentral Voice Assistant. For example, one might search for Sāriputta’s “Top 5 hits” and find:

MN 12 The Longer Discourse on the Lion’s Roar matches:174 of 356
MN 97 With Dhanañjāni matches:90 of 232
MN 151 The Purification of Alms matches:87 of 109
MN 114 What Should and Should Not Be Cultivated matches:80 of 373
MN 32 The Longer Discourse at Gosiṅga matches:71 of 168

Search will default to searching by phrase (e.g., quoted text in and will automatically switch to keyword search (i.e., the default for to enable queries to support study question like showing the top 5 suttas dealing with colors (i.e., “blue red yellow”). Search results are sorted by number of matching segments. Indeed, “Sāriputta” is mentioned in 174 segments of MN12 although the English translation only has 7 matches. Bhante Sujato’s inspiration to translate suttas using semantic text segments has made it possible to perform such searches. Thank you Bhante. :heart::pray:

SuttaCentral Voice will return the following for “Mahānāma”:

MN 53 A Trainee matches:39 of 100
MN 14 The Shorter Discourse on the Mass of Suffering matches:36 of 144
AN 11.11//AN 11.12 With Mahānāma (1st) matches:36 of 71
AN 6.10 With Mahānāma matches:34 of 67
AN 3.126//AN 3.124 Bharaṇḍu Kālāma matches:31 of 50

How does this work for you?


I like to read dialogues between mara and enlightened ones.:stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

Having super nuclear defilements, I find it very helpful to think of them as mara’s henchmen.


Mara’s top 10:

SN 46.43 About Māra matches:1 of 12
SN 4.5//SN 141 Māra’s Snares (2nd) matches:1 of 26
SN 4.4//SN 140 Māra’s Snares (1st) matches:1 of 21
SN 4.25//SN 161 Māra’s Daughters matches:1 of 115
SN 35.115 Māra’s Snare (2nd) matches:1 of 22
SN 35.114 Māra’s Snare (1st) matches:1 of 26
Thig 13.5 Subha: The Goldsmith’s Daughter matches:1 of 34
Thig 4.1 Bhaddā of the Kapilas matches:1 of 9
Thig 3.8 Somā matches:1 of 8
Thig 3.6 Sukkā matches:1 of 8


Sounds fancy. Where can I try this?

It would be cool if there was a way to sort suttas in chronological order, starting with a figure’s first appearance or teaching/lesson, and ending with their passing. This could give people a way to make quick biographies of certain figures.

Same. The Sagatha-vagga is one of my favorite collections.

This is totally off-topic, but I kinda wish Wisdom hadn’t crammed the entire Samyutta Nikaya into a single book. If you go somewhere without electricity for an e-reader, phone, or laptop, it’s not easy trying to lug around a 2,000 page hardcover. And all of the ellipses kill the flow of many texts.


Thank your for detailing requirements–it takes the guesswork away.

Search is very tricky to get right. I had hoped to release this week, but it will have to be next week at the earliest. Right now things are changing so quickly that it would be disruptive to release.

I don’t know how to do this even as a human. What should I look for?

I can currently take a lithium battery, my phone and many SC-Voice suttas offline for listening. Listening to SC-Voice suttas is now part of my daily meditation and I study voice suttas for at least an hour a day. Amy is actually preferable. I run into things and trip listening to Raveena.

I agree and I really enjoy listening to the expanding version of MN1 on SC-Voice. Handling expansions automatically is hard. We’ll need a list of expansions that people actually want so that I can automate the expansion in order of preference.


I don’t know, lol. It was just a random thought, which may not be possible to implement. Unless the commentaries or a research paper somewhere has indicators about the order.


To expound further on my other random thought, sometimes I like going places with a couple of small books, and leave all the electronics at home so I’m not tempted to go online, text, etc. In some of those cases, I would’ve liked to have had a copy of just the Sagatha-vagga without the full Samyutta Nikaya. The Majjhima Nikaya is a little more portable.


Originally Wisdom published the SN as two volumes and I always found it made it more cumbersome for study work as I would grab the wrong one half of the time.

If you like you can just carve up the print edition into different parts. I did this at a monastery I lived at. It was super handy at times. The first cut always felt like killing a baby, though. :slight_smile: I wish I had some photos to show.

Sorry for continuing the off topic.

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No way am I cutting up a $50 book, lol.

I was thinking about making an anthology of suttas. I’d likely narrow it down to DN 16, DN 31, MN 41, MN 60, MN 68, MN 136, MN 143, SN 12.2, SN 55.7 (or SN 55.53), AN 3.65, AN 5.57, AN 8.44, AN 8.54, and AN 11.12. With this, plus my small paperbacks of the Sutta Nipata and Dhammapada, I’d have less to carry for a trip.

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:grinning: I know. It kind of depends on how much our experience will improve if we have a different binding, though. If the text would be 50% more useful (because we would always carry a bit with us) without decreasing how useful it was at home, and it only cost a few more dollars, then logically it makes sense. I was able to rebind the parts for just a few dollars of supplies and they were much easier to read.

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On the topic of navigating the nikayas, many people here probably already know this, but I recently learned that entering pali terms into search is a handy way to discover suttas that cover certain subjects. Take a really obscure subject of “devatānussati”, for example. Entering it into search, you can, presumably, see every sutta that mentions it.


Next week SC-Voice version 0.7.0 will feature romanized search of Pali words. This will let us enter “devatanussati” and get:

AN 1.296–305//AN 1.16.1–10
matches: 1 of 13
AN 6.141//AN 6.122
matches: 1 of 7
AN 6.9 Topics for Recollection
matches: 1 of 8
DN 33 Reciting in Concert
matches: 1 of 1158
DN 34 Up to Ten
matches: 1 of 891

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