i joined SC recently and i was able to derive many benefits out of it with help of my SC friends. i was willing to go through the texts as soon as i joined but, i was confused. My main interests are early buddhism and meditation . i have given priority to meditation therefore my main objective is to study suttas related to meditation. but later i discovered that almost every one of the suttas contained something related to the practice. I like to explore other parallels as much as possible rather than relying only upon the pali tradition. when i joined SC i had the intention of studying only the suttas such as satipatthana, anapanasati,kayagathasati and their parallels but now, i feel that i am lost among scriptures like so many others. And studying the above mentioned suttas randomly made things worse. i want to study the particular sutta and their related parallels in order (ex: DN 1 brahmajala sutta and it’s parallels .)and the most important fact is that most of the suttas are not available in english and this interrupts studying them methodically(except the pali version). And specially when i went through the agamas and other fragments i had to face this problem. can any one of you help me to get started?
These are important questions; so thank you for raising them. And you are not the first one to be confused. We have all been there.
When it comes to the suttas, it is important to have a sense of what to prioritize. Even if you just focus on the Pali suttas the task of reading them can seem a bit overwhelming at first. A good place to start is to ask what the Buddha had to say about his own teachings. In the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta (DN 16)—which is where he spells out what we should do in his absence—the Buddha says that the Dhamma and vinaya should be our teacher after he has passed away. The exact meaning of vinaya in this context is a bit difficult to pin down (it is certainly not equivalent to what we now call the Vinaya Piṭaka). Dhamma, on the other hand, you can take to mean the four main Nikāyas of the Pali Canon. This is not a precise definition, but it is plenty good enough to give you a very good idea of what the Buddha taught.
You may still feel this is a lot to read (although in the long run, as you come to terms with these teachings, I am sure you will enjoy reading all of it). To narrow this down further, it is useful to know that the Buddha said the core of his teaching is the set known as the 37 bodhipakkhiyadhammas, the 37 aids to awakening (DN 16, DN 29, MN 104). These are all about the practice of Buddhism; theoretical aspects are in the background, forming a support to the actual practice. These 37 are in turn really just an expansion of the noble eightfold path. So this is really all you have to focus on. Phew!
The noble eightfold path is analysed in detail in the Maggasaṃyutta (SN 45), but this is perhaps a bit dry if you are new to the suttas. Instead I would recommend you to look at what is often called the gradual training, which is in essence an expansion and detailed explanation of the eightfold path. The gradual training is explained in a large number of suttas. This in itself is an important indication that the Buddha considered this a core aspect of his teaching: anything that he repeated over and over, at different locations and to different groups of people, must be the essence of his message, or at least part of it. A good sutta to start with is the Shorter discourse on the Elephant’s Footprint, MN 27. You may then wish to have a look at suttas such as The Fruits of the Ascetic Life, DN 2.
Another way of going about reading the suttas is simply to start reading one of the collections. Of the four Nikāyas, I would recommend starting with the Middle Length Sayings (Majjhima Nikāya). This collection has nice balance of suttas, some dealing with the practice in detail, others looking at more theoretical aspects, and yet others being more mythological in nature. The suttas in this collection are relatively long and they often include a bit of context regarding where, when, and to whom the Buddha was speaking. All of this gives a bit of feeling for the Buddha as a person. Personally I find this latter point very important, because it gives you a stronger and more personal connection to the teachings.
One of the interesting things you will discover as you read the suttas, especially if you decide to focus on the gradual training, is that satipaṭṭhāna, ānāpānasati, and kāyagatasati is only one aspect of the practice. If you only focus on these teachings, you may miss out on some of the core aspects of the path and therefore impede your progress. In particular you will discover the tremendous importance of virtue (sīla), and you will see that virtue is much more in Buddhism than simply keeping the five precepts (or, for monastics, keeping the pātimokkha rules). Virtue is not just about avoiding what is bad, but includes doing what is good, and very significantly it is about how to think and perceive the world in a construct and wholesome way. Once you start to understand the depth of sīla, it is hard to overestimate the importance of this part of the path. There is a real danger in focusing too much on a one or two suttas, especially those that deal with a particular aspect of the path, such as the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta, to exclusion of all else. Unfortunately, it is far too common in Buddhist circles to focus too narrowly and as a result people often do not make good progress.
As for sutta parallels in other languages, I would put that to one side as you start out. It is true that the parallels, especially the ones in Chinese, can sometimes provide a valuable correction to the Pali. But this is still quite marginal. Generally speaking, you will get a very good grasp of the what the Buddha taught by sticking to the suttas of the four main Nikāyas, or even just a small subset of these. The main purpose of reading the parallel suttas is often just to confirm how well-preserved the Pali Canon actually is. (And of course, this is a very valuable service.) Once you get a good grasp of the teachings in this way, you may find it interesting to refine that understanding further by consulting various parallels. Or you may find that it is not really required.
Good luck and have fun. The most important thing overall is to enjoy yourself. If you make the path a happy one, it much more likely you will be able to persevere and eventually get the full benefits.
[quote=“sandundhanushka, post:1, topic:3476”]
i have given priority to meditation therefore my main objective is to study suttas related to meditation. but later i discovered that almost every one of the suttas contained something related to the practice. I like to explore other parallels as much as possible rather than relying only upon the pali tradition. when i joined SC i had the intention of studying only the suttas such as satipatthana, anapanasati,kayagathasati and their parallels but now, i feel that i am lost among scriptures like so many others.[/quote]
Thank you for inviting me to give my opinion, here.
My opinion is suttas such as satipatthana, anapanasati, kayagathasati and their parallels will not help much since they do not explain much about ‘technique’ or ‘method’. Instead, they primarily describe ‘fruition’ or ‘progress’.
For example, the 3rd stage of anapanasati about ‘the whole body of the breath’ to me is a mistranslation and thus creates bad technique. I critiqued the Chinese parallels on a thread here by stating, in my opinion, the translations from the Chinese just reinforce poor interpretation & poor technique. To me, the parallels show is how late in history they were composed since many of the original meanings have been lost, given most of them refer to ‘the whole body of the breath’, which is contrary to the key phrase ‘he trains himself’ in MN 118. This is because whenever the phrase ‘he trains himself’ is used in MN 118 it means the ‘three trainings’ (‘sikkha’ AN 3.88) in higher morality, higher concentration & higher wisdom are occurring. In experiencing ‘the whole body of the breath’ there is no training in higher morality or higher wisdom occurring. Thus, trying to experience the “whole body of the breath” is, to me, not the original teachings or meaning.
MN 117, the sutta before MN 118, is an excellent example of a sutta that well describes ‘method’ or ‘technique’. (i.e., how to use mindfulness). I assume MN 117 was deliberately placed in the suttas before MN 118, so to serve as a prerequisite for MN 118. While the pundits here at SC seem to downplay MN 117 as ‘unauthentic’, to me it was a sutta composed to help those Buddhists that had lost their way among the nebulous teachings that arose during later times. In other words, MN 117 is a key sutta the helps guide those that are overwhelmed.
Therefore, returning to the key inquiry of this thread, what I am suggesting is the core suttas about giving up craving, attachment & conceit (e.g. the four noble truths & three characteristics); about having mindfulness & wisdom (clear-comprehension) at sense experience; about how to deal with the three-kinds of feeling (vedana); and of course the basics of morality/non-harming (eg. MN 61; MN 19; etc); etc, are much more important suttas than those directly about meditation (such as MN 10, MN 118 & MN 119). This is because the quality of meditation is dependent upon ‘Right View’ (the first factor of the eightfold path) rather than dependent upon coarse & clumsy attempts to concentrate ‘yogic’ style.
When there is not a strong foundation in Right View, meditation can be practised in a very determined way, with lots of craving, lots of attachment & lots of egoism (‘self’).
I think it is important to keep in mind that the Buddha only gave two short sermons (SN 56.11 & SN 22.59) that resulted in five arahant disciples & a third short sermon (SN 35.28) that resulted in more arahants. In other words, all of the core teachings are found in these three short suttas and any seeming departure from those three suttas should be looked upon with care (as recommended in suttas such as SN 56.31, MN 37 & SN 20.7).
I would follow Ajahn Brahmali’s advice about the Majjhima Nikaya. If I could only save one of my volumes of the four major Nikayas from a house fire, that would be the one.
For me personally, the Sabbāsava Sutta, MN2, had a big impact in jolting me into an understanding that the proper cultivation of path includes many more practices than just sitting meditation. I am also inspired by the Bhayabherava Sutta, MN4. But there is much, much great stuff in that collection.
I also have the Sutta Nipata as a constant companion these days, especially the last two books in it, the Atthaka Vaga and the Parayana Vagga. Here’s a full, free translation from Ajahn Geoff Thanissaro.
It took me a lot of reading and re-reading, and more re-reading, to begin to break through my habitual literalism and to start to bring to the suttas the enlivened imagination needed to carry their lessons into my own life and practice here in the 21st century. At first they can seem to be about such a strange and remote world. For example, when you first read MN4, which I mentioned above, you might think, “Well this is only addressed to forest dwelling renunciants who think they are surrounded by yakkhas, so it doesn’t apply to me.” But it’s about subduing of fear and dread - which applies to everyone.
By the time I started reading the suttas in earnest, I had read a lot of the various meditation manuals, and practiced meditation. There is a tendency to think, “I need to find more meditation instructions. Eventually I will find just the right technical recipe and can then follow the steps and do it right.” But for me what was really lacking was a somewhat clearer sense of exactly what wholesome states of mind I was trying to cultivate, and which unwholsome states I was trying to eradicate. I was missing a sense of the real spirit of the Buddha’s path and his perspective on human existence. Once I began to get that spirit from the suttas, I realized that I already had plenty of technique and the sitting practice had a momentum of its own. I just needed more effort and clarity of purpose.
Thanks a lot bhanthe,for spending your precious and valuable time reading my post and your reply was perfect. I was able to grasp something new after reading it.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts DKervick.
Thanks a lot for accepting my invitation . It’s a pleasure to discuss dhamma with u Deelee.
I will have more doubts in time to come and please be kind enough to give attention. I am a 15 year old teenager with lack of experience and I hope that you’re gonna excuse me for that.
and if you @sandundhanushka are interested i could upload here a little compilation i concocted of the suttas dealing with the Gradual training, based on Leigh Brasington’s chart
Yes of course ! That would be great! Thanks for your response.
So, am I suppose to go through parallels at the same time for each Sutta in the pali nikayas (ex: MN 1 and it’s parallels ) or am I suppose to have a firm ground on the pali tradition before referring the Chinese parallels etc? Let me explain it further : if I am referring the suttas in the majjhima nikaya the parallels to the relevant suttas is displayed. So my question is ,am I suppose to read the pali suttas and their parallels at the same time or am i to finish the whole pali nikayas first and then go through their parallels?( ex: referring the Chinese agamas and other parallels after studying the 4 main nikayas comprehensively. )
Just yesterday I listened to a talk by Venerable Analayo where he said that as a rule the differences between the Nikayas and Agamas aren’t that great and that the Satipatthana Sutta is an exeption to that rule. So I would start off with just the Nikayas.
But if you really want to get into the details, his “A Comparative Study
of the Majjhima-nikāya” is available online:
Thanks for your reply and the link, Raivo
Hi, please find the file attached
Gradual training suttas.pdf (7.3 MB)
It’s wonderful and inspiring to hear you’ve found the Dhamma at such a young age, and are intent on learning & practicing! I wholeheartedly agree with Ajahan Brahmali’s suggestions (and those of others) and would just add that Bhikkhu Bodhi’s book In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon has a great collectins of key suttas grouped by topic, along with very helpful introductory chapters. It’s very helpful as then you can follow up with specific topics and suttas that interest you.
Also different approaches work for different peoples. For myself, study (mostly of the early Buddhist texts) is a key part of my practice and has been very important, in fact essential–study and meditation (and practice in all ways) nourish each other. I tend to use a rather intuitve approach but I make sure to keep the practice at the forefront, and then go more deeply into study in areas that are relevant to what’s going on practice-wise at any given time. At the same time, sometimes it also works the other way around, for example, reading something or being struck by a certan simile in the suttas will influence something in my practice (and I go back to the texts over and over again). So this more fluid approach has worked for me( say as contrasted with starting by reading a collection in a more linear manner) as long as I stay attuned to what’s most important. However, at the beginning it’s definitely a good idea to get familiar with the basics and the core aspects of the teachings. Then over time it becomes clear how all the teachings weave together (right now I’m talking about the early Buddhist texts).
Great advice ! A kid is learning something new everyday thanks to his sathpurisa friends!
forgot to mention re:
i want to study the particular sutta and their related parallels in order (ex: DN 1 brahmajala sutta and it’s parallels .)and the most important fact is that most of the suttas are not available in english and this interrupts studying them methodically(except the pali version)
Do you know about Ven Analayo’s lectures (and notes) on the Madhyama Agama collection? He starts at the beginning of that collection and compares the MA discourses with the Pali parallels (so the Pali versions aren’t in order).
Thanks Linda. I have that page as a book mark in my device.(bhikkhu analayo’s madyama agama lectures) I am a bit busy these days with my school work. I have to face the 3rd term exam in the next month and ordinary level government exam next year. But I am sure that I will be able to dedicate at least 80%of my time During the December vacation hopefully. I listened to his lectures on tranquillity and insight . I got to know about SC after listening to it.
I was able to" figure out " my doubts thanks to valuable advises given by all of you. i have a long journey to travel in the middle path ,and my friends will illuminate the path so that i could travel in it and reach the final destination of deliverance .