How do I tell friends to find a Sutta?

Isn’t the left hand menu of SC main site exactly what you’re looking for?

You know it’s a sutta—you click on ‘Sutta’.
You know it’s long, middle, linked, or numbered—you click on that.
You know it’s in the Pali canon—you click on ‘pli Majjhmanikaya’ for example.
You somehow remember it’s in the first, middle, or last part—you click on that.
You then see the vaggas with 10 suttas each—you select where you expect your sutta to be found.
Then you get a number of (about) 10 Suttaplex cards to select from.

This follows exactly the structure of the canon itself, and to me it’s a perfectly fine method to find a sutta when I don’t know the exact ID, but know approximately where it is.

SV-Voice, by contrast however, doesn’t have this visual feature since it is built primarily for the visually impaired. But still you can enter ‘Majjhima Nikaya 1-10’, or ‘Majjhima Nikaya 1-50’ into the search field—and you find the following:


:scream: :cry: :sob:

@karl_lew, help!

I don’t assume this is like it should be… ! (Added to the bugs in the backlog.)


I can only assume you are joking.

I think the problem is that people on the forum and who are working on Sutta Central (for whom I will be eternally grateful) don’t work with people every day who don’t know that mn is a sutta, not Vinaya. People that have no idea they are looking for something with Pli. And for the SN citations it’s an even bigger challenge using the existing menu system.

If someone has a straight up modern sutta citation, there is a lot of wilderness to wander through to get to your sutta.

Also, I have always wondered why if people are expected to use the url if they have a citation, there is no where that actually explains this. ( that I can find)

I know complicated to create something simple, and I don’t really want to complain. But if people claim it is simple to find a sutta if you are a beginner, I have to disagree.

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Here is the help popup on the Digital Pali Reader’s quick citation lookup.


Ähmm… this wasn’t my intention actually.

I am not an IT specialist, nor am I a real specialist for the Suttas. Probably I just know enough to find what I’m looking for (in most cases, at least).

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I didn’t think folks would actually type this. :open_mouth:
I, myself, can never remember how to spell Majjhima Nikaya, so I always type “MN”.

And if people really do wish to type Majjhima Nikaya, would they not simply omit the “1-50”?
:thinking: is designed for the visually impaired rather than the sighted. The Digital Pali Reader UI is optimized for the sighted and requires a lot of visual scanning to glean information. That information is indeed valuable at informing the reader about the overall structure of the Nikayas.

One of the challenges we have yet to solve is how to present the Nikayas to the visually impaired for those who wished to learn the Nikaya structure. Voice today has a search-engine UI where users type in a phrase of interest. This simple UI works very well for the visually impaired and is also of benefit to the sighted. Yet as you point out in your picture, we have failed at presenting the Nikaya structure to our users and will need to work out how to present the Nikaya structure to the visually impaired as a navigational and instructional aid.

Thank you for your picture–it presents a challenge we have not yet tackled.

I saw my mistake—I typed a space between ‘mn’ and the numbers. But this isn’t actually what this thread is about, so let’s discuss it further elsewhere.

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My comment wasn’t about the SCV interface. That presents its own set of challenges that I can only speculate about. Can you have an “audio help popup” that explains the structure in brief? “Pali Digha Nikaya, English Long Discouses, Abbreviation DN, Numbered 1-34.” or without headings “Samyuttta Nikaya Linked or Connected discouses Abreviation SN, two part number system, first part 1-56, second part varries, separated by a period.”


Yes. I realize that and I did somewhat “sneak in under your radar” of your original post in the hopes that you might clarify just as you have done your latest reply. SCV does indeed have an audio help pop-up, but it does not quite go into the detail you require. And that’s interesting, because your request doesn’t quite fit what we had expected from users. Therefore you can help us learn about your needs.

One of things we have yet to do is build a formal set of “use case personas” to represent classes of SCV users. Use case personas are critical for designing meaningful features for a spectrum of users. For example, we might have:

  • Spiritual seeker searching for meaning in words. User is familiar with several spiritual traditions and is open to learning about Buddhism via the EBTs. User may be visually impaired or sighted. This is the primary SCV user.
  • Buddhist scholar. User is familiar with Buddhist scriptures and organization, but is visually impaired. This a secondary SCV user. Although visual assistance is offered, the full breadth of SuttaCentral is inaccessible on SCV.

What makes your request intriguing is that your own needs for the Digital Pali Reader might even place yourself into a new, third category for us to consider.

Many of us simply learn the acronyms (e.g., DN33) and do not look deeper into the structure of the Nikayas. I include myself in this category and simply refer to all SCV suttas as “the Pali EBTs” without sub-division–the structure still confuses me even after reading Bhante’s wonderful introductions!

Yet your own interest in the structure of the suttas presents a question. How does the detail provided by the DIgital Pali Reader help you? Is it annotional for the rounding out of a personal curiousity, or is it critically required for lengthy and nuanced discussions with others?

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Oh, that ‘voice’ page is helpful! I also found it very hard to search Suttacentral initially. And in fact I still do when I haven’t been to the site for a while and forget its idiosynchrasies. I would like to ask, why is the main site not made to function the same way with regards to searching as this ‘voice’ page?

I believe it’s very counterintuitive to need to type in the text abbreviation into the URL part of the page. Firstly because that’s not at all the standard way to search any normal site. Secondly because the user has to be familiar with exactly what and how to write in the URL space.

May I suggest that the search function be improved? I think this point of view is backed up by the fact that this thread has been made at all - as the OP pointed out, people can be at a loss of how even to recommend their friends to navigate this wonderful website! And they point to the same issue I had, attempting to search and then ending up trying to dive through the navigation system on the left. I’ve done so much searching and reading through the canon, but I still get stuck especially with the KN, trying to remember which division and subdivision to find the text in that I’m looking for.

So may I suggest having the the search function changed?
For example, if I search that ‘voice’ page for ‘MN 73’, I get one result, MN 73! Perfect! Just as any random reader on the internet would expect it to work, and get the result which almost everybody will want when searching ‘MN 73’!

But the main site? Searching ‘MN 73’ gives the following 8 results, in this order:
MN 42
MN 132
Thag 16.8
Thag 16.6
MN 134
Thag 20.1
Thag 16.4
MN 125

So, the ‘voice’ page gives one result, the right one. And Suttacentral gives 8 results, all the wrong ones. But, the voice page still requires work to get to the actual sutta - first you’re presented with 4 different things to click (at this point I went wrong, ended up nearly downloading a file, eventually the page went completely black and I started again from scratch to see if I could get it right with another try). If you do click the right button, you’re given 5 more options, and this is where you can find the link to the sutta - a total of 3 clicks after getting the search results.

If Suttacentral would have the same search function as that voice page, and give the correct result straight off the bat, it would be clickable right away. I think that’s what people want and what they expect - do a search, get the right answer, and in one click, get to where they want. That’s intuitive.

And if that type of search is seen as being too limiting, may I recommend the option of ‘search title only’, vs. ‘search title and contents’ or something like that. That’s a pretty standard type of option found on so many websites, especially forums, and so people will find it very familiar, and I believe it would be very functional. Other common options might be things like ‘exact match’ or ‘search phrase’ or whatever. On many websites these and/or other search options will be given through an ‘advanced search’ function that’s usually accessible via a button right next to the standard search function.

Another very common function that people would generally find intuitive is to be able to search “MN 73”, using quote marks, in order to force a search function to search for the exact match. On Suttacentral this also doesn’t work. It still produces the same 8 false matches as when you leave out the quote marks.

I really think that the search function is essential. There are so many wonderful translations on the site! But people cannot read them if they can’t find them, and I feel quite sure that many many people will be using the search function in normal ways in order to look up suttas. Since that doesn’t work, and you need to know very unusual ways (even if clever and efficient once you have learned them), many people will simply give up after the search function fails, as it has here with my first random search, ‘MN 73’. And they might never come back to the site again!

So if it’s at all possible, I think this would really make a very significant difference indeed. Many more visitors to the site will end up reading the texts they’ve come here to search for, and many of those will return again and again now that they’ve discovered a place they can actually find the texts.


Voice search is an ongoing experiment into search alternatives. With visually impaired users as its primary customer, Voice has to be absolutely simple in order to reduce cognitive burden. To achieve that simplicity, Voice search does less than SuttaCentral search, which is quite thorough and comprehensive. Different users have different requirements for search, so what is better for some is worse for others. For example, Voice will not find “delight is the root of suffering” but it will find “relishing is the root of suffering”. These nuances are quite critical for particular user groups, so we have to be quite careful in maintaining search integrity.

Thank you for your feedback. I have added the following item to the Release Plan backlog:

  • Integrate SCV search as an SC search option

When I was new to SC I asked a basic “where to find” question; I got help with my immediate need :pray: but I was also told, “Searching is hard.” That made me pause before asking for more help. Back when the Internet was new I set about trying to remember the boolean logic I was once taught, but Google soon overtook me and I was convinced to start asking my desktop (no devices back then) questions in natural language. I’m not simple minded, I gained a PhD in Linguistics, but I still find SC hard to search. Probably a monastic training would have helped by embedding the structures of the pititakas in my mind.

So I do really feel that to make SC accessible to a lot more people making the search function more user friendly is vital. I sometimes feel that those terribly clever people with heaps of IT ability forget how other ‘normal’ people function. So we do really feel much gratitude :pray: :pray: is due to those who work to close the gap.


Here is the user profile I have in mind when I think about how opaque the system currently is. (For me it’s not opaque at all, it’s perfect)

Name: Lee
Age: 25
Lee has been interested in spiritualiy for a long time and has recently discovered that Buddhism contains actual ancient teachings and not just vapid Instagram psudo wisdom. Lee recently started attending a weekly Dhamma Talk at a local monastery where the monastic always preaches on a specific sutta. After the talk the monastic mentions the citation of the particular sutta, such as Connected Discourses 35:124. Lee would love to be able to look up the sutta at home and re-read it. (Currently Lee must make a minimum of 8 correct clicks to find this sutta. At least 5 of those clicks require knowledge that Lee does not yet have)

Lee has also started following some pages on Facebook that posts actual Buddha quotes like this:005-worldlyconditions
Lee would love to be able to read the entire sutta that the quote was from, now that they know about the ancient texts. This is especially exciting because Lee is starting to question a lot of the things attributed to the Buddha that give no citation.

Lee has also started reading a book by a monastic that includes real quotes from scriptures such as Itv 2.4, Ud 7.3, Dhp 236. Lee grew up going to church so the idea of citations for scriptures is not intimidating, but the thought of having to post to a discussion group every time they want to look up a citation seems a bit silly. Although they would love to understand the entire structure of the citation system for Pali suttas, in the mean time they struggle to look things up.

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If Lee has a leaning to Christianity it might be easier…

When I was new to the Suttas I was using, and my recollection is that the search facility was better for me as a novice to find a topic like the “ten fetters” or whatever. That was the context for my original questions. I didn’t expect this to receive so much comment…

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Oh! Thank you for clarifying! That is indeed part of Voice’s first user persona. But you have highlighted a new challenge. I am so used to SuttaCentral numbering that I did not account for other traditional sutta references in the persona descriptions. I will bring this up in Voice planning.

Thank you!


@Snowbird to follow up, Ang. Sabbamitta and I were just discussing this and would offer a solution that does the following:

A search for Connected Discourses 35:124 shall search for SN35.124

This would take care of your specific example, but Ang. Sabbamitta cautions that the numbering itself may differ especially in the AN. In such cases, we would land you “in the ballpark” since the sutta numbering systems differ slightly in the minor numbers. How well would this recommendation address your use case?

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That’s one strategy I’ve picked up, do a search in Access to Insight and then look at alternative translations in SC. :grinning::pray:
It makes me optimistic that similar facility will arrive here.

I would say that search is not the right answer. There should be no need to search when you have the exact citation. It opens you up to all kinds of wrong hits. Now, if there were a specific citation search system that only gave one hit for clear citations, then that’s fine. But the regular search, no. That feels like going backwards. If someone has a correct citation it should only land them one place, directly at the sutta text.

You also shouldn’t have to know that Connected Discourses=Linked Discourses=SN. Because it’s not just one citation that you need to know this for, it’s all of them. So the interface should make it clear that they are all the same. (don’t know about SCV) But generally citations use the Pali abbreviations in my experience. I think in Bhante Bodhi’s footnotes he uses CDB but only to reference page numbers, not citations.

As well, period or colon should work the same.

As far as I know the numbering problems with the AN are mostly between Thai and Sinhala/Burmese editions. I’m inclined to think that these few cases would be when asking the forum might be necessary. I think the different citations may be on the suttaplex card, but I’m not sure someone would know to check there.

This makes a lot of sense to me and supports the introduction of a navigational aid in Voice that presents and clarifies the structure of the suttas for “top-down” traversal and reference. In SuttaCentral itself, we have the left sidebar. Therefore Voice should probably provide a similar facility for the visually impaired.

Ang. @Sabbamitta what do you think?

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Sounds interesting what you’re saying. But also please note that SuttaCentral is not always comprehensive. I did give the example of searching for a sutta in an entirely normal way, Voice gave the right hit, Suttacentral gave 8 wrong hits. That’s to say, it gave more hits, but every one was wrong. (Whereas at other times it may give dozens of hits and hide the obviously right one somewhere deep in the list). So something is amiss there.