How much Buddhism do Buddhists really need to know?

How many Buddhist suttras does one really need to read/know/memorize to have success on the Buddhist path, as it were.

Or, in other words, when does a Buddhist (monk or otherwise) know enough? The answer surely must lie between 1 and 100 suttas. At some point, enough is enough, right… ?

Or am I wrong? I often think about this, it’s a fun game. I think the answer is just a handful of texts.

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During the Buddha’s time, people did not read texts. There are examples of people listening to one sermon and understood the dhamma.

Much though he recites the sacred texts, but acts not accordingly, that heedless man is like a cowherd who only counts the cows of others — he does not partake of the blessings of the holy life.

Little though he recites the sacred texts, but puts the Teaching into practice, forsaking lust, hatred, and delusion, with true wisdom and emancipated mind, clinging to nothing of this or any other world — he indeed partakes of the blessings of a holy life.


The problem is probably insecurity. If at the beginning someone told you: “Here, have these twenty suttas, they are enough, you don’t need more” - how can one avoid the lingering doubt “But there are thousands of more suttas, are they all irrelevant?” And then one reads more, and other ‘authorities’ cite completely different suttas as essential etc.

So, in a vacuum, with a personal teacher, maybe a few suttas would be enough, in the current environment I think one has to make up one’s mind with many suttas after all. And even then one needs a lot of confidence to go beyond literalism.


There is probably no set answer to this… It would be’ completely dependent upon who that ‘person’ is and the cumulative stage/effect of the stream of consciousnness.
Someone who was a stream winner in their previous life, would need to hear a different amount from someone who was last a worm… :bug:


It will depend on what one is.

For an ugghaṭitaññū, one sutta with a teaching in brief will be enough. For a vipañcitaññū, one sutta with a teaching in detail will be enough. For a neyya, several suttas and some kalyāṇamittas with whom to discuss them will be enough. For a padaparama, all the suttas and more won’t be enough.

What sort of person is quick in acquiring?
The person who comprehends the doctrine at the time of its pronouncement is said to be quick in acquiring.

What sort of person learns by exposition?
The person to whom comprehension of the doctrine comes when the meaning of what is briefly uttered is analysed in detail.

What sort of person is one who may be led?
The person to whom comprehension of the doctrine comes by recitation, questioning, and earnest attention and by serving, cultivating and waiting upon lovely friends is one who may be led.

What sort of person is one with whom the word is the chief thing?
The person to whom comprehension of doctrine would not come in this life, however much he may hear and say and bear in mind or recite, is said to be one with whom the word is the chief thing.



I think one must understand Dependent Origination and practice the thirty seven aids to awakening in order to say “one knows enough”.
With Metta

One word.

100 Though there are a thousand sayings consisting of useless words,
better is one useful word hearing which one is brought to peace.

101 Though there are a thousand verses consisting of useless words,
better is one word of a verse hearing which one is brought to peace.

102 One may speak a thousand verses consisting of useless words,
better is one verse of Dhamma, hearing which one is brought to peace.

(Dhammapada, the Thousands, v. 100-102)



Knowing sutta is one thing and understanding and seeing the reality being pointed at in any number of them is another thing.

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I’m still studying DN33, which summarizes a vast number of suttas. It’s been vastly helpful in organizing my study. Listening to DN33 alone provides insight, but questions will arise. Answering those questions leads deeper. A perfect example of this is that Dependent Origination is summarized as follows in DN33:

DN33:1.9.14: Skill in the sense fields and skill in dependent origination.

So if that’s enough for you, one sutta would certainly suffice! :laughing:

For my own part, I am still studying DN33 and still reading new suttas because of it.


:slight_smile: I like this question. I note it has several interesting targets: “Enough”
.to have success on the Buddhist path
.to be recognized as “enough” for what is needed
.to be recogized as enough for a Buddhist.

I think the answers are variable. First I thought, whatever sutta which are necessary to fully understand the Four Noble Truths. But then I thought, no, not so many or so exclusively defined; whatever sutta. which are necessary to establish a solid beginning, which points towards fully understanding the Four Noble Truths. Enough to get the Right wheels turning, whatever that is.

edit: But enough maybe isn’t static; necessary and sufficient over time changes, as impermanence and choosing what to nourish and what to renounce occurs? What gets AND keeps the Right wheels turning.


Perhaps y’all would be interested in Ajahn Buddhadasa’s answer:

"How much do we have to know?”

I ADVISE AND BEG YOU to listen particularly to the words of the Buddha that I am about to quote. The Buddha said that to really know any object, we must know five things about it, namely:
(1) What are the characteristics or properties of the object? (2) From what does the object arise? (3) What is its assāda, its enticing qual- ity, its appeal, its allurement? (4) What is the ādīnava, the hid- den danger, the sinister power to harm that lies concealed in it? (5) What is the nissaraṇa, the trick by means of which we can get the better of it? What is the device, the skillful means of escaping from the grip of this object?

So, to really know something we must answer these questions:

  1. What are its properties?
  2. What is its origin, its birthplace?
  3. What is its assāda, its attraction?
  4. What is its ādīnava, its harmful property, its danger?
  5. What is the nissaraṇa, the means of escape from the power of the object?

There are five questions altogether. If you study any object from these five points of view, you will get the better of that object. At the present time, you may be studying on the graduate level or post-graduate level. But if we are not studying from these five points of view, then we are mastered by objects, that is to say, by the world. If we study the world in terms of these five aspects, there is no way we shall be mastered by the world. So let us be careful about studying the world. Why are we studying? For what ultimate purpose are we studying? If we are studying so as to build peace in the world, then let us be very careful. Our studies will bring no beneficial results at all if not based on this Buddhist principle.

You have probably never heard of these things called the assāda, ādīnava, and nissaraṇa, yet the Tipiṭaka is full of them. These three words — assāda, ādīnava, and nissaraṇa, hardly ever present them- selves to our eyes or ears, but please remember that they appear frequently in the Tipiṭaka. When the Buddha wished to impart a real knowledge of anything, he taught along these lines. Some- times he cut it short, considering only the last three points. What is the nature of the object’s assāda (its allurement)? What is the nature of its ādīnava (its harmful properties)? Every object has both attractive and harmful qualities. What is the nature of the nissaraṇa (the cunning manoeuvre by means of which we can get the better of it)?

There is, so to speak, a hook hidden in that bait hanging there. The assāda is the juicy bait enticing the fish to bite. The concealed hook is the ādīnava, that is, the dangerous, cruel power to harm which lies hidden inside the bait. And the nissaraṇa is the technique for outwitting the hook and bait. The fish must have a technique for eating the bait without becoming hooked. The thing called the bait then no longer functions as bait, but becomes instead a good piece of food, which the fish can happily swallow without getting hooked.

Therefore, we ought always to look at the world in terms these five aspects. One aspect of the world, the assāda, the bait, lures us until we become so deeply engrossed in it that we turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to all else. But there is a hook inside it. People who get hooked up on the world cannot break free; they have to drown in the world, that is, in suffering. Now, the ariyans (individuals well advanced in practice) look and see that the assāda, the ādīnava, and the nissaraṇa are such and such. They are thus able to live in the world, swallowing the bait of the world without becoming caught on the hook. They know every object well enough to be fully aware of these five things. Its properties, its samudaya (root cause), it assāda (bait), its ādīnava (hook), and the nissaraṇa (strategem).

To know any object we have to learn about and come to know all these five factors, or at a minimum the last three.

No matter what things we come into contact with in the course of our studies and other activities, we ought to apply this principle to them all. Then we shall know how to discriminate, and shall be able to reap the greatest reward without being hurt. This is called “really knowing”. By acting on this knowledge, it will be an easy task to practise Dhamma and leave behind the defilements. Viewing the world in terms of these five aspects, we shall see it as filled up with assāda or attractive allurement on the outside and ādīnava or dan- ger on the inside. We shall know the world as a swindle, a counter- feit, a deception, an illusion, and shall not become hooked upon it, not become infatuated with it. A mind that always operates with insight will view colours and shapes, flavours, odours, sounds, tactile objects, and mental images rightly in terms of these five aspects. It will not be overpowered by them and there will not develop craving and attachment to the idea of selfhood. Freedom will become its normal day-to-day condition. Ultimately it is not beyong our power to practise Dhamma and make progress towards nibbāna.

~ From BuddhaDhamma for University Students


ALL is empty…so zero!

Unfortunately that is not true! All is not empty.

‘sabbaṃ atthī’ti kho, kaccāna, ayameko anto. ‘sabbaṃ natthī’ti ayaṃ dutiyo anto. Ete te, kaccāna, ubho ante anupagamma majjhena tathāgato dhammaṃ deseti – ‘Avijjāpaccayā saṅkhārā; saṅkhārapaccayā viññāṇaṃ…pe… evametassa kevalassa dukkhakkhandhassa samudayo hoti.

All exists’: this is one extreme.
All doesn’t exist’: this is the second extreme.
Avoiding these two extremes, the Realized One teaches by the middle way:
‘Ignorance is a condition for choices. Choices are a condition for consciousness. … That is how this entire mass of suffering originates (Kaccānagottasuttaṃ).