How to Read the Suttas

Venerable @Konin,

If you are ready to share more of your experience with shifting calling, I would happily read the essay. :slightly_smiling_face: :pray:


Bhikkhus, for a virtuous person, one whose behavior is virtuous, no volition need be exerted: ‘Let non-regret arise in me.’ It is natural that non-regret arises in one who is virtuous, one whose behavior is virtuous.

For a person endowed with virtue, consummate in virtue, there is no need for an act of will, ‘May freedom from remorse arise in me.’ It is in the nature of things that freedom from remorse arises in a person endowed with virtue, consummate in virtue.

Sīlavato, bhikkhave, sīla­sam­pannassa na cetanāya karaṇīyaṃ: ‘avippaṭisāro me uppajjatū’ti. Dhammatā esā, bhikkhave, yaṃ sīlavato sīla­sam­pannassa avippaṭisāro uppajjati

Ānanda, one who keeps the precepts need not think: “May I be free from regret!” Ānanda, it is a law of nature that those who keep the precepts will be free from regret.
MA 43 (Bingenheimer).

Thus, Ānanda, the purpose and benefit of wholesome virtuous behavior (kusalāni sīlāni) is good conscience [ non-regret] (avippaṭisāro)
AN 11.1

Vippaṭisāra,[vi+paṭisāra] bad conscience, repentance. [Sk. - prati-√ smṛ ]
a+vi+paṭisāra = good conscience - non-repentance.

Why say or add more ?
Anything that does not bring repentance, is virtuous.

We’re working on it! Just to note, the patimokkha also contains patriarchy-busting ideas, like ordination of nuns by nuns alone; or the prohibition on monks against getting nuns to do their laundry; or the requirement that a complaint by a laywoman against a monk regarding sexual impropriety be properly investigated and the monk dealt with accordingly. :fist:

A “bit”? That’s the hard part. But to keep it as brief as I can, one of the things that sustains me is that the framework of the patimokkha, in defining a mendicant community, creates a communal space, a social expectation, for living a devoted spiritual life. All of the rules about contentment—eating before noon, having only three robes, not asking for things—are constant reminders and supports for me. I still frequently come up against situations where I’m like, “Hey, maybe I should ask for XYZ.” (XYZ is usually coffee. But I digress!) But a short reflection, a bit of silence, and the moment passes and I’m free. It’s fantastic! Each thing I leave behind makes me feel lighter and more at ease. And because of the legacy of the robe, people actually support me to do this. They think it’s admirable, and get inspired by it. So what makes me happy helps make others happy, too.


Okay, now we’re getting a bit warmer…the relationship of mutual support that the Buddha set up and the way that that is communicated through the commitment and the robe is lovely and supportive. I agree. There is something beautiful about the way that everyone involved is learning to let go in different ways. That very issue, e.g. the lack of understanding of the role of dana, value for a life of renunciation, and support for monastics in Zen tradition, was one of the reasons I became interested in exploring the Theravada further.

Funny about the coffee! I heard about your search for coffee early one morning in a dhamma talk you gave that was posted online. I really enjoy coffee too, and it’s one of the things I thought about, and let go of, when I sat my first solo retreat this winter.

You’re collectively working on the patriarchy. I’m aware of that. Thank you! :fist:


Is there a suggested order, a curriculum per se, of suttas to be read? I have an understanding of the basics, and I’d like to progress through some of the more well known suttas.

Thank you in advance

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In order to better understand the scriptures, we need to learn the Buddha’s distinction between relative truth and ultimate truth:

4.3.1 Language: relative and ultimate. The Dharma, as we have discussed [4.2] is transmitted both
in the letter and in the spirit. The “letter” (vyañjana) here refers to the Dharma being presented to us in a
language and manner that are generally understandable to us—that is, in the conventional way—so that
we are moved to work to realize its spirit for ourselves. In a sense, the teaching can only be transmitted by
conventional means, that is, a kind of bridge that links those unawakened to the awakened. On a simple
level, this is language, that is, words and figures, explicitly and implicitly, the letter and the spirit [3].
The word and the letter of the Dharma, explicit as they may be, are our initial opening to the Dharma.
However, if we take the Dharma only on this level, we might only see our own ideas and biases superimposed
onto them: a heavily edited, even bowdlerized version, that only reinforces our views and ego, and
is as such not helpful at all in self-liberation, even a hindrance to it.
Having read or heard the letter of the Dharma, we need to let it go, as it were. If we are learning to
drive a vehicle, we might start off by reading all the required readings and guides on it. Having read them,
we must then have a coach to teach us how to drive correctly and safely. In due course, we would be able
to drive a vehicle on our own. To be able to drive properly comes with personal practice and experience:
so, too, the Dharma must be self-realized so that we attain some level of liberation, at least from wrong
In the Poṭṭhapāda Sutta (D 9.53), the Buddha reminds us of the priority of the spirit of the Dharma
over its letter:
Loka,samaā loka,niruttiyo loka,vohārā loka,paattiyo yāhi Tathāgato voharati aparāmasan
For, Citta, these are merely common names, common expressions, common usages, common
designations in the world that the Tathāgata [Thus Come] uses without attachment to them.
(D 9,53/1:202)
These two levels of language are described in the Sumagala,vilāsin, the Dgha Commentary, as
“conventional speech” (sammuti,kathā) and “speech of ultimate meaning” (param’attha,kathā)
62 [5.2].
They are clearly a version of the teaching “to be drawn out” and “that which has been drawn out,” as we
have noted, in the Neyy’attha Nt’attha Sutta (A 2.3.5) [3.1], the Buddha declares:
There are these two who misrepresent the Tathāgata. Which two?
One who represents a sutta of indirect meaning (neyy’attha) as a sutta of direct meaning
(nt’attha), and one who represents a sutta of direct meaning as a sutta of indirect meaning.
(A 2.3,5/1:60) [3.1]
As long as we take the two kinds of speeches as explaining or elaborating on the two methods of
teaching, they are acceptable means of clarifying the sutta teachings. The explicit teachings basically employ
“ultimate speech,” appealing to the immediate senses of words, as it were, while the implicit teachings
resort to “conventional speech.” Here, “ultimate” or more fully, “ultimate meaning” (param’attha)
means that the words explain themselves, at least as far as words go. The “conventional speech” is only
provisional, and acts as a skillful means to hone the listener’s spirituality, so that he is able to look deeper
and directly into the Dharma.

I would suggest a better way to start is by setting aside our preconditions and approaching the suttas with an open mind. The Buddha never, in fact, never spoke of a distinction between “relative” and “absolute” truth. This was a distinction introduced in the abhidhamma period. If we approach the early texts with presuppositions from later Buddhism, we will end up read our existing ideas into the texts, instead of listening to what they have to say to us.


The above article from quotes relevant suttas on the distinction. I’m sorry if I’ve misinterpreted it. I don’t want to misrepresent their article.

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The reference to “relative” and “absolute” or “ultimate” truth is from the commentary:

The essay’s author, Piya Tan, draws parallels with ideas presented in the suttas. But these are not the same. The sutta concepts are “teachings whose meanings require drawing out” and “teachings whose meaning is fully drawn out”. This refers to the distinction between things such as verses, similes, allusions, or brief statements, which require interpretation or further explanation, and passages that are fully explicit and require no further explanation. This is a practical distinction, whose purpose is to help better understand the kinds of sayings we find in the suttas.

The abhidharma notion of “absolute” truth is a metaphysical concept. It is based on the idea that the description of dhammas as found in the abhidharma is ultimate, in the sense that there is no further analysis of reality possible. Things have been understood down to their primary elements, their ultimate constituents, and this reality is expressed in the terminology of the abhidharma.

Many people, even excellent teachers like Piya, conflate the two, but if you see the function that notions of absolute truth play in the abhidharma, you’ll see that they are quite different. Without getting into too much detail, the idea of “absolute” truth is a philosophical quagmire, which ends up creating all sorts of unwanted problems.

Better to stick with the Buddha’s words in Snp 4.12 Culavyuha:

Ekañhi saccaṃ na dutīyamatthi,
For the truth is one, there is no second,
Yasmiṃ pajā no vivade pajānaṃ
regarding which people argue with each other.


In order to avoid a confusion it should be mentioned here that there are two kinds of truths: conventional truth (sammuti-sacca, Skt. samvṛti-satya) and ultimate truth (paramattha-sacca, Skt. paramārtha-satya).[126] When we use such expressions in our daily life as ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘being’, ‘individual’, etc., we do not lie because there is no self or being as such, but we speak a truth conforming to the convention of the world. But the ultimate truth is that there is no ‘I’ or ‘being’ in reality. As the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṅkāra says: ‘A person (pudgala) should be mentioned as existing only in designation (prajñapti) (i.e., conventionally there is a being), but not in reality (or substance dravya)’.

Now, what is Absolute Truth? According to Buddhism, the Absolute Truth is
that there is nothing absolute in the world, that everything is relative, conditioned
and impermanent, and that there is no unchanging, everlasting, absolute substance
like Self, Soul or Atman within or without. This is the Absolute Truth. Truth is never
negative, though there is a popular expression as negative truth.

    The realization of this Truth, i.e., to see things as they are without illusion or

ignorance is the extinction of craving ‘thirst’ and the cessation (Nirodha) of dukkha,
which is Nirvana. It is interesting and useful to remember here the Mahayana view
of Nirvana as not being different from Samsara. The same thing is Samsara or
Nirvana according to the way you look at it - subjectively or objectively. This
Mahayana view was probably developed out of the ideas found in the original
Theravada Pali texts, to which we have just referred in our brief discussion.

The above passages are from What the Buddha Taught by Rev. Walpola Rahula. They are very similar to Nagarjuna’s writings on emptiness, that the ultimate truth is the emptiness of everything, including of emptiness itself.

In the Madhyamaka philosophy, to say that an object is “empty” is synonymous with saying that it is dependently originated. Nāgārjuna equates emptiness with dependent origination in Mūlamadhyamakakārikā 24.18-19;[69]

Whatever arises dependently

Is explained as empty.
Thus dependent attribution
Is the middle way.

Since there is nothing whatever
That is not dependently existent,
For that reason there is nothing
Whatsoever that is not empty.[70]

In his analysis, svabhāva is somewhat redefined from the Sarvastivada-Vaibhāṣika interpretation to mean: inherent existence or self-characterization. Nagarjuna notably rejected the idea of dharmas containing svabhāva, meaning ‘a self-sustaining, permanent, or unchanging identity.’ If a dharma was inherently what-it-was from its own side, what need would there be for causes and conditions to bring that object into being? If any object was characterized by ‘being-itself,’ then it has no need to dependently rely on anything else. Further, such an identity or self-characterization would prevent the process of dependent origination. Inherence would prevent any kind of origination at all, for things would simply always have been, and things would always continue to be. Madhyamaka suggests that uncharacterized mere experiences—with no specific qualities—are designated by conceptual labels, and this brings them into being (See Prasaṅgika Merely Designated Causality). According to Nagarjuna, even the principle of causality itself is dependently originated, and hence it is empty.
Pratītyasamutpāda - Wikipedia

If all things are empty of independent existence, then the ultimate truth is non-duality, that Nirvana and samsara are inseparable, as Rev. Rahula noted above.

Hello Nadine,

Well, as a longtime blogger, I have written a couple of pieces about this process of discernment, though at this point I feel like I could write an entire book about it! :sweat_smile:

After decades of Mahayana practice, I found that I had to go through a detailed process of examining views and assumptions, and leaving many of them behind. I’m reminded of Georgia O’Keeffe saying,

I said to myself, ‘I have things in my head that are not like what anyone has taught me - shadows and ideas so near to me - so natural to my way of being and thinking…’ I decided to start anew, to strip away what I had been taught.

So, if you would like to read the blog posts, you will find them here:

Konin’s blog post “Thoughts on the Bhikkhuni Life”


Konin’s blog post “Not by an Act of Will”

The second one is the more recent one.

I’d be interested to hear what you think and how it relates to your own path, @Nadine


Yep, it’s fantastic. If all goes as planned, I will be going forth (again, but differently) on May 12th. Ayya Sudinna will be my Pavatini at the Pabbajja (I don’t know how to make the diacritics show up), and I will stay on training as a resident nun at Aloka Vihara, with Ayya Anandabodhi and Ayya Santacitta, where I’ve been living for the past 6 months. I’m so grateful that the Buddha’s wisdom in devising the framework of the holy life is still with us!


Sadhu! on your decision. I enjoyed reading your blog entry on it.

with metta


Hi! I am new here! I have been studying and practicing the Dharma/dhamma (Tibetan tradition, and did temporary ordination inThailand at Wat Suan Mokh) since I was 16 (I am 36 now)—but still a beginner.

@sujato The above quote and the related note of heterosexism (as a queer person was my major stumbling block) for choosing ordination. I too feel drawn to the forest tradition, but the lack of the presence of women felt unhealthy—and the strict separation of gender feels very heteronormative. Like being in an all male environment and celibate seems extra challenging—so should I avoid all human touch altogether because I am attracted to men and I can’t touch women for the sake of public appearances even though like there is zero chances of that leading to a downfall? I still struggle with this. Perhaps this is in my own mind, but it also doesn’t seem to be the most transgender friendly Vinaya either.

Don’t get me wrong… I still highly venerate monastics, have been avidly checking on news updates in both the Theravada and the mulasarvastivada bhikkhuni revival all of these years, and even lived at Sravasti Abbey for a time. Ultimately, though, this is my stumbling block, even though the calling has never left me since I cried disrobing from my temporary ordination.

Anyway, that said, congratulations @Konin Ven. Dhammadipa. I rejoice in the addition of one more nun in the sangha! sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!

PS. Thanks for this amazing website. Thanks to it, I have begun my own sutta reading practice (also reading whatever Chinese equivalents exist in translation along side)!


Hi yourself! :pray:

I’m probably just showing my own blindness here, but I’m not quite sure what the connection is. I mean, I get your wider point, but I’m missing the connection with the discussion of the patimokkha.

In any case, with regards to the question of queerness in the Sangha, it’s a double-edged sword. Yes, the gender separation is hetero-normative. On the other hand, there is no discrimination at all against homosexual behavior. In fact, in several instances, same-sex interaction in the Vinaya is regarded legally speaking as less problematic.

Well, yes, it’s tricky. But if you want specific answers:

  1. No, you don’t have to avoid all human touch. It’s only an offence if you grope someone out of lust. Normal interactions are not problematic. And what if you get in a compromised situation? Say you hug another monk, and mid-hug you think, “Wow, he’s pretty cute!”, and you extend the hug so you can cop a feel. Well, that’s not appropriate. But in terms of Vinaya, it can only be a minor offense at most. This is one of the cases I alluded to above, for if it was a monk hugging a woman this could be a serious offense. It seems that the Vinaya goes more gently on such same-sex interactions because otherwise it would be impossible to live together.
  2. “For the sake of public appearances”: in such matters, we always consider three people: oneself, the person you’re interacting with, and an onlooker. So yes, public appearances are one factor. The other person, however, is also a factor: maybe you have no sexual thoughts about hugging or touching a woman, but are you sure that she doesn’t? In some cases, this isn’t an issue, but in some cases it is. And there’s also oneself. People sometimes have unexpected sexual responses, whether gay or straight; and this can be exacerbated when going through the transformative processes of monastic life. So these are all things to be taken into consideration. It’s not easy or simple; but, given the extensive series of sexual misconduct problems among lay Buddhist teachers, it seems that the problem is one of humanity, not of the Vinaya. Yes, we can find cases or situations that the Vinaya does not handle very satisfactorily. But it does deal with a wide range of situations in a way that can be very helpful.
  3. As to transgender issues, this is an emerging area and there is definitely work to be done. However, we do know that in the Vinaya itself if a man has become a woman or a woman a man they can be fully accepted within the appropriate community. The Vinaya is less clear and less helpful when it comes to gender identities that don’t fall into the male/female binary. Hopefully in coming years we can work towards a compassionate and supportive policy on such matters.

Finally, I would simply note that in my limited experience it seems to me that there are quite a number of queer monastics; probably higher than in the general population. Not all are out, but some are. So maybe you’d like to speak with some of them about their experiences?


Thank you! I think I will be reading your response quite a few times to let it sink in! I knew you would be one of the right people to ask about this! :pray:t2:

I would love to talk to some queer monastics down the road, especially if my life circumstances open the door way towards ordination. At the moment would be a terrible time to ordain as I am in the midst of grief over losing my mother and also cleaning up her affairs she left behind in four cities and three countries! But the dhamma is of much comfort at the moment and the thought that this may be the direction I head is also of comfort. But even if the material issues weren’t there, my motivations for ordination would be less than ideal atm.

As far as your “blindness,” I think there are some important links between patriarchy and homophobia with the whole toxic masculinity issue. But it wasn’t meant to be a central point and more of a segue into my doubts I wanted to talk about!


Sadhu sadhu so inspiring Bhante, so inspiring. Much merit to the kalyana Mithra who brought this to our attention.


But sir, disagreement or in doubt with the thought of dhamma at stake instead may case of 4 and 5th hindrance or loka cinta

Thanks for this guide Bhante @sujato and the encouragement to read and live the text. :pray:
Wondering which sutta(s) are these from