Reading suttas - where to start - a guide for beginner

Hello :slight_smile:

I’d like to ask: is there somewhere on this forum a topic which lists most basic suttas that “every buddhist should know” :wink: and providing links?

I mean there are tons of suttas, and only some are particularly famous (like satipatthana sutta).
But fame of sutta should not be the only criterion, another criterion would be the suttas that give “more-or-less” idea what Buddha’s teachings are all about. Showing what Buddha Dhamma is all about and what Buddha wanted to teach and what he was NOT teaching.

Two reasons inspired me to ask for such a list.

  1. I’d like to know if I haven’t missed out any very importaint sutta. I guess others could use such list as well.
  2. Buddha Dhamma is often very distorted by modern authors and consequently, by people who read them. Very often these people speak about such distorted Buddhism as “actual Buddhism” while they never read any single sutta… Such list could be sent to a person who makes first steps into Buddhism, so it could show him/her what Buddha was actually teaching (and not what modern authors claim what he taught, often saying things that Buddha was actually rejecting.)

I think it would be very beneficial, if people could read few suttas and get idea what Buddhism is about, directly from words of the Buddha, and not contemparary book. Thats why it is importaint that list should be short and essential, so a potential reader won’t get “overwhelemed” and disheartened by long list and very long suttas.

I think it would be great, if some experienced reader (many on this site, surely not me :slight_smile: ) would make a short list of suttas that are best to start with.

If such a topic already exist, please drop a link and excuse me my ignorance, and if not, please type your candidates for such “basic buddhist sutta list” :slight_smile: Make it no longer than 10 suttas please, lets not overwhelm beginners.

Please note that is it not “my favorite sutta” list, but rather “most famous/standard/basic/generally informative about Buddhism” for beginners sutta list :slight_smile:

With metta.

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On the SuttaCentral homepage:


Thank you, I’ve found that already and reading through all the guidelines :slight_smile:

But as far as I can see, there is for example Bhikkhu Bodhi “In the Buddha’s Words”, which is a great book, but it is very lengthy. It is a BIG BOOK. I’ve read that but I was studying philosophy and it was “my subject” and I think it could too long for regular person who just need to get a very basic overwiev.

EDIT: Allright, I’ve found this list in the link you provided, it seems like exactly the thing I was looking for, thank you :slight_smile:

Which suttas should I read?

The short answer is: Whichever ones you like.

It can be helpful to think of the Dhamma as a multi-faceted jewel, with each sutta offering a glimpse of one or two of those facets. For example, there are teachings of the four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path; of dana and sila; of mindfulness of breathing and mindfulness of death; of living skillfully as a layperson or as an ordained monk. No single sutta says it all; each one depends upon all the others to paint a complete picture of the Buddha’s teachings. The more widely you can read in the suttas, the more complete your picture of this jewel becomes.

As a starting point, every student of Buddhism should study, reflect upon, and put into practice the Five Precepts and the Five Subjects for Daily Contemplation. Furthermore, we should take to heart the Buddha’s advice to his young son, Rahula, which concerns our basic responsibilities whenever we perform an intentional act of any kind. From there, you can follow along with the Buddha’s own step-by-step or “graduated” system of teachings that encompasses the topics of generosity, virtue, heaven, drawbacks of sensuality, renunciation, and the four Noble Truths.

If you’re interested in a solid grounding on the basics of the Buddha’s teachings, three suttas are widely regarded as essential reading: Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion (SN 56.11), The Discourse on the Not-self Characteristic (SN 22.59), and The Fire Sermon (SN 35.28). Together, these suttas — the “Big Three” of the Sutta Pitaka — define the essential themes of the Buddha’s teachings that reappear in countless variations throughout the Canon. In these suttas we are introduced to such fundamental notions as: the Four Noble Truths; the nature of dukkha; the Eightfold Path; the “middle way”; the “wheel” of the Dhamma; the principle of anatta (not-self) and the analysis of one’s “self” into the five aggregates; the principle of shedding one’s enchantment with sensual gratification; and the many planes of being that characterize the vast range of Buddhist cosmology. These basic principles provide a sturdy framework upon which all the other teachings in the Canon can be placed.

Furthermore, these three suttas demonstrate beautifully the Buddha’s remarkable skill as teacher: he organizes his material in clear, logical, and memorable ways by using lists (the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, the five aggregates, etc.); he engages his listeners in an active dialogue, to help them reveal for themselves the errors in their understanding; he conveys his points by using similes and imagery that his listeners readily understand; and, most significantly, time and again he connects with his listeners so effectively that they are able to realize for themselves the transcendent results that he promises. Seeing the Buddha for the extraordinarily capable teacher that he is encourages us to proceed even deeper into the Canon, confident that his teachings won’t lead us astray.

A few other fruitful points of departure:

  • The Khuddaka Nikaya offers a rich mine of important suttas in verse form. Consider, in particular, the Dhammapada, the Sutta Nipata, the Therigatha, and the Theragatha.
  • For the Buddha’s basic instructions on breath meditation, see the Anapanasati Sutta; for his instructions on the practice of mindfulness, see the Maha-satipatthana Sutta.
  • To learn how to cultivate a heart of loving kindness, see the Karaniya Metta Sutta.
  • In the Devadaha Sutta Ven. Sariputta explains how to introduce the Buddha’s teachings to inquisitive, intelligent people — people like you.
  • How does one decide which spiritual paths are worth following and which are not? The Kalama Sutta sheds light on this ancient dilemma.
  • In the Sigalovada Sutta the Buddha offers a concise “instruction manual” that shows how laypeople can live happy and fulfilling lives.

When you find a sutta that captures your interest, look for others like it.[1] From there, wander at will, picking up whatever gems catch your eye along the way.

What I mean is a much shorter list without commentary, just few suttas to start the dive into the world of Buddha’s words :slight_smile:

I think it would be great to have such a list linking to Ajahn Sujato’s translations :slight_smile:

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You’d probably have to structure such a collection of suttas somewhat carefully. I think there is a fair-sized web of concepts one picks up when first familiarizing oneself with Buddhism. Diving straight into the suttas could possibly be a bit confusing without some background (unless one chooses them in a progressive way). There are some existing sutta anthologies that IMO are well organized.

  • A Self-guided Tour of the Buddha’s Teachings” on Access to Insight. This goes through all the main points of the dhamma, organized at the top level according to Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha structure but using the “gradual training” structure within the Dhamma section. It’s mostly just sutta excerpts. I think it’s very accessible.

Nyanatiloka Mahathera’s following two sutta anthologies are also very nice I think:

  • The Word of the Buddha ”. This is a nice selection of suttas structured according to the four noble truths with the larger part devoted to the fourth one (the eight-fold noble path). Ajahn Brahm was working on updating this; am not sure how that is going (series of related videos here).
  • The Buddha’s Path to Deliverance”. This is longer and more detailed and uses a different structuring scheme, seemingly inspired by the Visuddhimagga’s structure (the three-fold training: morality, concentration and wisdom intermixed with another more obscure scheme called the seven stages of purity). More detailed overview of the teaching. Contains a good overview of the main meditation practices also. It’s my favourite of the two, but probably not as accessible (maybe not a good first choice).

I have read many suttas in the past, and they are all very good, but I have spent the last year running thru the three cardinal teachings, in pali, and I found that to be really clear and beneficial in many ways.

I now have started now reading the Girimananda sutta, still in pali, which covers satipatana in brief.

And finally, there’s also a key teaching that match your requirements: dhamma the buddha did and did not declare (Byakatabyakata Dhamma from MN63).


Bhante Sujato created a nice “Top Ten” list a while ago…


This is a great question because it is collecting a growing group of excellent starting points. :smiley:

My own initial systematic approach was through this material. I downloaded the pdf text and the audio files to my device, and they kept me going through a long and sleepless international flight. I deplaned physically cramped and mentally expanded.


Bhante Sujato created a nice “Top Ten” list a while ago…

Wow, what a great thread, thank you for that link Bhante <3 :slight_smile:
And thanks to everyone else, I’m checking them all, but it will take lot of time to get through them all thoroughly :slight_smile:


Bhante @sujato, would it be an idea to link this to the “Where to get started” page?