Reading the Buddha's Discourses in Pali: A Practical Guide to the Language of the Ancient Buddhist Canon by Bhikkhu Bodhi

Anyone have a copy of this yet? Looks exciting.

This book follows up on the lectures Bhante has given on Gair and Karunatilaka’s New Course in Reading Pali. Those lectures can be downloade here:

All of Bhante Bodhi’s courses at BAUS

Steven Sas’s Course:

From the Amazon Free Kindle sample

The following are found in the free sample anyone can download from Amazon. The free sample includes the entire overview of Pali grammar. Quite an amazing resource.

Click to see detailed table of contents

Detailed Contents

CHAPTER 1. The Four Noble Truths: The Matrix of the Teaching


  1. Samādhisutta: Concentration (SN 56:1; V 414)

  2. Samaṇabrāhmaṇasutta: Ascetics and Brahmins (SN 56:5; V 416–17)

  3. Vitakkasutta: Thought (SN 56:7; V 417–18)

  4. Khandhasutta: Aggregates (SN 56:13; V 425–26)

  5. Koṭigāmasutta: Koṭigāma (SN 56:21; V 431–42)

  6. Āsavakkhayasutta: Destruction of the Influxes (SN 56:25; V 434)

  7. Tathasutta: Real (SN 56:27; V 435)

  8. Lokasutta: The World (SN 56:28; V 435)

  9. Pariññeyyasutta: To Be Fully Understood (SN 56:29; V 436)

  10. Siṃsapāvanasutta: The Siṃsapa Grove (SN 56:31; V 437–38)

  11. Daṇḍasutta: The Stick (SN 56:33; V 439–40)

  12. Celasutta: The Turban (SN 56:34; V 440)

  13. Suriyasutta — 1: The Sun — 1 (SN 56:37; V 442)

  14. Suriyasutta — 2: The Sun — 2 (SN 56:38; V 442–43)

  15. Papātasutta: The Precipice (SN 56:42; V 448–50)

  16. Kūṭāgārasutta: Peaked House (SN 56:44; V 452–53)

  17. Chiggaḷayugasutta: Yoke with a Hole (SN 56:47; V 455–56)

  18. Sinerupabbatarājasutta: Sineru, King of Mountains (SN 56:49; V 457–58)

CHAPTER 2. The Five Aggregates: The Meaning of Suffering in Brief


  1. Aniccasutta: Impermanent (SN 22:12; III 21)

  2. Sahetu-aniccasutta: Impermanent with Cause (SN 22:18; III 23)

  3. Pariññasutta: Full Understanding (SN 22:23; III 26)

  4. Abhijānasutta: Directly Knowing (SN 22:24; III 26–27)

  5. Assādasutta — 1: Enjoyment — 1 (SN 22:26; III 27–28)

  6. Assādasutta — 3: Enjoyment — 3 (SN 22:28; III 29–31)

  7. Natumhākaṃsutta: Not Yours (SN 22:33; III 33–34)

  8. Sammāsambuddhasutta: The Perfectly Enlightened One (SN 22:58; III 65–66)

  9. Anattalakkhaṇasutta: The Non-Self Characteristic (SN 22:59; III 66–68)

  10. Upādiyamānasutta: One Clinging (SN 22:63; III 73–74)

  11. Rādhasutta: Rādha (SN 22:71; III 79–80)

  12. Sīhasutta: The Lion (SN 22:78; III 84–86)

  13. Puṇṇamasutta: Full Moon (SN 22:82; III 100–4)

  14. Pupphasutta: Flowers (SN 22:94; III 138–40)

  15. Pheṇapiṇḍūpamasutta: Simile of the Lump of Foam (SN 22:95; III 140–42)

  16. Aniccasaññāsutta: Perception of the Impermanent (SN 22:102; III 155–57)

CHAPTER 3. The Six Sense Bases: The Channels through which Suffering Originates


  1. Pahānasutta: Abandoning (SN 35:24; IV 15–16)

  2. Ādittasutta: Burning (SN 35:28; IV 19–20)

  3. Avijjāpahānasutta: Abandoning Ignorance (SN 35:53; IV 30–31)

  4. Sabbupādānapariññāsutta: The Full Understanding of All Clinging (SN 35:60; IV 32–33)

  5. Upavāṇasutta: Upavāṇa (SN 35:70; IV 41–43)

  6. Suññalokasutta: Empty World (SN 35:85; IV 54)

  7. Dvayasutta: Dyads (SN 35:93; IV 67–69)

  8. Sakkapañhasutta: Sakka’s Questions (SN 35:118; IV 101–2)

  9. Rūpārāmasutta: Delight in Forms (SN 35:136; IV 126–27)

  10. Samuddasutta: The Ocean (SN 35:228 [187]; IV 157)

  11. Bālisikopamasutta: The Simile of the Fisherman (SN 35:230 [189]; IV 158–59)

  12. Koṭṭhikasutta: Koṭṭhika (SN 35:232 [191]; IV 162–65)

  13. Dārukkhandhopamasutta: The Simile of the Log (SN 35:241 [200]; IV 179–81)

  14. Vīṇopamasutta: The Simile of the Lute (SN 35:246 [205]; IV 195–98)

  15. Chappāṇakopamasutta: The Simile of the Six Animals (SN 35:247 [206]; IV 198–200)

CHAPTER 4. Dependent Origination: The Origination and Cessation of Suffering


  1. Paṭiccasamuppādasutta: Dependent Origination (SN 12:1; II 1–2)

  2. Gotamasutta: Gotama (SN 12:10; II 10–11)

  3. Moḷiyaphaggunasutta: Moḷiyaphagguna (SN 12:12, II 12–14)

  4. Kaccānagottasutta: Kaccānagotta (SN 12:15; II 16–17)

  5. Paccayasutta: Conditions (SN 12:20; II 25–26)

  6. Dasabalasutta: Ten Powers (SN 12:22; II 28–29)

  7. Pañcaverabhayasutta: Five Enemies and Perils (SN 12:41; II 68–69)

  8. Parivīmaṃsanasutta: Investigation (SN 12:51; II 80–84)

  9. Mahārukkhasutta: The Great Tree (SN 12:55; II 87–88)

  10. Assutavāsutta: Unlearned (SN 12:61; II 94–95)

  11. Nagarasutta: The City (SN 12:65; II 104–7)

  12. Sammasanasutta: Exploration (SN 12:66; II 107–12)

CHAPTER 5. The Path and the Way: The Practices Leading to the End of Suffering


DIVISION 1. The Four Establishments of Mindfulness

  1. Ambapālisutta: Ambapāli (SN 47:1; V 141)

  2. Satisutta: Mindfulness (SN 47:2; V 142)

  3. Sālasutta: At Sāla (SN 47:4; V 144–45)

  4. Makkaṭasutta: The Monkey (SN 47:7; V 148–49)

  5. Gilānasutta: Ill (SN 47:9; V 152–54)

  6. Sedakasutta: Sedaka (SN 47:19; V 168–69)

  7. Janapadakalyāṇīsutta: The Country Belle (SN 47:20; V 169–70)

  8. Sirivaḍḍhasutta: Sirivaḍḍha (SN 47:29; V 176–77)

DIVISION 2. The Seven Factors of Enlightenment

  1. Himavantasutta: The Himalaya (SN 46:1; V 63–64)

  2. Kāyasutta: Body (SN 46:2; V 64–67)

  3. Sīlasutta: Good Behavior (SN 46:3; V 67–70)

  4. Bhikkhusutta: A Monk (SN 46:5; V 72)

  5. Kuṇḍaliyasutta: Kuṇḍaliya (SN 46:6; V 73–75)

  6. Gilānasutta: Ill (SN 46:14; V 79–80)

  7. Aggisutta: Fire (SN 46:53; V 112–15)

DIVISION 3. The Noble Eightfold Path

  1. Upaḍḍhasutta: Half (SN 45:2; V 2–3)

  2. Kimatthiyasutta: For What Purpose? (SN 45:5; V 6–7)

  3. Vibhaṅgasutta: Analysis (SN 45:8; V 8–10)

  4. Paṭipadāsutta: Practice (SN 45:24; V 18–19)

  5. Kalyāṇamittasutta: Good Friend (SN 45:49, 45:56 combined; V 29–30, V 31)

  6. Pācīnaninnasutta: Slants to the East (SN 45:91, 45:103 combined; V 38, V 40)

  7. Nadīsutta: The River (SN 45:160; V 53–54)

CHAPTER 6. The Unconditioned: The Goal


  1. Asaṅkhatasutta: The Unconditioned (SN 43:1; IV 359)

  2. Anatasutta, Etc.: The Uninclined, Etc. (SN 43:13–43; IV 368–73)

Click to read Preface


THE INTENTION BEHIND the present book is to help students of Early Buddhism learn to read the texts of the Pāli Canon in the ancient Indian language in which they have been preserved, the language known as Pāli. The book is based on a weekly course in Pāli that I have been conducting over the past several years at Chuang Yen Monastery in upstate New York. The course is meant for students who have completed the earlier courses I gave on the basics of Pāli grammar and the reading of the Buddha’s discourses in Pāli, the former based on Lily de Silva’s Pāli Primer, the latter on James Gair and W. S. Karunatillake’s A New Course in Reading Pāli. In the subsequent weekly course that I developed we read and analyzed suttas from the major chapters of the Saṃyutta Nikāya. In each class I took a sutta (or portion of a longer sutta), explained the meaning of each word and the grammatical forms involved, and then gave a literal translation of each sentence, followed by a more natural English rendering.

Since most of the students were already familiar with Pāli grammar, I sometimes tested their knowledge by asking them to explain the grammatical forms to the other students. Some of the students had not studied Pāli grammar and had no desire to learn it, but participated because they wanted to become familiar with the terminology of the texts and to see how translations are constructed on the basis of the original Pāli. More than half the students participated online; several even joined from Germany. All the classes were recorded, and each week I made the recordings available to the students in the class as well as to others who would have liked to join but could not attend when the class was in progress.1

It occurred to me that the material I compiled during this course would make a suitable textbook for people who want to learn to read the suttas in the original language. Thus, as an experiment, I began taking a selection of the suttas that I taught, breaking them into short units of Pāli text, and writing down literal word-for-word (or phrase-by-phrase) translations, followed by more natural translations. As I proceeded, and tested the material with several friends, it became clear that such a book would serve the purpose I envisaged.

The present book, the result of that procedure, is intended for both types of students who participated in my weekly Pāli class: those who have already learned the basics of Pāli grammar and, having become acquainted with the style and terminology of the suttas, now want to progress further in their reading, and those who do not wish to study Pāli grammar but would like to gain as intimate an acquaintance with the language and idiom of the texts as is possible without studying the language grammatically.

One thing that this book is not intended to be is a Pāli primer. While I offer a brief overview of Pāli grammar and syntax, I do not provide detailed lessons in Pāli grammar in its own right. I presuppose that the reader is either already familiar with the basics of the grammar and will understand the explanations given or is not interested in the grammar as such. Those who want to learn Pāli grammar should turn to the books I used in the earlier two courses.

Nevertheless, to aid students in deciphering the grammar of the texts, I have added after each reading selection a section of grammatical explanations. These are not intended to cover every minute grammatical structure found in the text under consideration but to clarify points and principles that call for elucidation. As I progress from chapter to chapter, the grammatical explanations gradually diminish. They are intended to be progessive, the later ones building on earlier ones, and I assume that a diligent student who has become familiar with the grammatical structures and patterns explained in the earlier passages will know enough to understand what is taking place grammatically in the later passages. To avoid ambiguities, however, I occasionally repeat explanations that have come earlier and may even have gone to excess in explaining forms found in later passages that were already covered. Sometimes, however, it is better to say too much than too little.

To provide students with access to more ample explanations of the grammar, I have occasionally added references to two comprehensive Pāli grammars that I have relied on for clarification. One, available online, is Charles Duroiselle’s A Practical Grammar of the Pāli Language, originally published in Rangoon in 1906. My references to this grammar, however, cite the section numbers of the online edition rather than those in the printed edition of 1906. The other is Vito Perniola’s Pali Grammar. Both grammars cover essentially the same territory, though occasionally one will treat a topic in more detail or in a more satisfactory way than the other. I have also on occasion referred to Steven Collins’s A Pali Grammar for Students, Wilhelm Geiger’s A Pāli Grammar, especially on phonology, A. K. Warder’s Introduction to Pali, and William Dwight Whitney’s Sanskrit Grammar.2 Since Sanskrit and Pāli are closely related, principles that govern Sanskrit grammar are often applicable to Pāli as well.

As a preparation for the grammatical explanations attached to the individual readings, following the introduction I provide a very broad overview of Pāli grammar and another on Pāli syntax — which, while a branch of grammar, calls for special treatment. Separately, I also include a key to the terms used in the grammatical explanations. These include English terms used with specific reference to Pāli grammar, which are likely to be unfamiliar even to a well-educated reader. After all, apart from those familiar with the grammar of classical languages, not many people are likely to know offhand what an absolutive is or a locative absolute — a completely different kind of fish — or what an optative is or an aorist or a future passive participle.

As a supplement to the reading material, I include at the end of this volume a Pāli-English glossary organized according to the order of the Pāli alphabet. The glossary makes no pretense to be a complete Pāli dictionary. Rather, it collects virtually all the words used in the reading selections and offers only the meanings relevant to those passages. Many of the words have multiple meanings, but I have not included those not pertinent to the texts presented here. The meanings of most words can be determined from the literal translation, but if one has trouble correlating the Pāli word and the translation, one should look up the word in the glossary.

Whereas the grammatical explanations cite words in the inflected form in which they appear in the text, the glossary lists nouns, adjectives, and participles in their stem form, as they stand before they have been declined according to their case and number. Verbs are listed in the third-person singular of the present tense, in the indicative mood. To give some examples: In the grammatical explanations to 1.3 (p. 95) we find vitakke explained as the plural accusative of the masculine noun vitakka. The latter, the stem, is the way this noun is listed in the glossary. Again, in the grammatical explanations we find the verb vitakketha, a second-person plural imperative of vitakketi, “thinks.” The latter is the form listed in the glossary.

The suttas included in this anthology are all from the Saṃyutta Nikāya. For convenience, I have used as my basic source for the Pāli texts the electronic edition of the Chaṭṭha Saṅgāyana Tipiṭaka,3 version 4.0, though occasionally I prefer a reading in either the PTS edition or the Sri Lankan Buddha Jayanti Sinhala-script edition. Since my purpose here is simply to present an acceptable version of the texts for translation and analysis, I have not attempted to construct a critical edition and thus my notes on preferred readings and alternatives are minimal.

Source references in the detailed table of contents and in the body of the book cite the chapter number of the Saṃyutta followed by the number of the sutta within that chapter. This is followed by the volume and page number of the Pali Text Society’s Roman-script edition of the Saṃyutta. Thus SN 22:12; III 21 is Saṃyutta Nikāya, chapter 22, sutta 12, found in volume III, page 21, of the PTS edition. The numbering of suttas in the Saḷāyatana-saṃyutta (chapter 35) occasionally differs across the different editions of this volume, depending on whether the discourses in a group are considered a single sutta or separate suttas. In chapter 3 of this book I have used the numbering scheme of my translation of the Saṃyutta Nikāya, The Connected Discourses of the Buddha, which differs from that of the PTS edition of the Pāli text. Hence in the detailed list of contents and again in chapter 3, I give the sutta number of the PTS edition in brackets following my own number.


We used the unpublished draft of this one with @johnk. The title kind of says everything: this is the book for you if you want to read the Buddha’s Discourses in Pali. Reading more discourses in Pali is definitely something you would want to do if you have used some other textbooks already. I got a lot out of it.


Reading the Buddha’s Discourses in Pali: A Practical Guide to the Language of the Ancient Buddhist Canon

The book is released today! (Dec 8, 2020)

The book seems to be a guided reading / explanation of selected suttas from SN. I look forward to receiving the book on Friday.

If anyone will be reading the book, please feel free to post the discussions in this thread.


I pre-ordered on Kindle. It was waiting for me when I got up this morning! :partying_face:

I wasn’t sure from the description what background knowledge the book would assume. Could you start with this book? Would the book assume you had worked through an introductory text like de Silva’s Pali Primer? I’ve worked through that!

When I got the book the intro said:

The course is meant for students who have completed the earlier courses I gave on the basics of Pāli grammar and the reading of the Buddha’s discourses in Pāli, the former based on Lily de Silva’s Pāli Primer, the latter on James Gair and W. S. Karunatillake’s A New Course in Reading Pāli.

:rofl: I’m a little less than half way through Gair and Karunatillake. I will see you in 6 months, Reading the Buddha’s Discourses in Pali!


Ah most excellent. Thanks for sharing that snippet. Very helpful to hear how Bhikkhu Bodhi himself sequences his offerings.


Does anyone know where these courses can be found?

I found Lily de Silva’s Pāli Primer on SN Goenka’s site (had to create a login) but only lesson 1 was available.

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Here is a link to Bhante Bodhi’s lectures on New Course in Reading Pali:

I’ll add it to the original post.

Just discovered that there is a free sample anyone can download from Amazon. The free sample includes the entire overview of Pali grammar. Quite an amazing resource. Check it out.


@stephen Sas, who studies with Bikkhu Bodhi, taught an introductory Pali class on YouTube over the summer based on da Silva’s books. The class was discussed elsewhere on this site - and probably more than once, but here is a link to one mention. IIRC the BAUS website has links to download da Silva’s Primer and the Answer Key (2 texts).

ETA: Wow! BAUS has updated their website with their Pali language classes. Everything you need is here.


I’ve added your links to the OP. Thanks!


I have received and have been flipping through the book. Truly quite nice, but require serious studying.

One thing I notice Bhikkhu Bodhi is again emphasizing SN43, selected as the last chapter to suggest that this samyutta corresponds to the 3rd truth - the truth of the cessation of suffering.

I have always found this curious for multiple reasons. First, SN43 is a minor samyutta within SN. And if we compare with SA, the correspondence is with one sutra SA890 which Yin Shun refers to as part of the teachings of tathagatha, which is probably of slightly later period of compilation than the earliest sutra portion. And while it makes modern logical sense to talk about the path before talking the end goal of nibbana, in SN the order of the 4 truths is always suffering, its origin, its cessation, and the path leading to the cessation, in other words, “cessation” is always ordered 3rd before the path.

Personally, I do believe that SN earliest sutra portion does corresponds to the 4 truths. But I think the 2nd and 3rd truths are intended to correspond to SN12 on causation. In SN12, the basic frame (e.g. SN12.1) is to talk about both the origin AND cessation of suffering together. In other words, to highlight Buddha’s original teaching structure of the 4 truths in SN, I don’t believe a specific section on SN43 is really needed.

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Just a minor note: In 1994, Skilling reported that better parallels can be found in the commentaries preserved by the Tibetan tradition. So, SN43 is attested by the northern parallels, if not very solidly by the agamas.

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Several years ago Bhikkhu Bodhi sent me an email in response to a query about a useful order in which to study the SN. He certainly mentioned SN12 as key to the second and third truth:


I received a hard copy today and, going by first impressions, I am hugely impressed. This will no doubt become the standard reader for students of the language.

Particularly noteworthy is the layout of each textual excerpt: Pali text segment, word-for-word English rendering, English translation; grammatical notes.

I was fortunate to study Pali at University with a wonderful teacher, but after nearly 20 years my knowledge is more than a little rusty! I’m looking forward to getting properly stuck into this book.

May the Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi and all those involved in this project reap much merit :pray: May it help lead all who read it on towards the final goal, nibbāna


What level of student would you recommend it for? I’m a total beginner. Thank you!


This is not the book for you. I would grade it as advanced. There is, however, a fair bit of vocab and grammar support in the notes, which means it isn’t too intimidating.


From the preface:

I haven’ seen the body of the text yet, so I can’t say either way. I wonder if @Leon or @Pamirs could take some photos of the inside and post them.



Here’s what Ven Bodhi says in the preface (viii):

One thing this book is not intended to be is a Pāli primer. While I offer a brief overview of Pali grammar and syntax, I do not provide detailed lessons in Pāli grammar in its own right…Those who want to learn Pāli grammar should turn to the books I used in the earlier two courses.

Since there are no grammar tables, the work cannot be used as a standalone text for studying Pali, even by those with a good existing knowledge of Indo-European languages.

However, the grammatical notes to each sutta excerpt really do hold the beginner’s hand and walk them through the texts, and include references to Duroiselle, Perniola etc.

I would say that if you have a basic understanding of the nominal and finite systems in Pali (e.g. you understand the case and number system and know where to look up say ant- stem declensions, and you understand tense and mood and stem formations), then that is quite sufficient to begin using the book productively.

Edit: @Snowbird (apologies for pic quality):


No no, the photo is perfect. It looks wonderful!


Start here!


That rides on this.