The Pali Canon

The Tipitaka (Pali ti, "three," + pitaka, "baskets"), or Pali canon, is the collection of primary Pali language texts which form the doctrinal foundation of Theravada Buddhism. The Tipitaka and the paracanonical Pali texts (commentaries, chronicles, etc.) together constitute the complete body of classical Theravada texts.

The three divisions of the Tipitaka are:

  • Sutta Pitaka
    The collection of suttas, or discourses, attributed to the Buddha and a few of his closest disciples, containing all the central teachings of Theravada Buddhism. (More than nine hundred sutta translations are available on this web site.) The suttas are divided among five nikayas (collections):

    • Digha Nikaya — the "long collection"
    • Majjhima Nikaya — the "middle-length collection"
    • Samyutta Nikaya — the "grouped collection"
    • Anguttara Nikaya — the "further-factored collection"
    • Khuddaka Nikaya — the "collection of little texts" which includes among them:
      • Dhammapada
      • Sutta Nipata
      • Jatakas
  • Vinaya Pitaka
    The collection of texts concerning the rules of conduct governing the daily affairs within the Sangha — the community of bhikkhus (ordained monks) and bhikkhunis (ordained nuns). Far more than merely a list of rules, the Vinaya Pitaka also includes the stories behind the origin of each rule, providing a detailed account of the Buddha's solution to the question of how to maintain communal harmony within a large and diverse spiritual community.
  • Abhidhamma Pitaka
    The collection of texts in which the underlying doctrinal principles presented in the Sutta Pitaka are reworked and reorganized into a systematic framework that can be applied to an investigation into the nature of mind and matter.

The Pali canon

The Pali canon is a vast body of literature: in English translation the texts add up to thousands of printed pages. While much of the Canon has been published in English over the years, only a small fraction of these texts are available on the web at the following sites:
Tipitaka: The Pali Canon
Access to Insight

The Sutta Pitaka

The Pali Tipitaka
Tipitaka Network


The Tipitaka
Mettanet - Lanka

Pali Canon Online Database
DCD Digital Documents

The Tipitaka


Two selections of suttas: Suttas I and Suttas II
A Buddhist Library

Gemstones of the Good Dhamma An Anthology of Verses from the Pali Scriptures
Ven. S. Dhammika

The Five Mental Hindrances and Their Conquest
Selected Texts from the Pali Canon and the Commentaries
Nyanaponika Thera

Association with the Wise
Bhikkhu Bodhi

A Look at the Kalama Sutta
Bhikkhu Bodhi

Overview of Tipitaka Scriptures
Narada Maha Thera

 A Systematic Study of the Majjhima Nikaya 
Taught by Bhikkhu Bodhi

Right View: The Sammaditthi Sutta and its Commentary
Bhikkhu Nanamoli (translation), Bhikkhu Bodhi (editor)

The Dhammapada

The Dhammapada: The Buddha's Path of Wisdom
Acharya Buddharakkhita (translation), Bhikkhu Bodhi (introduction)

The Dhammapada
Thanissaro Bhikkhu (translation)

The Dhammapada
F. Max Müller (translation- 1881)

The Living Message of the Dhammapada
Bhikkhu Bodhi

 The Dhammapada: A New Translation of the Buddhist Classic with Annotations
Gil Fronsdal (translator) (Shambhala)

For a broader selection of translations see the following publications:

In the Buddha's Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon 
Bhikkhu Bodhi (Wisdom Publications)
A new concise single-volume collection of the Buddha's discourses, making this the definitive introduction to the Buddha's teachings. Divided into ten thematic chapters, In the Buddha's Words reveals the full scope of the Buddha's discourses, from family life and marriage to renunciation and the path of insight. A concise, informative introduction precedes each chapter, guiding the reader toward a deeper understanding of the texts that follow.

 The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya
Bhikkhu Nanamoli (Wisdom Publications)

 The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya
Bikkhu Bodhi (Wisdom Publications)

 Numerical Discourses of the Buddha
Bhikkhu Bodhi, Nyanaponika Thera (Alta Mira Press)

 Discourse on Right View: Sammaditthi Sutta & Commentary
Nanamoli Bhikkhu and Bhikkhu Bodhi

 The Jatakas: Birth Stories of the Bodhisatta
Sarah Shaw (Penguin Global)

 Sallekha Sutta
Mahasi Sayadaw


Mahayana sutras began to be compiled from the first century BCE. They form the basis of the various Mahayana schools, and survive predominantly in primary translations in Chinese and Tibetan of original texts in Sanskrit. From the Chinese and Tibetan texts, secondary translations were also made into Mongolian, Korean, Japanese and Sogdian.

Unlike the Pali Canon, there is no definitive Mahayana canon as such. Nevertheless the major printed or manuscript collections, published through the ages and preserved in Chinese and Tibetan, each contain parallel translations of the majority of known Mahayana sutra. The Chinese also wrote several indigenous sutras and included them into their Mahayana canon.

Mahayana Buddhists believe that the Mahayana sutras, with the possible exception of those with an explicitly Chinese provenance, are an authentic account of teachings given during the Buddha's lifetime. However, Theravada Buddhists believe them to be later inventions of monks striving to change the original teachings of Buddha, and consider the Mahayana sutras apocryphal.

While scholars agree that the Mahayana scriptures were composed from the first century CE onwards, with some of them having their roots in other scriptures, composed in the first century BCE, some Mahayana Buddhists believe that the Mahayana sutras were written down at the time of the Buddha and stored secretly for 500 years, uncovered when people were ready for these "higher teachings."

Vast collections of translations of Mahayana sutras exist; only a small fraction of these texts are available on the web. Primary collections can be found at the following sites:

Mahayana Buddhist Sutras in English

Mahayana Sutras - Online sutras

Mahayana Sutras
Quang Duc Buddhist

Mahayana Sutra translations

Sutra translations

Chinese Buddhist Canon

The Prajnaparamita Sutras

The Prajnaparamita or Perfection of Wisdom sutras represent a genre of Mahayana Buddhist scriptures addressing the aspiration for the perfection of wisdom. Held in the highest veneration in Mahayana traditions, there numerous versions in Mahayana countries such as China and Japan. The Prajnaparamita-Sutra is regarded as the source that feeds the bodhisattva with the amrita (nectar) of prajna (transcendental wisdom), and guides him to paramita (the other shore). It is the "utmost great perfection" which gives full enlightenment to the bodhisattva after he has successfully completed the other five paramitas: dana (charity), sila (morality), ksanti (patience, forbearance), virya (energy), and dhyana (concentration). Tibetan Buddhists believe Prajnaparamita to be the most infallible text to arouse them from the illusion of samsara (round of births and deaths).

The original sutra was expanded into larger and larger versions in 10,000, 18,000, 25,000 and 100,000 lines, collectively known at the "Large Perfection of Wisdom". These differ mainly in the extent to which the many lists are either abbreviated or written out in full; the rest of the text is mostly unchanged between the different versions. Since the large versions proved to be unwieldy they were later summarized into shorter versions, produced from 300 to 500. Shorter versions include the Heart Sutra and Diamond Sutras, widely popular sutras that have had a great influence on the development of Mahayana Buddhism (see below).

The Prajnaparamita literature

The Perfection in Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines and Its Verse Summary
Edward Conze

Heart Sutra

Prajnaparamita-Hridayam (hridaya means heart) -- the most condensed recension of the Sutra -- was rendered into Chinese in the year 400 AD by the famous Indian scholar and Buddhist missionary, the Venerable Kumarajiva, and even today is used as a protective spell or charm by all Buddhists of Tibet, China, and Japan, monks and laymen alike. It was translated into English by D. T. Suzuki of Japan in 1934, by Edward Conze of England in 1958, and in America by Dwight Goddard in 1969. My verbatim translation, which follows, is made directly from the original Sanskrit.

Parallel Tibetan and English translation

Some translations

 H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama - teachings on the Heart Sutra

Lectures on the Heart Sutra
Sojun Mel Weitsman

Wisdom and Compassion in Limitless Oneness
Dr. Yutang Lin

The Heart Sutra and Key Concepts of Buddhism

The Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra
Commentary by Grand Master T'an Hsu

 The Heart Sutra
Red Pine (Shoemaker & Hoard - 2004)

 Essence of the Heart Sutra: The Dalai Lama's Heart of Wisdom Teachings
H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama (Wisdom Publications - 2005)

 The Heart of Understanding: Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra
Thich Nhat Hanh (Parallax Press - 2005)

Diamond Sutra

The Diamond Sutra is probably the most popular among the texts of Prajnaparamita after the Heart Sutra, especially within the East Asian traditions of Chan, Son and Zen. The sutra's primary themes are the realization of the illusory nature of all phenomena and the theme of non-abiding. "Non-abiding, in a Buddhist, and especially a Chan context, refers to the continual practice (i.e., not just while one is sitting in zazen) of being aware of the stoppings and goings of the mind, and avoiding being tricked and ensnared by the web of mental constructs that one continually weaves for oneself. The ongoing proliferation of these deluded constructs has as its causes and conditions not only in the thought processes in which one is engaged at the present moment, but also the flowing river one's entire multi-lifetime load of previous karma." (Charles Muller - see below )

The Diamond Perfection of Wisdom Sutra

The Vajracchedika-prajna-paramita Sutra

The Diamond Sutra
Translation - Charles Muller

The Diamond Sutra
Plum Village Chanting Book

Thich Nhat Hanh Dharma talks: first talksecond talk

 The Diamond Sutra
Red Pine (Counterpoint Press - 2002)

 Buddhist Wisdom: The Diamond Sutra and The Heart Sutra
Edward Conze (Translator), John F. Thornton (Editor) (Vinatge - 2001)

 The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion: Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Diamond Sutra
Thich Nhat hahn (Parallax Press - 2005)

 The Diamond Sutra: Transforming the Way We Perceive the World
Mu Soeng (Wisdom Publications - 2000)

Lankavatara Sutra

An encyclopedic work of Mahayanist thought and practice, including the bodhisattva vows, discipline, and compassion. Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen, based his teachings on the Lankavatara Sutra.

The most important doctrine issuing from the Lanka is that of the primacy of consciousness, often called simply "Mind Only", meaning that consciousness is the only reality. The sutra asserts that all the objects of the world, and the names and forms of experience, are merely manifestations of the mind. It is the erroneous concept of subject/object that ties us to the wheel of rebirth.

Lankavatara Sutra

Online version of full text of the Sutra translated and introduced by D. T. Suzuki

BIONA version

Lotus Sutra

The Lotus Sutra is a large Mahayana scripture which scholars today seem to feel was compiled in four strata, between sometime in the 1st century B.C.E. and about 150 C.E. in India. Written originally in Sanskrit, the sutra was translated several times into Chinese in the 3rd to 5th centuries C.E, with the most famous and highly regarded of these translations by Kumarajiva (died c. 406 C.E.), who translated a great number of other Buddhist sutras and writings as well. Most if not all of the English translations currently available are based upon Kumarajiva's translation.

The Lotus Sutra emphasizes devotion and faith, noting that the path to buddhahood is not restricted to those who practiced monastic austerities but to those who worship the buddha (or buddhas) in a number of ways. In China, the Lotus Sutra was elevated to most-favored-sutra status and was transmitted to Japan by the Japanese monk, Dengyo (Saicho) in the 8th century C.E. and soon became the most revered sutra in that land.

Sutra of the Lotus of the Wonderful Dharma
Translation - Burton Watson

Inside the Lotus Sutra
Stephen L. Klick

Zen and the Lotus Sutra
Ryuei Michael McCormick

Henry David Thoreau’s (Brief) Translation Of "The Lotus Sutra"

 Opening the Heart of the Cosmos: Insights on the Lotus Sutra
Thich Nhat Hanh (Parallax Press - 2005)

 The Lotus Sutra
Burton Watson (Columbia University Press - 1993)

Shurangama Sutra

Generally considered to be the most complete teaching concerning the mind in the Mahayana Canon. According to tradition, the sutra was translated in 705. Its main themes are importance of meditational ability (samadhi) and the importance of moral precepts as a foundation for the Path.

Shurangama Sutra

Shurangama Sutra: Text, Commentaries, and Articles
Da Fo Ding Shou Leng Yan Jing (Compiled by Ron Epstein)

The Surugana Sutra
Master Sheng Yen (Dharma Talk, Chan Magazine)

 The Shurangama Sutra: Sutra Text and Supplements Only
Hsuan Hua (Buddhist Text Translation Society - 2003)

Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra

Sometimes referred to as the "crown jewel of the Mahayana" and regarded as the main Sutra on non-duality. In the sutra, the layman bodhisattva Vimalakirtu expounds the doctrine of emptiness in depth to the Buddha's main disciples. The sutra is notable for the liveliness of its episodes and frequent touches of humor, rarities in a religious work of this type. Because the sutra centers on a lay person, and because of its enduring literary appeal, it has been particularly popular among lay Buddhists in China, Japan, and the other Asian countries where Mahayana doctrines prevail, and has exercised a marked influence on literature and art.

Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra

A Talk On The Vimalakirti Sutra
Hisamatsu Shin'ichi Preface

Vimalakirti's Gate of Nonduality
John Daido Loori, Roshi - Dharma Discourse

Other sutras

The Phenomenal Universe of the Flower Ornament Sutra
Though not widely known, the Huayan, or Flower Ornament Sutra, has had a lasting impact on the way Zen and Chan Buddhism are practiced.
Taigen Dan Leighton

The Great Flower Garland Scripture of the Buddha's Expanded Mahayana Teachings
Buddhist Text Translation Society

Caught in Indra’s Net: the Huayan Sutra
Robert Aitken Roshi


The Tibetan canon of essential Buddhist scripture consists of two parts:

  • The Kangyur ("Translation of the Buddha's Word")—the texts that are attributed to the Buddha. Esteemed and worshipped for centuries in Tibet, it is regarded as the single most authoritative repository of Buddhist thought by Tibetan speakers throughout Asia and beyond. The Kangyur unquestionably ranks among the most important sources for the study of Buddhism in India and Tibet. Containing many hundreds of Buddhist texts translated in the eighth and ninth centuries by teams of scholars from India, China, Tibet and Central Asia in order to create the literary foundation for Buddhism in Tibet, it is unrivalled in doctrinal authority and historical value. On account of its vast scope and the reliability of its translations, the Kangyur is widely used as a principle point of access to centuries of Buddhist developments in the Indo-Tibetan cultural world.

    As a Mahayana tradition, Tibetan Buddhism's Kangyur includes most of the Mahayana sutras. In addition it includes tantric (esoteric) texts.

  • The Tengyur ("Translations of treatises")—traditional commentaries attributed to subsequent learned and realized masters of Buddhism. In the Tibetan tradition, it is common for a meditation master to offer explanations and interpretations, sharing his understanding with students and shedding light on centuries-old texts that may be difficult for contemporary practitioners to fully understand.

There are a number of popular Tibetan editions of these scriptures.

Sources of the Tibetan Buddhist canon:

The Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center
The TBRC Digital Library is a vast repository of digital texts

Tibetan Sutra Teachings
Alexander Berzin

The Kangyur
Tibetan & Himalayan Digital Library (THDL)

The Tengyur
Tibetan & Himalayan Digital Library (THDL)

The Kangyur Collection and The Tengyur Collection
Asia Classics Institute

The Institute of Tibetan Classics

 The Tibetan Tanjur and Associated Literature
American Institute of Buddhist Studies

 The Library of Tibetan Classics
Spanning more than a millennium, the literature in The Library of Tibetan Classics will eventually encompass thirty-two volumes covering such diverse fields as philosophy, psychology, spiritual practices, and ethics, as well as poetry, linguistics, plays, history, and classical Tibetan medicine.

 The Mahayana Sutra & Tantra Press

 A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems: Biographies of Masters of Awareness in the Dzogchen Lineage (A Spiritual History of the Teachings of Natural Great Perfection)
Jam-dbyans-rdo-rje (Padma Publishing - 2005)