Canonical Texts

Canonical Texts

Exploring Theravada Buddhism's Scriptural Resources


Standard edition of the Thai Pāḷi Canon [Wikipedia image,  CC BY-SA 2.5]

Access to Insight

Access to Insight remains a remarkable legacy website. For offline use, you can download the whole website.

It is organized as follows: is my favorite portal for Sutta study and research. It's simply as good a starting point as any, and better than most. It also allows complete download for offline study.

SuttaCentral is specially focused on the scriptures of the earliest period, and hosts texts in over thirty languages. We believe this is the largest collection of early Buddhist texts ever made. We have also built a forum dedicated to the discussion of the early Buddhist texts, where you can join the discussion, ask questions, and discover resources.

Here's an outline of some of what's on offer there:

For English language speakers, another great place to start is the hardcopy of Bhikkhu Bodhi’s book, In the Buddha's WordsCheck out the Dhamma Wheel discussion forum's post In the Buddha's Words — Open Source Version and the corresponding information here For a very modest price, you can even listen to In the Buddha's Words read by Fajer Al-Kaisi via two MP3 format CDs. Caveat: although the recording quality is excellent, the pronunciation of the Pāḷi words is sadly naïve. (For example, the "Th" in Theravāda is pronounced like the "th" in "the.")

Another (quite early) overview, Nyanatiloka's The Word of the Buddha (first published in German in 1906) is still available online in PDF format (14th edition, 1967). Walpola Rahula's What the Buddha Taught is also a good brief introduction.


The earliest complete Buddhist Cannon is preserved in the Pāḷi language. There are also texts of significance written in Sanskrit, Prakrit, Gandhari, Chinese, Tibetan, as well as fragments in Khotanese and Uighur

Binh Anson's BuddhaSasana Web page, The Home of Pali, offers several articles that provide an excellent overview of Pāḷi's relationship to early Buddhism.

Although there are no easy paths to learning Pāḷi, there are numerous online resources.

Check out Ancient Buddhist Texts' Grammar and Prosody section. It includes Ānandajoti Bhikkhu's A Guide to the Pronunciation of Pāḷi, which is a reasonable place to start.

Another good starting point is Access to Insight's Pāḷi Language Study Aids. Tipiṭ has three pages of resources Pāḷi, Pāḷi Keyboardand Pāḷi Synthesis

There are numerous places online that allow downloading of fonts with the appropriate Pāḷi diacritical markings. See, for example, Coping with Diacritics, Dhammadanā.org's Fonts page, and the South Asia Language Resource Center's Fonts Resources page. 

The Pāḷi Tipiṭaka website provides some very helpful instructions to allow keystrokes to be mapped to  Pāḷi characters (with appropriate diacriticals). In a Windows environment, download the Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator (for issues with Windows 10 see the discussion here). Then, simply install the appropriate file from the Pāḷi Keyboard Web page.

The excellent Library section of A Handful of Leaves includes

and, among its many links to articles, the following papers by K.R. Norman:

Nayanatiloka - Buddhist Dictionary, Manual of Terms and Doctrines is a quite useful reference. 

In the Pāḷi Toolbox of Buddha Vacana, there is a search engine for the Concise Pāḷi-English Dictionary

Access to Insight has A Glossary of Pāḷi and Buddhist Terms.

Buddha Vacana has a Glossary of Pāḷi terms

Dhamma Sāmi's website, Dhammadanā.org has a Pāḷi English Glossary's, talks, writings, and translations of Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu, includes his Pāḷi-English Glossary. has three items of interest:

For broader reference material that also includes Pāḷi terms, see:

Glen Wallis' workbook, Buddhavacana: A Pali Reader, is freely available as a PDF download from Pariyatti, where it is characterized as follows:

Buddhavacana (trans. "the word of the Buddha") is a comprehensive Pali reader intended to enable a student to move directly into reading the Pali Nikayas. Author Glenn Wallis has selected sixteen suttas, each comprising a section of the book. After each sutta are blank pages where the student can write down their own rendering; a word-by-word guide to the sutta, with brief grammatical annotations; and at the end of the whole book, polished translations by Wallis himself of all the suttas offered for study.

From its Preface we read:

This Reader has three related goals. First, it aims to encourage the study of Buddhist canonical literature in Pali (pāḷi). ... Second, the sixteen texts that comprise the Reader were chosen to provide the student with a reliable overview of Siddhattha Gotama’s teachings. ... Finally, in including the texts that it does, the Reader aims to help create critics of Buddhism as it begins to take root in the West. Our word “critic” comes from the Greek term for someone who discerns and judges with care. So, it is hoped that modern-day Buddhist practitioners would carefully dissect, probe, and question tradition, and not simply accept the views of believers and teachers past and present.

 Buddha Vacana, The words of the Buddha is a website with side-by-side Pāḷi-English versions of suttas

...dedicated to those who wish to understand better the words of the Buddha by learning the basics of Pāḷi language, but who don't have much time available for it. The idea is that if their purpose is merely to get enabled to read the Pāḷi texts and have a fair feeling of understanding them, even if that understanding does not cover all the minute details of grammatical rules... 

 Buddha Vacana's  Suttas word by word section features over sixty suttas where simply hovering over a Pāḷi word will pop up its translation. It can then be seen in context with the adjacent English translation of the entire sutta.
Toronto Mahavihara's website has a PDF of A. P. Buddhadata's New Pāḷi Course, Book 1 (7th ed.)
Buddhist eLibrary's Pāḷi section (Home > eBook Library > Theravada Texts > Pāḷi Studies) has PDF files of the following items:

Two texts by Wilhelm Geiger are also available online:

Eisel Mazard's Resources for Learning Pāḷi is quite helpful and includes three Pāḷi textbooks

Bodhi Monastery has  A Course in the Pali Language using the textbook, A New Course in Reading Pali: Entering the Word of the Buddha by Gair and Karunatilleke and Ven. Nayanatiloka's Pali Dictionary. It is structured around a series of 34 audio lectures and features the following Pali grammatical tables designed by Bhikkhu Nyanatusita (editor of the Buddhist Publication Society):

I am delighted to note that Introduction to Pali by Ajahn Brahmali (based on the book of the same name by A.K. Warder) is being presented in 23 parts on the Wisdom & Wonders website. In addition to video and audio files, it provides access to the following resources:

Bhikkhu Bodhi offers A Course in the Pāḷi Language (34 lectures) and Pariyatti Learning Center has Introduction to Pāḷi and Exploring the Path - Pāḷi Course.

Arrow River Forest Hermitage's Pāḷi Tutor Web page provides:

as well as links to: 

The Internet Archive contains both volumes of G. P. Malalasekera's massive Dictionary of Pāli Proper Names. It contains descriptions of Pāḷi Suttas as well as individuals who appear in Pāḷi literature.


The Canon

To place the corpus of Buddhist scriptures in context, I suggest beginning with three lectures by Ajahn Sujato and Ajahn Brahmali, which are available on YouTube. These (and much more) may be accessed at our webpage of Audio Lectures Regarding Early Buddhism. See:

Texts of Early Buddhism

Pāḷi Canon Online has an excellent discussion of the evolution of the Pāḷi Canon through the six Buddhist Councils.
The latest Council (held in Burma) was relatively recent, taking place during the years 1954-1956. If you are curious, Pariyatti has a free download of the Sixth Buddhist Council's massive (160 Mb) Chaṭṭha Saṅgāyana Souvenir Album

John Schlembach has generously made available this Google drive link to an excellent repository of material. Quoting from the Buddhadhamma Facebook post of May 9, 2017:

It is with the most supreme delight that this link is offered:…

What you see here is a copy of all of the Pāḷi Canon that is available in English along with selected post-canonical works. Study this; share the link to those in need of dhamma.

Ānandajoti Bhikkhu’s Ancient Buddhist Texts website is also a rich source of information. It includes

Materials from the early and medieval Buddhist tradition covering texts in Pāḷi and Sanskrit; line by line (interlinear) texts and translations; translations in English only; studies of grammar, prosody and compilation; maps, reference works and audio files.

For Firefox users, Pāḷi.Sirimangalo.Org offers a truly remarkable extension, the Digital Pāḷi Reader. It has both Pāḷi and English versions of the entire canon as well as Pāḷi-English and English-Pāḷi dictionaries, Pāḷi proper names, Pāḷi roots, Duroiselle's Pāḷi Grammar, and the Concise Pāḷi Dictionary, (and optionally Sanskrit roots and dictionary).

The Digital Pāḷi Reader (DPR) is a tool, much like a hard-copy language reader, facilitating study of the Pāḷi language at an advanced level. It contains the entire Myanmar version of the Pāḷi Tipiṭaka as found on the Vipassana Research Institute's CSCD 3, as well as commentaries and sub-commentaries where available. It also includes the Visuddhimagga, Abhidhammatthasangaha and several ancient grammatical texts composed in Pāḷi, all available for analysis and translation. Additionally, it is possible to install the Thai Tipiṭaka and commentaries (a work in progress) as an alternative to the VRI tipitaka.

For Android-based phones and tablets, there is even a Theravada Buddhist Texts app designed to be used in conjunction with an archive of Pāḷi and English texts loaded onto the device's SD card. Finally, for Pāḷi readers, there is the (Pāḷi only) Tipiṭaka app. A deep bow to Yuttadhamo Bhikkhu for these amazing contributions.

DharmaNet International has a wonderful portal worth exploring at their virtual Insight Meditation webpage.

A Taste of Salt (edited by Mark Breneman) is available for download at

The Sutta Pitaka is made of five collections of suttas; the Digha Nikaya, the Majjima Nikaya, the Samyutta Nikaya, the Anguttara Nikaya, and the Khuddaka Nikaya. These texts remain the most complete record of early Buddhist teachings. The suttas fill thousands of pages, and it is a daunting task for most readers to read through the many volumes. A Taste of Salt draws 350 pages containing the central teachings of the Buddha from the roughly 5,000 pages of the Sutta Pitaka. The purpose of this collection is to make these essential texts more accessible to meditators and students of Buddhism

An Analysis of the Pāḷi Canon, edited by Russell Webb is freely available as Wheel Publication No. 217 of the Buddhist Publication Society. It includes The Pāḷi Alphabet and its Pronunciation and BPS Fonts.

For a more extensive exploration, Ancient Buddhist TextsAccess to Insight's Tipiṭaka, the Pāḷi Canon Online, and Pāḷi Tipiṭaka are highly recommended. At, the entire Pāḷi Canon (Chaṭṭha Saṅgāyana Tipiṭaka Version 4.0) is available along with dedicated search software. There are two Tipiṭaka-related English publications of note by the Vipassana Research Institute — Essence of Tipiṭaka and the very important Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta (either as  Pāḷi in Roman script with parallel English translation on the right or Pāḷi in Roman script followed by an English translation).

has Sutta readings in Pāḷi and English from DN,  MN,  SN,  ANKN, and the Vinaya.

For yet more canonical material and discussions, it is worth exploring the sitemaps of the Buddhist Publication Society and the Pāḷi Text Society.

Bodhi Monastery' s Online Dharma Lectures include:

  • A Systematic Study of the Majjhima Nikaya, consisting of over 150 lectures by Bhikkhu Bodhi that explore

    the direct teachings of the Buddha himself as preserved in some of the oldest records of his discourses. The first part of the series, covering fifty-two of the discourses (Parts I to IX), constitutes a systematic study program in the teachings of Early Buddhism. The later part of the series (Part X) takes selected discourses from the book in sequence, explaining their meaning and practical relevance.

  • Sutta-Nipāta, a series of 40 lectures by Bhikkhu Bodhi discussing the Paritta suttas, and suttas from the Uragavagga, Cūḷavagga, and Mahāvagga chapters.

Reading Faithfully's Web page, Canonical Collections For Practice has many useful links for those who aspire to daily Sutta study. has the Mahayana Canon of Sutras listed in alphabetical order. They can be read online (individually) or downloaded in 15, multi-hundred-page groups — either as Word documents or PDF files. Each sutra may also be heard via a text-to-speech facility.

BuddhaSasana has links to many excellent books and articles available in English or Vietnamese.

Finally, there is a huge wealth of canonical and post-canonical material sequestered in a public DropBox Here. Though organized by source rather than subject, it is still an awesome collection of material and well worth a browse. It includes items once freely available on now-defunct websites. A deep bow of thanks to the dedicated person who has spent years intent on providing a safe harbor for such Dhamma: _/|\_ [anjali].

The Unwritten Dhamma

In the context of the Thai Forest Tradition, it is, perhaps, worth remembering that Ajahn Chah suggested that the only book you really need to read is your heart! Even the most profound of Buddhist scriptures are but 'second-hand wisdom.'

One Thai Forest Tradition blog even includes a thoughtful essay discussing "Why Knowing Too Much Pali, Abhidhamma, Suttas can block your progress."

One wonders, could that be why we see Huineng (Sixth Patriarch and author of the Platform Sutra) tearing up Buddhist scriptures in frustration?

From Zen Art for Meditation:

Understandings and discussions must be phrased in words. But the words of any language fall far short of mirroring the vital processes of life. Words of wisdom have no meaning until one's own experience gives them meaning. Each person must be enlightened by his own experience.