Canonical Texts

Canonical Texts

Exploring Theravada Buddhism's Scriptural Resources


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


Access to Insight

As mentioned on this sites home page, Access to Insight remains a remarkable legacy website. For offline use, you can download the whole website.

It is organized as follows:

For English language speakers, another great place to start is 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 on Bhante Sujato’s  SuttaCentralan exceedingly rich source of information.

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.

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.

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 Pāli language. There are also texts of significance written in Sanskrit, Prakrit, Gandhari, Chinese, Tibetan, as well as fragments in Khotanese and Uighur.

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

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

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 Pāli Toolbox of Buddha Vacana, there is a search engine for the Concise Pāli-English DictionaryAccess to Insight has A Glossary of Pali and Buddhist Terms.
Buddha Vacana has a Glossary of Pali has three items of interest:

For broader reference material, see:

 Buddha Vacana, The words of the Buddha is a website with side-by-side Pali-English versions of suttas
...dedicated to those who wish to understand better the words of the Buddha by learning the basics of Pali 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 Pali 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 Pāli 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 Pali Course, Book 1 (7th ed.) Buddhist eLibrary's Pali section (Home > eBook Library > Theravada Texts > Pali Studies) has PDF files of the following items: A good starting point is Access to Insight's Pali Language Study Aids. has two pages of resources Pāḷi and Pālī Synthesis. Eisel Mazard's Resources for Learning Pali is quite helpful and includes three Pāli textbooks There are numerous places online that allow downloading of fonts with the appropriate Pali diacritical markings. See, for example, AtI's Coping with Diacritics and the South Asia Language Resource Center's Fonts Resources page.  Bhikkhu Bodhi offers A Course in the Pali Language (34 lectures) and Pariyatti Learning Center has Introduction to Pāli and Exploring the Path - Pāli Course. Steven Sas, a student of Bhikkhu Bodhi, is teaching the summer intensive course, An Introduction to Pali. It will have 11 classes (Mondays and Saturdays) from July 10 through August 14, 2017). "The class will be held at the the Woo Ju Memorial Library at Chuang Yen Monastery [Carmel, New York] and simultaneously online via oovoo, allowing one to join from anywhere."    

The Canon

Pali Canon Online has an excellent discussion of the evolution of the Pali 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 Pali 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 Pāli 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, Pali.Sirimangalo.Org offers a truly remarkable extension, the Digital Pali Reader. It has both Pāli and English versions of the entire canon as well as Pāli-English and English-Pali dictionaries, Pali proper names, Pali roots, Duroiselle's Pāli Grammar, and the Concise Pāli Dictionary, (and optionally Sanskrit roots and dictionary).
The Digital Pali Reader (DPR) is a tool, much like a hard-copy language reader, facilitating study of the Pali language at an advanced level. It contains the entire Myanmar version of the Pali Tipitaka 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 Pali, all available for analysis and translation. Additionally, it is possible to install the Thai Tipitaka 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 Pali and English texts loaded onto the device's SD card. Finally, for Pāli readers, there is the (Pāli only) Tipitaka app. A a deep bow to Yuttadhamo Bhikkhu for these amazing contributions. DharmaNet International has two relevant web pages worth exploring:  Theravadin Texts & Suttas and Theravadin Buddhism & Insight Meditation. 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 Pali Canon, edited by Russell Webb is freely available as Wheel Publication No. 217 of the Buddhist Publication Society. It includes The Pali Alphabet and its Pronunciation and BPS Fonts. For a more extensive exploration, Ancient Buddhist TextsAccess to Insight's Tipitaka, the Pali Canon Online, and Pāḷi Tipiṭaka are highly recommended. At, the entire Pāli Canon (Chaṭṭha Saṅgāyana Tipitaka 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  Pali in Roman script with parallel English translation on the right or Pali in Roman script followed by an English translation). Http:// has Sutta readings in Pāli and English from DN,  MN,  SN,  ANKN, and the Vinaya . For yet more canonical material and discussions, it is worth exploring the site maps of the Buddhist Publication Society and the Pali Text Society. Reading Faithfully's webpage, 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. 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 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.