Exploring Theravada Buddhism's Scriptural Resources
Access to Insight
It is organized as follows:
Modern English translations of more than 1,000 important Pāḷi Canon suttas indexed by:
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:
- Getting Started
- Good Habits
- Structured courses and guides
- Listen to the Suttas
For English language speakers, another great place to start is the hardcopy of Bhikkhu Bodhi’s book, In the Buddha's Words. Check 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.
Although there are no easy paths to learning Pāḷi, there are numerous online resources.
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.
- A.P. Buddhadatta Mahāthera — Concise Pāḷi-English Dictionary.
- A.K. Warder — Introduction to Pāḷi
- Pāḷi Text Society, T.W. Rhys Davids & William Stede (Ed.) — Pāḷi-English Dictionary
and, among its many links to articles, the following papers by K.R. Norman:
- On Translating from Pāḷi
- Pāḷi Philology and the Study of Buddhism
- The Origin of Pāḷi and its Position among the Indo-European Languages
- The Pāḷi Language and the Theravādin Tradition
Nayanatiloka - Buddhist Dictionary, Manual of Terms and Doctrines is a quite useful reference.
Buddhism-dict.net has three items of interest:
- Digital Dictionary of Buddhism (login with name 'guest' & no password)
- CJKV-English Dictionary
- Muller's Resources for the Study of East Asian Language and Thought
For broader reference material that also includes Pāḷi terms, see:
- Wikipedia's Glossary of Buddhism.
- Bhante Shravasti Dhammika's Guide To Buddhism A to Z (with Alphabetical Index, Subject Index, and Abbreviations list).
- A Handful of Leaves provides access to a PDF file of the massive, two-volume Encyclopedia of Buddhism.
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...
- Narada Thera - Elementary Pāḷi Course
- Nayantiloka - Pāḷi Buddhist Dictionary [4th Edition]
- Charles Durioselle - A Grammar of the Pāḷi Language
- Mahindarama Sunday Pāḷi School - A Pāḷi Word a Day
- H. Gunaratana Mahathera - Bhavana Vanda, Book of Devotion
- Elgiriye Indaratana Maha Thera - Vandanā, Pāḷi Devotional Chanting
Two texts by Wilhelm Geiger are also available online:
Eisel Mazard's Resources for Learning Pāḷi is quite helpful and includes three Pāḷi textbooks
- Narada Thera - An Elementary Pāḷi Course (2008 edition as revised by Eisel Mazard)
- Dr. Lily De Silva - Pāḷi Primer (2008 edition as reformatted by Eisel Mazard)
- Charles Duroiselle - A Practical Grammar of the Pāḷi Language (2008 edition as revised by Eisel Mazard)
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):
- Pali Alphabet
- Pronoun Conjugation
- Noun Declension 1
- Noun Declension 2
- Pronoun Declension
- Verb Conjugation
- Verb Conjugation and Pronoun Declension
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:
- PDF version of the course book: Introduction to Pali by A.K. Warder.
(A hardcopy of the text is available from the Pali Text Society in the UK.)
- PDF version of A Key to the Exercises in A.K. Warders Introduction to Pali.
- Online version of the Pali Text Society's Pali-English Dictionary.
- PDF version of the Pali Text Society's Pali-English Dictionary.
- PDF version of the Pali Noun Declension Table.
- PDF version of the Pali Verb Conjugation & Pronoun Declension Tables.
as well as links to:
- Pāḷi Canon (Vipassana Research Institute)
- Digital Pāḷi Reader (a Firefox extension)
- Pāḷi Text Society's Pāḷi-English dictionary online
- Metta Net's English-Pāḷi dictionary
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.
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.
It is with the most supreme delight that this link is offered: https://drive.google.com/open…
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.
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.
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 Texts, Access to Insight's Tipiṭaka, the Pāḷi Canon Online, and Pāḷi Tipiṭaka are highly recommended. At www.tipitaka.org, 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).
Http://www.audtip.org/ has Sutta readings in Pāḷi and English from DN, MN, SN, AN, KN, and the Vinaya.
- 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.
BuddhaSutra.com 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 Thai Forest Tradition blog even includes a thoughtful essay discussing "Why Knowing Too Much Pali, Abhidhamma, Suttas can block your progress."
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.