A Buddhist reader
August 22, 2012 9:16 AM   Subscribe

I would like to read some of the Buddhist sutras but I have no idea where to start. I am looking for both A) a wide (not limited to a single tradition) anthology I could use to get an overview of what is available and to guide further reading and B) sutras that are particularly well translated into English and/or have a particularly good commentary.
posted by jarekr to Religion & Philosophy (7 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Buddhist Bible is free online at sacredtexts. The title is terrible but the editing job is excellent for my tastes. A literal translation of most of these books can be mind-numbing dull.
posted by bukvich at 10:01 AM on August 22, 2012

As a (zen) buddhist, the Diamond Sutra. The clearest, most potent text on nonduality and the ultimate nature of reality. As a fan of great literature, the Threefold Lotus Sutra (as translated by Bunny Kato, or Gene Reeves.) Nikkyō Niwano, founder of the Japanese lay buddhist organization Risshō Kōsei Kai wrote an excellent guide, Buddhism for Today, which discusses the underlying doctrine and theory of the Lotus Sutra in plain English. It's a religious text, not an academic one, so if that doesn't interest you, please disregard the recommendation.
posted by Lorin at 10:03 AM on August 22, 2012

The Heart Sutra translated by Red Pine is another good one.
posted by Hanuman1960 at 10:37 AM on August 22, 2012

My starting point for both sutra-reading and meditation instruction was the Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness. I used the translation and commentary by Thich Nhat Hanh, which is widely and cheaply available.

It's one of the Pali sutras, so it's accepted as canon by all traditions (not that they necessarily pay much attention to it), unlike the Diamond Sutra, or the Lotus Sutra or its condensed version, the Heart Sutra.
posted by feral_goldfish at 10:51 AM on August 22, 2012

Take a look at this page, and especially the "Which suttas should I read?" section. Also take a look at the Self-Guided Tour of the Buddha's Teachings. Many of the suttas available on that website are good translations.

Also see dhammatalks.org's texts, including "The Wings to Awakening" and the Dhammapada. These translations are by Thanissaro Bhikku, who is very well-respected as a translator.

These resources focus on the Pali canon, viewed as canonical by Theravadan buddhists. They are used in Mahayana traditions as well, to varying degrees. They were passed down by communities of monks who memorized the texts and chanted them, so they can't be taken as the literal word of the Buddha, but they're the earliest and most reliable texts available.

Many later texts used in the Mahayana tradition are also considered to be the word of the Buddha, but passed down through secret lineages, supernatural beings, or revealed by later buddhas or boddhisatvas. The Lotus Sutra is one of these – Mahayana tradition holds that it was written down at the time of the Buddha, but stored for five hundred years in the realm of the nagas. You'll have to decide how much "and then a miracle occurred" you'll accept.

And of course, there are plenty of texts that aren't supposed to be the teaching of the Buddha at all, but are the teachings of later practitioners. The Heart Sutra is one of these.
posted by Picklegnome at 10:54 AM on August 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Red Pine's translation of the Heart Sutra is indeed well-reputed. Oddly, the version I've found most useful is from a possibly sketchy pink website, because it's a word-by-word translation from the Sino-Japanese (and Sino-Japanesified-Sanskrit and -Pali). So it's an excellent resource for combining understanding with memorization and chanting, and thereby offers a more traditional, practical Zen approach to the text.
posted by feral_goldfish at 11:14 AM on August 22, 2012

Lotus Sutra which is the teachings in the last part of Buddha's life and which he specifically mentions are the true and final teachings that override the past teachings.
posted by pakora1 at 2:17 PM on August 22, 2012

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