Suttas from the Pali Canon

Below, at the end of this page, you will find a selection of Suttas from the Pali Cannon. These are republished here from the website https://www.accesstoinsight.org/

If you want to skip this introduction and go directly to read the suttas, click here

About the Pali Canon


The Pali Canon, also called the Tipitaka, is the collection of the original teachings of the Buddha, which form the basis for the Theravada tradition. It includes the rulebook of the monk, called the Vinaya Pitaka, the book of teachings called the Sutta Pitaka, and a book of theory called the Abhidhamma Pitaka. All are said to come from the words of Guatama Buddha or his close disciples, circa 2500 years ago. During the time at which they were spoken, they were kept alive through oral repetition and in memory by the disciples of the Buddha.  They were later written down, in the language of Pāli.

A note about Pali language

Pali is now a dead language no longer spoken anywhere in the world, except in ritual chanting and the circles of a few very dedicated scholars.  Interestingly, according to what can be discovered through the work of historians, it is also the case that at the time when these teachings were first being given, even then Pali was not a language spoken by people. At that time in India, there were several regions close to one another in which several different languages and dialects were spoken. It is believed that these languages and dialects all held some similarity with what we know as the Pali language, and they were also similar enough that people from different regions would probably have been able to understand one another well.

One theory about the language of Pali is that the language actually came into existence at the time when the teachings of the Buddha were first written down, and there is even a possibility that it was created for that very purpose. Suttas and stories that had previously been preserved in various different languages were now written down in this one common language that could be understood by all: this common language was Pali. (This theory makes sense and is popular, but not approved by everyone – there is quite a lot of debate about these matters and no theory on which all agree, because there is not enough evidence to show what the true state of things really was at that time.)

Since that time, these teachings have been studied and translated into many languages. There is no translation today of any text in Pali written by a native speaker of Pali.

On making an “accurate translation”

If you compare the versions of the teachings that we publish here with other translations (which we encourage you to do), you will see that there are quite a few differences. We are not guided in these writings only by the definitions of Pali words found in dictionaries; we also have to check what can be seen and experienced for oneself by practice.

Since these teachings are not only based on faith, but are fully verifiable and are meant to be practiced for oneself, it means that if one practices correctly, his own practice can serve as a reference point to see what is correct and incorrect in the text of a given teaching.

It is as if we have been given the manual for the engine of a car and there is a diagram showing how all the parts fit together. Until we open the engine and look for ourselves, we have no way of knowing whether the diagram is a true and complete picture of the car engine, or not. But when we open the engine, get to know what is inside and can work with it easily, then of course now we can also see if there is any mistake on the diagram we were given – is there something in the wrong place? Is there something that doesn’t actually fit together like that?

In the same way, when one reaches a certain level in this practice, one can be expected to see for himself directly as it is the reality that is described in the teachings of the Buddha. Seeing this directly, it is also natural that the one who has seen for himself should be able to tell where the description of this reality that you have been presented with, the “diagram” of it, is not quite an accurate description of the reality.

This is the main reason that the versions of the texts you will find here are sometimes different from standard ones, because we are basing our words on the knowledge of what can be experienced through practice, and not only on the authority of text.

Of course we cannot and do not claim that what we write here is perfect, but we never write something differently to the standard version without a very good reason for doing so, and without having either seen directly for ourselves, or confirmed with one who has seen directly, that what we do write is correct and fits with reality.

As an example, here is a definition of what is generally referred to as the “five aggregates of clinging” or “five clinging-aggregates” – that is, five groups of attachments or things that are subject to attachment.

Five Aggregates

  1. Rupa – Body. That is, physical matter, inside both inside this body and outside it. Whatever is in the world apart from mind, is called body.
  2. Vedana –Agreeable, disagreeable and neutral feelings and the emotions that are born from them. Vedana is the starting point of emotions both of happiness and sadness. Emotions such as grief or anger are born from a disagreeable vedana. Emotions such as joy or desire are born from an agreeable vedana.
  3. Sanna – Usually translated “perception.” We don’t have a perfect word in English to describe this, but “Memory” is the most understandable and more accurate. This is the thing that knows what everything around you is. When you see a cup, it is memory that knows that this is a cup, without needing words. In a computer, you can have a memory card which holds all memory, and you can have specific files of documents, power point presentations, films and so on – all held in this memory. The word “memory” refers at once to the card of memory and the files of memory, and what is held in the files. It is the same in the mind; there is the faculty of memory, and there are the files, whatever is held in memory.
  4. Sankhara – usually translated as “mental formations” or sometimes “formations.” Again there is no one word in English that works as a perfect translation for sankhara. A possibility is the word “Action” – actions being understood also to include actions of speech, thoughts, intentions, and ideas. We could also say simply “intentions” – intentions being understood to include thoughts and ideas. We usually use the phrase “thoughts and intentions” to mean “sankhara.” The act of punching someone is a sankhara driven by anger. Saying out loud the words “I’d love to punch you right now” is also a sankhara driven by anger. The idea or wish to punch someone, even if this is not acted upon, even if nothing is said, is also a sankhara driven by anger.
  5. Vinnana – Consciousness, knowing, or awareness at the six sense doors. For this we need to know what are the six sense doors: the eye, the ear, the nose, the tongue, the body and the mind are the six sense doors – that is, literally the six doors through which we can have contact with objects outside or objects inside. Thoughts are also “objects -” even when the eyes are closed and there is no sound, there will be thoughts that make contact with the mind. To understand what is vinnana, we can ask the question: what do we need in order to see an object, let’s say a cup? Well, first we need a cup. We also need a working eye. But a working eye and a cup are not enough: you can show a cup to a dead man whose eye is perfectly well-formed and functioning, but he will still not see a cup. Vinnana is the third thing you need – something that is conscious, awake, aware, that knows what is happening at the eye.

Our plan is to gradually add to this page, with more texts being added to it as we have time to read and comment on them ourselves

Ambalatthika-rahulovada Sutta: Instructions to Rahula at Mango Stone This teaching describes the basic rule which everyone should be taught by the age of four, a rule to know the difference between right and wrong, good and bad, between wise and unwise.

Sigalovada Sutta: A young person’s guide to living a good household life

Another very important teaching for simply how to live a good, wise and decent life, which may look simple or obvious but contains a great deal of wisdom, and should not be taken lightly.

Bahiya Sutta: The teaching given to Bahiya of the Bark Cloth

The shortest teaching of the Buddha which led the listener directly to arahantship. There are many things to be learned from it; including the power of renunciation, the simplicity of the Dhamma for the one who is ready to see it, and the teaching itself.

Bhaya-bherava Sutta: Not accepting fear and terror

In this teaching, the Buddha explains how he refuses to accept fear and terror in himself, and how he practices to remove them. How can we learn from his example and take his practice as our reference point?

Attadiipaa Sutta: Being an island to oneself

What it means to be an island to oneself.

Maha-Satipatthana Sutta: The Great Frames of Reference

Considered by many to be one of the most complete and important teachings of the Buddha. It’s more important to understand one small section of it than it is to read it all at once. Do not neglect the footnotes.

Maranassati Sutta: Watchful of Death (1) – An 06.19

The practice of being ready to die, watchful of death, with a small essay based on the teaching.

Nandakovada Sutta: Nandaka’s Teaching – MN 146

A teaching about all that we experience and all our belief of who we are, and how most of it is based on falsehood.