Introduction to SuttaCentral
For 2,500 years, Buddhist communities have preserved the wisdom of the Buddha in thousands of texts, passing them down in Pali, Chinese, Tibetan, and other languages.
What would it be like if we were to bring these together and present them using the best technologies and design that the modern web can offer?
What if we removed the boundaries of language and tradition, and let the Buddha speak for himself?
This is SuttaCentral.
The Buddha’s words are one of humanity’s great spiritual literatures. And for those who follow his path, they are nothing less than the key to liberation itself. With nearly half the world’s people using the internet, these teachings are now available to more people than ever before.
SuttaCentral is specially focussed 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.
If you’re not sure where to get started with SuttaCentral, there’s an excellent structured online reading course on our forum, based on the book In the Buddha’s Words by .
SuttaCentral includes detailed references, shows relationships between texts in diverse collections, and, where possible, provides original text and translations.
Texts include the Pali canon of the Theravāda school, which we have in both modern translations and the original Pali. SuttaCentral also provides the early Āgama texts from the Taishō edition of the Chinese canon, as well as references for the Tibetan Kangyur, Sanskrit, and other languages, which are much smaller in number than the Pali and Chinese collections.
SuttaCentral offers extensive resources on the Buddhist monastic code (Vinaya), with texts, translations, and some 14,000 parallels. We also cover the canonical Abhidhamma texts, which provide a detailed analytical treatment of the central doctrines.
Suttas and divisions
Most of the early Buddhist texts are known in Pali as suttas (or sūtras in Sanskrit). It is believed that each sutta is a record of a teaching given by the Buddha at a particular time and place. The suttas are organized into larger groupings, the most important of which is the nikāya, which we call a “division”. The division and the sutta are the main elements in SuttaCentral’s navigation.
Each sutta has a unique ID. This is an abbreviated form of the divison (or nikāya), and sutta number within the division. You’ll find these unique IDs in many places, such as the tables of parallels, and most importantly, in the site URLs. If you get familiar with them, you’ll find your way around much more easily.
Many of the suttas have been translated into modern languages. Wherever possible, we’ll supply translations in addition to the original text. These have the same ID as the original text. This is because, in Buddhism, the essential thing is the meaning of the words, so translated texts are regarded as the Word of the Buddha.
The quantity of texts is vast, so the work of translation is far from complete. We try to source the best available translations from third parties, and we are also developing our own translations, to be made freely available for everyone.
English translations include classic works by Bhikkhu Bodhi, new English translations of Chinese Saṁyukta Āgama texts by Bhikkhu Anālayo, fresh translations from the Tibetan Upāyikā by Sāmaṇerī Dhammadinnā, and others from a variety of sources.
Suttas aren’t independent entities. They form a vast interconnected web of teachings. Often the key to understanding one passage lies in a different text. In this way, the Buddhist canons are a little like the internet, with individual pages connected by a web of hidden links.
Most suttas appear in very similar form in more than one collection. We use “parallel” for variant texts that appear to be descended from a common ancestor. Often the texts are so close that this identification is simple. Sometimes, however, there is a less close relationship between a two given texts. In such cases we indicate a “partial parallel” with an asterisk*. This doesn’t imply any particular kind of relationship between the partial parallel and the basic text. It simply suggests that if you are studying the basic text, you might want to look at the partial parallel, too. For a detailed discussion, see our page on Methodology.
In 1929 Comparative Catalogue of Chinese Agamas & Pali Nikayas. This was the first comprehensive list of parallels between the Pali and Chinese texts. His work has been corrected and expanded by a succession of scholars, and revised for SuttaCentral by Rod Bucknell and Bhikkhu Anālayo.
, a Japanese scholar, published his
It is no trivial matter to discern what texts should be regarded as parallel. Texts often agree in many details, and disagree in others. When does a text stop being a full parallel and start being a partial parallel? And when does it become merely a text that bears certain similar features? There are no black and white answers to such questions. Rather, making these identifications draws on the accumulated learning and experience of a succession of scholars. Inevitably there will be disagreements in detail; yet in the main, there is a broad consensus as to what constitutes a parallel. Ultimately, the important point is that these identifications help the student to study and learn from related texts in diverse collections.