Which Sutras make the Best Reading?

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Which Sutras make the Best Reading?

Postby M.G. » Wed Jul 10, 2013 7:35 pm

I'm trying to take a second look at Buddhism after having left it for a bit. One thing I've realized is that my knowledge of sutra is weak. (I focussed more on the practice-oriented instructions of my teachers and such.)

Which sutras would one recommend reading? Any answers or thoughts would be of interest. Criteria can include historical importance, literary merit, philosophical distinction, relevance to practice, or anything else.
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Re: Which Sutras make the Best Reading?

Postby deff » Wed Jul 10, 2013 8:10 pm

I've got a particular fondness for the Vimalakirti Sutra - it's full of wisdom and humour and is an enjoyable read. Also the prajnaparamita sutras are great - such as the heart sutra, diamond sutra, the prajnaparamita in 8000 lines, etc.

for a compelling narrative on the Buddha's life, you might like the Lalitavistara sutra (available here in PDF: http://read.84000.co/browser/released/U ... 46-001.pdf )

the Avatamsaka sutra is another one I enjoy a lot - it's quite a long sutra (english version is around 1500 pages if i remember correctly)

with the 84000 project underway (www.84000.co) there will be a forthcoming stream of newly-available english language sutras, which is an exciting prospect :)
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Re: Which Sutras make the Best Reading?

Postby Will » Wed Jul 10, 2013 10:22 pm

There are many and it depends on what your main interest is. This one - chapter 40 of the Avatamsaka Sutra is about the ten Mahayana vows of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva. It is very influential and inspiring.

http://www.sutrasmantras.info/sutra21.html

This version has the commentary of Master Hsuan Hua, also available in book form:

http://www.cttbusa.org/fas40/fas40.asp
One should refrain from biased judgments and doubting in fathoming the Buddha and the Dharma of the Buddhas. Even though a dharma may be extremely difficult to believe, one should nonetheless maintain faith in it. Nagarjuna
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Re: Which Sutras make the Best Reading?

Postby Jikan » Thu Jul 11, 2013 2:13 am

The Lotus Sutra is among the most popular for a reason: it's quite a performance, and there is something in it for nearly anyone.
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Re: Which Sutras make the Best Reading?

Postby Konchog1 » Thu Jul 11, 2013 2:28 am

The Sutra of Golden Light is nice. It has a wonderful summary of emptiness and some good parables.
Equanimity is the ground. Love is the moisture. Compassion is the seed. Bodhicitta is the result.

-Paraphrase of Khensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tsephel citing the Guhyasamaja Tantra

"All memories and thoughts are the union of emptiness and knowing, the Mind.
Without attachment, self-liberating, like a snake in a knot.
Through the qualities of meditating in that way,
Mental obscurations are purified and the dharmakaya is attained."

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Re: Which Sutras make the Best Reading?

Postby Kunga Lhadzom » Thu Jul 11, 2013 2:36 am

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Re: Which Sutras make the Best Reading?

Postby maybay » Thu Jul 11, 2013 5:26 am

M.G. wrote:I'm trying to take a second look at Buddhism after having left it for a bit. One thing I've realized is that my knowledge of sutra is weak. (I focussed more on the practice-oriented instructions of my teachers and such.)

Which sutras would one recommend reading? Any answers or thoughts would be of interest. Criteria can include historical importance, literary merit, philosophical distinction, relevance to practice, or anything else.


I was reminded today of the Mahayana's penchant for using fantastic stories to illustrate basic morals. The story of Aryadeva gouging out his eye to give to a beggar, who then crushes it with a rock, is used to illustrate the importance of boundless generosity. People around me laugh. I shake my head. In that moment I feel desperate, like I'm going backwards in my studies, surrounded by a complacent Sangha. I miss Shakyamuni Buddha's sublime use of metaphor in the Nikayas. He uses what's in front of him, but more importantly what's in front of the listener. He doesn't 'make stuff up'. Nikaya sutra is like Real-TV. The Bollywood that is Mahayana is very difficult for me. Anyone can make up some bizarre, colourful story and then hack a moral onto it. I'd much rather watch a group of people try to survive on an island.

The Hinayana teachings one does hear from Mahayana masters are almost always stripped of their mythology, or clothed in a fantastic one. Its like they're afraid for you, that you might fall into the trap of believing in a mechanical and perfectly understandable world. They're concerned you might actually believe in it. Some Mahayana scriptures say its a fault to read Hinayana.

Majjhima Nikaya
People will know nothing and everything
Remember nothing and everything
Think nothing and everything
Do nothing and everything
- Machig Labdron
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Re: Which Sutras make the Best Reading?

Postby M.G. » Thu Jul 11, 2013 2:44 pm

maybay wrote:
M.G. wrote:I'm trying to take a second look at Buddhism after having left it for a bit. One thing I've realized is that my knowledge of sutra is weak. (I focussed more on the practice-oriented instructions of my teachers and such.)

Which sutras would one recommend reading? Any answers or thoughts would be of interest. Criteria can include historical importance, literary merit, philosophical distinction, relevance to practice, or anything else.


I was reminded today of the Mahayana's penchant for using fantastic stories to illustrate basic morals. The story of Aryadeva gouging out his eye to give to a beggar, who then crushes it with a rock, is used to illustrate the importance of boundless generosity. People around me laugh. I shake my head. In that moment I feel desperate, like I'm going backwards in my studies, surrounded by a complacent Sangha. I miss Shakyamuni Buddha's sublime use of metaphor in the Nikayas. He uses what's in front of him, but more importantly what's in front of the listener. He doesn't 'make stuff up'. Nikaya sutra is like Real-TV. The Bollywood that is Mahayana is very difficult for me. Anyone can make up some bizarre, colourful story and then hack a moral onto it. I'd much rather watch a group of people try to survive on an island.

The Hinayana teachings one does hear from Mahayana masters are almost always stripped of their mythology, or clothed in a fantastic one. Its like they're afraid for you, that you might fall into the trap of believing in a mechanical and perfectly understandable world. They're concerned you might actually believe in it. Some Mahayana scriptures say its a fault to read Hinayana.

Majjhima Nikaya


Thanks for your insight. Although this is a bit off-topic, I'm really starting to feel that the Mahayana and the Theravada are probably best understood as separate religions. Like Judaism and Christianity, they share some narratives and historical and mythic figures, but the goals and philosophies and understanding of those figures are almost entirely divergent.
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Re: Which Sutras make the Best Reading?

Postby PorkChop » Thu Jul 11, 2013 8:58 pm

maybay wrote:...I miss Shakyamuni Buddha's sublime use of metaphor in the Nikayas. He uses what's in front of him, but more importantly what's in front of the listener. He doesn't 'make stuff up'. Nikaya sutra is like Real-TV.The Bollywood that is Mahayana is very difficult for me. Anyone can make up some bizarre, colourful story and then hack a moral onto it. I'd much rather watch a group of people try to survive on an island.


How wonderfully polemical...

It's interesting you use that particular analogy, as most consider Reality TV to be the worst thing that ever happened to televised entertainment.

Personally, I appreciate both for what they are and absolutely love the metaphor employed by Mahayana scriptures.
"Some bizarre, colourful story and then hack a moral onto it" sounds surprisingly like Hakuin's take on the Lotus Sutra before he was advanced enough to "get it." It's pretty obvious you don't "get it" and that's a shame. Maybe some day...

Recommendations
Pali: the Itivuttaka, the Udana, and the Dhammapada. I love the simple verse nature, it does a lot more to drive the message home for me than the repetitive phrasing found elsewhere. Of course you can't go wrong with any of the 4 major Nikayas either: the Digha, the Majjhima, the Samyutta, and the Anguttara.

Mahayana: the Lotus Sutra, the Avatamsaka, the PrajnaParamitas (including Heart & Diamond Sutras), the Pure Land Sutras (to which I include the Medicine Buddha Sutra), the Lankavatara (for those of you not so big on metaphor), the Shurangama (for those that are), and the MahapariNirvana.
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Re: Which Sutras make the Best Reading?

Postby Ayu » Thu Jul 11, 2013 9:10 pm

Konchog1 wrote:The Sutra of Golden Light is nice. It has a wonderful summary of emptiness and some good parables.

YES! :smile: It gives merrits and protection to read it.

And i like "Majjhima Nikāya 4, Fear and Terror - Bhayabherava Sutta" very much.
Because, if our mothers, who have been kind to us
From beginningless time, are suffering,
What can we do with (just) our own happiness?
From 10th of 37 Bodhisattva Practices
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Re: Which Sutras make the Best Reading?

Postby JKhedrup » Thu Jul 11, 2013 10:21 pm

Any part of the Avatamsaka is a wonderful read- if one can finish the entire sutra it leaves one with a wonderful full, rich feeling. The Diamond Sutra is fantastic, as is the Ksitigarbha Sutra. Interesting on the Philosophical side of things are the Sutra Unraveling the Intent and the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras.
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
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Re: Which Sutras make the Best Reading?

Postby maybay » Fri Jul 12, 2013 6:21 pm

PorkChop wrote:It's interesting you use that particular analogy, as most consider Reality TV to be the worst thing that ever happened to televised entertainment.

Maybe documentaries make a better analogy. Anyway, I just remember when Survivor came out. It was a breath of fresh air. Baudrillard predicted what happened next.
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Do nothing and everything
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Re: Which Sutras make the Best Reading?

Postby maybay » Fri Jul 12, 2013 6:25 pm

M.G. wrote:Which sutras would one recommend reading? Any answers or thoughts would be of interest. Criteria can include historical importance, literary merit, philosophical distinction, relevance to practice, or anything else.

So what's the practice?
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Re: Which Sutras make the Best Reading?

Postby M.G. » Fri Jul 12, 2013 6:55 pm

maybay wrote:
M.G. wrote:Which sutras would one recommend reading? Any answers or thoughts would be of interest. Criteria can include historical importance, literary merit, philosophical distinction, relevance to practice, or anything else.

So what's the practice?


My Buddhist practice is Guru Yoga.
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Re: Which Sutras make the Best Reading?

Postby maybay » Fri Jul 12, 2013 7:36 pm

What about biography?
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Re: Which Sutras make the Best Reading?

Postby M.G. » Fri Jul 12, 2013 8:25 pm

maybay wrote:What about biography?


I've taken instruction from Zen and Tibetan teachers but my root guru is Chogyal Namkhai Norbhu.
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Re: Which Sutras make the Best Reading?

Postby dyanaprajna2011 » Fri Jul 12, 2013 11:42 pm

From the Pali canon, I'm quite fond of the Dhammapada , the Anapanasati Sutta, and the Satipatthana Sutta. From the Mahayana, I like the Lotus Sutra, the Heart Sutra, the Surangama Sutra, the Lankavatara Sutra, the Smaller Pure Land Sutra, and the Medicine Buddha Sutra.
"If you want to travel the Way of Buddhas and Zen masters, then expect nothing, seek nothing, and grasp nothing." -Dogen
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Re: Which Sutras make the Best Reading?

Postby Ramon1920 » Sat Jul 13, 2013 7:05 am

The best ones to read are the ones with commentary explaining them.
Some sutras are very clear to anyone that reads them, most take some explanation.

I say that because as I think of sutras I like I notice they would be difficult to understand without some explanation.
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Re: Which Sutras make the Best Reading?

Postby maybay » Sat Jul 13, 2013 8:47 am

M.G. wrote:
maybay wrote:What about biography?


I've taken instruction from Zen and Tibetan teachers but my root guru is Chogyal Namkhai Norbhu.

They are about the least sutra-centric traditions around.
If you're going to study like an autodidact you might have more luck with the Diamond Sutra for Zen and the Supreme Source Tantra for Dzogchen. Sutras are only a part of a tradition. They need a context to be understood properly. Tibetans always study sutras as part of a greater explanatory commentary. Maybe a Lamrim is more appropriate. Studying the Diamond Sutra and Supreme Source will give you a greater appreciation for your own tradition—greater depth—but if you're looking for scope then have a look at Shantideva's Bodhicaryavatara or Gampopa's Jewel Ornament of Liberation.
I'm still not sure what you're actually looking for.
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Re: Which Sutras make the Best Reading?

Postby M.G. » Sat Jul 13, 2013 2:30 pm

maybay wrote:
M.G. wrote:
maybay wrote:What about biography?


I've taken instruction from Zen and Tibetan teachers but my root guru is Chogyal Namkhai Norbhu.

They are about the least sutra-centric traditions around.
If you're going to study like an autodidact you might have more luck with the Diamond Sutra for Zen and the Supreme Source Tantra for Dzogchen. Sutras are only a part of a tradition. They need a context to be understood properly. Tibetans always study sutras as part of a greater explanatory commentary. Maybe a Lamrim is more appropriate. Studying the Diamond Sutra and Supreme Source will give you a greater appreciation for your own tradition—greater depth—but if you're looking for scope then have a look at Shantideva's Bodhicaryavatara or Gampopa's Jewel Ornament of Liberation.
I'm still not sure what you're actually looking for.


Just hoping for a better understanding of the Mahayana. I've already started reading some of the suggestions offered, which have been helpful.
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