Mahayana texts for beginners

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khemindas
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Mahayana texts for beginners

Post by khemindas »

Can you recommend basic and simple Mahayana sutras for beginners, I've finished reading four nikaya of pali canon and particularly some parts of khuddaka nikaya and vibhanga of vinaya pitaka. So from what is better to start learn Mahayana?
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Zhen Li
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Re: Mahayana texts for beginners

Post by Zhen Li »

khemindas wrote: Thu Apr 11, 2024 5:23 pm Can you recommend basic and simple Mahayana sutras for beginners, I've finished reading four nikaya of pali canon and particularly some parts of khuddaka nikaya and vibhanga of vinaya pitaka. So from what is better to start learn Mahayana?
Congratulations on reading all of the Nikayas, it's a great accomplishment. I read the four main Nikāyas a long time ago, and started again with the Khuddaka Nikāya a few years ago—I have to say, I haven't finished the Jātaka yet, but I'm about half way through the last (6th) volume.

I've led Buddhist reading groups for the past 7 years or so, and all the members had their "first Mahāyāna sūtra" at one point or another. I believe they all largely agree that the Lotus Sūtra is an ideal first sūtra, as it bridges the gap between the yānas. At the moment, I'd say the 84000 translation is good for a general reader.

Of similar nature would be the Golden Light Sūtra.

Then, I think it's good to get familiar with the Perfection of Wisdom literature, and Conze's translation of The Perfection of Wisdom in 8000 Lines is probably just about the right length for a general reader.

After those 3, the other texts of the Navagrantha, in roughly this order:
4. Lalitavistara
5. Tathāgataguhya
6. Laṅkāvatāra
7. Samādhirāja
8. Daśabhūmika
9. Gaṇḍavyūha
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Queequeg
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Re: Mahayana texts for beginners

Post by Queequeg »

I like to recommend the Vimalakirti Sutra. Its relatively short, entertaining, showcasing a sense of humor, and hits some of the more profound teachings of Mahayana. Also, the main character is a layman, kind of the Mahayana version of Anathapindika.
There is no suffering to be severed. Ignorance and klesas are indivisible from bodhi. There is no cause of suffering to be abandoned. Since extremes and the false are the Middle and genuine, there is no path to be practiced. Samsara is nirvana. No severance achieved. No suffering nor its cause. No path, no end. There is no transcendent realm; there is only the one true aspect. There is nothing separate from the true aspect.
-Guanding, Perfect and Sudden Contemplation,
Inedible
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Re: Mahayana texts for beginners

Post by Inedible »

Queequeg wrote: Sat Apr 13, 2024 1:41 pm I like to recommend the Vimalakirti Sutra. Its relatively short, entertaining, showcasing a sense of humor, and hits some of the more profound teachings of Mahayana. Also, the main character is a layman, kind of the Mahayana version of Anathapindika.
Thanks. I just downloaded this:

https://84000.co/doc/vimalakirti/Vimala ... 170724.pdf
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Queequeg
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Re: Mahayana texts for beginners

Post by Queequeg »

Inedible wrote: Sun Apr 14, 2024 4:23 am
Queequeg wrote: Sat Apr 13, 2024 1:41 pm I like to recommend the Vimalakirti Sutra. Its relatively short, entertaining, showcasing a sense of humor, and hits some of the more profound teachings of Mahayana. Also, the main character is a layman, kind of the Mahayana version of Anathapindika.
Thanks. I just downloaded this:

https://84000.co/doc/vimalakirti/Vimala ... 170724.pdf
:twothumbsup:

There are some good lectures on the text available out there. DJKR and Bob Thurman both have talks online.
There is no suffering to be severed. Ignorance and klesas are indivisible from bodhi. There is no cause of suffering to be abandoned. Since extremes and the false are the Middle and genuine, there is no path to be practiced. Samsara is nirvana. No severance achieved. No suffering nor its cause. No path, no end. There is no transcendent realm; there is only the one true aspect. There is nothing separate from the true aspect.
-Guanding, Perfect and Sudden Contemplation,
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Linguistic Mystic
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Re: Mahayana texts for beginners

Post by Linguistic Mystic »

I've really been enjoying Peter Skilling's translations recently. His translation style avoids a lot of the wordiness that often comes with translation and conveys the language of the sūtras is a fresh and eloquent way. To be sure, many of his translations are not of Mahāyāna sūtras, but you might enjoy his anthologies "Questioning the Buddha" and "Buddha's Words for Tough Times," the latter of which just came out a few months ago.

The 84000 reading room is also a great place to start. If you go under "published translations," there are some filters to sort them according to different themes and subject matter:

https://read.84000.co/section/all-translated.html

I would say, though, just read what you feel inspired to. It's often the joy and excitement we find in a certain topic or theme that sustains us through long texts.
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genkaku.linrx
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Re: Mahayana texts for beginners

Post by genkaku.linrx »

Queequeg wrote: Sun Apr 14, 2024 5:15 pm
Inedible wrote: Sun Apr 14, 2024 4:23 am
Queequeg wrote: Sat Apr 13, 2024 1:41 pm I like to recommend the Vimalakirti Sutra. Its relatively short, entertaining, showcasing a sense of humor, and hits some of the more profound teachings of Mahayana. Also, the main character is a layman, kind of the Mahayana version of Anathapindika.
Thanks. I just downloaded this:

https://84000.co/doc/vimalakirti/Vimala ... 170724.pdf
:twothumbsup:

There are some good lectures on the text available out there. DJKR and Bob Thurman both have talks online.
I have been relying on Bob Thurman's translation of Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra all these years and I find them really juicy as a layperson myself.

I would also recommend the Heart Sutra and Diamond Sutra to beginners of Mahayana Buddhism who just want a feel of how inconceivable Mahayana Buddhism is. Within the short two sutras are profundities that go beyond conceptual thought. After I studied both the Heart and Diamond Sutra, I stopped recommending the Hinayana vehicle to practitioners but instead I recommend the Mahayana and only the Mahayana to Buddhist students.

:cheers:
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It'sYa1UPBoy
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Re: Mahayana texts for beginners

Post by It'sYa1UPBoy »

I second the Heart Sutra. It's very short but is a very succinct explanation of emptiness. I recite it as part of my daily practice (the Thich Nhat Hanh translation because I generally use his ritual book for my daily practice).
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Aemilius
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Re: Mahayana texts for beginners

Post by Aemilius »

genkaku.linrx wrote: Sun May 19, 2024 1:19 am
Queequeg wrote: Sun Apr 14, 2024 5:15 pm
Inedible wrote: Sun Apr 14, 2024 4:23 am

Thanks. I just downloaded this:

https://84000.co/doc/vimalakirti/Vimala ... 170724.pdf
:twothumbsup:

There are some good lectures on the text available out there. DJKR and Bob Thurman both have talks online.
I have been relying on Bob Thurman's translation of Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra all these years and I find them really juicy as a layperson myself.
There are some interesting bits in the Vimalakirti sutra, that can only be found in the commentaries. Like the story in Chapter 3. The Disciples' Reluctance to Visit Vimalakirti, in which the great disciple Upali admonishes two monks who have committed some unknown infraction.
The nature of this infraction is explained in the chinese commentarial literature and it is also found in the Vinaya. It goes roughly like this:

"A monk was sleeping by the road during daytime, and he had an erection in his sleep. Am unmarried woman walking on the road passes by and sees his erection, and she takes advantage of the sleeping monk. This monk tells of the incident to another monk, who also goes to sleep on the side of the road, hoping to get similar treatment from the unmarried woman, when he has fallen asleep and probably has an erection in his sleep."

Discussion concerning this infraction really exists in the Vinaya. Obviously only the second monk's action is intentional.
svaha
"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Sarvē mānavāḥ svatantrāḥ samutpannāḥ vartantē api ca, gauravadr̥śā adhikāradr̥śā ca samānāḥ ēva vartantē. Ētē sarvē cētanā-tarka-śaktibhyāṁ susampannāḥ santi. Api ca, sarvē’pi bandhutva-bhāvanayā parasparaṁ vyavaharantu."
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1. (in english and sanskrit)
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Zhen Li
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Re: Mahayana texts for beginners

Post by Zhen Li »

Aemilius wrote: Fri May 24, 2024 10:11 am
genkaku.linrx wrote: Sun May 19, 2024 1:19 am
Queequeg wrote: Sun Apr 14, 2024 5:15 pm :twothumbsup:

There are some good lectures on the text available out there. DJKR and Bob Thurman both have talks online.
I have been relying on Bob Thurman's translation of Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra all these years and I find them really juicy as a layperson myself.
There are some interesting bits in the Vimalakirti sutra, that can only be found in the commentaries. Like the story in Chapter 3. The Disciples' Reluctance to Visit Vimalakirti, in which the great disciple Upali admonishes two monks who have committed some unknown infraction.
The nature of this infraction is explained in the chinese commentarial literature and it is also found in the Vinaya. It goes roughly like this:

"A monk was sleeping by the road during daytime, and he had an erection in his sleep. Am unmarried woman walking on the road passes by and sees his erection, and she takes advantage of the sleeping monk. This monk tells of the incident to another monk, who also goes to sleep on the side of the road, hoping to get similar treatment from the unmarried woman, when he has fallen asleep and probably has an erection in his sleep."

Discussion concerning this infraction really exists in the Vinaya. Obviously only the second monk's action is intentional.
That's a classic.

Which commentary was that?
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Aemilius
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Re: Mahayana texts for beginners

Post by Aemilius »

It was in one of the books that The Corporate Body of the Buddha Educational Foundation in Taiwan sends a out free of charge. I can't remember its name.
svaha
"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Sarvē mānavāḥ svatantrāḥ samutpannāḥ vartantē api ca, gauravadr̥śā adhikāradr̥śā ca samānāḥ ēva vartantē. Ētē sarvē cētanā-tarka-śaktibhyāṁ susampannāḥ santi. Api ca, sarvē’pi bandhutva-bhāvanayā parasparaṁ vyavaharantu."
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1. (in english and sanskrit)
TheMahayanist
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Re: Mahayana texts for beginners

Post by TheMahayanist »

khemindas wrote: Thu Apr 11, 2024 5:23 pm Can you recommend basic and simple Mahayana sutras for beginners, I've finished reading four nikaya of pali canon and particularly some parts of khuddaka nikaya and vibhanga of vinaya pitaka. So from what is better to start learn Mahayana?
BDK America has a great assortment of books.
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curtstein
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Re: Mahayana texts for beginners

Post by curtstein »

They're a little off the beaten path, but I personally like these three Sutras and I think they are as accessible as any to a beginner (and more accessible than many): (1) The Akashagarbha Sutra, (2) The Question of Maitreya, (3) The Lalitavistara.

First: The Ākāśagarbha Sūtra
In his "Way of the Bodhisattva", Shantideva actually suggests this Sutra as the first one that should be read. That is quite an endorsement! I like the Sutra because it explicitly talks about what teachings are most important for "beginner Bodhisattvas":
Listen well, companions: For bodhisattva mahāsattvas who are beginners one must explain the six perfections with a reference point, with the notion that suchness is expressible. That is to say, they must understand the nature of the great elements to be arising and perishing. Only then should they familiarize themselves with the idea that all phenomena are in essence inexpressible, nonarising, nonceasing, not perceptible, and not in the slightest way existing.
The 84000 translation is available free online:
https://read.84000.co/translation/toh260.html
Also there is a very nice short video by one of the translators, Julia Stenzel:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DF6jsTuJLzo

Second: The Question of Maitreya
In Buddhist teachings there are lots of lists, and much of this Sutra is a list of lists. Normally this is the kind of thing that makes my eyes glaze over, but this Sutra has an especially nice list of lists that constitutes a very handy and succinct catalogue of basic Buddhist teachings, starting with Bodhicitta (the right place to start!). Also I like the way that Ananda asks the rather indelicate question of why it is taking Maitreya so long to become a Buddha? 2500 years later I have the same question: what is taking him so long???
Again, the 84000 translation is available free online:
https://read.84000.co/translation/toh85.html
Another reason I like this Sutra is because Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche has a good commentary, in two videos. A lot of his commentary is focussed on the Buddha's answer to Ananda's question:
https://siddharthasintent.org/recording ... -maitreya/

Third: The Lalitavistara
This is a very elaborate biography of Shakyamuni Buddha. The life of the Buddha is obviously something that all Buddhists should be familiar with, and is definitely a suitable subject for beginners. One thing I really like about the Lalitavistara is that it offers a good antidote to attempts to strip Buddhism, and the life of the Buddha, of anything and everything that doesn't fit a very narrow minded kind of "modernism" that turns its nose up at anything remotely "supernatural". Such a mindset is challenged from the beginning, since Lalitavistara begins with the future Buddha up in Tushita Heaven!
Once more, the 84000 translation is freely available online (their long "Introduction is very good!):
https://read.84000.co/translation/toh95.html
One of the translators, Catherine Dalton, has a video here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=---boBzzXBY
And Jonathan Silk has an interesting article from 2022 on "Recent Scholarship on the Lalitavistara" (in which he is rather critical of the 84000 translation):
https://www.academia.edu/83898564/Recen ... itavistara
"there's no one here. there's only you and me." leonard cohen
https://www.mindisbuddha.org/
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