Buddhism is an ancient religion that’s over two thousand years old. For a beginner, exploring this spiritual practice might seem daunting. Especially because there are so many ancient Buddhist texts with incredible lessons just waiting to be discovered.
You don’t need to be a Buddhist to take a leaf out of these ancient Buddhist texts. In fact, these lessons can be applied to your everyday life, right here, right now. That’s how accessible and relevant they truly are.
So, what are the most influential Buddhists texts out there and how can we benefit from them today? We’re going to cover 4 essential Buddhist texts and break down the key takeaways from each:
- The legend of the fish basket
- The Metta Sutta: the ultimate guide to loving kindness
- The Lankavatara Sutra
- The Kalama Sutta
What Are Buddhist Texts And Sutras?
Many of the core teachings of Buddhism come from the Buddha.
But, who was the Buddha? He was a man named Siddhārtha Gautama who lived and taught in India between the 6th and 4th century BCE.
Many of the Buddha’s lessons have been transformed into sutras. Buddhist sutras, or suttas, are short passages that communicate a core teaching. Some are just a few lines long. Other span many pages.
These Buddhist sutras make up many of the most essential Buddhist texts we have access to today.
What is the Buddhist holy book called?
Sacred texts are often essential to spiritual practices. Christians follow the Bible. Muslims have the Quran.
So, is there a holy book of Buddhism?
Well, Buddhists actually have three major Buddhist texts: the Tripitaka, the Mahayana Sutras, and the Tibetan Book of the Dead. But don’t worry — we’re not going to throw all three at you today.
Instead, we’re going to focus on four of the most powerful Buddhist sutras and the lessons we can use in our lives today.
What are the 3 main beliefs of Buddhism?
The law of Karma in Buddhism says “for every event that occurs, there will follow another event whose existence was caused by the first, and this second event will be pleasant or unpleasant according to its cause.”
But the law of Karma is not the only thing that governs the beliefs of Buddhists.
The 3 universal truths of Buddhism are:
- Nothing is lost in the universe.
- Everything changes.
- The Law of Cause and Effect.
4 Essential Buddhist Texts To Inspire And Engage
Ready for a crash course in Buddhism? Let’s begin with the legend of the fish basket.
1. The legend of the fish basket
The Buddhist story of the fish basket tells the tale of a young girl who arrives in a village selling fish. The men in the village begging for her hand in marriage. She tells them that the first man to successfully recite the Lotus Sutra will be her husband.
The village had never heard the teachings of the Buddha before. As a result, they had to study the sutras carefully in order to recite them when the girl returned.
When the young girl selling fish returned to the village, only one man could successfully recite the sutras. She agreed to marry him, but on the night of their wedding, she tragically died of a heart attack.
The young man was devastated. As they prepared to bury the young bride, a monk appeared. He told them that the girl’s coffin was empty and there was no reason for mourning. And he was right—the coffin was empty!
In fact, the young girl had been a manifestation of the beloved bodhisattva, Guan Yin. She had wanted to spread the teachings of the Buddha. Once her job was done, she was free to leave.
The legend of the fish basket communicates two very essential lessons: never judge a book by its cover and keep an eye out for important teachings because they may come in any form.
2. The Metta Sutta: the ultimate guide to loving kindness
Metta Sutta is one of the most popular Buddhist texts. This sutra covers an essential Buddhist ideal: loving kindness.
As a matter of fact, the Metta Sutta is one of the Buddha’s most influential teachings.
In Pali, the word metta means loving kindness. And the Metta Sutta not only explains what loving kindness is but how to put it into everyday practice.
The best way to understand what the Metta Sutta is all about is to read some of its core teachings. Here are some of the key passages from the Metta Sutta:
“Let him cultivate boundless thoughts of loving kindness towards the whole world — above, below and all around, unobstructed, free from hatred and enmity.”
“May all beings be well and safe, may their hearts rejoice.”
“Just as a mother would protect her only child with her own life, even so, let him cultivate boundless thoughts of loving kindness towards all beings.”
The Metta Sutta is all about generating feelings of love and benevolence toward others — not only those you know but those you don’t know. The Metta Sutta encourages you to generate love and goodwill even toward those who have wronged you.
One of the best ways to put the Metta Sutta into practice? Buddhist Metta meditation. It’s a serious game changer.
3. The Lankavatara Sutra: consciousness is key
The Lankavatara Sutra is one of the more existential Buddhist texts, but don’t worry. We’re going to break everything down into bite-sized pieces.
The Lankavatara Sutra is popular in Mahayana Buddhism — the largest and most prominent branch of Buddhism in the world.
This sutra is a record of a conversation the Buddha had with a bodhisattva named Mahāmati. In this conversation, the Buddha explained to Mahāmati that our consciousness is our only true reality.
“My teaching is based upon the recognition that the objective world, like a vision, is a manifestation of the mind itself,” said the Buddha.
The Lankavatara Sutra encourages Buddhist practitioners to recognize the unique nature of our reality. There is no such thing as a single objective reality. Everyone’s reality is unique, and it’s based entirely on our own perceptions, beliefs, and values.
4. The Kalama Sutta: question everything
The final Buddhist text we’ll explore is the Kalama Sutta: the Buddha’s finest teaching on free inquiry.
The Buddha was a big advocate of critical thinking. In fact, he encouraged his followers to question everything, including his own teachings.
“Don’t go by reports —” explained the Buddha, “— by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought.”
For the Buddha, nothing was above being questioned. In the Kalama Sutta, he instructed the Kalama clan to use their instincts to decide what to believe and who to follow.
Essentially: if the old ways don’t work, remake them. If the old ideas are outdated, find new ones.
Never be afraid to question the norm. Always stand up for what you know to be right. You won’t be led astray so long as you listen to your instincts and trust your gut.
Finding and using your voice is an essential part of living the life you came here to live.
—Deborah King, Author of Mindvalley’s Be A Modern Master Program
So, there you have it. Four of the most essential Buddhist texts for deeper insight and inspiration.
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Which of these sutras spoke to you most? Let us know in the comments below.