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The 4 Buddhist Texts Every Seeker of Wisdom Must Read

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Summary: What are the most influential Buddhist texts out there? How can you benefit from them? Here are four essential ones, with key takeaways from each.

Buddhism is an ancient religion that’s over 2000 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 Buddhist religious texts out there, and how can we benefit from them today? Let’s take a look at four essential Buddhist texts and how they can be relevant to your life.

What Are the Buddhist Texts?

There are three major essential holy Buddhist texts: the Tripitaka, Mahayana Sutras, and the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

Many pieces of writing from the Buddha have been put together in the form of a collection of important Buddhist texts called sutras. Buddhist spiritual texts, known as sutras or suttas, are short passages that communicate a core teaching. Some are just a few lines long. Others span many pages.

The Buddhist sutras comprise many of the most essential Buddhist religious texts we can access today.

What is the Buddhist holy book called?

So, is there a holy book of Buddhism? Well, it’s not one Buddhist text per se, but they’re more commonly known as sacred texts. The main Buddhist texts are called Tripitaka, which means three baskets. It refers to three collections of the Buddha’s teachings:

  • Vinaya Pitaka: the collection of monastic codes
  • Sutra Pitaka: the collection of discourses given by the Buddha or his closest disciples
  • Abhidharma Pitaka: the collection of higher teachings

Sacred texts are often essential to spiritual practices. Christians have the Bible. Muslims have the Quran. Jews have the Torah. And Buddhists have sacred texts.

What are the three main beliefs of Buddhism?

The three universal truths of Buddhism are:

  1. Nothing is lost in the universe.
  2. Everything changes.
  3. The Law of Cause and Effect.

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.

A Buddhist monk in meditation prayer pose

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 start begging for her hand in marriage. She tells them that her husband will be the first man to successfully recite the Lotus Sutra.

The village had never heard the teachings of the Buddha before. As a result, they had to study the sutras carefully 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 she tragically died of a heart attack on the night of their wedding.

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 (an enlightened being)—Guanyin. 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 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 famous 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 also how to put it into everyday practice.

Reading some of its core teachings is the best way to understand what the Metta Sutta is all about. 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.

It’s the transformation of your beliefs that creates change in the physical plane.

Mahatria, trainer of Mindvalley’s A Journey to Infinitism Quest

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.

Going Back to Your Origin

Visionary spiritual leader and trainer of Mindvalley’s A Journey to Infinitism Quest Mahatria explains that the word ‘religion’ originates from the Latin word ‘religare,’ meaning ‘re-bind.’ He says, “It stands for again and origin, so the purpose of any religion is to lead you again to your origin, which is God.”

Call it God or universal consciousness; your origin is divinity, and being religious means living in ways that get you closer to your original essence. 

In other words, as long as you aspire to grow, transform, and evolve for your benefit and in service to others, you are living in alignment with your divine nature.

If this sounds like your deepest aspiration in life, Mindvalley is the right place for you to fulfill it and find like-minded people who will inspire and assist you on this journey back to your origin.

Images generated on Midjourney.

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