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A list of key readings about Buddhism.
Please sort and annotate in a user-friendly manner. For formatting, consider using automated reference wikification.

Works of scholars

For the general reader

  • Bechert, Heinz, & Gombrich, Richard, eds, The World of Buddhism: Buddhist Monks and Nuns in Society and Culture, Thames & Hudson, London, 1984: written by 11 scholars; includes nearly 300 illustrations, 82 in colour; arranged by country; assessed in 1987 as much the best (Macmillan Encyclopedia of Religion, volume 2, page 382)
  • Lopez, Donald S., Jr., Buddhism, Penguin/The Story of Buddhism: a Concise Guide to Its History and Teachings, Harper, San Francisco, 2001 (same book, though different pagination): arranged topically; rather impressionistic, not always making clear which Buddhists believe and practise which things


The following are covered in a comparative review.[1]

  • Cantwell, Cathy, Buddhism: the Basics, Routledge, 2010
  • Gethin, Rupert, Foundations of Buddhism, Oxford University Press, 1998; mainly on early Buddhism, which the author treats as the "foundations", always present in the background if not the foreground; the most widely used in academic courses
  • Harvey, Peter, Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices, Cambridge University Press, 2nd ed, 2012: teachings are embedded in historical context, but practices are dealt with in parallel
  • Lewis, Todd E. (ed.), Buddhists: Understanding Buddhism through the Lives of Practitioners, Wiley-Blackwell, Malden, Massachusetts, 2014
  • Mitchell, Donald S., and Jacoby, Sarah H., Buddhism: Introducing the Buddhist Experience, 3rd ed, Oxford University Press, 2014; review of 1st ed in Philosophy East and West, volume 54
  • Prebish, Charles S., & Keown, Damien, Introducing Buddhism, 2nd ed, Routledge, 2010
  • Robinson, Richard H., revised by Johnson, Willard L., and Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Buddhist Religions: a Historical Introduction, 5th ed, Wadsworth, Belmont, California, 2004: the s is new to this edition; particularly popular (Routledge Encyclopedia of Buddhism, page 629); review (Journal of the American Academy of Religion, volume 74, number 3, September 2006, pages 765-70) also makes brief comments on several other books in this list
  • Strong, John S., Buddhisms: an Introduction, Oneworld Pub., London, 2015
  • Trainor, Kevin (ed.), Buddhism: the Illustrated Guide, Oxford University Press, 2001: emphasis is on the visual (art etc.)
  • Wynne, Alexander, Buddhism: an Introduction, I. B. Tauris, London, 2014


  • Chapter 8 in Penguin Handbook of the World's Living Religions, 3rd edition, 2010
  • Kitagawa & Cummings, Buddhism & Asian History, Macmillan, 1989: selected articles from Encyclopedia of Religion, 15 vols, Macmillan, New York, 1987
  • Encyclopedia of Buddhism, 2 vols, Macmillan, 2004: written by over 200 scholars
  • Encyclopedia of Buddhism, Routledge, 2007: written by 23 scholars
  • Oxford Dictionary of Buddhism, 2003
  • Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, 2013
  • Brill's Encyclopedia of Buddhism, Leiden / Boston [Mass.], in progress:
    • Volume I: Literature and Languages, 2015
    • Volume II: Personages
    • Volume III: Life and Practice
    • Volume IV: Doctrine
    • Volume V: Space and Time
    • Volume VI: Index
    • rolling online update


  • Williams, Paul, ed, Buddhism, 8 vols, Routledge, 2005: reprints of papers by many scholars, 1958-2003

Compilations of Buddhist writings

  • Lopez, Donald S., Jr, ed, Buddhist Scriptures, Penguin Classics, 2004: a broad selection of Buddhist literature
  • Morgan, Kenneth W., ed, Path of the Buddha, Ronald Press, New York, 1956; reprint Motilal, Delhi, distributed by Wisdom Books: the editor travelled round the East asking leading Buddhists to recommend contributors; he ended up with 7 Japanese professors, 3 Theravada monks and a Tibetan official; at [2]

Some major scriptures

While all major Buddhist traditions recognize large quantities of scriptures, at least some of them give a special place to a few. For example:

  • In the Burmese tradition, the title of Teacher of Religion is awarded on the basis of an examination on three set texts:
    • Parajika: The Book of the Discipline, tr I.B. Horner, Pali Text Society, volume I, 1938, and the first part of volume II, 1940
    • Silakkhandha Vagga:
      • Dialogues of the Buddha, volume I, tr T.W. Rhys Davids, 1899, Pali Text Society
      • first 13 of Long Discourses of the Buddha, tr Mrs A. A. G. Bennett, Bombay, 1964
      • first part of Thus Have I Heard: the Long Discourses of the Buddha, tr Maurice Walshe, Wisdom Pubns, 1987, reprinted under the original subtitle
    • Dhammasangani:
      • A Buddhist Manual of Psychological Ethics, tr C.A.F. Rhys Davids, 1900, Royal Asiatic Society, reprinted Pali Text Society
      • tr U Kyaw Khine, Department for the Promotion and Propagation of the Sasana, Rangoon (1996?), reprinted Sri Satguru, Delhi, 1999
  • In the Chinese tradition and some Japanese ones the chief scripture is the Lotus Sutra:
    • Kern, H. (tr.). Saddharma Pundarîka or the Lotus of the True Law. Oxford 1884 (Clarendon Press) Sacred Books of the East, Vol. XXI, New York 1963 (Dover), Delhi 1968. Still the only English translation from Sanskrit. (All subsequent translations have been made from Kumārajīva's Chinese version.) online
    • translation by Katō Bunno, revised by Soothill, W. E.
      • first published in Soothill's abridgment The Lotus of the Wonderful Law or The Lotus Gospel. Oxford 1930 (Clarendon Press).
      • then published in full in Japan as Myohorengekyo (the Japanese title of the sutra)
      • then republished in full with two associated texts as The Threefold Lotus Sutra : The Sutra of Innumerable Meanings; The Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Law; The Sutra of Meditation on the Bodhisattva Universal Virtue. New York & Tōkyō 1975 (Weatherhill & Kōsei Publishing).
    • Murano Senchū (tr.). The Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Law. Tokyo 1974 (Nichiren Shu Headquarters). Second edition revised by Daniel B. Montgomery 1991.
    • Hurvitz, Leon (tr.). Scripture of the Lotus Blossom of the Fine Dharma: The Lotus Sutra. New York 1976 (Columbia University Press). Records of Civilization: Sources and Studies.
    • Kuo-lin Lethcoe (ed.). The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra with the Commentary of Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua, 10 volumes. Translated by the Buddhist Text Translation Society. San Francisco 1977 (Buddhist Text Translation Society).
    • Watson, Burton (tr.). The Lotus Sutra. New York 1993 (Columbia University Press) Translations from the Asian Classics. Follows the Soka Gakkai interpretation. online
    • Kubo Tsugunari, Yuyama Akira (tr.) The Lotus Sutra. Revised 2nd ed. Berkeley, Calif. : Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 2007. ISBN 9781886439399
    • Reeves, Gene (tr.) The Lotus Sutra : A Contemporary Translation of a Buddhist Classic. Boston 2008 (Wisdom Publications), ISBN 0-86171-571-3. xii + 492 pp. Includes also the opening and closing sutras The Sutra of Innumerable Meanings and The Sutra of Contemplation of the Dharma Practice of Universal Sage Bodhisattva.
  • In the Japanese Pure Land traditions (Jodo and Shin) there are three principal scriptures (each with a variety of titles):
    1. Long Pure Land Sutra
    2. Short Pure Land Sutra
    3. *Amitayurdhyana Sutra [although commonly referred to by this Sanskrit title, this work survives only in Chinese and may well never have existed in Sanskrit]
    • Translations:
      • 2 tr Samuel Beal, in A catena of Buddhist scriptures from the Chinese, Trubner & Sons, London, 1871
      • 1 & 2 tr F. Max Müller from Sanskrit & 3 tr Junjiro Takakusu in Buddhist Mahayana Texts, Sacred Books of the East, volume XLIX, Clarendon/Oxford, 1894, reprints by Dover, New York, and Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi
        • revision by Richard St Clair, online at 1, 3
      • 2 tr E. B. Landis: "The amitayus sutra tr. from the Korean", JBTSI, Vol. II, Pt. 3, (1894), pp. 1-6
      • 2 tr Nishu Utsuki from Chinese as Buddhabhasita-amitayuh--sutra (The smaller Sukhavati-vyuha) Kyoto: Educational Department of the West Hongwanji, 1924. online
      • 2 tr Mow-lam Wang from Chinese as Buddhabhahitamitayus-sutra (The smaller sukhavatl-vyuha). Shanghai, 1932.
      • 2 tr Sie hiao-yuan from Chinese as O-mi-t'o-king. The amitabha (vyuha) sutra, written in the garden of piety. Changsha: Commercial Press, 1941.
      • 2 tr P. C. Lee from Chinese in The two Buddhist books in mahayana Hong Kong: The Commerclal Press, Ltd., 1960.
      • 2 tr Ronald Epstein, first published in Vajra Bodhi Sea, No. 9 (Dec., 1970), pp. 11-21. Reprinted in Hua, A General Explanation of the Buddha Speaks of Amitabha Sutra. San Francisco: Buddhist Text Translation Society, 1974,online
      • 2 tr Garma C. C. Chang in A Treasury of Mahayana Sutras, Penn State University Press, 1983
      • 1-3 tr Inagaki Hisao from Chinese as The Three Pure Land Sutras, Numata Center for Buddhist Teaching and Research, 1995, 2nd revised ed 2003, online
      • 1 & 2 tr Luis O. Gomez from Sanskrit and Chinese as The Land of Bliss, Hawai'i University Press, 1996
      • 2, unidentified translator(s), online
  • Among the Tibetan traditions, the Sakya tradition gives pride of place to the Hevajra Tantra, which has been translated by David L. Snellgrove (Oxford University Press, 1959; the translation is in volume 1, Sanskrit and Tibetan in volume 2)

The above have all been translated into English, have a total length less than the Bible and might be considered a reasonably representative sample.


  1. Religion, vol. 46 (2016), no. 2, 221-46 / [1]