Sacred Texts in World Religions
Some sacred texts form the cornerstone of a religion, instilling law, character and spirituality in its people; some are narratives of historical figures in the faith. A text might be viewed as the unchanging “Word of God;” other texts are revised and expanded by later generations. Texts can be literal, or metaphorical, or both. This guide shows you how to find online versions, commentary and historical context of scriptures for Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism.
The Buddhist canon consists of the Sutras: the words and teachings of the Buddha. There are also a number of noncanonical Buddhist texts that provide supplementary teachings, rules of conduct and commentary on transitional states after death. The Tripitaka (Pali Canon), Mahayana Sutras and the Tibetan Book of the Dead are three major noncanonical Buddhist texts. The Pali Canon, which means “the word of Buddha,” includes some of the Buddha’s discourse, but it also incorporates the teachings of his pupils. Different sects of Buddhism follow canonical and noncanonical scriptures to varying degrees.
- Unlike other Buddhists, Zen Buddhists don’t emphasize the sacred texts. The very nature of Zen Buddhism is transcending intellect, logic and language, drawing nearer to the meaning of life through meditation.
To learn about the texts …
The Buddhist Society
outlines the different scripture sets, including the Pali Canon, Sanskrit Canon, Mahayana texts, Tantric texts and the Tibetan and Mongolian Canon. Find them by clicking the "Scriptures" link on the left sidebar.
’s "Sutras" page summarizes the significance of ancient Buddhist texts, provides actual scriptures and writings, as well as links to contemporary expert analyses of the sutras. Go to "The Buddhist Scriptures
" for an introductory essay on the topic. The "Buddhist File Library
" provides links to many texts from different Buddhist sects, including Theravada, Mahayana, Tibetan and Zen/Chan writings.
To access texts and commentary …
The Internet Sacred Text Archive
has a large holding of Buddhist scripture and scholarly books and essays from the public domain. This is probably the best selection available on the Web, as it includes such renowned pieces as the Zen classic by Ekai, “The Gateless Gate
,” and Dwight Goddard's “A Buddhist Bible
.” It has texts from nearly all Buddhist sects, most of which can be found in their entirety, and in English. Take advantage of this great resource.
For the Pali Canon ...
Access to Insight
claims to have the largest collection of English-language texts from the Tipitaka, or Pali Canon. Acccording to the site, several of the lesser-known books have not been translated into English; it’s therefore impossible to read the entire canon without learning Pali.
Pali Text Society
publishes English translations and ancillary works related to the study of the Pali Canon; all are available for purchase on this UK-based site. Choose a publication from the left sidebar. Note: as shipping and monetary conversions must be calculated, buyers receive an invoice.
For the Sanskrit Canon ...
The Digital Sanskrit Buddhist Canon
Web site, a joint project of the University of the West in Los Angeles and the Nagarjuna Institute of Exact Methods in Nepal, offers free online access to the Sanskrit version of the Canon.
Christianity combines the Jewish Old Testament with the New Testament to form the Christian Bible, ... read more »
The Vedas, or “Books of Knowledge,” are the foremost sacred texts in Hinduism. These ... read more »
As the third of the Abrahamic religions, Muslims respect the Old and New Testaments, and consider ... read more »
Judaism is the oldest of the Abrahamic religions, and its primary sacred text is the Tanach, or the ... read more »
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