Study Guide to the Digha Nikaya

This Sutta Study Guide is based on the Digha Nikaya, translated by Maurice Walshe, published by Wisdom Publications. All numerical references are to this edition. Some of the comments about the various Suttas are taken from the Access to Insight web site. The most important Suttas in the Digha Nikaya are #2, #22, #15, #16, #9 and #31.

Division One - The Moralities

This division gets its name because all 13 Suttas in it contain identical sections on sila - morality, virtue. There are many other sections that reappear in most of the Suttas. To get a good handle on The Moralities, first read and study DN#2 and DN# 9.
  1. Read DN#2 - Samaññaphala Sutta: The Fruits of the Spiritual Life

    This is, in the opinions of Matara Sri Nanarama Mahathera and his student Ven. Ayya Khema and her student Leigh Brasington, the most important Sutta in the whole Pali Cannon. It shows the entire path of training for the spiritual life from beginning to full Enlightenment. And its setting, with King Ajatasattu asking the Buddha to point out any "fruits of leading a spiritual life that are visible here and now", makes a wonderful story as well as showing the Buddha's marvelous powers of teaching.

  2. Read Visible Here and Now by Ven. Ayya Khema

    This is Ayya Khema's modern commentary on DN#2. It provides an enormous wealth of information that will serve you well as you read the other Suttas in the first division of the Digha Nikaya. This information will also serve to make clearer many points that occur throughout the Suttas. See also Bikkhu Bodhi's The Discourse on the Fruits of Recluseship (Buddhist Publication Society) which includes the Sutta and it's ancient Commentaries.

  3. Now reread DN#2 - Samaññaphala Sutta: The Fruits of the Spiritual Life

  4. Read DN#9 - Potthapada Sutta: States of Consciousness

    Notice the parts of DN#9 that are the same as DN#2. Notice that Jhanas 1 - 7 are discussed as well as Nirodha, rather than just Jhanas 1 - 4 as in DN#2. Notice the discussion on Not-Self that occurs in the last half of this Sutta.

  5. Now read Who is My-Self by Ven. Ayya Khema

    This is Ayya Khema's modern commentary on DN#9. It provides a great deal of clarification about the Jhanas and the Buddha's teaching on Not-Self.

  6. Reread DN#9 - Potthapada Sutta: States of Consciousness

Having read these two Suttas and Ayya Khema's commentaries on them, you are now ready to dive into the other 11 Suttas that make up the first division of the Digha Nikaya.

  1. Read DN#1 - Brahmajala Sutta: The Supreme Net of What the Teaching is Not

    In this Sutta, the Buddha describes all 62 possible views of the Self - The Supreme Net of Views - and shows that they are all false. The 62 views are expansions of the various views of Self that Potthapada proposed in DN#9. See also Bikkhu Bodhi's The All Embracing Net of Views (Buddhist Publication Society) which includes the Sutta and it's ancient Commentaries.

  2. Now you can read DN#3 - DN#8. Your previous study in the Digha Nikaya will make these quite accessible since they cover much the same ground.

  3. Read DN#10 - Subha Sutta: Virtue, Concentration and Wisdom

    This Sutta is a summary of the three training of the Buddha's path: Virtue, Concentration and Wisdom. It was given by Ananda after the Buddha had died. It's importance is that the training is here distilled to it's essence with very little extra story, and that it is given by someone other than the Buddha. This will be easy reading after all the previous Suttas.

  4. Read DN#11 - Kevaddha Sutta: What the Brahma Didn't Know

    This discourse explores the role of miracles and conversations with heavenly beings as a possible basis for faith and belief. The Buddha does not deny the reality of such experiences, but he points out that of all possible miracles - the only reliable one is the miracle of instruction in the proper training of the mind. As for heavenly beings, they are subject to greed, anger, and delusion, and so the information they give is not necessarily trustworthy. Thus the only valid basis for faith is the instruction that, when followed, brings about the end of one's own mental defilements. The tale that concludes the discourse is one of the finest examples of the early Buddhist sense of humor. It probably was a separate discourse at one time, perhaps also given to Kevaddha, that was later tacked onto the end of the "Miracle of Instruction" sutta. The verse at the end of this tale is an important early description of non-duality.

    Note that the section on the iddhis - supernormal powers - found at DN#2:85 - 96 do not appear in this Sutta; this may not be clear because of the ellipsis in the Wisdom edition.

  5. Read DN#12 - Lohicca Sutta: Good and Bad Teachers

    A non-Buddhist poses some good questions: If Dhamma is something that one must realize for oneself, then what is the role of a teacher? Are there any teachers who don't deserve some sort of criticism? The Buddha's reply includes a sweeping summary of the entire path of practice.

  6. Read DN#13 - Tevijja Sutta: The Threefold Knowledge

    Notice that this Sutta only discusses the training up thru the 1st Jhana. And that here the 1st Jhana is used as a basis from which to generate the Four Supreme Emotions - The Brahma Viharas - The Divine Abodes. By dwelling with a mind full of these emotions, one can enter the Realm of Brahma. It's important to note that in this sutta, the Buddha is using "the Realm of Brahma" as a metaphor for Nibbana - a point missed by the mainstream Theravadan tradition as well as by early translators.

Division Two - The Great Division

This division gets its name because many of the Suttas in this division have Maha (Great) as part of their title. The "Great" refers to their length, but it also is fitting because many of these Suttas are of great importance and make great reading. DN#15, DN#16 and DN#22 are the most important ones in this division.
  1. Read DN#14 - Mahapadana Sutta: The Great Discourse on the Lineage

    This Sutta mentions the previous Buddhas of our aeon and tells the story of the previous Buddha Vipassi. It is interesting mythology, but also notice that sections 2.17 - 2.22 describe his enlightenment. His story very closely parallels our Buddha's story and Vipassi's enlightenment comes about because he is able to formulate and penetrate Dependent Origination. See also my essay on this Sutta.

  2. Read The Translator's Introduction to the Mahanidana Sutta which can be found at the Access to Insight web site.

  3. Read DN#15 - Mahanidana Sutta: The Great Discourse on Origination

    Here we have Dependent Origination described in detail in the the Digha Nikaya. Notice that the description is first formulated "backwards" starting from Death and going to Birth, Becoming, etc. Notice that the Six Sense-Bases are left out(!). Also this formulation only goes back to the mutual conditioning of Mind-and-Body and Consciousness. This formulation (but with the Six Sense-Bases included) is probably the oldest formulation; the usual twelve links starting with Ignorance and Karminc Formations preceding Consciousness and Mind-and-Body is probably a later teaching that the Buddha came up with after he had penetrated the 10 reverse-link formulation during his quest for Enlightenment.

    The second half of this Sutta contains another teaching on Not-Self. This extremely important teaching shows that the Not-Self concept (called Emptiness in the Mahayana traditions of Tibetan and Zen Buddhism) rests upon seeing all phenomena as dependently originating - including "Me".

  4. Read Sister Vajira's Introduction to the Mahaparinibbana Sutta which can be found near the beginning of the version of the Sutta at the Access to Insight web site.

  5. Read DN#16 - Mahaparinibbana Sutta: The Great Passing of the Buddha

    This is the longest Sutta of them all. It contains much historical information as well as teachings. Notice how as the Buddha and Ananda traveled westward on the Buddha's last journey, he frequently gave discourses on Morality, Concentration and Wisdom - the theme of DN#2 - #12. I also have written an essay on this Sutta.

  6. DN#17 - Mahasudassana Sutta: The Great Splendor
    tells the story in full detail that was briefly alluded to by the Buddha at DN#16:5.17-18.

  7. DN#18, #19, #20 and #21 are all mythological in nature. Although they do not measure up to the quality of other Suttas in this division, they are nonetheless interesting for their cosmological disclosures. Be sure and read Walshe's introduction to Buddhist cosmology on pages 37 - 42 before reading these Suttas.

  8. Read DN#22 - Mahasatipatthana Sutta: The Four Foundations of Mindfulness

    Many people consider this to be the most important Sutta in the entire Pali Cannon. You should read it in Walshe's translation, then read the translation by Thanissaro Bhikkhu at the Access to Insight web site.

  9. Read Satipatthana by Analayo

    A thorough and insightful guide to this deceptively simple yet profound teaching.

  10. Read The Heart of Buddhist Meditation by Nyanaponika, Nyanaponika Thera

    This wonderful book is another modern commentary on the Mahasatipatthana Sutta. In addition to the commentary, there is another translation plus a nice selection of other Suttas. You might also read Four Foundations of Mindfulness by U Silananda.

  11. There are three more translations of most of the Satipatthana Sutta at MN#10 of Majjhima Nikaya The Middle-length Discourses including the translation at The Foundations of Mindfulness by Nyanasatta Thera. There is also Mahāsatipaṭṭhānasuttaṃ: The Long Discourse about the Ways of Attending to Mindfulness, edited and translated by Ānandajoti Bhikkhu. You can never study this Sutta too much.

  12. Read DN#23 - The Payasi Sutta

    This Sutta, spoken by Ven. Kumara-Kassapa, is noteworthy for all the little parables Kassapa uses to convince Prince Payasi to give up his wrong view.

Division Three - The Patika Division

This division gets its name from the first Sutta in the division. The Suttas here are by and large not as fine as found earlier in the Digha Nikaya. DN#28, DN#29 and DN#31 are the best of the bunch.
  1. DN#24 and DN#25 are both about other teachers who think they can best the Buddha; of course they fail.

    The first 6 sections of DN#24 appear to be a coherent sutta on its own. After that, DN#24 goes downhill with tacked on bits contradicting earlier bits. Not unamusing, as Maurice Walshe says.

  2. First read my essay on DN#26 and #27, then read these two Suttas - Cakkavatti-Sihanada Sutta and Aggañña Sutta - if you wish.

  3. Read DN#28 - Sampasadaniya Sutta: Serene Faith

    Ven. Sariputta proclaims his faith in the teaching of the Buddha and backs up his claim with well explained understanding.

  4. Read DN#29 - Pasadika Sutta: The Delightful Discourse
    is about good and bad teachers and also more on Not-Self. Notice that the Buddha did not use "No Self", he just pointed out that whatever anyone was claiming to be the self, was in fact dependently originated, and hence Not-Self.

  5. DN#30 - Lakkhana Sutta: The Marks of a Great Man
    The Brahmins at the time of the Buddha had a teaching that a "Great Man" had 32 special physical features. This Sutta indicates that the Buddha possessed all 32 of them. Note: long earlobes is NOT one of the 32 marks - they are due to wearing heavy earrings since birth - something royalty did in the time of the Buddha.

  6. Read DN#31 - Sigalaka Sutta: Advice to Lay People

    This is the famous Sutta giving the Buddha's advice to lay people - definitely one of the stronger Suttas of this division.

  7. DN#32 - Atanatiya Sutta: The Atanata Protective Verses
    is not particular interesting; but see footnote 986 for the introduction to this Sutta in Walshe's translation.

  8. DN#33 and DN#34 are Suttas full of lists-by-the-numbers. If you are looking for a particular list, you might find it here - otherwise, these are not so interesting.

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