Tipitaka ╗ Sutta
Pitaka ╗ Context of the Majjhima Nikaya
- The Majjhima Nikaya
- The Middle Length Discourses
The Majjhima Nikaya, or "Middle-length Discourses" of the Buddha, is the
second of the five nikayas, or collections, in the Sutta
Pitaka of the Tipitaka.
This nikaya consists of 152 discourses of the Buddha, which together constitute a
comprehensive body of teaching concerning all aspects of the Buddha's teachings.
An excellent modern translation of the Majjhima Nikaya may be found in The Middle
Length Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya, translated
by Bhikkhu Đanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1995). The
Introduction to that book is an extraordinary synopsis of the Buddha's teachings in
general, and of their expression in the Majjhima in particular.
The sutta summaries appearing below that are marked "[BB]" were adapted from
Bhikkhu Bodhi's summaries (in The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha) and used
with permission. Those marked "[TB]" were provided by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.
Selected suttas from the Majjhima Nikaya
Note: Unless otherwise indicated, these suttas were translated from the Pali by
Thanissaro Bhikkhu. An anthology of Thanissaro Bhikkhu's sutta translations is also
available in Microsoft Word 6 (Macintosh/Windows) format.
- Mulapariyaya Sutta (MN 1) -- The Root Sequence. In
this difficult but important sutta the Buddha reviews in depth one of the most fundamental
principles of Buddhist thought and practice: namely, that there is no thing -- not even
Nibbana itself -- that can rightly be regarded as the source from which all phenomena and
- Sabbasava Sutta (MN 2) -- All the Fermentations. The
Buddha teaches seven methods for eliminating the deeply-rooted defilements in the mind
(sensuality, becoming, views, and ignorance) that obstruct the realization of Awakening.
- Bhaya-bherava Sutta (MN 4) -- Fear & Terror. What
does it take to be able to live in solitude in the wilderness, completely free of fear?
The Buddha explains.
- Vatthupama Sutta (MN 7) -- The Simile of the Cloth
[Nyanaponika Thera, tr.]. With a simple simile the Buddha illustrates the difference
between a defiled mind and a pure mind. [BB]
- Sallekha Sutta (MN 8) -- The Discourse on Effacement
[Nyanaponika Thera, tr.]. The Buddha explains how the unskillful qualities in the heart
are to be effaced through meditation.
- Sammaditthi Sutta (MN 9) -- The Discourse on Right View
[Đanamoli Thera and Bhikkhu Bodhi, trs.]. A long and important discourse by Ven.
Sariputta, with separate sections on the wholesome and the unwholesome, nutriment, the
Four Noble Truths, the twelve factors of dependent origination, and the taints. [BB]
- Satipatthana Sutta (MN 10) -- Frames of
Reference/Foundations of Mindfulness. This sutta offers comprehensive practical
instructions on the practice of mindfulness meditation. [The text of this sutta is
identical to that of the Maha-Satipatthana Sutta (DN 22),
except that the Digha version has a more detailed exposition of the Four Noble Truths
(sections 5a,b,c and d in part D of that version).]
- Cula-Sihanada Sutta (MN 11) -- The Shorter Discourse on
the Lion's Roar [Đanamoli Thera and Bhikkhu Bodhi, trs.]. The Buddha declares that
only through practicing in accord with the Dhamma can Awakening be realized. His teaching
is distinguished from those of other religions and philosophies through its unique
rejection of all doctrines of self. [BB]
- Maha-Sihanada Sutta (MN 12) -- The Great Discourse on
the Lion's Roar [Đanamoli Thera and Bhikkhu Bodhi, trs.]. The Buddha expounds the ten
powers of a Tathagata, his four kinds of intrepidity, and other superior qualities which
entitle him to "roar his lion's roar in the assemblies." [BB]
- Maha-Dukkhakkhandha Sutta (MN 13) -- The Greater
Discourse on the Mass of Suffering (excerpt). In this excerpt, the Buddha
describes the drawbacks of the pursuit of sensual pleasures. Such pursuits invariably
result in pain and unhappiness.
- Madhupindika Sutta (MN 18) -- The Ball of Honey. A
man looking for an idle argument asks the Buddha what his doctrine is. The Buddha's answer
mystifies not only the man, but also a number of monks. Ven. Maha Kaccayana finally
provides an explanation, and in the course of doing so analyzes what is needed for the
psychological sources of conflict to be brought to an end.
- Dvedhavitakka Sutta (MN 19) -- Two Sorts of Thinking.
The Buddha recounts the events leading up to his Awakening, and describes his discovery
that thoughts connected with sensuality, ill-will, and harmfulness do not lead one to
Awakening, while those connected with their opposites (renunciation, non ill-will, and
- Vitakkasanthana Sutta (MN 20) -- The Relaxation of
Thoughts. The Buddha offers five practical methods of responding wisely to unskillful
thoughts (thoughts connected with desire, aversion, or delusion).
- Kakacupama Sutta (MN 21) -- The Simile of the Saw (excerpt).
The Buddha tells the story of a wise slave who deliberately tests her mistress's patience,
thereby exposing the mistress's lack of forbearance. The Buddha invokes several memorable
similes here to illustrate how we should develop patience.
- Ratha-vinita Sutta (MN 24) -- Relay Chariots. Using
the simile of a set of relay chariots, Ven. Punna Mantaniputta explains the relationship
of the factors of the path to the goal of the holy life. [TB]
- Maha-Saccaka Sutta (MN 36) -- The Greater Discourse to
Saccaka (excerpt). In this excerpt, the Buddha recounts his early meditation
practices and austerities that led him finally to discover the path to Awakening.
- Saleyyaka Sutta (MN 41) -- The Brahmins of Sala
[Đanamoli Thera, tr.]. The Buddha explains to a group of brahmin householders how one's
actions -- by body, speech, and mind -- determine one's future fortune.
- Cula-Vedalla Sutta (MN 44) -- The Shorter Set of
Questions-and-Answers. Dhammadinna the nun fields a series of Dhamma questions put to
her by her former husband: questions on self-identification, cessation, penetration into
the true nature of feeling, and the attainment of Nibbana.
- Cula-Dhammasamadana Sutta (MN 45) -- The Shorter
Discourse on Taking on Practices. Is something right because it feels right? [TB]
- Kukkuravatika Sutta (MN 57) -- The Dog-duty Ascetic
[Đanamoli Thera, tr.]. If you act like a dog, that's what you'll become. This touching
sutta serves as a powerful reminder that we had better choose our actions with care.
- Abhaya Sutta (MN 58) -- To Prince Abhaya (On Right
Speech). The Buddha explains the criteria for determining whether or not something is
worth saying. This discourse is a beautiful example of the Buddha's skill as teacher: not
only does he speak here about right speech, but he also shows right speech in
- Bahuvedaniya Sutta (MN 59) -- The Many Kinds of Feeling. After
resolving a disagreement about the classification of feelings, the Buddha enumerates the
different kinds of pleasure and joy that beings can experience. [BB] [The text of this
sutta is identical to that of SN XXXVI.19.]
- Ambalatthikarahulovada Sutta (MN 61) -- Advice to Rahula
at Amballatthika. The Buddha fiercely admonishes his son, the novice Rahula, on the
dangers of lying and stresses the importance of constant reflection on one's motives.
- Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta (MN 63) -- The Shorter
Instructions to Malunkya. Ven. Malunkyaputta threatens to disrobe unless the Buddha
answers all his speculative metaphysical questions. Using the famous simile of a man shot
by a poison arrow, the Buddha reminds him that some questions are simply not worth asking.
- Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta (MN 72) -- To Vacchagotta on Fire.
The Buddha explains to a wanderer why he does not hold any speculative views. Using the
simile of an extinguished fire he illustrates the destiny of the liberated being. [BB]
[For more on the use of fire imagery in early Buddhist texts, see the book Mind Like Fire Unbound.]
- Magandiya Sutta (MN 75) -- To Magandiya (excerpt).
In this passage, the Buddha teaches a member of the Hedonist sect about the nature of true
pleasure and true health. [TB]
- Ratthapala Sutta (MN 82) -- About Ratthapala (excerpt).
In this excerpt, Ratthapala recalls four observations about the world that prompted him,
as a healthy and wealthy young man, to leave the household life and become a monk.
- Piyajatika Sutta (MN 87) -- From One Who Is Dear.
King Pasenadi of Kosala figures prominently in many discourses as a devout follower of the
Buddha. In this discourse we learn how -- thanks to Queen Mallika's astuteness -- the king
first became favorably disposed toward the Buddha. [TB]
- Canki Sutta (MN 95) -- With Canki (excerpt).
A pompous brahmin teenager questions the Buddha about safeguarding, awakening to, and
attaining the truth. In the course of his answer, the Buddha describes the criteria for
choosing a reliable teacher and how best to learn from such a person. [TB]
- Sunakkhatta Sutta (MN 105) -- To Sunakkhatta. The
Buddha addresses the problem of meditators who overestimate their progress in meditation.
The sutta ends with a warning: anyone who claims enlightenment as license for unrestrained
behavior is like someone who fails to follow the doctor's orders after surgery, who
knowingly drinks a cup of poison, or who deliberately extends a hand toward a deadly
- Ganaka-Moggallana Sutta (MN 107) -- The Discourse to
Ganaka-Moggallana [I.B. Horner, tr.]. The Buddha sets forth the gradual training of
the Buddhist monk and describes himself as a "shower of the way." [BB]
- Gopaka-Moggallana Sutta (MN 108) -- Moggallana the
Guardsman. Ven. Ananda explains how the Sangha maintains its unity and internal
discipline after the passing away of the Buddha. [BB] Interestingly, this sutta also shows
that early Buddhist practice had no room for many practices that developed in later
Buddhist traditions, such as appointed lineage holders, elected ecclesiastical heads, or
the use of mental defilements as a basis for concentration practice. [TB]
- Cula-Punnama Sutta (MN 110) -- The Shorter Discourse
on the Full-moon Night. How to recognize -- and become -- a person of integrity.
- Maha-Cattarisaka Sutta (MN 117) -- The Great Forty.
On the nature of noble right concentration, and its interdependence with all the factors
of the noble eightfold path.
- Anapanasati Sutta (MN 118) -- Mindfulness of Breathing.
One of the most important texts for beginning and veteran meditators alike, this sutta is
the Buddha's "roadmap" to the entire course of meditation practice, using the
vehicle of breath meditation. The simple practice of mindfulness of breathing leads the
practitioner gradually through 16 successive phases of development, culminating in full
- Kayagata-sati Sutta (MN 119) -- Mindfulness Immersed
in the Body. This sutta serves as a companion to the Anapanasati
Sutta, and explains the importance of establishing a broad awareness of the
body in meditation to develop jhana. The Buddha uses some lovely similes here!
- Cula-Su˝˝ata Sutta (MN 121) -- The Lesser Discourse
on Emptiness. The Buddha instructs Ven. Ananda on the practice that leads to the
"entry into emptiness," the doorway to liberation. [TB]
- Dantabhumi Sutta (MN 125) -- The Discourse on the
"Tamed Stage" [I.B. Horner, tr.]. By analogy with the taming of an elephant,
the Buddha explains how he tames his disciples. [BB]
- Bhumija Sutta (MN 126) -- To Bhumija. Does the
desire for Awakening get in the way of Awakening? According to this discourse, the
question of desiring or not desiring is irrelevant as long as one develops the appropriate
qualities that constitute the path to Awakening. The discourse is also very clear on the
point that there are right and wrong paths of practice: as a geographer might say, not
every river flows to the sea. [TB]
- Bhaddekaratta Sutta (MN 131) -- An Auspicious Day.
The Buddha emphasizes the urgency for putting forth effort right now to develop
insight. Now is all we have, "for -- who knows? -- tomorrow death may come."
- Cula-Kammavibhanga Sutta (MN 135) -- The Shorter
Exposition of Kamma [Đanamoli Thera, tr.]. The Buddha explains how kamma accounts for
the fortune and misfortune of beings. [BB]
- Maha-Kammavibhanga Sutta (MN 136) -- The Greater
Exposition of Kamma [Đanamoli Thera, tr.]. The Buddha reveals some of the subtle
complexities in the workings of kamma. [BB]
- Uddesa-vibhanga Sutta (MN 138) -- An Analysis of the
Statement. How to attend to outside objects without letting the mind become externally
scattered, and how to focus in strong states of absorption without becoming internally
fixated. It's not easy, but it can be done. [TB]
- Dhatu-vibhanga Sutta (MN 140) -- An Analysis of the
Properties. A poignant story in which a wanderer, searching for the Buddha, actually
meets the Buddha without realizing it. He recognizes his mistake only after the Buddha
teaches him a profound discourse on four determinations and the six properties of
experience. An excellent illustration of the Buddha's statement, "Whoever sees the
Dhamma sees me." [TB]
- Chachakka Sutta (MN 148) -- The Six Sextets. How
the contemplation of the six senses leads to an understanding of not-self and, ultimately,
- Maha-Salayatanika Sutta (MN 149) -- The Great Six
Sense-media Discourse. How a clear understanding of the six senses leads to the
development of the Wings to Awakening and to final release.
- Indriya-bhavana Sutta (MN 152) -- The Development of
the Faculties. What qualifies as full mastery of the senses?