Sutras are the source of basic Buddhist teachings. The Pali Canon contains the Theravada sutras, or suttas, written, not surprisingly, in Pali. The Mahayana Canon, now primarily preserved in Chinese (although many of the original texts were in Sanskrit), contains versions of most of the Pali suttas, called agamas, and thousands of additional sutras, including the Prajnaparamita (“perfection of wisdom”) Sutras (including the Heart Sutraand the Diamond Sutra), the Avatamsaka Sutra, the Vimalakirti Sutra, theLotus Sutra, and the Lankavatara Sutra. These Mahayana texts are considered basic reference points of the Zen tradition. 

Not technically a sutra, but very important in the Theravada tradition, is the Dhammapada, a short text consisting of short verses in plain language. There are a number of English translations; Gil Fronsdahl’s is especially notable since he is both a scholar of Buddhism and a teacher in the Theravada tradition.

The sutras listed here emphasize the ones important to the Zen tradition; most are important to other Mahayana traditions as well. Because translations vary in quality, the links take you to either specific translations or (when there are several good options) a short list of specific translations. You are encouraged to look further, especially for useful commentaries. The traditions informing our practice are:

The Pali Canon

The Mahayana Canon