Guide to Mahayana Sutras

These are the Sutras of the Mahayana Religion.

SutraOther NamesNotes
AmitabhaShorter Amitabha Sutra.Smaller Sukhavati-vyuha Sutra.Sutra of Amida.One of the three sutras that form the doctrinal basis of the Pureland School – the two others are Meditation Sutra and Longer Amitabha Sutra. It describes the Blessings and Virtues of Amitabha Buddha and his Pureland, and discusses rebirth.
AvatamsakaFlower Ornament Sutra.Flower Garland Sutra.Flower Adornment Sutra. Gandavyuha Sutra.Second longest sutra in the Mahayana Canon, (40 chapters). It consists of large important, independent sutras, namely: Gandavyuha Sutra, Dashabhumika Sutra, Amitayurdyhana Sutra. It records the higher teaching of the Buddha to Bodhisattvas and other high spiritual beings.
Brahma NetBrahmajala SutraThis contains the Ten Major Precepts of Mahayana followers, and the Bodhisattva Precepts.
DiamondVajracchedika Prajnaparamita SutraOne of the two most famous scriptures in the Prajnaparamita group of sutras (the other is the Heart Sutra). The Diamond Sutra sets forth the doctrines of Sunyata (emptiness) and Prajna (wisdom).
HeartPrajnaparamita-Hrdaya Sutra.One of the smallest sutras, and with the Diamond Sutra, one of the most popular of the 40 sutras, in the vast Prajnaparamita literature. Its emphasis is on emptiness.
Heroic Gate*Surangama Sutra.Emphasizes the power of Samadhi (meditation) and explains various methods of emptiness meditation. A key text of the Ch’an and Zen traditions. Claims that this sutra is apocryphal are credible and the reader should be advised as such.
Jewel HeapRatnakuta Sutra.One of the oldest sutras, which belongs to the Vaipulya group of 49 independent sutras. Summary: The philosophy of the middle is developed, which later becomes the basis for the Madhyamaka teaching of Najarjuna. It contains sutras on transcendental wisdom (Prajnaparamita Sutra) and the Longer Amitabha Sutra.
LankavataraA scriptural basis of the Yogacara and Zen Schools. It teaches subjective idealism based on the Buddha’s enlightenment, and doctrines of emptiness and mind only.
Longer Amitabhalarger Amitabha Sutra.Longer Sukhavativyuha Sutra.Sutra of Infinite Life.One of the three core Pueland texts. It explains cause and effect, and describes the Pureland.
LotusSaddharma Pundarika Sutra.Lotus of the Good Law.A major text, of which the Tendai (T’ien T’ai) use as a main scripture. It teaches the identification of the historical Buddha, with the Transcendental Buddha.
MeditationAmitayurdyhana Sutra.One of the three core texts of the Pureland school. It teaches meditation and visualisation.
Ten Stages ChapterDasabhumika Sutra.Sutra on the Ten Stages.This sutra is the 26th chapter of Avatamsaka Sutra, and is also an independent sutra. It establishes the ten stages of cultivation that the Bodhisattva must traverse on the path to enlightenment.
VimalakirtiThis is a philosophic dramatic discourse, in which basic Mahayana principles are presented in the form of a conversation between famous Buddhist figures, and the householder, Vimalakirti.

The Pali Suttas of the Theravada are considered preliminary teachings (pūrvaka); preparatory or foundational practices or disciplines.

Mahayana does not view preliminary/foundational teachings as “lesser”, rather the Mahayana is the completion of the path for those who have mastered the preliminary/foundational teachings, to take them all the way to enlightenment.

Zen students should be familiar with all of the Mahayana Sutras, however, the Avatamsaka, Diamond, Heart, and Heroic Gate are core Zen Sutras that all Zen students should thoroughly understand.

The Mahayana Canon contains a number of other manuscripts classified as Sutras that only expound further on the above list of core Mahayana Sutras.



* This may be an apocryphal manuscript.


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