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Sutrascan be found in Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. As a religious teaching these short statements of belief are in their essence the same, however the sutra itself is different depending on the belief structure.
This blog will be focusing on the sutras within Buddhism.
In Buddhismthe sutras are believed to be the teachings of Buddha.
Pali is the religious language of Buddhism and originally used to identify oral teachings that were given by Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) himself.
The sutras were originally recited from memory by Buddha's disciples. For example Ananda was one of Buddha's closest companions and at the First Buddhist Council. Ananda was able to recall these messages, particularly the Sutra-pitaka which became part of the Tripitaka (the three baskets), one of the earliest collections of Buddhist scriptures. The Tripitaka was originally passed on orally and written down about 400 years after Buddha's death.
There are many different sutras within Buddhism as this practice is more than 2,500 years old. Several different sects of Buddhism have emerged each with it's own view on the teachings of Buddha and the sutras. Take a look at the 3 different types of Buddhism below and their definition of the sutras.
In Theravadan Buddhism, the sutras in the Pali Canon are thought to be from Buddha's actual spoken words and are the only teachings officially recognised as part of the sutra canon.
In Vajrayanan (and Tibetan) Buddhism it is not only Buddha who can give these teachings but also the disciples have given sutras that are part of the official canon. This means that the texts from the Pali canon are accepted and so are other texts not traced back to the original oral recitations of Buddha's disciple Ananda. These texts much like the originals are believed to include truth from Buddha-nature and therefor can be seen as important sutras.
This strand of Buddhism branched away from Theravandan Buddhism and is the largest sect. This strand of Buddhism acknowledges sutras other than the ones that came from Buddha. A popular one that you may have seen is the "Heart Sutra", this in one of the most improtant sutras in Mahayanan Buddhism that didn't come from Buddha. These later but important sutras are thought of as essential texts in many schools and included in the Northern or Mahayana Canon.
To get the full impact of the Sutra it can be useful to read some. Below is a part of the popular Heart Sutra translated by Thich Nhat Hanh and the full version can be found here.
this Body itself is Emptiness
and Emptiness itself is this Body.
This Body is not other than Emptiness
and Emptiness is not other than this Body.
Te same is true of Feelings,
Perceptions, Mental Formations,
The full Sutras are lengthy however small parts of these important messages can be seen on posters, flags, jewellery and clothing. It is important to understand the meaning behind the individual Sutra you carry or read as this will allow you to be aware of its profound teachings.
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