Major Mahayana Sutras

Jewels of the Chinese Mahayana Canon

Buddhists have no universally agreed-upon "Bible." In fact, there are three separate canons of Buddhist scriptures. The Mahayana Sutras are part of what's called the Chinese Canon. Many of these sutras are also included in the Tibetan Canon

The scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism.mostly were written between the 1st century BCE and the 5th century CE, although a few may have been written as late as the 7th century CE. The authors of these sutras are unknown. They take their authority from the many generations of teachers and scholars who have recognized their wisdom. 

The list below is not exhaustive, but these are some of the most commonly referenced sutras.

The Brahma Net (Brahmajala) Sutra

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The Brahma Net is a discourse on discipline and morality. In particular, it contains the Ten Bodhisattva Precepts. This Brahmajala Sutra should not be confused with the Brahmajala Sutta of the Tripitaka.

The Avatamsaka Sutra

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The Flower Garland Sutra, sometimes called the Flower Ornament Sutra, is a collection of smaller sutras that emphasize the interpenetration of all things. That is, all things and all beings not only reflect all other things and beings but also the Absolute in its totality. The Flower Garland is particularly important to the Hua-yen (Kegon) and Ch'an (Zen) schools.

The Heroic Gate (Shurangama) Sutra


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Also called "The Sutra of the Heroic One," the Shurangama (also spelled Suramgama or Surangama) stresses the importance of samadhi to the realization of enlightenment. The sutra also describes 25 gates to ​the realization of one's true nature.

The Jewel Heap (Ratnakuta) Sutra

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One of the oldest of the Mahayana Sutras, the Jewel Heap discusses the Middle Way. It provided a basis for the Madhyamaka teachings of Nagarjuna.

The Lankavatara Sutra

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Lankavatara means "entering into Sri Lanka." This sutra describes the Buddha answering questions at an assembly. He expounds upon the "mind only" doctrine, which teaches that individual things exist only as processes of knowing. Put another way, our minds perceive reality in terms of an observer (us) and distinctive things observed. But the sutra says that distinctive things have no identity outside of this perception.

This sutra also says that words are not necessary for the transmission of the dharma, a teaching particularly important to the Ch'an (Zen) school.

The Lotus (Saddharma Pundarika) Sutra

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The Lotus Sutra is one of the most well-known and venerated of the Mahayana Sutras. It is particularly important to the T'iantai (Tendai) and Nichiren schools, but it is revered by several other schools of Mahayana.

The Mahaparinirvana Sutra

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The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra is a collection of sutras said to have been delivered by the Buddha the night before his death. The sutras are primarily about the doctrine of Buddha-nature. The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra should not be confused with the Mahaparinibanna-sutra of the Pali Canon.

The Perfection of Wisdom (Prajnaparamita) Sutra


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The Perfection of Wisdom Sutra is a collection of about 40 sutras. Of these, the best known in the West are the Heart Sutra (Mahaprajnaparamita-hridaya-sutra) and the Diamond (or Diamond Cutter) Sutra (Vajracchedika-sutra). These two brief texts are among the most important of the Mahayana sutras, pointing in particular to the doctrine of sunyata ("emptiness").

The Pure Land Sutras

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Three sutras—the Amitabha; the Amitayurdhyana, also called the Sutra of Infinite Life; and the Aparimitayur—provide the doctrinal basis of the Pure Land school. The Amitabha and Aparimitayur are sometimes also called the shorter and longer Sukhavati-vyuha or Sukhavati Sutras.

The Vimalakirti Sutra


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In this sutra, the layman Vimalakirti expounds upon nonduality to a host of high-ranking bodhisattvas. Vimalakirti exemplifies the bodhisattva ideal and reveals that enlightenment is available to anyone, layperson or monastic.

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Your Citation
O'Brien, Barbara. "Major Mahayana Sutras." Learn Religions, Feb. 8, 2021, O'Brien, Barbara. (2021, February 8). Major Mahayana Sutras. Retrieved from O'Brien, Barbara. "Major Mahayana Sutras." Learn Religions. (accessed June 1, 2023).