Majjhima Nikāya | The Middle Collection

The Majjhima Nikāya — the Middle Collection — is the second collection in the Sutta Piṭaka. It takes its name from the length of the discourses it contains: shorter than those in the Long Collection, longer than those in the Connected and Numerical Collections. There are 152 suttas in all. This anthology offers complete translations of 76 of these suttas, and excerpts from five.

  • MN 1  Mūlapariyāya Sutta | The Root Sequence  —  The Majjhima Nikāya opens with one of the few suttas where his listeners did NOT delight in his words. In it, the Buddha dismisses the tendency—common both in his time and in ours—to posit a metaphysical principle from which the universe emanates.
  • MN 2  Sabbāsava Sutta | All the Effluents  —  The Buddha lists seven approaches for eliminating the āsavas, or effluents: deep-seated defilements that “flow out” of the mind and prevent liberation.
  • MN 4  Bhaya-bherava Sutta | Fear & Terror  —  The qualities of mind necessary for living in the wilderness without fear.
  • MN 5  Anaṅgaṇa Sutta | Unblemished  —  Ven. Sāriputta explains the blemishes of the mind: the influences of evil, unskillful wishes.
  • MN 6  Ākaṅkheyya Sutta | If One Would Wish  —  The wishes that can be fulfilled by brining the precepts to perfection, being committed to inner tranquility of awareness, not neglecting jhāna, being endowed with insight, and frequenting empty dwellings.
  • MN 9  Sammādiṭṭhi Sutta | Right View  —  Ven. Sāriputta explains how the four noble truths, dependent co-arising, and the ending of the effluents can be derived from the basic dichotomy of skillful and unskillful actions.
  • MN 13  Mahā Dukkhakkhandha Sutta | The Great Mass of Stress  —  With graphic similes, this sutta describes the allure, the drawbacks, and the escape from sensuality, physical form, and feeling.
  • MN 14  Cūḷa Dukkhakkhandha Sutta | The Lesser Mass of Stress  —  How the pleasure of jhāna, rather than the practice of austerities, is what allows the mind both to avoid the drawbacks that come from attachment to sensual pleasures and to achieve the even greater pleasure of unbinding.
  • MN 18  Madhupiṇḍika Sutta | The Ball of Honey  —  A brahman looking for a debate asks the Buddha a question. The Buddha’s answer stymies him, and when the Buddha later explains his answer to the monks before returning to his dwelling, they are mystified as well. At their request, Ven. Mahā Kaccāna explains the Buddha’s explanation by showing how conflict derives from the perceptions and categories of papañca: mental objectification.
  • MN 19  Dvedhāvitakka Sutta | Two Sorts of Thinking  —  The Buddha describes how he found the path to awakening by dividing his thoughts into two sorts: those imbued with sensuality, ill will, or harmfulness on the one hand, and those imbued with renunciation, non-ill will, and harmlessness on the other.
  • MN 20  Vitakkasaṇṭhāna Sutta | The Relaxation of Thoughts  —  The Buddha offers five practical approaches for freeing the mind from distracting thoughts connected with desire, aversion, or delusion.
  • MN 21  Kakacūpama Sutta | The Simile of the Saw (Excerpt)  —  In this excerpt, he Buddha tells the story of a slave who deliberately tests her mistress’s reputation for gentleness and patience. He concludes with some memorable similes that suggest the right frame of mind for maintaining patience and goodwill in the face of the vagaries of human speech.
  • MN 22  Alagaddūpama Sutta | The Water-Snake Simile  —  After presenting two memorable similes for how and when the Dhamma is to be grasped, the Buddha discusses doctrines of self, rejecting not only those that define the self in terms of the aggregates, but also those that define it in terms of all that can be pondered and known, and in terms of the cosmos as a whole.
  • MN 24  Ratha-vinīta Sutta | Relay Chariots  —  Using the simile of a set of relay chariots, Ven. Puṇṇa Mantāṇiputta explains the relationship of the stages of the path to the goal of the holy life.
  • MN 26  Ariyapariyesana Sutta | The Noble Search  —  After distinguishing the noble search—for what is deathless—from the ignoble search—for what is subject to death—the Buddha relates the way he sought and found the deathless.
  • MN 27  Cūḷa Hatthipadopama Sutta | The Shorter Elephant Footprint Simile  —  When do you know for sure that the Buddha's awakening was genuine?
  • MN 28  Mahā Hatthipadopama Sutta | The Great Elephant Footprint Simile  —  After stating that all the Dhamma is contained in the four noble truths, Ven. Sāriputta appears to embark on a discussion of all four truths. His discussion, though, focuses on only one part of the first noble truth—the form clinging-aggregate—but in the course of the discussion he is able to show how all the other truths relate to that one part.
  • MN 29  Mahā Sāropama Sutta | The Longer Heartwood Simile Discourse  —  The Buddha compares the rewards of the practice to different parts of a large tree, with total release the most valuable part: the heartwood.
  • MN 30  Cūḷa Sāropama Sutta | The Shorter Heartwood Simile Discourse  —  The Buddha compares the rewards of the practice to different parts of a large tree, with total release the most valuable part: the heartwood.
  • MN 33  Mahā Gopālaka Sutta | The Greater Cowherd Discourse  —  Comparing the skills of a monk to those of a cowherd, the Buddha discusses eleven factors that obstruct, and eleven that promote, growth in line with his teaching.
  • MN 35  Cūḷa Saccaka Sutta | The Shorter Discourse to Saccaka  —  Saccaka, a sophist, seeks to overthrow the Buddha in argument—on the topic of self and not-self—but gets overthrown instead.
  • MN 36  Mahā Saccaka Sutta | The Longer Discourse to Saccaka  —  After being challenged by Saccaka—who had insinuated that the Buddha’s mind was not overcome by pleasure or pain simply because he had never experienced extreme pleasures or pains—the Buddha recounts the extreme pleasures and pains he encountered in his quest for awakening.
  • MN 38  Mahā Taṇhāsaṅkhaya Sutta | The Greater Craving-Destruction Discourse  —  A long discourse in which the Buddha discusses how a proper understanding of consciousness—as a causally-dependent process—not only helps to explain how it leads to birth but also is useful in inducing the dispassion that can actually bring about the end of birth.
  • MN 39  Mahā Assapura Sutta | The Greater Discourse at Assapura  —  The Buddha outlines the complete course of training by which one qualifies as a true contemplative.
  • MN 41  Sāleyyaka Sutta | (Brahmans) of Sāla  —  The Buddha discusses the ten unskillful types of bodily, verbal, and mental conduct, the corresponding ten types of skillful conduct, and the rewards of pursuing the course of skillful conduct.
  • MN 43  Mahā Vedalla Sutta | The Greater Set of Questions & Answers  —  Ven. Sāriputta answers questions on topics of discernment, the first jhāna, and the higher meditative attainments.
  • MN 44  Cūḷa Vedalla Sutta | The Shorter Set of Questions & Answers  —  Dhammadinnā the nun answers questions posed by her former husband, Visākha. Topics include: self-identification, the noble eightfold path, fabrication, feeling, and the cessation of feeling and perception.
  • MN 45  Cūḷa Dhammasamādāna Sutta | The Shorter Discourse on Taking on Practices  —  Is a practice right because it feels right?
  • MN 48  Kosambiyā Sutta | In Kosambī  —  Teaching a group of monks who have been quarreling over a minor matter, the Buddha outlines the causes for harmony in a group and reminds the monks of the purpose of their training: the right ending of suffering and stress.
  • MN 49  Brahma-nimantanika Sutta | The Brahmā Invitation  —  The Buddha, both through argument and a display of psychic powers, shows his superiority to two powerful but deluded opponents.
  • MN 52  Aṭṭhakanāgara Sutta | To the Man from Aṭṭhakanagara  —  Ven. Ānanda describes eleven “doors to the deathless.”
  • MN 53  Sekha-paṭipadā Sutta | The Practice for One in Training  —  “Consummate in clear-knowing and conduct” is a standard epithet for the Buddha. This sutta explains what it means, and shows that it can be used to describe an arahant as well.
  • MN 54  Potaliya Sutta | To Potaliya (Excerpt)  —  Using seven graphic similes for the drawbacks of sensual passions, the Buddha in this excerpt teaches Potaliya the householder what it means, in the discipline of a noble one, to have entirely cut off one's worldly affairs.
  • MN 58  Abhaya Rāja-kumāra Sutta | To Prince Abhaya  —  The Buddha explains his criteria for what is and isn’t worth saying. In so doing, he also displays his skill in answering questions. In other words, here he is not only talking about right speech but also demonstrating right speech in action.
  • MN 59  Bahuvedanīya Sutta | Many Things to Be Felt  —  The Buddha explains many ways of analyzing feelings and concludes by showing how to use the pleasures of concentration as a basis for reaching a pleasure—unbinding—that lies beyond feelings.
  • MN 60  Apaṇṇaka Sutta | A Safe Bet  —  The Buddha explains to a group of householders why certain tenets concerning action, rebirth, and non-material realities can be safely adopted as working hypotheses in the conduct of one’s life, prior to their being affirmed on awakening.
  • MN 61  Ambalaṭṭhikā Rāhulovāda Sutta | The Exhortation to Rāhula at Mango Stone  —  The Buddha teaches Rāhula, his son, the importance of truthfulness and one of the most essential lessons in Dhamma practice: the need to reflect on one’s actions before, while, and after doing them. (This sutta is apparently one of the series of passages that King Asoka recommended for study and reflection by all practicing Buddhists.)
  • MN 62  Mahā Rāhulovāda Sutta | The Greater Exhortation to Rāhula  —  The Buddha teaches breath meditation to his son, Rāhula, after first explaining series of reflections that put the mind in the proper frame to benefit most from that meditation.
  • MN 63  Cūḷa Māluṅkyovāda Sutta | The Shorter Exhortation to Māluṅkya  —  The famous simile of the man shot with the arrow: If you insist on engaging in useless theoretical discussions, you are like a man who, shot by an arrow, refuses to have the arrow removed until he has satisfied his curiosity about how the arrow was made and who shot it.
  • MN 66  Laḍukikopama Sutta | The Quail Simile  —  Fetters are strong, not because of their own tensile strength, but because of the tenacity of our unwillingness to let them go.
  • MN 70  Kīṭāgiri Sutta | At Kīṭāgiri  —  A discourse on the importance of conviction in the Buddhist path. Not only is conviction a prerequisite for listening to the Buddha’s teachings with respect, but—as is shown by the unusual discussion here categorizing the types of noble disciples—it can underlie the practice all the way to the deathless.
  • MN 72  Aggi-vacchagotta Sutta | To Vacchagotta on Fire  —  The Buddha explains why he doesn’t answer speculative questions about the world, the self, and the fate of an awakened person after death. He concludes with two similes—the extinguished fire and the boundless sea—to indicate how an awakened person lies beyond the categories of existence, non-existence, both, or neither.
  • MN 74  Dīghanakha Sutta | To LongNails  —  A discussion of how to abandon doctrinaire views of radical acceptance, radical rejection, and any combination of the two.
  • MN 75  Māgaṇḍiya Sutta | To Māgaṇḍiya (Excerpt)  —  In this excerpt, the Buddha teaches a member of a hedonist sect about the nature of true pleasure and true health.
  • MN 78  Samaṇa-Muṇḍika Sutta | Muṇḍika the Contemplative  —  The highest attainment is not simply the abandoning of unskillful actions and a reversion to childlike harmlessness. It requires first developing skillful habits and skillful resolves, and then letting them go.
  • MN 82  Raṭṭhapāla Sutta | About Raṭṭhapāla  —  The story of the monk whom the Buddha praised as foremost among his disciples in going forth through faith. The first part deals with his parents’ opposition to his ordaining, and their attempts to lure him back to the lay life after he was ordained. In the second part, he explains to a king what inspired him to go forth in the first place.
  • MN 86  Aṅgulimāla Sutta | About Aṅgulimāla  —  A murderous bandit takes refuge in the Buddha, develops a heart of compassion, and becomes an arahant.
  • MN 87  Piyajātika Sutta | 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.
  • MN 90  Kaṇṇakatthala Sutta | At Kaṇṇakatthala  —  A case study in how social advantages can be a spiritual liability. The discussion focuses on the factors needed for release—attainable by all people, regardless of caste or race—while the gently satirical frame story shows how the life of a king, or any highly placed person, presents obstacles to developing those factors.
  • MN 93  Assalāyana Sutta | With Assalāyana  —  The Buddha enters into a debate with a brahman on whether one's worth as a person is determined by birth or by behavior. Although some of the arguments he presents here deal with the specifics of brahman caste pride, many of them are applicable to issues of racism and nationalism in general.
  • MN 95  Caṅkī Sutta | With Caṅkī (Excerpt)  —  A pompous brahman 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.
  • MN 97  Dhanañjānin Sutta | To Dhanañjānin  —  A poignant story of a lay person whose welfare was of special concern to Ven. Sāriputta, this discourse teaches two lessons in heedfulness. (1) If you're engaging in wrong livelihood, don't expect to escape the karmic consequences even if you're doing it to fulfill your duties to your family, parents, or friends. (2) Don't be satisfied with mundane levels of attainment in meditation when there is still more to be done.
  • MN 101  Devadaha Sutta | At Devadaha  —  The Buddha refutes a Jain theory of kamma, which claims that one's present experience is determined solely by one’s past actions, and that the effects of past unskillful actions can be “burned away” through austerities. The Buddha here sketchs one of his most important teachings on kamma: that present experience is shaped both by the results of past deeds and by present actions. This interaction of present and past is what opens up the possibility of awakening.
  • MN 102  Pañcattaya Sutta | Five & Three (Excerpt)  —  This excerpt discusses views that can get in the way of awakening. Some of the views are speculative, whereas as the most subtle obstructions come from overestimating your meditation attainment.
  • MN 105  Sunakkhatta Sutta | To Sunakkhatta  —  The Buddha addresses the problem of meditators who overestimate their progress in meditation. The sutta ends with a warning: Anyone who claims awakening 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 snake.
  • MN 106  Āneñja-sappāya Sutta | Conducive to the Imperturbable  —  Advanced meditation instruction: how the fourth jhāna and the formless attainments can be developed and used as a basis for unbinding, and how it is important not to cling to the equanimity resulting from insight and strong concentration.
  • MN 108  Moggallāna Sutta | Moggallāna the Guardsman Gopaka  —  Ven. Ānanda explains how the Sangha maintains its unity and internal discipline after the Buddha’s passing. As his discussion shows, 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.
  • MN 109  Mahā Puṇṇama Sutta | The Great Full-Moon Night Discourse  —  A thorough discussion of issues related to the five aggregates. Toward the end of the discussion, a monk thinks that he has found a loophole in the teaching. The way the Buddha handles this incident shows the proper use of the teachings on the aggregates: not as a metaphysical theory, but as a tool for questioning clinging and so gaining release.
  • MN 110  Cūḷa Puṇṇama Sutta | The Shorter Full-Moon Night Discourse  —  How to recognize—and become—a person of integrity.
  • MN 111  Anupada Sutta | One After Another  —  A description of how insight can be developed either while in, or immediately after withdrawing from, the different jhānas or formless attainments.
  • MN 113  Sappurisa Sutta | A Person of Integrity  —  How a person of integrity differs from one of no integrity in relation to the various stages of the practice, from going-forth up through the formless attainments.
  • MN 117  Mahā Cattārīsaka Sutta | The Great Forty  —  A discussion of many aspects of the noble eightfold path: how the first seven factors are requisites for noble right concentration; how all the factors depend on right view, right mindfulness, and right effort; how right mindfulness is concerned, not with radical acceptance, but with abandoning the factors of the wrong path and developing the factors of the right; and how the path of the stream-enterer relates to the path of the arahant.
  • MN 118  Ānāpānasati Sutta | Mindfulness of Breathing  —  A sixteen-step program for using mindfulness of breathing as a path leading all the way to full awakening.
  • MN 119  Kāyagatā-sati Sutta | Mindfulness Immersed in the Body  —  The rewards of developing a full awareness of the body as both a mindfulness practice and a concentration practice. This sutta includes graphic analogies to illustrate the four jhānas.
  • MN 121  Cūḷa Suññata Sutta | The Shorter Discourse on Emptiness  —  The Buddha instructs Ven. Ānanda in the various levels of what it means to dwell in emptiness, and how to go from one level to the next, culminating in full release.
  • MN 122  Mahā Suññata Sutta | The Greater Discourse on Emptiness  —  Practical issues surrounding the attempt to develop an internal meditative dwelling of emptiness, to maintain it, and to see it through to awakening.
  • MN 126  Bhūmija Sutta | To Bhūmija  —  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 you develop the 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.
  • MN 130  Devadūta Sutta | The Deva Messengers  —  The Buddha’s eyewitness account of the various hells.
  • MN 131  Bhaddekaratta Sutta | An Auspicious Day  —  The Buddha’s explanation of why the present moment is important: There’s work to be done, and although you don’t know how much time you have left, you do have now.
  • MN 135  Cūḷa Kamma-vibhaṅga Sutta | The Shorter Analysis of Action  —  Why are people born unequal in terms of such things as status, wealth, health, and discernment? The Buddha explains the actions that lead to a good rebirth and a bad.
  • MN 136  Mahā Kamma-vibhaṅga Sutta | The Greater Analysis of Action  —  Two lessons in the dangers of quick generalization. In the first, the Buddha points out that the perception of all feeling as stressful is not appropriate at all stages of the practice. In the second, he shows that generalizing too quickly on the basis of what one sees in meditation—particularly concerning the relationship between good and bad actions on the one hand, and good and bad immediate rebirth on the other—can lead to serious wrong view.
  • MN 137  Saḷāyatana-vibhaṅga Sutta | An Analysis of the Six Sense-Media  —  A discussion of the emotions: where they come from, how they function in the path of practice, and how they manifest in an awakened person who is fit to teach others.
  • MN 138  Uddesa-vibhaṅga Sutta | An Analysis of the Statement  —  Ven. Mahā Kaccāna explains 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 positioned. It’s not easy, but it can be done.
  • MN 140  Dhātu-vibhaṅga Sutta | An Analysis of the Properties  —  A poignant story in which a wanderer, searching for the Buddha, meets the Buddha without realizing it. He recognizes his mistake only after the Buddha gives 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.”
  • MN 141  Sacca-vibhaṅga Sutta | An Analysis of the Truths  —  Ven. Sāriputta gives a detailed explanation of the four noble truths.
  • MN 143  Anāthapiṇḍikovāda Sutta | The Exhortation to Anāthapiṇḍika  —  When Anāthapiṇḍika the lay-follower is on his deathbed, Ven. Sāriputta visits him and counsels non-clinging in a thoroughgoing way.
  • MN 146  Nandakovāda Sutta | Nandaka’s Exhortation  —  Ven. Nandaka teaches a group of nuns twice on the theme of inconstancy, driving his point home with striking similes. It was an effective teaching: After the second round, all the nuns attained, at the very least, the first level of awakening.
  • MN 147  Cūḷa Rāhulovāda Sutta | The Shorter Exhortation to Rāhula  —  Through a contemplation of stress, inconstancy, and not-self with regard to the six sense media, the Buddha leads his son, Ven. Rāhula, to arahantship.
  • MN 148  Chachakka Sutta | The Six Sextets  —  A contemplation on not-self based on six aspects of each of the six sense media: the internal medium, the external medium, the consciousness, the contact, the feeling, and the craving based on each pair of sense media.
  • MN 149  Mahā Saḷāyatanika Sutta | The Great Six Sense-Media Discourse  —  How a clear comprehension of the six sense media leads to the development of the 37 wings to awakening (bodhi-pakkhiya-dhamma) and fulfills the duties relevant to the four noble truths.
  • MN 152  Indriya-bhāvanā Sutta | The Development of the Faculties  —  What qualifies as full mastery of the six senses?