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Sutra (Sanskrit: सूत्र, Pāli: sutta, Ardhamagadhi: sūya) is an aphorism (or line, rule, formula) or a collection of such aphorisms in the form of a manual or, more broadly, a text in Hinduism or Buddhism. Literally it means a thread or line that holds things together and is derived from the verbal root siv-, meaning to sew. The word "sutra" was very likely meant to apply quite literally to these texts, as they were written down in books of palm leaves sewn together with thread. This distinguishes them from the older sacred Vedas, which until recently were only memorised, never committed to paper.
In ancient Indian literature, sutra denotes a distinct type of literary composition, based on short aphoristic statements, generally using various technical terms. This literary form was designed for concision, as the texts were intended to be memorized by students in some of the formal methods of scriptural and scientific study (Sanskrit: svādhyāya). Since each line is highly condensed, another literary form arose in which commentaries (Sanskrit: bhāṣya) on the sutras were added, to clarify and explain them. For discussion of the literary form for sutras, their terse nature as a summary of ideas for memorization, and the rise of the commentorial literary form as an adjunct to sutras, see: Tubb & Boose 2007, pp. 1–2.
One of the most famous definitions of a sutra in Indian literature is itself a sutra and comes from the Vayu Purana:
alpākṣaraṃ asandigdhaṃ sāravad viśvatomukham
astobhaṃ anavadyaṃ ca sūtram sūtravido viduḥ
Of minimal syllabary, unambiguous, pithy, comprehensive,
continuous, and without flaw: who knows the sutra knows it to be thus.
In Buddhism, the sutra refers mostly to canonical scriptures, many of which are regarded as records of the oral teachings of Gautama Buddha. In Chinese, these are known as 經 (pinyin: jīng). These teachings are assembled in part of the Tripitaka which is called Sutra Pitaka. There are also some Buddhist texts, such as the Platform Sutra, that are called sutras despite being attributed to much later authors.
In the book "Modern Buddhism", Geshe Kelsang Gyatso defines sutra as "The teachings of Buddha that are open to everyone to practice without the need for empowerment. These include Buddha's teachings of the three turnings of the dharma wheel.
Some scholars consider that the Buddhist use of sutra is a mis-Sanskritization of Prakrit or Pali sutta, and that the latter represented Sanskrit sūkta, "well spoken", "good news" (as the Buddha himself refers to his speech in his first sermon; compare the original meaning of Gospel), which would also resolve as sutta in Pali. The early Buddhist sutras do not present the aphoristic, nearly cryptic nature of the Hindu sutras, even though they also have been designed for mnemonic purposes in an oral tradition. On the contrary, they are most often lengthy, with many repetitions which serve the mnemonic purpose of the audience. They share the character of sermons of "good news" with the Jaina sutras, whose original name of sūya (in Ardhamagadhi language) can derive from Sanskrit sūkta, but hardly from sutra.
Sutras primarily associated with Hinduism
- Chandas (metrics)
- Jyotisha (astrology)
- Kalpa (ritual)
- Nirukta (etymology)
- Shiksha (phonetics)
- Vyakarana (grammar)
- Brahma Sutras (or Vedanta Sutra) (Badarayana)
- Narada Bhakti Sutra
- Nyaya Sutras
- Purva Mimamsa Sutras
- Samkhya Sutra
- Shiva Sutras
- Vaisheshika Sutra
- Yoga Sutras
Sutras primarily associated with Buddhism
Sutras primarily associated with Jainism
- Ananda Sutram
- Heart Sutra
- Kama Sutra
- Shulba Sutras
- Sutra copying
- Chinese Buddhist canon
- Tibetan Buddhist canon
- MacGregor, Geddes (1989). Dictionary of Religion and Philosophy (1st ed.). New York: Paragon House. ISBN 1557780196.
- "Tubb, Gary A.; Emery B. Boose, Scholastic Sanskrit. A Manual for Students - Springer". Springerlink.com. Retrieved 2013-03-16.
- "Modern Buddhism by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. Copyright New Kadampa Tradition 2010" (PDF). p. 424.
- K. R. Norman: A philological approach to Buddhism: the Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai Lectures 1994. (Buddhist Forum, Vol. v.) xx, 193 pp. London: School of Oriental and African Studies, 1997. p. 104
- See: Jayarava's Raves,Philological odds and ends I Retrieved on 2010-08-21
- Arthur Anthony Macdonell (1900). "The sūtras". A History of Sanskrit Literature. New York: D. Appleton and company.
- Monier-Williams, Monier. (1899) A Sanskrit-English Dictionary. Delhi:Motilal Banarsidass. p. 1241
- Tubb, Gary A.; Boose, Emery R. (2007). Scholastic Sanskrit: A Handbook for Students. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-9753734-7-7.
- Buddhist Scriptures in Multiple Languages
- More Mahayana Sutras
- The Hindu Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, and Vedanta Sacred-texts.com
- A Modern Sutra
- Digital Sanskrit Buddhist Canon
- Ida B. Wells Memorial Sutra Lirary (Pali Suttas)