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Sūtra (Sanskrit: sū́tra, Devanagari: सूत्र, Pāli: sutta), literally means a thread or line that holds things together, and more metaphorically refers to an aphorism (or line, rule, formula), or a collection of such aphorisms in the form of a manual. It is derived from the verbal root siv-, meaning to sew (these words, including Latin suere and English to sew, all ultimately deriving from PIE *siH-/syuH- 'to sew').
In Hinduism the 'sutra' is a distinct type of literary composition, based on short aphoristic statements, generally using various technical terms. The literary form of the sutra 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..
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 viśvato mukham / astobhyaṃ anavadyaṃ ca sūtram sūtra vido viduḥ"
"Of minimal syllabary, unambiguous, pithy, comprehensive, / non-redundant, and without flaw: who knows the sūtra knows it to be thus."
In Buddhism, the term "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. Some scholars consider that the Buddhist use of sutra is a mis-Sanskritization of sutta, and that the latter represented Sanskrit sūkta (well spoken).
Sutras primarily associated with Hinduism
- Shiksha (phonetics)
- Chandas (metrics)
- Vyakarana (grammar)
- Nirukta (etymology)
- Jyotisha (astrology)
- Kalpa (ritual)
- Yoga Sutras
- Nyaya Sutras
- Vaisheshika Sutra
- Purva Mimamsa Sutras
- Brahma Sutras (or Vedanta Sutra) (Badarayana)
Sutras primarily associated with Buddhism
Associated with Christianity
- For discussion of the literary form for sūtras, their terse nature as a summary of ideas for memorization, and the rise of the commentorial literary form as an adjunct to sūtras, see: Tubb & Boose 2007, pp. 1-2
- 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
- Buddhist Scriptures in Multiple Languages
- Chinese repository of Buddhist Sutras translated into English. Also has other texts.
- Mahayana Buddhist Sutras in English
- More Mahayana Sutras
- The Hindu Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, and Vedanta Sacred-texts.com
- A Modern Sutra
- Digital Sanskrit Buddhist Canon
- Pali Suttas at Access to Insight
- Ida B. Wells Memorial Sutra Lirary (Pali Suttas)
- Suttas read aloud