In Buddhism, sutras are regarded as records of the oral teachings given by Gautama Buddha or by his greatest disciples. To put it simply, sutras are ‘well spoken’ wisdom passed on by enlightened beings, worthy of frequent contemplation, and sustainable for lifelong study.
There is a Chinese idiom – “天留甘雨,佛留經” – meaning that Heaven bequeaths us nourishing waters, while the Buddha bestows on us the sutras.
There are a myriad of sutras, probably exceeding 10,000. And many ancient Pali and Sanskrit scriptures as well as Chinese and Tibetan texts are lost or remained untranslated. The total number varies accordingly to the lineage you choose to study – Mahayana, Theravada, or Vajrayana.
Buddhist sutras are skillfully tailored for different recipients in disparate situations, so as to better assist all sentient beings on their individual journey to enlightenment. It is impossible to thoroughly study all sutras in one lifetime. So it is only sensible to focus your efforts on a few sutras that particularly speak to you.
Whenever you find something incomprehensible about a sutra, follow the advice of Tenzin Palmo –
“If we come across certain things that we find difficult to accept even after careful investigation, that doesn’t mean the whole Dharma has to be thrown overboard. Even now, after all these years, I still find certain things in the Tibetan Dharma which I’m not sure about at all. I used to go to my Lama and ask him about some of these things, and he would say, ‘That’s fine. Obviously you don’t really have a connection with that particular doctrine. It doesn’t matter. Just put it aside. Don’t say, ‘No, it’s not true.’ Just say, ‘At this point, my mind does not embrace this.’ Maybe later you’ll appreciate it, or maybe you won’t. It’s not important.”