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Which nikaya should you start with?

Four of the five nikayas are now available in English in their entirety from Wisdom Publications: Digha, Majjhima, Samyutta, and Anguttara. Of these four, I own the last three. When I began researching which nikaya to buy, my goals were—and still are—to gain a deeper understanding of the teachings, and sharpen my practice. For the first goal, the Majjhima was the obvious choice. It's not as focused on proselytization as the Digha; it's arguably more accessible than the Samyutta; and it includes the principle suttas on Right View, restraining defilements (asavas), and meditation instruction.

Unfortunately, the Majjhima has a heavy emphasis on the supramundane (renunciant) path, and doesn't include as much general life advice for a lay follower. This is where the Anguttara comes in. Through his research, scholar and translator John L. Kelly discovered that the Anguttara contains 161 suttas—more than any other nikaya—that either directly or indirectly address the needs of a lay follower. It covers a wide range of topics including cultivating a harmonious household, interpersonal relationships, and even business management.

As with the other nikayas, the Anguttara is ripe with repetition as these texts were originally chanted before they were transcribed. I've found that reading them with a still mind, not allowing myself to get hung up on the phrasing, and calmly watching the text as it evolves over the course of a sutta can itself act as a meditation.

So, which nikaya should you start with? I’d recommend the following order: Majjhima, Anguttara, Samyutta, and Digha. I also recommend using John L. Kelly's paper, 'The Buddha’s Teachings to Lay People', as a guide for finding relevant teachings on lay practice. The PDF can be found online.

Good luck attaining stream-entry!
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