From my meditation teacher’s guide to the Buddha’s original teachings:
Regardless of whether one is a Buddhist or from some other religion a study of the Pali canon can only enhance one’s spiritual journey. The Pali Canon is reputed to be a record of the spoken word of the historic Buddha, Sidharta Gotama (c 563-483 BCE). It is at least the oldest extant document of the words that are attributed to the Buddha.
The Pali Canon is also known as the “Tipitaka” in Pali, which means the “Three Baskets.” The Three Baskets were first written during the reign of King Ashoka around 250 BCE. Therefore no other canon of Buddhist literature has a better claim of authenticity. It may also be worth pointing out that the other canons of Buddhist literature are based upon first century CE Sanskrit translations of the Pali canon, which are called the “Tripitaka” in Sanskrit. Thus, as the West begins to build its own canon of Buddhist literature it might as well begin with a translation of the original Pali Canon into the various Western Languages.
Western scholarship in the Pali canon began in 1850 with the work of the Finish scholar, Viggo Fausböll (1821-1908), who published the first scholarly translation of the Dhammapada. Pali studies arrived in English with the work of Robert Caesar Childers (1838-1876), who translated Viggo Fausböll ‘s Dhammapada into English. In 1876 the first Pali to English dictionary was published posthumously for Childers.
F. Max Muller (1823-1900) began the translation of Pali literature into German at about the same time Viggo Fausböll was working on his Finish translations. In 1881 Muller came to England to help found the Pali Text Society. Muller’s English translation of Viggo Fausböll ‘s Dhammapada was published by the Pali Text Society in volume 10 of their series the “Sacred Books of the East.”
From 1899 to 1910 the Long Discourses of the Buddha (Digha Nikaya) first appeared in English. They were published in volumes 2 through 4 of the “Sacred Books of the Buddhists,” and were translated by Rhys Davids and edited by F. Max Muller for the Pali Text Society.
Reading the Pali canon is an excellent way to come to understand the central concepts of Buddhism. While the canon has a reputation for being a weighty tome, I have found it readable and accessible. Much of it is even online at the websites below. One must, however, keep in mind translator bias when reading translated literature, thus please examine this document:
And there follows an exhaustive listing of online resources for a study of the Pali Canon, including several essays on translator bias that any curious and open-minded student would be wise to check out.