The Five P’s of Sutta Practice

  1. Pragmatic Practice
  2. Possible Practice
  3. Patient Practice
  4. Persistent Practice
  5. Perpetual Practice

1. Pragmatic Practice

First and foremost, we must establish a practice with the suttas that is pragmatic, applying the teachings to our own lives. It is not enough to merely read the suttas. We must relate these teachings to our lives directly at the very moment we are reading the words. Then as we go about our day the teachings will naturally come to mind and we will continue to apply them to our experiences. When we read about defilements of the mind, we must ask ourselves if they are present in our own minds. If so, we must see the danger directly and put into practice the teachings that will help remove them. When we read about wholesome qualities we have developed already, we must rejoice in this merit.

When our focus is on putting the teachings into practice — whatever small part we understand — our faith in the enlightenment of the Buddha will grow. And we won’t be obsessed and depressed by not understanding everything we read because we see for ourselves how beneficial even the smallest bit of Dhamma is.

2. Possible Practice

We must make sure that the practice we choose is possible. We can do this by choosing a text that is both suitable for our knowledge level as well as suitable for the amount of time that we can realistically dedicate on a daily basis. It may be good to start with a practice that only takes a few minutes each day, such as reading a chapter from the Dhammapada or a single sutta from the Itivuttaka. These texts are both suitable for beginners as well as possible to do in about five minutes. By establishing a practice that is totally possible, we painlessly build up the habit and begin to see directly the benefit of encountering the suttas every single day. It’s hard to imagine anyone not having five minutes each day to dedicate to experiencing the suttas.

3. Patient Practice

The Dhamma is both subtle and profound. We must be patient as we read, not getting discouraged if we come across passages that we do not understand. In fact, we can surely expect to read things that we do not understand completely. The skill to develop is the ability to focus our attention on the parts we do understand and put those into practice. As we put what we do understand into practice, our wisdom and faith will grow. If we are patient, understanding will come with time.

4. Persistent Practice

We get the most benefit from reading the suttas when we do it every day or nearly every day. Far better to read for only five minutes a day than to read for a half an hour once a week. If our life situation changes and we become more busy, we need to reevaluate how much time we can give to the practice and perhaps shift to a practice that takes less time. But it is essential that when our life gets crazy we continue to engage with the teachings.

5. Perpetual Practice

It is important to see our relationship with the suttas as an ongoing one. They are not something that we read once and are done with. Reading the suttas every day is a habit that can bring benefits as long as our lives last. As our wisdom grows, we will understand more and more. But we need to be engaged with the teachings over the long term to see this benefit. When you finish a book, begin again the very next day.

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3 thoughts on “The Five P’s of Sutta Practice”

  1. hi, i found this internetpage today and i am very happy i found it. i found so many advices how to read the bible but never found advices how to read the pali canon.
    please go on with this internetside and promote the reding of the palicanon.

    well done
    saddhu,saddhu,saddhu

  2. By being persistent in our sutta reading we are elevating the Pali Canon to its rightful position. My practice is often interupted as I find myself reading about the Dhamma from other sources, this is often because I need clarification on a matter and for it to be explained in a way in which I can understand. Many of these other writings are laudable in themselves but they are only aids and never should be seen as a substitute to reading the suttas themselves. We are reading faithfully by giving them priority and as stated on this site the scriptures touch the heart in a way no other source can.

  3. Hello Bhante,

    I found your website very helpful. Establishing and maintaining a daily study and practice of the suttas is indeed very important to keep us on track, especially when we are practicing alone. The priority of our life should be the Dhamma practice, and the suttas are our best guide to prevent us from getting lost in the struggles of daily life. I’ve found that if I stop reading suttas for some period then my understanding of the Dhamma and my practice goes downwards rapidly.

    In addition to the tips you’ve kindly shared with us, would you please provide more tips on how to discipline ourselves to study suttas and put the teaching into practice on a daily basis?

    With gratitude and metta,

    Starter

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