Make a Sutta Reading Practice Plan

Sutta Reading PlanBy writing down our intentions to engage daily with the words of the Buddha, we increase our chances of success. And when we anticipate what obstacles we might face and strategize ways to overcome them, we can move forward with confidence.

Download the worksheet PDF

Here are some things to consider when completing your form. Some of them may seem rather mundane and even against the spirit of sutta reading. Remember, If you are able to consistently engage with the teachings on a long-term basis without using any of these tips and tricks, wonderful! But most of us have difficulties along the way. Only apply the techniques that seem helpful after you try them out.

What Suttas to Read

1.–2. Book, amount to read: Use the various articles on this site to choose a text—

* verses; ** chapters
Pages Suttas
DN 435 34
MN (1029) 152
SN 1512
AN 1439
Khp 9
Dhp 26 **
Ud (98) 80
Itv (76) 112
Snp (127) 71
Vv 134 85
Pv 77 51
Thag 121 1288 *
Thig 64 524 *

Expected End date: Knowing that there is a specific date that we will be finished with the plan if we stay on track can keep us motivated to continue. If you are choosing to read a chapter a day or a certain number of pages per day or a chapter a day, then figuring out when you might finish is easy.

If your plan is to read a certain number of pages per day, simply use the table to the right and divide the total number of pages by how many you will read each day. Then you can use the calculator on TimeAndDate.com to figure out when you will finish. For example, if you are going to read 10 pages of the Samyutta Nikaya each day, take 1512/10=151.2. Then use the calculator to figure out that if you start on June 25th you will finish around November 23rd. If you want to make a more complex calculation, say skipping weekends, use their business day calculator. If you are planning on reading for a fixed amount of time, keep track of how many pages you read for the first 10 days to figure out an approximate reading rate. Then work through the calculations.

Remember, these are just estimates. But here’s how it helps… A book like the Samyutta Nikaya can seem overwhelming. But the fact is, if you just read 10 pages per day, you will finish it in 151 days.

In the chart, numbers that are in brackets are less suitable for a reading plan. For example, it is preferable to read the Udana and the Itivuttaka sutta by sutta because they are so short. Where a number is missing, it really doesn’t make sense to plan that way.

When to do your sutta reading

3.–4. When to read and what to connect it to. If you can’t be 100% sure when you will do your reading, write down when you hope to read and when you will read if you miss that time. It’s also good if you can connect your reading to something else you are sure to do every day.

Anticipate Problems

5. Choose a backup text. Deciding in advance what book to read if you are not able to work with your main text will ensure you always read at least some words of the Buddha

6. Expected problems. Think about all the things that may stand in the way of your reading. They could be practical things like an erratic schedule or purely internal things like doubt. You can also add to this list as you work with your text.

7. Ideas to overcome problems. Think up at least one way to deal with each problem. Some of these solutions may directly influence your plan. For example if you have a very erratic schedule, you may decide to do your reading before you get dressed each day to make sure that it always happens. Or you may decide to use the Don’t Break the Chain method, posting your calendar in a very visible place. If doubt is an issue, you could make a list of all the ways the Buddha’s teachings have helped you in the past and read through that list each day before reading. You should add to this section as problems occur. Write in the format “If X happens I will do Y.”

8. When you finish the text. It may seem like putting the horse before the cart, but knowing what you will do when you finish your book can improve your reading attitude and make sure that when you are done you don’t stop practicing.

Get started!

After you complete the form, you will want to keep it visible. Post it on your wall or sit it next to where you plan on doing your reading each day. And don’t be afraid to re-evaluate it if things go off track. it is important to actually print out the form and complete it by hand in pencil so you can make adjustments. For example, if you aren’t able to read as many pages a day as you thought, then definitely recalculate! You may want to read the articles about the five P’s of sutta reading practice. Remember, Perfection is not one of them.

So, get started by Download the worksheet PDF.

Related:

New Facebook Page and an Effective Technique to Keep Your Reading Daily

Stay connected to ReadingFaithfully.org through Facebook. And stay connected to your reading with the Don’t Break the Chain technique.

New Facebook Page:

Happy to announce that ReadingFaithfully.org now has its own Facebook page. This will be a place to get the latest information about new material on Readingfaithfully.org as well as Real Buddha Quotes.

There is also a Facebook group called Faithful Readers. This is a place where you can discuss your sutta reading practice and get and give encouragement.

If you aren’t already on Facebook, then by all means don’t start!. But if you are, why don’t you consider unfollowing people and groups and pages you don’t care about to cut down on distractions. If you want to be sure to always see the latest on our page, then under the follow button, be sure to select the option to “see posts from this page first.”

Keeping your daily practice daily

In 2011 we shared a technique called Don’t Break the Chain to help us keep our determination to read at least a few words of the Buddha’s Dhamma teachings each day. It is so easy to get distracted with life and put off our reading. And if we are doing our reading on a digital device, then we don’t even have the reminder of a physical book to bring us back to our practice. So check out this article to learn a simple technique to keep us on track.

Read the Article: Motivate with Links of Dhamma

 

 

A Personal Anthology Could Take your Sutta Reading Practice to the Next Level

If you’ve been reading suttas on a regular basis, then you know how they can speak to you personally. But we may not always be able to find the passages that speak to us directly when we really need to work with them. That’s why we should create a Personal Anthology. Then we know right where to go. It’s easy and you can start experiencing the benefits right away.

Have you already started making a Personal Anthology but it doesn’t seem to be helpful? Or making it seems stressful? Well check out these tips for overcoming common problems.

Don’t have a regular sutta reading practice yet? Well it’s time to begin!

Have you been using a Personal Anthology? Share your experience in the comments. Never commented on a blog before? Now’s your chance. Your comment could help inspire someone. You can leave your comment anonymously.

  Articles:

 

Troubleshooting Your Personal Anthology

Creating a Personal Anthology is extremely simple, but there are still some places we can go wrong. If this happens our Anthology may be less effective. Below are some common problems and suggestions for solving them.

As a reminder, this is the basic method:

  1. Read the suttas on a regular basis taking them to heart as personal advice.
  2. When you find a passage that speaks directly to your defilements or is personally very inspiring, copy it into your Personal Anthology.
  3. In daily life, when the defilements are strong, read the suttas in your Personal Anthology as an antidote.

If you haven’t read the full article in a while, you might want to start there.

Problem: Feeling obligated to fill the book

No where in the instructions is there anything about needing to add a certain number of passages per week or fill all the pages. One passage of Dhamma can be enough to wake us up. Of course it’s unlikely that you will only have one passage, but keeping this in mind will prevent the Personal Anthology from becoming a chore or an obligation. It only matters that we capture passage when we find them.

Problem: Putting passages in that you consider important in a general sense

Truly, all the suttas are important. If the goal was to collect important suttas, then we could simply buy a complete canon and be done. You may very well want to keep a Dhamma notebook where you copy passages of doctrinal importance. No question, that is beneficial. But the principle behind the personal anthology is that there are some passages that take our breath away, touching us deeply. Passages that describe our defilements very intimately. Those are the ones we collect in the Personal Anthology. Then when our defilements are strong, we can read teachings that describes them perfectly and tells us how to remove them—this is the way we can not only overcome them but at the same time develop confidence in the Blessed One’s teachings.

Problem: Not keeping these passages in their own small book

Related to the above issue, if you are collecting these personal passages along with other Dhamma notes, it will be that much harder to find them when the need arises. And if you are traveling or on a retreat, it is less likely that you will take them with you if they are integrated into your main study notebook.

If you are resistant to putting them in their own book, or you haven’t started a book at all yet, you might want to give the quick start method a try.

Problem: Too many less powerful suttas

If you are falling into the attitude of feeling obligated to fill your Anthology, there is a chance that you may start to include too many suttas that you may simply like or find somewhat interesting. It’s good to capture them somewhere, but the idea behind the Personal Anthology is to have a ready collection of suttas that you connect with most deeply.

Problem: Thinking of your Personal Anthology as a project instead of a resource

Some people think of the Personal Anthology as a journal or a project that is going to take up time on a regular basis. This is not the case. It’s possible that you will only add a passage every few months, if that. Remember, it’s not the number of passages that matters, but that we choose them wisely and read them when the need arises.

Problem: Not reading the suttas with an eye for passages to include

If we are not habitually reading the suttas as personal advice from our fully enlightened teacher, it is unlikely that we will find the correct kinds of passages to include in our Anthology. By doing self-examination practices, such as those in the Sallekha Sutta (MN 8) we can gain a greater awareness of our main defilements. Then when the Buddha talks about those particular issues as we read the suttas we are more likely to take them to heart and want to contact them again and again.

Problem: Not using it

The last and most important step of maintaining a Personal Anthology is actually reading it when the need arises. This requires that we actually have the awareness of the arising of defilements and remember that we have the Buddha’s instructions available to overcome them.

Have you had problems creating your personal anthology? Have you overcome any of those listed here? Share your experience in the comments below. Feel free to do so anonymously.

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Make a wish: Closing our Sutta Practice Session

As we read the suttas, we are always trying to see the truth of the teachings in our own lives. When we finish our practice, we can do a quick reflection to help solidify this intention.

Begin by making a quick summary in your head of the teaching you just read. It doesn’t have to be comprehensive. As you will see, it works best if it is brief and heartfelt. It can even be just one point that you found most helpful. In the text below, this summary will fill in for [X]. If you aren’t able to summarize, just use “this teaching of the Blessed One.”

  • Because of not knowing [X] I have been reborn again and again in this long round of samsara, creating suffering for myself and countless other beings
  • May my understanding of [X] grow. May I always keep this teaching of [X] in mind and live accordingly, using it to help me realize the Blessed One’s four noble truths in this very life.
  • May all beings have the opportunity to learn about [X] and realize the four noble truths in this very life.

Of course you can use whatever language you feel comfortable with, but the main point is to make a quick recollection of what you just read and have a sincere aspiration that you will try to put the teachings into practice. Remember, the recollection does not need to be comprehensive. Don’t get hung up on making a perfect summary. That’s not what this is about. As different things come to mind you could even change what [X] is as you go through the recollection. Focus on what you understood and found meaningful.

If you don’t feel comfortable with the language, come up with something that works for you, keeping these basics in mind:

  • Summarize the main points that you found valuable.
  • Make the aspiration to understand and live by these teachings.
  • Make the wish for liberation.
  • Cultivate thoughts of good will for all beings.

If you understand the practice of sharing merit, you may also wish to share the merit you have made through reading and reflecting on the Dhamma with all beings or specific people like your teachers and spiritual friends.

Having done this reflection it will be easy to keep in mind the purpose of reading the suttas, namely, liberation from samsara. It will also make it easier to bring the teachings to mind throughout the day.

Do you have a habit you find helpful to close your reading of the suttas? Share your experience in the comments below.

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Benefits of Having a Backup Text

Be prepared for times when reading your regular book of suttas is difficult.

The core of a daily sutta practice is working methodically through a single book of suttas from beginning to end. Sometimes, though, obstacles may arise that can be overcome by having a backup or alternate text.

A backup text is a second book of suttas, either a canonical collection or anthology, that we have chosen in advance. By choosing this text in advance, we already have a plan in place when we are at risk of missing our daily practice. Of course missing a day or two now and then is not such a big deal, but often external obstacles come many days in a row and internal obstacles remain unless we remove them.

Here are a few cases when a backup text may be helpful:

Time is scarce: If we have committed to reading a substantial amount of text each day, such as a sutta from the Majjhima Nikaya, there may be days when time is scarce. Rather than abandoning reading completely, or just reading part of a sutta, we can read a short passage from our backup text.

Schedule change: From time to time the irregularities of life may necessitate shifting the time of day that we do our sutta practice. If we usually practice in the morning, but have to get out of the house early on a particular day, we can use our backup text at the regular time to guarantee that we get some sutta practice in if plans don’t work out to reschedule the regular practice for later.

Travel: It is certainly possible to stick with our regular text when we travel, but if our schedule will be particularly busy, it may be more reasonable to switch to a text with shorter passages that are easier to digest. Travel presents us with all sorts of interesting experiences and gives the opportunity to find new ways to apply the Dhamma to our lives. There is no need to take a vacation from the suttas when you go on vacation.

Mood: Although we should not let our mood dictate whether we do our sutta practice, we may not have the skill or discipline in that moment to overcome our resistance. In cases like this, we may be able to trick ourselves into reading with the lure of something new and different, a.k.a. our backup text. Using our personal anthology is also a good option for situations like this. After having read a bit, we may even be able to arouse the energy to do our regular reading.

Aversion: Sometimes the hindrance of aversion may arise towards our main text. Ideally, we should work directly to overcome this hindrance through recollecting the benefits we have received from learning the Dhamma, what a rare opportunity we have to hear the Blessed One’s teaching, etc., etc. But if that is not successful, having a backup text to turn to in those situations will keep our practice on track. Again, this is a great time to use our personal anthology. When the aversion has passed, we can return to out main text with new eyes.

What makes a good backup text?

  • A canonical text with short and inspirational suttas is ideal, such as the Dhammapada or Itivuttaka. The Theragatha and Therigatha are also good because in these verses arahant monks and nuns often speak of their own difficulties in the training.
  • Chanting/pirit books that include translations of popular suttas also work well for several reasons: the texts are usually uplifting and we may have positive memories of using them when doing puja with others.
  • Any anthology that includes relatively short passages

Whatever you choose, it should be a book of suttas, not a regular book. It may be tempting to think that you need a “break” from suttas, but there is such a variety of material in the canon, it’s much more beneficial to try a different genre within the Sutta Pitaka.

Consider having a copy of your backup text on a mobile device. Often the situations when the backup text is necessary is when we are away from home, so if we have a text on a device we always have with us, we can be sure to have a text available when time does present itself.

Advantages/benefits of having a backup text:

  • Helps maintain continuity of practice
  • Removes the burden of decision-making when we are already presented with an unusual or stressful situation
  • Gives an opportunity for variety
  • There may be unexpected connections between the main text and the backup text. This often has an energizing effect.
  • If we are doing a practice with a big time commitment like a daily sutta from the Middle Length Discourses, we can maintain continuity of practice on days when time is scarce.

It’s still a good idea to move methodically from beginning to end of our backup text, just like we work through our main text. Then we can start again at the beginning when we finish.

Have you used a book of suttas as a backup text? How was it helpful? What did you use? You can leave your thoughts in the comments below. (anonymously if you prefer) Your feed back can help all of us in our practice.

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Sutta Practice Life List

A sutta practice life list is a record of all the complete sutta collections you have read, either canonical collections or anthologies, including the dates of each cycle.

There are several benefits of doing this.

  • It acts as an incentive to read a book completely. It only goes on the list if you read every single sutta.
  • It adds an incentive to read it again. You note each time, and preferably the dates, you read each book.
  • You can see at a glance what books you have not yet read. This is especially valuable for the main books in the Khuddaka Nikaya as they can be easily overlooked.
  • If you fall away from a text, the unfinished entry on the list reminds you to go back and give it another shot. Often the hindrances will be less acute on our second reading of a text.

Of course, simply reading lots of suttas in and of itself is not enough. It must be done with faith and wisdom, always trying to bring the teachings deeply into our lives. Even so, it is beneficial to be able to look back on a tangible record of all the effort you have made to connect with the teaching. As long as you don’t go around bragging about all the complete sutta collections you have read (either out loud or in your mind) you won’t have problems.

Getting started

There are two methods for recording. Either filling in a pre-made list of all the possible collections(as in this Sutta Practice Life List form PDF above), or a chronological list that you add to each time you start a book. Using the form has the advantage of reminding you of collections you have not yet worked with. In this way it becomes like a to-do list, although of course, you will want to do them again and again.

To begin, go ahead and record complete reads that you have done in the past. Just take a guess at the year. Then write in any sutta books you are currently reading from beginning to end. Estimate the month and year that you began. Put a dash so you can see that it is not complete. So it would start out something like “March2011 – ” You might even want to pencil in an empty box in the space for the completion date. When you finish the book, write the month and year. For a book like the Dhammapada that you may read hundreds of times using the chapter a day practice, you can just use tick marks to note each complete read. Consider including the initials of the translator for the different versions you read.

You may also want to note when you read a canonical anthology completely, such as all the Majjhima Nikaya suttas included in the Handful of Leaves series. In that case, either note the anthology name or just mark it with an “A” so you know it was not an entire nikaya.

In the same way, many anthologies of suttas based on a particular topic are worth recording on your life list. Some of the more popular anthologies are included on page two of the form below with space to include others. Remember this reminds us of the value in reading the book completely and then re-reading it again and again. With anthologies especially, the suttas near the end may be dealing with some of the highest and noble qualities of the Dhamma, so we want to be sure to read about them even if we are not able to manifest them in our lives right away.

There are a growing number of complete suttas collections available in audio format. Currently there is a complete Dhammapada by Gil Fronsdal, a complete Udana by Bhante Anandajoti, and a complete Itivuttaka available for download from this site. If you listen to the complete book, mark it with an “L” so you know you listened to it.

Download the form from the top of the page and get started now.

Have you used a life list for the sutta collections you have read? Share your experience in the comments below. If you would like your comment to remain unpublished, simply write “Private” at the end.

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Almost Personal Anthology

One of the easiest ways to make a deep connection with the suttas is by creating a personal anthology. If you haven’t read the main article, this involves noticing when sutta passages are particularly meaningful to you and then copying them into a blank book. Then when the hindrances arise, you can quickly turn to that collection of teachings that you easily connect with.

So the basic steps for a regular Personal Anthology are:

  1. Read the suttas and notice passages you connect with.
  2. Copy them into a blank book
  3. Go to these teachings when the hindrances arise.

It’s not so difficult, but step two does take some effort. Once you have experience using the suttas directly in times of difficulty, you will know that it is time well spent. But what to do if you can’t motivate yourself to copy out the text now? Make an Almost Anthology

Basically, you just skip step two, and instead flag them with Post-it markers. This way, the book you are working with will literally have passages that stick out. So you’ve done the reading and noticing of step one, then all you have to do is the “go to these teachings” part of step three. This will work as a substitute as long as you are just practicing with a single book. Because you are going to read this book completely at least twice, that should give you enough experience using it as a go-to source when hindrances arise. By the time you have finished your second cycle with the book you will have seen the advantage of having these passages close at hand and copying them out will be a real joy.

So in the meantime the process for the Almost Anthology is this:

  1. Read the suttas and FLAG passages you connect with.
  2. Go to these teachings when the hindrances arise.

It’s important that you physically flag them. Underlining won’t work so well because the passages won’t stick out. You could dog ear the pages, and underline, but that’s not so good for the book.

You can make your own Post-it flags by cutting up an ordinary Post-it. Remember to keep a stash of flags stuck to the inside front cover so you always have them handy.

Now, if you are also marking passages for putting in your study notebook, you’ll need to make sure they are clearly different. Perhaps mark study notebook passages with the flag barely visible and the Almost Anthology passages with the flags sticking far out. You may even want to draw a star at the end of those. This is a good technique even if you are actively making a real Personal Anthology because you won’t always be able to transfer them right away.

Have you experienced using a Personal Anthology? How has it connected you with the teachings? Have you created an Almost Anthology? Share your experience in the comments below. All comments are screened, so simply include the word “Private” if you would prefer not to have them published.

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Motivate with Links of Dhamma

There is a very simple motivational technique that has become popular on the internet called “Don’t Break the Chain,” and it is perfectly suited for a daily sutta reading practice.

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You take a one year calendar, either poster size or a single sheet (see below for sources) and you mark an X each day you do your sutta reading practice, however much you have committed to do. You can also write the number of the sutta you read. In this way you start to make a chain of days that you have done your practice. Then you Don’t Break the Chain.

That’s it. Could not be any simpler. It doesn’t add more than 10 seconds to your practice time. But here’s what it does. It gives you a tangible indicator of what you are doing. Every day you are bringing the Blessed One’s teachings into your life. On days when the hindrances are strong and the joy of reading the suttas is not enough to motivate you, the satisfaction of knowing that you have this unbroken practice might be enough to help you pull out your main text or your backup text and practice for a few minutes. Then before you know it, you haven’t broken the chain. Hindrances overcome for one more day, and you make your X.

Any time we spend with the teachings of the Blessed One is beneficial. And this unbroken connection, day after day, is especially beneficial. We may need the teachings the most on those very days that we don’t think we have enough time to read. And making daily contact keeps things familiar and in the front of our mind.

Post the calendar in a prominent place in your home. That way if you haven’t been able to link your practice to a regular daily activity, or if your schedule gets disrupted, you will have a reminder. When you travel, take your text and your calendar with you. And Don’t Break the Chain.

Year Calender resources

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To find out more about the Don’t Break the Chain technique in general, just do a web search for “Don’t Break the Chain” and you’ll find lots of articles and even some computer tools to do tracking.

Have you tried this technique with your sutta reading practice? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.

Walking Sutta Practice

You’ve probably heard of walking meditation. And we know reading the suttas is meditative. So why not do the two together?

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If you have a safe place to walk unobstructed, try doing your sutta reading practice while walking. It has lots of benefits:

  • Helps to overcome drowsiness.
  • Can keep you focused on the text.
  • It makes it more difficult to take notes if you find this a compulsive but unbeneficial habit.
  • Can be easily done outside.
  • If you are a student or any one who works at a desk, walking and reading may be seen as a welcome change of pace from your usual work.
  • It puts your reading practice into a new context.
  • When you have finished reading your text for the day, you can continue to do contemplation while walking.

Instructions:

  • Find an area free from distractions and dangers.
  • Pick a set path, don’t just wander around the house or yard. Back and forth, back and forth.

Cautions:

  • Make absolutely sure that your walking path is clear both on the ground and near your head