Reflections for Sutta Reading Practice

As we develop a daily habit of reading the suttas it is important that we always remember the reason we are reading the suttas: To develop our faith in the enlightenment of the Supreme Buddha and to put an end to the round of samsara. If we lose track of this purpose, we may not be successful. Below you will find passages that can help us remember the proper attitude to have while reading and listening to the Dhamma. They have been taken either directly from the suttas or modified to turn them into declarations.

You can read them below and download a version that you can use as a part of your daily reading.

Reflecting on the reason we read the suttas.

Downloads of the reading reflections


The Blessed One Is the Teacher, I Am a Disciple: Reflections for Sutta Reading Practice

Before your sutta reading

Recite one or more of the following passages aloud or silently before your daily sutta reading practice. In doing so make the sincere wish to read the Dhamma with complete attention, to reflect on it wisely, and to put the teachings into practice.

Then imagine that you are sitting at the feet of the Blessed One. Read your text as if you were actually listening to him preach.

 After your sutta reading

Make a very brief summary of what you read and insert it for X.

  •  Because of not knowing X I have been reborn again and again in this long round of saṁsāra, 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.

Translations are from The Word of the Buddha series by Wisdom Publications. Links with a * take you to Bhikkhu Sujato’s translaton.

 The Reflections

“Bhikkhus, for a faithful disciple who is intent on fathoming the Teacher’s Dispensation, it is proper that he conduct himself thus: ‘The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple; the Blessed One knows, I do not know.’ For a faithful disciple who is intent on fathoming the Teacher’s Dispensation, the Teacher’s Dispensation is nourishing and refreshing.”

From MN 70.27

“Bhikkhus, there are these five things that lead to the continuation, non-decline, and non-disappearance of the good Dhamma. What five? (1) Here, the bhikkhus respectfully listen to the Dhamma; (2) they respectfully learn the Dhamma; (3) they respectfully retain the Dhamma in mind; (4) they respectfully examine the meaning of the teachings they have retained in mind; (5) they respectfully understand the meaning and the Dhamma and then practice in accordance with the Dhamma.

From AN 5:154*

May I gain inspiration in the meaning! May I gain inspiration in the Dhamma! May I gain gladness connected with the Dhamma!

Based on MN 33*

I have this rare chance to get to see the Tathāgata. I have this rare chance to read the Dhamma and Discipline expounded by the Tathāgata. May I retain it in mind! May I examine the meaning of what I have retained in mind! May I understand the meaning and practice in accordance with the Dhamma!

Based on AN 1:338–342*

May I not read this Dhamma as a denigrator, obsessed with denigration! May I read this Dhamma as one without any intention of criticizing it, not as one who seeks faults! May I not be ill disposed to the teacher and intent on attacking him! May I be wise, intelligent and astute! May I not imagine that I have understood what I have not understood. Possessing these five qualities, may I be capable of entering into the fixed course [consisting in] rightness in wholesome qualities!

Based on AN 5.153*

May I hear what I have not heard before! May what I have heard before be clarified! May I emerge from perplexity! May my views be made straight! May my mind become placid! May I have these five rewards of listening to the Dhamma!

Based on AN 5.202*

While I am reading this Dhamma and Discipline proclaimed by the Tathāgata, may I heed it! May I give my attention to it! May I engage it with all my mind! May I hear the Dhamma with eager ears!

Based on MN 48*

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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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Taking Notes While Practicing

Many people will have the urge to take notes while they are doing their sutta practice. This is not surprising. All our time in school is spent taking notes so we can do well on the test later. If you have especially strong connections between reading and collecting facts, with a sutta practice it is good to find a new way.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with taking notes we can ask ourselves, “Would I take notes while I am meditating?” “Would I take notes during a conversation with a new friend?” The answer is probably no.

In order to bring a more meditative and contemplative approach to reading the suttas, consider just reading. Don’t worry about collecting the important information. Important things repeat. Guaranteed. And even if something doesn’t repeat throughout the collection you are reading, part of the commitment is to read the collection at least twice through. Better to take a few minutes to repeat a passage in your head, even commit it to memory. Relate it to your own life. Think about all the ways you have already experienced this Dhamma to be true. It is through deeply engaging with the text while practicing that we build a personal relationship with the teachings.

If you really find that there are things you want to take notes on, consider flagging them during your session and once a week sit down and collect things into a notebook. This has nothing to do with being anti-intellectual. A clear grasp of all the important features and structure of the Dhamma is essential. But try to keep the note taking aspect as a separate project from your daily sutta practice.

Of course, we want to be sure to flag passages to include in our personal anthology. Even so, we want to stay with the text we are reading so we can take it in and not get distracted.

Sutta Practice Text Suggestions Based on Available Time

Minimal time commitment

10-60 seconds (including reflection time)

Medium time commitment

1-10 minutes (including reflection time) One Sutta Per Day or a fixed time length

Greater time commitment

15-30 minutes (including reflection time)

  • Majjhima Nikaya, One sutta per day, no more. You may want to first read suttas 21-30, then 11-20, then 1-10. You may want to consider repeating this cycle of the first 30 one or two times before continuing with the rest of the book. This will give you an excellent foundation for all other practice with the suttas. Consider using one of the shorter anthologies above as a backup plan for days when you have limited time for practice.