Developing Your Sutta Practice

General Approach

Attitude: Humility and patience will help you build confidence (saddhā) which is essential. Do not expect to grasp the meaning of a sutta right away. Continue your engagement regardless of your initial reaction. Eventually you will be able to understand all of the suttas. There will be plenty of suttas that are immediately accessible. Approach the text as a spiritual document. Do not have in mind to collect facts and information or find fault. What is important will naturally go to the heart.

Hindrances: You must actively work to remove the hindrances to sutta practice just as you do for your meditation practice. For example, if drowsiness or doubt are present it will naturally not be possible for the meaning to go to our heart. If you blame the sutta for your hindrances there is no solution to the problem. If you see the hindrances as your own, then a solution is possible.

Physicality: Have a dedicated space used for sutta practice, ideally at your place of meditation if you have one. Keep the book you are working with either on a small stool next to your meditation cushion or in a special place dedicated to the book.

Commitment: Choose one book and stick with it until you reach the end. Start at the beginning and read the amount you have committed to each day. When you complete the book, start again at the beginning and read it at least a second time. Familiarity is powerful.

Personal Anthology: Make your own personal collection of suttas that speaks most directly to your defilements. By doing this even if your daily practices becomes non-daily, you will still have something to work with when needed. On a day when the hindrances and defilements are particularly strong, you may want to substitute reading from your personal anthology for your regular text.

Miscellaneous notes:

  • Don’t use practice time for reading the general introductions in the book, just as you would not substitute reading a book about meditation for your daily meditation practice.
  • Don’t do your sutta practice in front of the computer. Print out a text if necessary. There are many texts you can download and print out to start using right away.
  • If you are doing your practice at the end of the day, consider spending a few moments the next morning trying to recollect what you read the night before.
  • Do your practice every single day. Don’t break the chain!
  • Consider not taking notes for your first read through the text. Remember that you will be reading it a second time. If you do take notes, consider marking passages and making notes later.
  • Footnotes may or may not be helpful. Read as appropriate.
  • Consider chanting the qualities of the Triple Gem before practice (i.e., Iti pi so… Svākkhāto… Supaṭipanno…) in Pāḷi or English.

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