When deciding how long to commit to practicing each day, it is important to remember that there is value whatever time you spend reading suttas each day. The effectiveness comes in having the right attitude and consistent daily contact with the teachings. Even if you were only to read a single verse from the Dhammapada every day for the rest of your life, the benefits would be enormous. If you were to read a whole sutta from the Digha Nikaya only once and a while and do it very quickly without reflecting — not so much benefit there.
After you decide how much to read, think about the best time to do your reading.
There are two related factors in deciding how much to practice each day
- how much of the text you will read each day
- how much time you will spend doing this
Several texts lend themselves to the one-sutta-per-day or one-chapter-per-day method. This is because they tend to be of a consistent length. If you are just beginning to practice with the suttas, these are good because they provide an inherent structure to the practice: one a day, no more, no less.
- Dhammapada (one chapter)
- Sutta Nipāta
- Majjhima Nikāya
- Some anthologies are made up of suttas of similar length, such as In the Buddha’s Words.
Some texts are a bit more variable in terms of sutta length. For these collections you may want to have a more flexible amount to read and instead determine a fixed amount of time for reading. Another option is to read a fixed number of pages. Don’t overload on several short suttas, though.
Consider using a timer. This is especially beneficial if you tend to get distracted easily. If you are not in the habit of taking time to reflect on what you read, blocking in time like this can add structure to something that can otherwise be quite formless.
No matter how much you choose to commit to reading each day, or how much time you commit to spend, keep the following things in mind:
- Don’t read too quickly.
- Pause and reflect on how you have found this teaching to be true in your life.
- Reflect on the benefits of keeping this teaching in mind throughout your day.
- Overcome the hindrances. If you find yourself spacing out, re-read what you missed. If you are sleepy, stand up and read. If you aren’t feeling motivated or having doubts, read something from your personal anthology instead.
- If you miss a day or two, just pick back up where you left off.
- If you are running short on time and you don’t have time for your regular reading practice, read from a very short text like the Dhammapada, or simply take a moment to reflect on something useful you have read in the past and resolve to pick up with your regular practice the next day. Remember, having some contact each day is most important.
- Keep an eye out for suttas to include in your personal anthology.