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Sutta Reading Practice Life List

A sutta reading 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.

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Sutta Practice Life List

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.

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Sutta Practice Life List

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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Audio Sutta Recording: Itivuttaka, translated by John D. Ireland

Cover of Itivuttaka by John D Ireland

Below you will find complete audio recordings of the four chapters of The Itivuttaka, translated by John D. Ireland as found in The Udāna and the Itivuttaka, Two Classics from the Pali Canon, Translated by John D. Ireland. ©1997 Buddhist Publication Society. Click on the links below to download. You can also download an e-book version of the translation here.

These files are created and distributed with the permission of the Buddhist Publication Society.

If you are listening a little bit each day as part of a regular practice, you may want to use the printable checklist of the Khuddakanikaya found here.

Individual Suttas as Single MP3 Files

The links below are bundled as zip files for each chapter.

56 kbps – Smaller File Size

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Itivuttaka Chap-1-suttas-1-27, John Ireland, 56kbps

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Itivuttaka, Chap 2, suttas 28-49, John Ireland, 56kbps

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Itivuttaka, Chap 3, suttas 50-99, John Ireland, 56kbps

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Itivuttaka, Chap 4, 100-112, John Ireland, 56kbps

Whole Chapters in a Single MP3 File

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Itivuttaka 1:001-027 Ekakanipāto: The Section of the Ones, 42 minutes, 56 kbps MP3

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Itivuttaka 2:028-049 Dukanipāto: The Section of the Twos, 40 minutes, 56 kbps MP3

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Itivuttaka 3:050-099 Tikanipāto: The Section of the Threes, 107 minutes, 56 kbps MP3

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Itivuttaka 4:100-112 Catukkanipāto: The Section of the Fours, 35 minutes, 56 kbps MP3

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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

Related Pages:

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 Reading 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

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Living with the Sallekha Sutta: Effacement, Majjhima Nikāya 8

One by one, little by little,
moment by moment,
a wise man should remove his own impurities
as a smith removes the dross from silver.

Dhammapada verse 239
Translated by Acharya Buddharakkhita

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Living with the Sallekha Sutta, MN 8 PDF Worksheet

One of the ways the suttas come alive is by working to overcome specific unwholesome character traits. For example, when we make a wholehearted commitment to examine greed in our lives, as we read the suttas that talk about greed will really stand out. When we are examining greed very personally, then the suttas that deal with greed also become very personal, very urgent. As we put these teachings into practice we gain confidence in the Blessed One’s Dhamma.

One sutta we can use to guide this practice is the Sallekha Sutta, number 8 from the Middle Length Discourses. It contains over forty unwholesome characteristics and their wholesome counterpart. The method is very straightforward. You pick some of the unwholesome characteristics to examine in your own life using the method spelled out in the sutta. As you come across other suttas that deal with the same unwholesome qualities you can add them into your reflection.

The instructions below are from a worksheet you can download and print out. In addition to being a summary of the Blessed One’s method for overcoming the unwholesome qualities, the worksheet acts as a tangible reminder of your process of examination.

1. After reading MN 8 Sallekha Sutta, choose three of the unwholesome qualities that you will examine in your life for the next three months. Fill in the blanks in each section taking the wording from the sutta. For easy reference, include the number from the sutta for each quality. This will also remind you that you have only taken a selection of qualities to work with.

2. Determine a time each day to do the reflections on these qualities using the method found in the sutta itself. Work with them in exactly the way that they are given in the sutta using each of the five methods reading the introduction to each section as well as the conclusion. At the beginning and at the end of each day may be most effective. You may also want to do this reflection before or after meditation. Place this worksheet in a conspicuous spot such as your pillow or meditation cushion so you are constantly reminded.

3. Once a week, read the entire sutta again so you do not loose touch with the fact that the Blessed One pointed out many unwholesome qualities to abandon and many wholesome qualities to cultivate.

4. As you actively and faithfully explore the teachings of the Blessed One in other texts, you will naturally pay special attention to teachings that relate to the wholesome qualities you are now trying to cultivate. Consider putting particularly helpful passages into your personal anthology.

5. At the end of the three month period, choose another three qualities to examine and begin the process again.

The excerpt of Sallekha Sutta in this worksheet from The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Majjhima Nikāya, Translated by Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi, Wisdom Publications, Boston, 2001. A translation of this sutta by Venerable Nyanaponika Thera can also be found on accesstoinsight.org. Verse numbers (indicated with the § symbol) are the same for both versions.

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Living with the Sallekha Sutta, MN 8 PDF Worksheet

Majjhima Nikaya as a Daily Sutta Reading Practice

Majjhima Nikaya Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha by Bhikkhu Bodhi Reading

If you have an interest in learning what the Blessed One taught and you can devote 20–30 minutes to daily sutta reading practice, the Majjhima Nikaya will be an excellent text with which to work. It is especially suitable for people with an interest in applying the teaching to their lives, either through meditation or contemplation. Most of the suttas have a story that connects the teaching with a time and place. You will get to know many of the Buddha’s prominent disciples, both monastics and lay people. The topics covered have a wide range. Examples include: meditation, kamma and rebirth, overcoming personal defilements, the five aggregates, the sense bases, and the brahma viharas.

Which edition to use

The best complete translation available is The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha by Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli, edited by Bhikkhu Bodhi. It has an excellent introduction as well as over a thousand end notes to help you along the way. This is published by Wisdom Publications and can be ordered on-line through the publisher or purchased at your local bookstore. There is also an e-book version available directly from the publisher’s website. Now about a third of the book is available as a free sample here.

Ajahn Thanissaro has an anthology of more than 80 suttas from the Majjhima Nikaya in the second volume of A Handful of Leaves, available to order free in print from Metta Forest Monastery or  for download as an e-book in multiple forms. Although this is not the complete collection, it offers plenty of material with which to work. If you write to request a copy, consider asking for the entire four-volume set so you can practice with the other texts later.

The latest translation of the Majjhima Nikaya is by Bhikkhu Sujato on SuttaCentral.net. This translation is not yet available for print, but you can download an ebook version from this site. A PDF is included so if you wanted to you could easily print it, although it is quite large.

The practice

The practice is simple: read one sutta each day, not more, not less. At the outset, don’t be concerned with whether or not you fully understand the meaning of the discourse, but on the next day, go on to read the next sutta. This is not to say that understanding what you read is not important, but only that your progress should not depend on understanding what you had read the day before. Don’t get discouraged. The more suttas you read, the more you will understand. For the time being, focus on what you do understand. Bring those teachings deep into your life. Understanding the rest will come later.

If you do your sutta practice at the beginning of the day, you may find that the teachings naturally come to mind later in the day. This is because the suttas are relevant to our everyday lives. If you have a daily meditation practice, reading before or after meditation, when the mind is calm and receptive, will help you better absorb the content of the text. For more on when to read, check out the article When to Do Your Sutta Reading Practice.

What order to read

Although the suttas in the Majjhima Nikaya are not always grouped by topic, you may read them in the order in which they were arranged by the compilers. There are 152 suttas and most are between four and six pages in length. A few are slightly longer, so you may want to read these over two days or mark them for reading on a day that you have more time. Apart from dividing longer suttas over two days, try to stick to reading one per day, one after another.

That being said, if you are new to the suttas, you may want to proceed in the following order:

Suttas 21-30 (third division)
Suttas 11-20 (second division)
Suttas 1-10 (first division)
Suttas 31-152 (the rest)

While this order is not essential, it is helpful for beginners in a couple of ways. First, by using this order you will initially encounter many beautiful similes that can be understood immediately. You will also avoid beginning with sutta 1, which is one of the most difficult in the entire canon. If your commitment is strong and you have a faithful attitude, it doesn’t really matter what order you read. But reading either in the order suggested above or from first to last will simplify your practice.

The introduction

The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha edition has an excellent introduction by Bhikkhu Bodhi that could almost stand on its own as an introduction to Theravada Buddhism. For someone new to the suttas, reading the introduction is especially recommended. However, read the introduction outside of your regular practice session. You can start right off by reading the suttas even before you read the introduction, using the beginner’s order suggested above.

End Notes

Whether or not you find the end notes in this volume helpful to your practice with the sutta is partly a matter of personal temperament. Some people find them essential, others find them to be a distraction, still others are divided between these two attitudes. You will soon enough find out to which group you belong.

There are several types of notes:

  • Basic explanations of new concepts offered by the translators. These can be very helpful to the beginner.
  • Information from the commentary, prefixed with “MA,” and from the subcommentary, prefixed “MT.”
  • Notes by the translator about why a certain Pali word was translated in a certain way. These notes may not be of much interest to someone new to the suttas.
  • References to other suttas that explain the highlighted point in greater detail. Many concepts touched on briefly in one sutta are explained in detail in other suttas. You can mark these passages to read later if you are interested.

Personal anthology

As you are reading, you want to look out for suttas to include in your personal anthology. Because the suttas in the Majjhima are relatively long, you will probably just want to include shorter excerpts. By creating your personal anthology and using it for reflection when you meet difficulties, you will begin to appreciate the relevance of the suttas to your life. Once you have compiled a substantial anthology, even if you fall away from a daily sutta practice, you will still have a way to quickly reconnect with the teachings.

Some final thoughts

If you like to take notes, you may want to read this article on taking notes and sutta practice.

Because reading a complete sutta each day is a big commitment, you probably want to choose a backup text in advance, such as an anthology of shorter suttas to practice with on days when you can’t give the full period to the Majjhima. This ensures that you will have daily contact with the Blessed One’s teachings every day. It will also broaden your experience with the suttas.

When you finish the book

When you finish the last sutta, start again at the beginning on the very next day. On this second reading, start with the very first sutta in the collection. It’s not possible to absorb everything in a single reading. By the time you reach the end, almost six months will have passed and your understanding of the Blessed One’s teaching will have increased tremendously. Reading all the suttas again will take your practice to an even deeper level. For the advantages of reading a book a second time or more, see the article When You Complete a Book of Suttas.

Have you read the Majjhima Nikaya as a daily practice? Share your experiences in the comments below. If you would prefer not to have them published, simply write “private” in the first line.

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When to Do Your Sutta Reading Practice

When is the best time to do your sutta practice? It will probably be different for everyone, but here are some suggestions. You may want to first decide how much time you will need to spend each day.

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Schedule a regular time

Try and find a time that will work every day or almost every day. Get into a routine.

If you can, read early in the day

If possible, find a time to do your reading practice early in the day. This has several benefits:

  • Most importantly, you will have the rest of the day to contemplate the sutta that you read and see its truths in your own life. This is an incredibly powerful experience that builds faith and confidence quickly.
  • Even if you don’t consciously think about the sutta, it may naturally come to mind when the teaching you read are needed.
  • If you plan to read early but you miss your scheduled time, you still have the rest of the day to fit it in.

If you have a meditation practice

Although you can certainly read the suttas without having a daily meditation practice, if you do, try to link them up. You could either read before or after meditation. Both have advantages.

“There are these five rewards in listening to the Dhamma. Which five? One hears what one has not heard before. One clarifies what one has heard before. One gets rid of doubt. One’s views are made straight. One’s mind grows serene. These are the five rewards in listening to the Dhamma.”

The Buddha—AN 5:202

  • Reading the Dhamma calms and concentrates the mind if you do it before meditation.
  • If your mind is calm and concentrated from meditation, then what you will read after will surely go to the heart.
  • If your daily meditation practice is not quite daily, then make a commitment to read even if you do not meditate. After reading you may decide to meditate after all.

Link it to another activity

If you don’t meditate every day, link your sutta practice to something else that you do every single day. Be creative. A peaceful, quite time is best, but that may be hard to find. Don’t let the “perfect time” that never happens keep you from reading in a less than perfect time that happens every day.

Determine to do it before X

If your daily schedule is not so consistent, try linking your sutta practice to a time period before you do something. For example:

  • Before eating any food for the day
  • Before getting dressed
  • Before going on line for the first time each day
  • Before touching your phone
  • Before getting out of bed
  • Before leaving the house

If you must read late in the day

If your mornings are very rushed (although it’s hard to imagine not having the time to read at least single Dhammapada verse) or if you are not a morning person, you may only be able to find a consistent time in the evening.

  • Bring to mind your day’s activities when reflecting on the sutta that you read. How could you have applied the teachings in your life that day?
  • Consider taking just a moment the next morning to try and remember and review in your mind what you read the night before.

Don’t break the chain

Reading every single day is extremely beneficial even if it is just for a short time. Try using the Don’t Break the Chain technique to make it happen.

When do you find is best to read every day? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.

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How Long to Do Your Sutta Reading Practice Each Day

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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.

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.

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.

To keep your practice focused, consider doing note taking at a different time. And try using the Don’t Break the Chain technique to keep your practice happening every day.

Texts for Sutta Reading Practice Based on Your Current Knowledge Level

If you have a strong commitment and the proper attitude, it doesn’t matter so much what text you choose to work with. While you are beginning to develop the proper attitude and commitment, you may want to take the following into consideration. See which section describes your experience. When you decide what to read, increase your chance of success by making a Sutta Reading Practice Plan.

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Little to no experience with the Dhamma:

You’ve heard about Buddhism, but don’t know much about it. What better place to start your experience of Buddhism that to read exactly what the Buddha said? Almost all the books of suttas published today contain good introductions that will give you what you need to start reading the suttas right away.

Without question the best book to start with is In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon by Bhikkhu Bodhi. It organizes suttas and excerpts of suttas in a way that is easy to understand and make meaningful in your life right away. Many people have had very profound experiences reading with this book. You will probably find yourself going back to this collection again and again.

Other suggestions:

  • The Dhammapada and the Itivuttaka are traditional collections that will give you a good sense of the style of the canon. There is a lot of variety in these two texts, so it is easy to stay engaged. And they are both available to download and print out right now.
  • The anthology Merit, by Ajahn Thanissaro, starts with suttas the cover basic concepts and builds up to suttas that explain merit all the way to the attaining of Nibbana. This is available free on request from Metta Forest Monastery.

And remember if you are new at reading suttas, you may be tempted to take lots of notes while you are reading. This works for many people, but some people find it distracting. Here are some thoughts on how to work with note taking.

Some experience:

You are familiar with basic Buddhist concepts. You may have read lots of books about Buddhism, but have not read a complete collection of the suttas themselves. You are more than ready to jump right in. If you are committed and have a skillful attitude, any of the texts listed on this site could work for you. Below are some to consider.

  • Any of the texts listed above
  • The Life of the Buddha According to the Pali Canon will give you a great sense of the variety of styles found in the canon as well as give you a sense of the whole of the Buddha’s life as found in the most ancient texts.
  • Ajahn Thanissaro’s anthology from the Majjhima Nikaya found in Handful of Leaves Volume 1 will expose you to lots of important suttas.

Lots of experience:

You’ve read some suttas already. You are comfortable with Pali words. There’s really no limit to the texts you could work with. Just develop a skillful attitude and make a firm commitment to read from your chosen text every day.

  • The complete translation of The Middle Length Discourses is a wonderful text to establish yourself in. You will gain a realistic sense of the breadth and depth of the Buddha’s teachings.
  • If you are already familiar with many of the main themes in the Dhamma, the Samyutta Nikaya will give you a detailed analysis of important topics such as the five aggregates, dependent origination, the six sense bases, etc. Committing to read from this book for 15-30 minutes a day would work well.
  • Don’t forget about the books in the Khuddaka Nikaya such as the Dhammapada, the Itivuttaka, and the Udana. These work very well as a sutta (or chapter) a day practice and could even be done in addition to one of the texts above.

And no matter what your experience level, be sure to start your personal anthology right away.

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