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.

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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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Using an E-book Reader for Sutta practice: Kindle, Nook, etc.

Although it is recommended that you do your sutta reading practice from a book and not from the computer, using an e-book reader in some circumstances might work as well as a paper book.

For the purpose of these recommendations, an e-book reader refers to a device that is dedicated to just reading books, such as a Kindle or a Nook. It’s true that you can read e-books on an iPad, iPod, Blackberry, or cell phone, but all of those devices are similar to computers in their connectedness and potential for distraction. Of course, in a pinch, better to read from one of those than nothing at all.

If you don’t already have an e-book reader, then by all means, just stick with paper books. If you begin to do sutta study as well as sutta practice, you will need to work from paper books.

Benefits of using an e-book reader

  • E-books are hard to navigate. They are really designed for people reading novels, which is always done one page after another. This is, in fact, the way we approach the text as a reading practice, not wanting to get distracted by flipping around here and there.
  • They are light weight, so if you are walking back and forth when you are reading it is quite convenient.
  • They are extremely portable, so you can easily take it with you and keep up your practice when traveling.
  • You can potentially download your text and start right away.
  • A growing number of texts are available for free.
  • Checking the hyper-linked footnotes is quick so it doesn’t pull you away from the text for very long.
  • Some e-book readers have a text-to-speech function that might be helpful if the hindrances are strong. Of course, the reading will be mechanized and is no substitute for listening to actual recordings of the suttas.
  • Some e-book reading devices allow you to highlight passages and later transfer them to another document. This works well if you do feel compelled to take notes.
  • You can increase the text size. This is a general quality of all e-book readers but worth mentioning none the less.
  • E-book readers usually have a built in dictionary. This is beneficial as translators are often forced to use somewhat uncommon English words.

Disadvantages of using an e-book reader

  • Frequently (especially in the Wisdom Publications Nikaya editions) passages that appear in multiple suttas are left out with a remark such as “as Sutta 4, §27”. It is quite cumbersome, as noted above, to navigate to that passage involving potentially dozens of page turn clicks. It is especially important for the first three or four times we are reading a book to read those missing parts.
  • Even within a sutta, repetitions are frequently left out and it is not as easy to read them back in as it would be in a paper book.
  • When a note refers to a previous note, there is usually no hyper link from the footnote itself so looking it up is near impossible.
  • It is impossible, without lots of clicking, to determine how long a sutta is or how much you have left to read. If you have to modify your reading order slightly to accommodate your daily schedule, this would be very hard in a book like the Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha.
  • Unless you have highlighted it, it is nearly impossible to flip back through suttas previously read to find a passage.
  • You loose the physical reminder of the book in your life. When you have a real book sitting somewhere special in your house you will see it and remember your practice.
  • You loose the physical memory trigger of where a sutta or passage is located in the book. Because the idea is to work with a text over a lifetime, when you work with a paper book eventually you will have a sense of where a sutta is located, or even where an important passage falls on the page. With an e-book that is not so easy to do. This may be offset by the ability to do a word search if you can remember the exact word used and it doesn’t appear hundreds of times.

Because of the extreme difficulty in navigation to find elided(condensed) text, people just starting out may want to use e-books only as a backup, especially for the Wisdom Publication editions. If you are working with a book that has smaller suttas, such as the Dhammapada or the Udana, this may not be so much of an issue. Similar with an anthology such as In the Words of the Buddha. And having an e-book version of your text as a backup for when you travel is very convenient.

For practice, a paper book is perfect. So if you don’t already have an e-book reader, just stick with the paper versions.

If you do use an e-book reader for your practice, you may want to consider trying the Don’t Break the Chain tool to have a physical reminder of your commitment and history.

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Have you used an e-book reader for a sutta reading practice? Share your experience in the comments below.

Dhammapada As a Daily Practice

The Dhammapada is an excellent text for a daily sutta practice. The verses are packed with material for contemplation as well as implementation. The reading can usually be done in as little as five minutes a day plus as much reflection time as you are able to give. If you do not have an established sutta practice, this is a great text to begin with both because of the breadth and depth of the teaching as well as being very accessible. It is also very easy to commit to reading one chapter a day and develop this habit and hunger for the suttas.

Choosing a translation

If you are a Theravada Buddhist, it is important to use a translation of the Dhammapada that accurately reflects Theravada doctrine. Because of the pithy language of the original Pali text, it is easy for a translator from a non-Buddhist tradition to subtly insert concepts that are incompatible with the Dhamma. Be careful of books called “versions” or “renderings” as they sometimes play fast and loose with important concepts.

The following are good translations to use in terms of adhering to Theravada teachings:

All three are available on-line in some form but, as always, try to work directly from a book for your daily practice. To get a feel for which translation you like, read the same chapter in each one and pick the one that is most appealing. They are all good so there is no need to spend too much time laboring over your decision. Better just to get started. By reading a chapter every day you will be able to complete the book in less than a month so after several cycles of a single translation you can always try another one. If you stick with your favorite over several years you will begin to memorize important verses simply by repeated contact.

Regardless of the translation you use, at some point read Bhikkhu Bodhi’s introduction (available on line at accesstoinsight.org)

How much to read.

The easiest practice is to read one chapter per day. This has several advantages:

  • You will always have time to do this practice. (See the 2nd P) The only reason to miss a day is if you forget. There is always five minutes to read the Dhamma, no matter what your life is like.
  • There will always be at least one verse that you understand and connect with. In this way you will always have something to contemplate.
  • You can read the entire Dhammapada in less than a month, fourteen times in one year.

The last chapter is about twice as long as the rest, so you may want to split that one and read it over two days.

After having done several cycles with one chapter a day, you may want to try reading the same chapter each day for a week. This will allow you to work more deeply with the verses. In this way you will read it a total of seven times in six months.

You could also simply read until you find a verse that strikes you and then contemplate on it for some time. Mark where you stopped with a post-it flag and pick up there the next day. In this way you will be sure to cover everything eventually.

Make it your story

The ancient commentaries contain a record of the events that lead the Buddha to utter each verse. These are an excellent source of inspiration and understanding.

For a sutta practice, however, it is beneficial to imagine how the Buddha might have uttered these verses as a result of events in our own lives. Can you remember a time when you were caught in an argument, causing much suffering for yourself and other people? How would it have been for the Buddha to have appeared and uttered verse number 6:

6. There are those who do not realize that one day we all must die. But those who do realize this settle their quarrels.            A. Buddharakkhita, trans.

Imagine what it would have been like to hear the teachings in that moment. This is how we make the suttas come alive. When we do this, it will be easier to remember to bring these teachings to mind the next time a dispute arises.

Keep it a sutta practice

The Dhammapada is also an excellent text for deeper textual study, Pali language study, and even comparing different translations. However, during your designated practice time, try to work with the text on a personal, experiential level. To this end it is beneficial to:

  • Stick with a single translation at a time, at least for a year. The translations listed above will be useful to illuminate areas for personal cultivation and reflection.
  • Just read the text and not the background stories at least for the first three or four cycles.
  • Focus on implementation not interpretation.

Lofty language

As you are reading you will come across many passages that talk about arahants, fully enlightened beings. This may not always be obvious because the language used is generally non-technical. But it may be clear that it is talking about someone who has reached a high level of perfection. We have to use these verses to lift up our hearts, fill them with happiness knowing that such a state is possible, and that the path leading to that state was taught by the Blessed One. These are our heroes and we need to get to know their qualities very personally.

Conclusion

As with any sutta practice, try to connect it with a regular daily activity. Really commit to reading every day. This will give you a lot of energy for your understanding and keep the Dhamma constantly in your life. Consider using the Don’t Break the Chain technique. And remember this can be a perpetual practice, so always begin again.

Some of these verses will surely end up in your Personal Anthology. And even if you haven’t started a Personal anthology, you can easily use the Almost Anthology technique with the Dhammapada, simply flagging verses as you find them.

In his excellent introduction to Ven Buddharakkhita’s translation of the Dhammapada, Bhikkhu Bodhi makes a wonderful case for using the Dhammapada as a constant companion in your sutta practice:

As a great religious classic and the chief spiritual testament of early Buddhism, the Dhammapada cannot be gauged in its true value by a single reading, even if that reading is done carefully and reverentially. It yields its riches only through repeated study, sustained reflection, and most importantly, through the application of its principles to daily life. Thence it might be suggested to the reader in search of spiritual guidance that the Dhammapada be used as a manual for contemplation. After his initial reading, he would do well to read several verses or even a whole chapter every day, slowly and carefully, relishing the words. He should reflect on the meaning of each verse deeply and thoroughly, investigate its relevance to his life, and apply it as a guide to conduct. If this is done repeatedly, with patience and perseverance, it is certain that the Dhammapada will confer upon his life a new meaning and sense of purpose. Infusing him with hope and inspiration, gradually it will lead him to discover a freedom and happiness far greater than anything the world can offer.

Related Pages

Have you read the Dhammapada as a daily practice? Share your experience in the comments below.

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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.

Majjhima Nikaya as a Daily Practice

Majjhima Nikaya Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha by Bhikkhu Bodhi ReadingIf you have an interest in learning what the Blessed One taught and you can devote 20–30 minutes to daily sutta 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.

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 generally not 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.

Endnotes

Whether or not you find the endnotes 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 practice each day

time-3433319_1920When deciding how long to commit to practicing each day, it is important to remember that there is value whatever time you spend 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.

When You Complete a Book of Suttas

Non-repetition is the bane of scriptures;
neglect is the bane of a home;
slovenliness is the bane of personal appearance,
and heedlessness is the bane of a guard.

Dhp 241, translated by Achariya Buddharakhitta

Coming to the end of your first book of suttas will likely give you a sense of accomplishment. In fact, you have accomplished a great deal, exposing yourself to the direct teachings of the Blessed One, bringing his wisdom into your daily life. At the same time we cannot think that our work with the text is done. Not by any means.

There is great value in reading through a book at least a second time in the same way, a little bit each day. Don’t hesitate to do this. Begin again with the first sutta the very next day.

The benefits of doing this are many:

  • You will understand things that you did not the first time you read. Concepts will begin to click.
  • You will see things that you did not pay attention to the first time.
  • You will begin to identify favorite passages to put in your Personal Anthology.
  • You will gain a stronger sense of what texts are in the book and easily find them in the future
  • Having seen the truth of the teachings in your life from the first exposure, they will go more deeply to the heart on the second reading.
  • Because of the above benefits, your hindrances to reading and understanding will be less than they were the first time.

The second read is when you really begin to establish yourself in the collection. When you read a passage in your second round that you found very helpful in the first, it will immediately bring happiness and will strengthen the application of that teaching in your life. To build a relationship with the texts, repetition is essential.

As you come to the end of your text, you may find some excitement around the idea of reading something new. Now that you feel comfortable reading the suttas you may realize that there is a vast world of sutta possibilities awaiting you. Because of this greater confidence, you may be able to commit to a longer practice period. So start again with the same book and if you like add a passage each day from a second text. If you have time, you could read a sutta per day from the Middle Length Discourses. If not, you could easily do a Dhammapada chapter per day. Or perhaps a passage from an anthology. But in any case, stick with your original text at least for one more complete reading.

How well did you stick to your commitment to read every single day? If you found yourself missing days, on your second round, strengthen your commitment to read every single day by using the Don’t Break the Chain method. Now that you see the value in bringing the suttas into your life, this commitment will be easier.

If you haven’t been making a dedication of merit and setting an intention at the end of your reading, this is a great way to go further with your practice.

It is important that we not think that our practice is over after finishing a book. It’s really just the beginning.

Related

How To: Sutta Practice Basics

The logistics of a sutta practice are fairly straightforward. Choose a text and read some of it every day. Below you will find more specific suggestions for the basic aspects of a sutta practice. Be sure to tie it all together with a written sutta reading plan.

Step 1: Choose a Text

The text you already have on hand may be the best one. If you own a copy of the Majjhima Nikaya, that is probably an indication of where your interests lie and your current level of understanding. If you have kept a copy of the Dhammapada on the shelf for years, there was probably a point in time that you found it useful. Go with that. If you are new to sutta reading, In the Buddha’s Words is a perfect anthology to get you started. Check the following pages to see recommendations on different text to use. Some texts are well suited to reading one sutta a day, others may work better reading for a fixed amount of time each day.

Step 2: Choose a Time and a Place

Reading the suttas consistently over a long time is what is most important, even if it’s just for a few minutes each day. Your understanding will grow and compound, and at the same time so will your love of the Dhamma and your confidence in it. Pick a location free from distractions. Pick a time that is not likely to be eaten up by something else. If you already have a daily meditation practice, seriously consider connecting it with your sutta practice. For more tips on these topics, see:

Step 3: Make a Commitment, Begin, and Begin Again

At first, you may need to make a strong resolution to do your daily reading. Our hindrances are strongest when beginning a sutta practice. We will be encountering lots of new information and will surely come across things that we do not understand at first. If we stick with it, these problems will naturally fade away. Suttas reinforce each other and you will naturally learn what you need to know for understanding through continued practice and reflection. To end your reading session, make an aspiration to put what you have read into practice.

If you are committing to a time intensive practice, such as reading one sutta from the Majjhima Nikaya each day, consider having a shorter text as a plan B for those days when time is tight. At a minimum, pick up your text and recollect a meaningful passage and commit to starting up your practice again on the following day. Always begin again.

Once you have worked through a book completely, consider starting over from the beginning and reading it again one more time, day by day, before you start in on a different book. The familiarity gained through a second reading will be very powerful.

Step 4: Overcome the Hindrances

The Dhamma is both subtle and deep. If we are accustomed to mental stimulation that requires very little effort on our part, such as television or novels, we may easily project our difficulties in reading upon the suttas themselves. If we think that the difficulties we encounter when reading are caused by the suttas, it is very easy to fall away from the practice. In fact, the difficulties we have are due to very common hindrances that exist within our own minds. Without removing the hindrances, a sutta practice will always be difficult and marginally beneficial.

Remember: your commitment is to read each day. You may or may not understand a text at first. This doesn’t matter. Sometimes you will understand a text immediately, sometimes only after a long time. In any case, read the next sutta the next day.

Bonus Step: Create and Use Your Personal Anthology

Creating and using a personal anthology is one way to guarantee that the suttas that you are reading get tied in intimately with your live. Even if you fall away from your sutta practice for a period of time, having made a personal anthology, you will always be able to tap into the teachings that you have connected with the most.

As your sutta practice develops, return to the Start Here page to be reminded of the important principles of daily sutta practice. You can also visit the What’s New or subscribe to e-mail updates in the box on the right.

Be sure to tie it all together with a written sutta reading plan.