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.

* 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.

What Suttas to Read

1.–2. Book, amount to read: Use the various articles on this site to choose a text—

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 clicking the download button at the top of this article.

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Bring the suttas alive by reading aloud

Buddhist scripture have been recited aloud since the time of the Buddha. In fact, without this recitation, usually as a group, we wouldn’t have the suttas with us today. You can continue this tradition by reading the suttas aloud.

Even though we don’t need to recite out loud to preserve the teachings for future generations, it is still a great practice.

Reading suttas aloud

Reading suttas aloud has many benefits:

  • If we are tired, reading out loud can help us wake up
  • If the mind is really distracted, it can help calm and focus the mind.
  • By reading aloud, we can process them through hearing as well as seeing.

Don’t worry about pronouncing all of the Pali words correctly. Sound them out the best you can, but don’t let incorrect pronunciation hold you back.

You don’t need to read the whole sutta out loud. If there is part of the sutta that doesn’t make sense, try reading that part aloud till you can track what is being said.

Sometimes repetitions start to blend together. By reading them out loud, the differences will pop out.

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A Personal Anthology Could Take your Sutta Reading Practice to the Next Level

If you’ve been reading suttas on a regular basis, then you know how they can speak to you personally. But we may not always be able to find the passages that speak to us directly when we really need to work with them. That’s why we should create a Personal Anthology. Then we know right where to go. It’s easy and you can start experiencing the benefits right away.

Have you already started making a Personal Anthology but it doesn’t seem to be helpful? Or making it seems stressful? Well check out these tips for overcoming common problems.

Don’t have a regular sutta reading practice yet? Well it’s time to begin!

Have you been using a Personal Anthology? Share your experience in the comments. Never commented on a blog before? Now’s your chance. Your comment could help inspire someone. You can leave your comment anonymously.

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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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Benefits of Having a Backup Text

Be prepared for times when reading your regular book of suttas is difficult.

The core of a daily sutta practice is working methodically through a single book of suttas from beginning to end. Sometimes, though, obstacles may arise that can be overcome by having a backup or alternate text.

A backup text is a second book of suttas, either a canonical collection or anthology, that we have chosen in advance. By choosing this text in advance, we already have a plan in place when we are at risk of missing our daily practice. Of course missing a day or two now and then is not such a big deal, but often external obstacles come many days in a row and internal obstacles remain unless we remove them.

Here are a few cases when a backup text may be helpful:

Time is scarce: If we have committed to reading a substantial amount of text each day, such as a sutta from the Majjhima Nikaya, there may be days when time is scarce. Rather than abandoning reading completely, or just reading part of a sutta, we can read a short passage from our backup text.

Schedule change: From time to time the irregularities of life may necessitate shifting the time of day that we do our sutta practice. If we usually practice in the morning, but have to get out of the house early on a particular day, we can use our backup text at the regular time to guarantee that we get some sutta practice in if plans don’t work out to reschedule the regular practice for later.

Travel: It is certainly possible to stick with our regular text when we travel, but if our schedule will be particularly busy, it may be more reasonable to switch to a text with shorter passages that are easier to digest. Travel presents us with all sorts of interesting experiences and gives the opportunity to find new ways to apply the Dhamma to our lives. There is no need to take a vacation from the suttas when you go on vacation.

Mood: Although we should not let our mood dictate whether we do our sutta practice, we may not have the skill or discipline in that moment to overcome our resistance. In cases like this, we may be able to trick ourselves into reading with the lure of something new and different, a.k.a. our backup text. Using our personal anthology is also a good option for situations like this. After having read a bit, we may even be able to arouse the energy to do our regular reading.

Aversion: Sometimes the hindrance of aversion may arise towards our main text. Ideally, we should work directly to overcome this hindrance through recollecting the benefits we have received from learning the Dhamma, what a rare opportunity we have to hear the Blessed One’s teaching, etc., etc. But if that is not successful, having a backup text to turn to in those situations will keep our practice on track. Again, this is a great time to use our personal anthology. When the aversion has passed, we can return to out main text with new eyes.

What makes a good backup text?

  • A canonical text with short and inspirational suttas is ideal, such as the Dhammapada or Itivuttaka. The Theragatha and Therigatha are also good because in these verses arahant monks and nuns often speak of their own difficulties in the training.
  • Chanting/pirit books that include translations of popular suttas also work well for several reasons: the texts are usually uplifting and we may have positive memories of using them when doing puja with others.
  • Any anthology that includes relatively short passages

Whatever you choose, it should be a book of suttas, not a regular book. It may be tempting to think that you need a “break” from suttas, but there is such a variety of material in the canon, it’s much more beneficial to try a different genre within the Sutta Pitaka.

Consider having a copy of your backup text on a mobile device. Often the situations when the backup text is necessary is when we are away from home, so if we have a text on a device we always have with us, we can be sure to have a text available when time does present itself.

Advantages/benefits of having a backup text:

  • Helps maintain continuity of practice
  • Removes the burden of decision-making when we are already presented with an unusual or stressful situation
  • Gives an opportunity for variety
  • There may be unexpected connections between the main text and the backup text. This often has an energizing effect.
  • If we are doing a practice with a big time commitment like a daily sutta from the Middle Length Discourses, we can maintain continuity of practice on days when time is scarce.

It’s still a good idea to move methodically from beginning to end of our backup text, just like we work through our main text. Then we can start again at the beginning when we finish.

Have you used a book of suttas as a backup text? How was it helpful? What did you use? You can leave your thoughts in the comments below. (anonymously if you prefer) Your feed back can help all of us in our practice.

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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

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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.

Walking Sutta 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

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

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.

Download the worksheet on practicing with the Sallekha Sutta

Personal Anthology

The Blessed One Is Talking to You: Making Your Personal Anthology

When we read the suttas faithfully, we are going to find passages that strongly resonate with us. We may get a feeling that the Buddha is speaking to us directly, seeing our defilements and giving the precise antidote to our disease of suffering. It is meant for us personally. Although these passages are beneficial to us the moment we encounter them, they will be most useful when our defilements are strongest. However, when our defilements are strong we may not be able to find them quickly. The solution is to create a personal anthology.

A personal anthology is not simply a collection of important suttas. It is your own personal medicine cabinet for your particular disease of suffering. By collecting the suttas that you consider best address your strongest defilements, and having them in one handy location, you will be able to easily find the Dhamma medicine when you need it the most.

For example, you may be strongly prone to anger. One day you may read the following verse from the Saṁyutta Nikaya:

The killing of anger, O devatā,
With its poisoned root and honeyed tip:
This is the killing the noble ones praise.

SN 1:71*

You may immediately feel this describes your experience of anger. Anger sometimes has a certain sweetness, doesn’t it? But at its root it is highly poisonous. When you encounter the passage, you may relate it to anger that you have experienced in the past. By including this passage in your personal anthology, when you become angry you can quickly consult it when you need it most. Eventually you may be able to instantly recall the complete passage, but until then your personal anthology will have your cure.

How to create a personal anthology

Find a small blank book. It does not need to be very large. A pocket sized book is easy to keep with you when you travel. Use this book solely to record the suttas.

Only copy the text of the sutta. Do not add your own comments or reflections. You may have powerful insights from the text—which is good—but you need not record these here. If your insights are authentic, you do not need to record them. When we go to these texts in a time of trouble, we want to consult the direct words of the Blessed One without our own interpretation or reflections. Allow the Buddha to speak directly to you each time. If you really want to keep track of your thoughts, consider creating a study notebook.

It is not necessary to copy an entire sutta. You can write down the passages that conveys the essence of the teaching. At the same time, remember that the teachings are always contextual and thus recording some of the background narrative may be helpful. When a repetitive analysis is given for a list of items, such as the five aggregates, you may want to abbreviate it in the way commonly done in published editions. Alternatively, if you find the passage especially helpful you may want to recreate all the repetitions in full so you can use it directly as an aid to contemplation.

Always include the citation of the sutta, whether you include the entire text or just an excerpt. This will allow you to find the original easily whenever you need to. You may even want to note the name of the translator. This is helpful when sharing the merit of the benefit you receive from reading the text.

What kind of suttas to collect

There are several types of relationships you may have with a text. There are some passages where you will have a clear and almost uncanny sense that the Supreme Buddha is giving this teaching to you personally. One of the marvels of the Buddha is that he was able to present the teaching in different ways for different people based on their temperament and social background. Although the Buddha is not physically present with us now, we have an excellent record of these thousands of teachings. While we are reading we must keep in mind this personal nature of the suttas.

One of the main reasons these suttas feel so personal to us is that they act as an antidote to our defilements. Although the roots of our defilements are the same, they may manifest in different ways for each of us. This is why some suttas may resonate strongly with one person but not with another. It is not important to figure out why. It is enough to recognize what suttas really act as a medicine for our own ailment of suffering. Also bear in mind that every single teaching of the Supreme Buddha conveys Dhamma that will liberate some people from suffering. When we recognize this, we will not select suttas for recording with a critical view of those that are less relevant to us in our present conditions.

There are some suttas that we may simply find uplifting regardless of their immediate relevance to our inner struggles. For example, a particular simile may give you clear insight into a subject and leave your mind feeling calm and cool. These are suttas that you will surely want to collect in your anthology.

How to use your personal anthology

Use your personal anthology when you feel distressed. Use it to see more clearly your defilements, which may appear in diverse forms. Think first of the five hindrances. When you are overcome by greed. When you are overcome by ill will. When you are feeling tired and lazy. When you are agitated. And, especially, when you have doubts about the teachings. The Buddha did not tell us to simply put up with these mental states. He wanted us to overcome them, and he gave us specific tools to deal with them. Once you compile a collection of texts, you will be able to take this Dhamma medicine. If you cannot stir up energy on your own, read the Buddha’s words. Reading something so true and clear will wake you up to reality.

By habitually going to the Blessed One’s instructions in times of difficulty, you will develop confidence in the Dhamma, and the suttas will become an integral part of your life.

  • Step One: Read the Buddha’s discourses.
  • Step Two: Add the ones you find most helpful to your anthology.
  • Step Three: Use these suttas as aids when defilements arise.

Personal Anthology article as a pamphlet

* “The killing of anger, O devatā,…” is from The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Saṁyutta Nikāya, by Bhikkhu Bodhi, Wisdom Publications, Boston, 2000.

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