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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Troubleshooting Your Personal Anthology

Creating a Personal Anthology is extremely simple, but there are still some places we can go wrong. If this happens our Anthology may be less effective. Below are some common problems and suggestions for solving them.

As a reminder, this is the basic method:

  1. Read the suttas on a regular basis taking them to heart as personal advice.
  2. When you find a passage that speaks directly to your defilements or is personally very inspiring, copy it into your Personal Anthology.
  3. In daily life, when the defilements are strong, read the suttas in your Personal Anthology as an antidote.

If you haven’t read the full article in a while, you might want to start there.

Problem: Feeling obligated to fill the book

No where in the instructions is there anything about needing to add a certain number of passages per week or fill all the pages. One passage of Dhamma can be enough to wake us up. Of course it’s unlikely that you will only have one passage, but keeping this in mind will prevent the Personal Anthology from becoming a chore or an obligation. It only matters that we capture passage when we find them.

Problem: Putting passages in that you consider important in a general sense

Truly, all the suttas are important. If the goal was to collect important suttas, then we could simply buy a complete canon and be done. You may very well want to keep a Dhamma notebook where you copy passages of doctrinal importance. No question, that is beneficial. But the principle behind the personal anthology is that there are some passages that take our breath away, touching us deeply. Passages that describe our defilements very intimately. Those are the ones we collect in the Personal Anthology. Then when our defilements are strong, we can read teachings that describes them perfectly and tells us how to remove them—this is the way we can not only overcome them but at the same time develop confidence in the Blessed One’s teachings.

Problem: Not keeping these passages in their own small book

Related to the above issue, if you are collecting these personal passages along with other Dhamma notes, it will be that much harder to find them when the need arises. And if you are traveling or on a retreat, it is less likely that you will take them with you if they are integrated into your main study notebook.

If you are resistant to putting them in their own book, or you haven’t started a book at all yet, you might want to give the quick start method a try.

Problem: Too many less powerful suttas

If you are falling into the attitude of feeling obligated to fill your Anthology, there is a chance that you may start to include too many suttas that you may simply like or find somewhat interesting. It’s good to capture them somewhere, but the idea behind the Personal Anthology is to have a ready collection of suttas that you connect with most deeply.

Problem: Thinking of your Personal Anthology as a project instead of a resource

Some people think of the Personal Anthology as a journal or a project that is going to take up time on a regular basis. This is not the case. It’s possible that you will only add a passage every few months, if that. Remember, it’s not the number of passages that matters, but that we choose them wisely and read them when the need arises.

Problem: Not reading the suttas with an eye for passages to include

If we are not habitually reading the suttas as personal advice from our fully enlightened teacher, it is unlikely that we will find the correct kinds of passages to include in our Anthology. By doing self-examination practices, such as those in the Sallekha Sutta (MN 8) we can gain a greater awareness of our main defilements. Then when the Buddha talks about those particular issues as we read the suttas we are more likely to take them to heart and want to contact them again and again.

Problem: Not using it

The last and most important step of maintaining a Personal Anthology is actually reading it when the need arises. This requires that we actually have the awareness of the arising of defilements and remember that we have the Buddha’s instructions available to overcome them.

Have you had problems creating your personal anthology? Have you overcome any of those listed here? Share your experience in the comments below. Feel free to do so anonymously.

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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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How To: Tips for Writing in a Small Book

It’s great to use a small blank book for your personal anthology. They are easy to carry around and keep near by for when you need to read the teachings. It can be tricky, though, to write neatly on such a small surface. Here are some tips to make things easier.

Pencil or Pen

If you are not a professional scribe, you may make mistakes when you are copying texts into your personal anthology. To make it a more pleasant experience, consider using a soft pencil. This will give you dark letters that are easy to erase. Although the pages touch, they don’t tend to rub back and forth so the pencil won’t smudge much.

When you are writing on the left hand page, it may cause marks to transfer between the touching sides of the previous two pages, especially if you are writing in pencil. Just place a blank piece of paper between the two pages. This will keep the writing from transferring.

Big Hands, Small Book

You may find it awkward to be writing on such a small space. There are two problems. First, with a new book the left hand side is higher than the right hand side. Second, your hand and arm won’t always rest on the page you are writing because the book is small. This can be awkward. Solve this problem by placing another small book under the left hand side to even the height, and rest your hand or arm on yet another book to raise it to the page level. CD cases also work well for this, and you can change the height easily by adding or subtracting one.

This will make the process more pleasant and let you focus on the words of the Blessed One and his enlightened disciples.

Do you have tips on writing in a small book? Share them in the comments below.

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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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