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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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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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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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.

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.

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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.

Sutta Practice Text Suggestions Based on Available Time

Minimal time commitment

10-60 seconds (including reflection time)

Medium time commitment

1-10 minutes (including reflection time) One Sutta Per Day or a fixed time length

Greater time commitment

15-30 minutes (including reflection time)

  • Majjhima Nikaya, One sutta per day, no more. You may want to first read suttas 21-30, then 11-20, then 1-10. You may want to consider repeating this cycle of the first 30 one or two times before continuing with the rest of the book. This will give you an excellent foundation for all other practice with the suttas. Consider using one of the shorter anthologies above as a backup plan for days when you have limited time for practice.