The Five P’s of Sutta Practice

When we keep certain principles in mind as we read the suttas, we are sure to succeed on our path of practice and understanding.

Person reading suttas outside sitting near a lake
  1. Pragmatic Practice
  2. Possible Practice
  3. Patient Practice
  4. Persistent Practice
  5. Perpetual Practice

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1. Pragmatic Practice

First and foremost, we must establish a practice with the suttas that is pragmatic, applying the teachings to our own lives. It is not enough to merely read the suttas. We must relate these teachings to our lives directly at the very moment we are reading the words. Then as we go about our day the teachings will naturally come to mind and we will continue to apply them to our real life experiences. When we read about defilements of the mind, we must ask ourselves if they are present in our own minds. If so, we must see the danger directly and put into practice the teachings that will help remove them. When we read about wholesome qualities we have developed already, we must rejoice in this merit.

When our focus is on putting the teachings into practice — whatever small part we understand — our faith in the enlightenment of the Buddha will grow. And we won’t be obsessed and depressed by not understanding everything we read because we see for ourselves how beneficial even the smallest bit of Dhamma is. As we come across these teachings that have a lot of meaning to us personally, we can collect them in a personal anthology.

If our exploration of the suttas becomes too theoretical, we can spiral into a pit of doubt. This is because so many of the aspects of the Dhamma that are beyond our personal experience are just that: beyond our experience. We don’t have the same wisdom and knowledge as the Buddha. Rather than focus on things beyond our ability, we can focus on those things we can practice right away.

2. Possible Practice

We must make sure that the practice we choose is possible. We can do this by choosing a text that is both suitable for our knowledge level as well as suitable for the amount of time that we can realistically dedicate on a daily basis. It may be good to start with a practice that only takes a few minutes each day, such as reading a chapter from the Dhammapada or a single sutta from the Itivuttaka. These texts are both suitable for beginners as well as possible to do in about five minutes. By establishing a practice that is totally possible, we painlessly build up the habit and begin to see directly the benefit of encountering the suttas every single day. It’s hard to imagine anyone not having five minutes each day to dedicate to experiencing the suttas. If you are new, start with that.

3. Patient Practice

The Dhamma is both subtle and profound. We must be patient as we read, not getting discouraged if we come across passages that we do not understand. In fact, we can surely expect to read things that we do not understand completely. The skill we need to develop is the ability to focus our attention on the parts we do understand and put those into practice. As we put what we can understand into practice, our wisdom and faith will grow. If we are patient, deeper understanding will come with time.

4. Persistent Practice

We get the most benefit from reading the suttas when we do it every day or nearly every day. Far better to read for only five minutes a day than to read for a half an hour once a week. If our life situation changes and we become more busy, we need to reevaluate how much time we can give to the practice and perhaps shift to a practice that takes less time. But it is essential that when our life gets crazy we continue to engage with the teachings. This is probably the time when we need the teachings the most. Choose a backup text to read if time is tight or if our interest in our main text is fading. If we need inspiration, we can read from our personal anthology.

If we realize that we have fallen away from our daily reading, we can evaluate what might have gone wrong in a non-judgemental way. Did we bite off more than we could chew? Did our daily routine change and our reading time became impractical? Were we discouraged by not understanding everything we read? Figure out what went wrong and develop a new plan and see how it goes.

5. Perpetual Practice

It is important to see our relationship with the suttas as an ongoing one. They are not something that we read once and are done with. Reading the suttas every day is a habit that can bring benefits as long as our lives last. As our wisdom grows, we will understand more and more. But we need to be engaged with the teachings over the long term to see this benefit. When you finish a book, begin again the very next day, either rereading the same book or starting on a new one.

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5 thoughts on “The Five P’s of Sutta Practice”

  1. hi, i found this internetpage today and i am very happy i found it. i found so many advices how to read the bible but never found advices how to read the pali canon.
    please go on with this internetside and promote the reding of the palicanon.

    well done
    saddhu,saddhu,saddhu

  2. By being persistent in our sutta reading we are elevating the Pali Canon to its rightful position. My practice is often interupted as I find myself reading about the Dhamma from other sources, this is often because I need clarification on a matter and for it to be explained in a way in which I can understand. Many of these other writings are laudable in themselves but they are only aids and never should be seen as a substitute to reading the suttas themselves. We are reading faithfully by giving them priority and as stated on this site the scriptures touch the heart in a way no other source can.

  3. Hello Bhante,

    I found your website very helpful. Establishing and maintaining a daily study and practice of the suttas is indeed very important to keep us on track, especially when we are practicing alone. The priority of our life should be the Dhamma practice, and the suttas are our best guide to prevent us from getting lost in the struggles of daily life. I’ve found that if I stop reading suttas for some period then my understanding of the Dhamma and my practice goes downwards rapidly.

    In addition to the tips you’ve kindly shared with us, would you please provide more tips on how to discipline ourselves to study suttas and put the teaching into practice on a daily basis?

    With gratitude and metta,

    Starter

  4. Hello Bhante,

    I found your website very helpful. Establishing and maintaining a daily study and practice of the suttas is indeed very important to keep us on track, especially when we are practicing alone. The priority of our life should be the Dhamma practice, and the suttas are our best guide to prevent us from getting lost in the struggles of daily life. I’ve found that if I stop reading suttas for some period then my understanding of the Dhamma and my practice goes downwards rapidly.

    In addition to the tips you’ve kindly shared with us, would you please provide more tips on how to discipline ourselves to study suttas and put the teaching into practice on a daily basis?

    With gratitude and metta,

    Starter

  5. Venerable,

    Thank you for writing this article and sharing to us the experiences that comes directly from personal practice.

    Reflecting on what is written here, I recalled the advice and reflections shared to me by my teacher.

    – Without the cultivation through the four immeasurables and hundred thousands kalpas and without the Buddha’s intentions. We would not be meet the Suttas or yet able to read, contemplate and reflects the teachings. Though beyond comprehension, what is the Buddha’s intention?

    – Subtle point that Bhante mentioned, the Dhamma is subtle and profound. The teachings are multi-layered even in a single verse. Though beyond comprehension, What is the object of Buddha’s enlightenment? If not the Dhamma that one is experiencing right now? The Buddha words have a special properties that direct our attentions to the truth. What is the truth?

    – Rare is a Human Birth, rare is the emergence of the Buddha, rare it is to be able to hear the teachings, rare it is whether one can receive the Dhamma and practice in accord with the Dhamma.
    What is received, contemplated and shared is not lost; as a seed well planted. We received the fruits and fulfilled the intentions of the ancient masters that worked tirelessly to preserve the teachings.
    The thread is not broken; our connections to them to Lord Buddha goes sentence by sentence, word by word and truth by truth.

    Revering to all the good friends.

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