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.
  • 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: a sutta from the Itivuttaka, Udāna, or Sutta Nipāta, or a chapter from the Dhammapada or a few verses from the Theragāthā or Therīgāthā. 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. Now that you see the value in bringing the suttas into your life, this commitment will be easier.

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

2 thoughts on “When You Complete a Book of Suttas”

    1. At some point it would probably be difficult *not* to start memorizing. This is one of the blessings of how the suttas are presented — important passages tend to repeat, especially in a book like the Middle Length Discourses. And if you read a chapter a day in the Dhammapada, after a year you will have read it over twelve times. Doing this practice for a few years, our favorite passages are sure to stick in our head even without a lot of effort. But, of course, making special effort to memorize is of great benefit as well.

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