I’m tired of aimlessly wandering through the Suttas. Is there some sort of coursework layout that is recommended to follow by the Theravada Sangha. Should I just read the Sutta Piṭaka front to back in no particular order? I will do so if that is what is actually suggested, but I have no idea if this would be the right way to go about it. I was thinking about ordering my practice around the concept of a Sotāpanna and then branching out into the rest of the Suttas as unfamiliar terms and concepts come up. Honestly, I’m just not sure what direction to go here.
I did just try some simple searches of the forum, but for whatever reason nothing was coming up.
So suggestions, links, or ideas would be wonderful. Please do not recommend anymore books, I have so many books. I would like to stay within the Sutta, I want to study what the Buddha said, not what people say or about what people said about the teachings.
This is interesting that you come up with such an approach.
With the developing team for SC-Voice, a text-to-speach app to read the Suttas that are on SuttaCentral, we are currently working on such an idea. We are developing components that may at some point be implemented in Voice too. Currently we are experimenting on a site for German Suttas.
If you read a Sutta on the website you will see so-called “example terms” highlighted in the text. These are example search terms which represent important doctrinal concepts, similes, or other items suitable to follow for Sutta study. Clicking on a highlighted term will lead you to a result list that shows all the Suttas that have this term. You can expand the little arrows to see a segment with the term for a little more context, and then go to a Sutta of your choice.
As I said, this feature is still in development, currently in experimental stage on Dhammaregen for German only.
It is actually an expansion of Voice’s examples that you can find in the search field when you start typing a word, or via the “inspire me” button.
We thought studying Suttas by topic might be an interesting approach as an alternative to a systematic way of study. People are different, so they should find different approaches for study.
There must be a connection made where the suttas become relevant to the actual practice. Then the search is not forced or abstract, it becomes a map of survival.
" Lending ear, he hears (reads) the Dhamma. Hearing the Dhamma, he remembers it. Remembering it, he penetrates the meaning of those dhammas. Penetrating the meaning, he comes to an agreement through pondering those dhammas. There being an agreement through pondering those dhammas, desire arises."—MN 95
“Agreement” means comparing what has been read with that already known, so the agreement is through meaning in a broad sense, this is how the link with other suttas is made, and is a particular skill not connected with the translation of individual words. “Sotapanna” is on the right track because it is a practical theme, but there are even more immediate practical suttas in the Anapanasati and Satipatthana, and further in the four foundations of body, feeling, mind, and dhamma, the practitioner’s mind being occupied with one of those experiences constantly, so some link between experience and sutta must be able to be made.
Another point where the sutta relevance opens up is through the hindrances and which one the practitioner is personally afflicted by. Most temperaments in general are inclined towards either anger or desire, and those who experience one are not much subject to the other. This leads to MN 19 where the Budda-to-be recounts his own method of handling anger and desire through recognition of their effects on himself and others in the pre-enlightenment period. Suttas of that period are more relevant to the beginning practitioner as are those by or to Ananda, Rahula or nuns, and suttas from the arahant’s point of view should be avoided. But all suttas lead to the four noble truths, and MN 19 is the genesis sutta because there the Buddha-to-be is formulating the four noble truths and the eightfold noble path, and they can be found there in germinal form.
Do you have someone you consider your main teacher? Are you associated with any Dhamma groups? I found that when, many years ago, I had both of those things for the first time, it gave a lot of direction to my studies.
I wonder if you could flesh this out a bit. That might help us give you better advice. Is it a feeling of not accomplishing anything? Or are you seeking a sense of greater mastery and don’t seem to be moving towards it? Or do you feel like what you do read is not useful to you and your life?
There probably is but I don’t think there are many participants on the forum that have gone through the traditional education system in Burma/Thailand/Sri Lanka. And just because a curriculum is sponsored by the national sangha or the government doesn’t mean it is necessarily good. I believe that in Burma and SL they focus a lot on Abhidhamma and commentaries.
This is indeed one of the methods that I recommend. It’s true that some people attain the goal of the Buddha’s teachings by simply hearing a single line of Dhamma. So if we are that kind of person, we should make sure that we don’t miss a single line in case that’s the one that will do it for us. And if we aren’t that kind of person, then we ought to make sure that we know lots of Dhamma and become as bahussuto (having heard much) as possible.
The Majjhima Nikāya is a good place to start with this, and I have written up some suggestions for reading one sutta a day here:
I’m also a big fan of keeping track of progress, so I have a bunch of checklists to give a physical reminder of what we are doing and how our progress is going:
I also think it’s great if you do have a certain topic in mind that you are particularly interested in, or a particular defilement or hindrance you are trying to overcome. That can give a little juice to your reading practice as you come across passages that relate to what you are interested in as you read the nikayas cover to cover.
Another approach is to work through some anthologies that are topic based. Ajahn Thanissaro is great at putting those together. You can request them from his monastery as a print book, or read them online or download ebook versions. Here are some suggestions:
And here is some advice for using an anthology as part of a daily sutta reading practice:
Many people have offered good advice. I would just add that studying the Dhamma can be quite personal based on where our practice is at, what we are dealing with in any given time, our character, how both our defilements and strengths manifest, as well as a wide variety of other conditons. For me when I first started reading the suttas many years ago I would just pick up one of the collections (I initally had the MN and SN and Dhammapada), open randomly and read whatever I opened to. It was actually quite amazing how relevant whatever I opened to was to my own practice. I would then often explore more in that section or along that theme. For example, one of the first suttas I opened up to was about dependent arising (in the SN) and I was immediately ‘hooked’. It seem to speak directly to me and was extremely powerful. I then explored other suttas I could find specifically related to dependent arising, while also continuing with my random approach looking at others.
I’m just sharing my personal experience. This approach may well not work for everyone. I already had an established meditation practice, and realized that some of the things I was hearing in Dhamma talks and ‘meditation instructions’ were often not fitting well with my experience. Also some things I was hearing seemed quite contradictory, though usually prefaced with “The Buddha said this…”. So this is what initailly movitvaed me to read the suttas to find out for myself ‘what the Buddha said’ (at least get as close as possible). It was like’coming home’. So many things were clarified, including realizing that most western ‘Vipassana’ teachers teach through the lens of the commentaries, while not distinguishing or clarifying what comes from where (it’s all usually just presented as “what the Budha said”, hence there were some seeming contradictions, both in terms of meditation instructions and also conceptually. It was also very helpful to learn a bit about the various historical layers of the teachings in terms of how Buddhism developed (but this is a slightly different subject and not so related to what you are asking).
It’s good to know your own learning style and what works for you, though of course things may also shift and change as you study. In general I tend to do things in an intuitive, non-linear and not so systematic manner (while at the same time making the connections in my mind as to how things fit together) so that’s partly why the apporach described above worked (and still does) for me but it might be counterproductive to someone else. Also, I’ve always preferred to just read the suttas, not take notes but rather trust that what is relevant will ‘stick’ in my mind, or otherwise it will come back at another time. but others may find taking notes helpful. And of course it’s always necessary to balance study and meditation (and so called ‘daily life’) practice. They nourish each other and how much to do of each will depend on the conditons, both internal and external, at the time.
@Snowbird Yes, I totally agree wih this. I have a notebook I keep with some favorite passages, usually in both English and Pali (as a way to lern the Pali); sometimes it’s just a line or two (or even a word), other times longer. By the way, for anyone who reads my post above, when I said I don’t take notes, I meant I don’t write out any reflections or insights I might have while reading.
I mean as long as you don’t hurt people and not commit crime, you should be good. I don’t quite understand what you really want? Start with counting your blessings maybe. As for me I’m not interested to become an arahat or something like that. But I don’t know what you want. Shalom.