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.
Anthologies of suttas from the Pali canon are great for a daily sutta practice. See the list of anthologies for books to use. If you aren’t sure which one to pick, you can’t go wrong with In the Buddha’s Words by Bhikkhu Bodhi.
Here are some tips to keep in mind as you are reading.
ONE EACH DAY: As with any text for daily practice, read one sutta or passage each day. If it is particularly short, use your extra time to contemplate it more deeply or even commit it to memory. You may even want to copy it right into your personal anthology if appropriate.
MARK YOUR PLACE: Because the passages can sometimes be quite short, there may be several in a set of facing pages where you would normally put a bookmark. To keep track of exactly which one you are on, consider using a post-it flag or a piece of a post it note. That way you won’t need to spend time trying to figure out which passage you should read next. This is especially handy when you miss a day or two of practice.
DIFFERENT MARKS: Because you may also find yourself flagging passages of importance for future reference, or perhaps to include in your personal anthology, you can put the post-it that marks your place in the book at an angle. Other markers can be placed square with the page. This way you can easily tell where you are and which passage are just marked for reference.
LONG PASSAGES: Sometimes a passage in an anthology will be particularly long, longer than you have time to read that day. You can simply divide the passage in half, reading part one day and part the next. Another option is to save that passage for a day when you have more time. Simply mark that passage with another angled post-it flag. Obviously the last angled flag will be your final position in the book, and the earlier one will act as a constant reminder to go back to read the longer passage as soon as you are able.
FLAGS READY FOR USE: If you like using the flags like this, consider sticking several inside the front cover so they are always handy. This will help us avoid the tendency to use a pencil, tissue, or something laying around as a book mark.
ANTHOLOGY AS A BACK UP PLAN: If you have committed to reading a larger text as a daily practice, such as the Majjhima Nikāya, consider working with an anthology as a back up plan for days that you don’t have as much time. If you are doing this, it is especially important to keep track of exactly where you are in the book.
PAY ATTENTION TO CITATIONS: Most anthologies will include a citation, or reference, to where the passage is found in the canon. There will be a page in the front or back of the book explaining what the abbreviations stand for. (You can mark this with a flag coming out of the top of the book.) As you are reading, take a moment to look up the abbreviation each time until you have them memorized. This will be quite painless and give you a good sense of where things come from. You may start to develop an affinity to suttas from a particular book such as the Udāna or the Dhammapada. Then when it is time to pick a new book for practice you will know where to head.
EXCERPTS: Often anthologies contain only a portion of the sutta. This is almost always true when the citation is for the Majjhima Nikāya(MN) or the Dīgha Nikāya (DN). If you find one of those passages interesting, consider taking time to look up and read the whole sutta.
DO IT ALL AGAIN: As with any book you are using for daily practice, once you have finished it, consider reading the book a second time in the same way, one passage each day. This will greatly improve your familiarity, understanding and confidence in the teachings.
Have you used an anthology for daily practice? Share your experience or tips in the comments below
Attitude: Humility and patience will help you build confidence (saddhā) which is essential. Do not expect to grasp the meaning of a sutta right away. Continue your engagement regardless of your initial reaction. Eventually you will be able to understand all of the suttas. There will be plenty of suttas that are immediately accessible. Approach the text as a spiritual document. Do not have in mind to collect facts and information or find fault. What is important will naturally go to the heart.
Hindrances: You must actively work to remove the hindrances to sutta practice just as you do for your meditation practice. For example, if drowsiness or doubt are present it will naturally not be possible for the meaning to go to our heart. If you blame the sutta for your hindrances there is no solution to the problem. If you see the hindrances as your own, then a solution is possible.
Physicality: Have a dedicated space used for sutta practice, ideally at your place of meditation if you have one. Keep the book you are working with either on a small stool next to your meditation cushion or in a special place dedicated to the book.
Personal Anthology: Make your own personal collection of suttas that speaks most directly to your defilements. By doing this even if your daily practices becomes non-daily, you will still have something to work with when needed. On a day when the hindrances and defilements are particularly strong, you may want to substitute reading from your personal anthology for your regular text.
Don’t use practice time for reading the general introductions in the book, just as you would not substitute reading a book about meditation for your daily meditation practice.