The Majjhima Nikaya, open and humming with promises of wisdom

“What should be done for his disciples out of compassion by a Teacher who seeks their welfare and has compassion for them, that I have done for you, Ānanda. There are these roots of trees, these empty huts. Meditate, Ānanda, do not delay, or else you regret it later. This is our instruction to you.”

Thus ends the Indriyabhāvanā Sutta (The Development of the Faculties), number 152 in the Majjhima Nikāya collection and in my opinion there really couldn’t be any better way to conclude the Middle Length Discourses with a very blunt call to action. It is almost as the Buddha is speaking to us through Ānanda to not hesitate to put the practice outlined in the discourses into practice: “Meditate, do not delay! Or else you will regret it later!”

My Daily Sutta Practice, 152 Days Later

As a follow up to my previous Buddhist studies, I decided to dig further into the Pali Canon by reading through the Majjhima Nikāya. This had been recommended to me as a great collection to read as each of the suttas were “just right” in length and easy to read through. When I started I somewhat tried to read it like a book… after all I feel like I had success with this during my whirlwind study of other Buddhist literature, right? By the time I got to sutta #20 I found myself completely worn out mentally and realized that I really hadn’t successfully retained much of what I read. Based on a practice outlined on the website Reading Faithfully I decided to simply commit to reading a single sutta day; no more, no less.

Every day I would basically just find a good 45 minutes at some point (usually in the early morning but sometimes at lunch or in the evening) and just read one sutta. Sometimes I’d take notes, sometimes I’d just do some quiet reflection on it. As time progressed I began to also develop a daily meditation practice and try to read before my session to provide some “mental nutriment” to reflect on. I found that this really helped deepen my practice quite a bit by giving me something to dwell on as I entered my meditative state. There is a lot of very specific meditation instruction throughout the suttas that one can apply in their practice that I personally found helpful as my instruction on meditation was loosely what I learnt from the bhikkhus that I spent time with during my three days as a monk and reading of various literature, I plan to dive into further detail around several of the suttas in later blog post, but for now here are a few minor interesting things I noticed during this read through.

Don’t Zone Out During Repetitions

The most striking aspect that stands out when reading directly from the Pali canon in general is that to say there is a bit of repetition is an understatement… there is a lot! Hardly a sutta passes by without a sequence of repetitions typically in a form of an entire paragraph repeated eight or twelve times with a single word or phrase changed within it. Some say that historically the repetition was necessary as a means to make it easy for the oral tradition to be remembered for later transcription while at other times I think the repetition is being done because the Buddha is trying to really drive home a specific point. When this happens and I find my mind droning out I try to stop and make sure to re-read the passage to make sure I didn’t miss something.

The repetition at the sutta level actually made me re-examine Sutta #131: A Single Excellent Night. I admit that this sutta was read in the evening in bed and as a result was kind of glossed over. Once I got to 132 on the follow day and noticed it was basically repeating 131 I was clued in that this meant it was important and made sure to go back and re-read it a bit more closely and realized it was a nice summarization of how to practice mindfulness through present moment awareness.

“Let not a person revive the past

Or on the future build his hopes;

For the past has been left behind

And the future has not yet been reached.

Instead with insight let him see

Each presently arisen state;

Let him know that and be sure of it,

Invincibly, unshakably.

Today the effort must be made;

Tomorrow Death may come, who knows?

No bargain with Mortality

Can keep him and his hordes away,

But one who dwells thus ardently,

Relentlessly, by day, by night —

It is he, the Perfect Sage has said,

Who has had a single excellent night.

So when it comes to repetitions it is important to not let the mind be discouraged and find a way to treat it as a way to draw more emphasis to the text.

Study With Others

The Wat we attend doesn’t really offer much in the way of practice and study amongst the laity so during 2018 I decided to research and seek out others here in the west that are interested in furthering practice into insight meditation and study of Buddhist scriptures. Thankfully it turned out a local dharma center hosts a regular sutta study group that as luck would have it was delving into the Majjhima Nikāya after completing the anthology In The Buddha’s Words. For our initial meetup we read suttas 1–8 and then discussed them at the group, where we found ourselves barely making it to sutta three during our discussion as there was so much ground to cover. However we all found the discussion beneficial so decided we’d take it slow, aiming to cover only one or two suttas per meeting.

I admit I was skeptical of the pacing… we’ll be studying this text for YEARS! Yet I feel this turned out to be quite wonderful as continued my daily reading plan but each month I also go back and do a much more in-depth study of the sutta we have scheduled for the month. I also used this as an opportunity to explore the text deeper by pursuing commentary on the texts that were recommended in the notes at the end of the book. As a result, I discovered and read the excellent Roots of Good and Evil by Venerable Nyanaponika Thera. And thanks to group, I became aware of the wonderful Bhikkhu Analayo and his text Satipatthana Meditation: A Practice Guide.

I highly recommend participating in a group as you read the suttas as others provide a great diversity of views and the discussions led me to consider some alternative interpretations that I otherwise wouldn’t have become aware of. For example the first sutta “The Root of All Things” ends quite differently than the praise and delight that most suttas end with in that “the bhikkhus did not delight in what the Buddha said.” While the standard consensus is that these bhikkhus were former Brahmins who didn’t delight that they were just told the opposite of their views, our teacher leading the group discussion theorized that maybe the bhikkhus were simply applying what the Buddha just taught in this discourse to “not delight in anything at all.”

Be Patient

Those who know me likely know that I am quite a voracious reader. I enjoy reading a lot and when I find myself in a situation where I’m quite thirsty for knowledge on a subject I typically read books cover to cover or read as much as I possibly can each day. With this text however I limited myself to reading only a single sutta per day which I admit got really hard when dealing with the shorter discourses (some can be so short that they cover only a single page or two). It was really tempting to read the pairs of shorter and greater discourses together but thankfully I restrained myself there. 😅

I feel that this practice helped cultivate a sense of gradual progression. To kind of let go of craving and accept that each day brings a continuation of progress on a planned path of learning. This also shifted my view point on a lot of different areas in my life leading me to undertake large projects or tasks and consider how to just do them in the right amount each day and not overwhelm myself with everything that is left undone by simply coming to terms with the schedule of progress that needs to happen. Personal fitness is one area we I already practice this with my daily routine but this practice just gave me more insight in how that has worked in achieving gradual goals.


Thankfully in this age we have access to limitless quantities of information and there could be no better time to undertake a study of the Buddha’s teachings. Search for any sutta and you will likely find recorded dhamma talks, commentaries, commentaries of commentaries, blog posts and study guides related to it.

Bodhi Monastery has a really great collection of lectures given by Bhikku Bodhi. While these have a more thematic organization to study based on specific subjects I found it useful to occasionally listen to these when I desired studying a text deeper (or just needed something to listen to while on long walks).

Some Closing Thoughts

With the conclusion of reading the Majjhima Nikāya as part of my daily practice I was a bit lost as to what to read next. Thankfully my reading group teacher was able to provide advice and I’ve picked up the Saṃyutta Nikāya as my next daily reading practice. The suttas in this collection happen to largely vary in length but at least in the first division are quite short and bound as chapters so I’m committing to reading a chapter a day. It has been very interesting reading these after reading the Majjhima Nikāya. For example in one passage spoken by a devata praising Jeta’s Grove I found myself thinking “Huh… this sounds like Anāthapiṇḍika.” Sure enough after turning to the notes it was indeed the former Anāthapiṇḍika speaking the passages.

I know a lot of people get discouraged by the sheer volume of the Pāli Canon but can recommend that the daily practice of reading a set length truly seems to best way to read through it in my honest opinion. It really helped prevent getting worn out and really strengthened my daily meditative practice. It provided a reinforcement and sense of urgency that we have no time to lose in progressing on our path to liberation. 😃

“What should be done for his disciples out of compassion by a Teacher who seeks their welfare and has compassion for them, that I have done for you, Ānanda. There are these roots of trees, these empty huts. Meditate, Ānanda, do not delay, or else you regret it later. This is our instruction to you.”

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