IanAnd wrote:One good thing about having these suttas in book form translation (rather than online) are the footnotes that accompany the translations.
I hope the implied
message in my response is not lost on you in this exercise. While it is one thing to have access to the discourses online for free, it is well worth the time and money spent on obtaining good, accurate, and authoritative translations of the discourses in book form. Not only will it save you time in having to resort to asking questions on forums like this, it will help speed up the uptake of information you need in order to facilitate a more efficient use of your practice.
Over the years I've spent thousands of dollars on obtaining books to help me come to a quicker realization of the material being taught. While I cannot recommend all
the books I bought and read (some lead me on a wild goose chase), there are a certain few that I wholeheartedly endorse as being indispensable to anyone's practice which includes learning the Dhamma
that Gotama taught. Those books are principally the reliable and accurate translations of the suttas along with a few extra books on commentary which helped me to solidify the conceptualization of many of the more complex teachings such that I could finally confirm them from my own experiences and observations. Those recommendation can be found in Blackbird's Theravadin Resource guide thread here
You don't need to purchase them all at once. You can buy them one at a time as you need and consume them. In addition, I took notes that I placed on sheets of paper in each book to remind me of the important sections and ideas each section contained. This gave me a quick reference guide that I could turn to in the future when contemplating these ideas. Although each of the Wisdom Publications editions of the discourses has an index, it is quicker to personally index those discourses which speak to you
about the importance of what they have to say on an individual basis. That way you can easily find them when you want to refer to them in the future. And believe me, you will
refer to them in the future, as practice is a gradual process and learning and comprehension comes in fits and starts. By this I mean, while you may not fully "get" what is being said the first time through, you may, in the future, come across an explanation that helps illuminate a sutta such that you think to yourself, "Oh yeah, I recall that discourse." And you return to it to check it out again. And this
time, you begin to get a whole additional appreciation for what it was endeavoring to teach.
The notes you take can be fairly simple, as long as they make sense to you
and spur your memory regarding the importance that led you to make the note in the first place. For instance, one note I took on a discourse from the Samyutta Nikaya was the following:
When a disciple has clearly seen with correct wisdom as it really is this dependent origination . . . it is impossible that he will run back into the past, thinking: Did I exist in the past?... -- p. 552
It was just a short excerpt from the discourse that highlighted an important idea that I wanted to be able to find again rather quickly. And the discourse, if you understood what it was talking about, pointed toward a common misperception that most of us ask about with regard to dependent co-arising. That is, when you finally begin to comprehend dependent co-arising, you cease to ask such questions as "What was I in the past? How was I in the past? Having been what, what did I become in the past?" and so forth. You see it (meaning the experience of your life) all as a mental process and not
as an ontological "thing" that occurs in space and time.
Taking notes as you read through the discourses and marking up the book with designations that address the importance
of the sections you are reading (I generally use margin brackets around important passages/paragraphs, and a cross in the margin covering the length of the paragraph, to indicate that this section is crucial
to a correct understanding of the Dhamma
lesson being taught) can help facilitate their understanding and relevance to your practice. Sometimes, looking at the vastness of the Dhamma
can become intimidating. But if you pick it up in smaller bits and pieces as you are coming upon it, it can sometimes blossom into full realizations in the future as you suddenly begin to put several of these smaller pieces together within your mind to unravel the puzzle. At least it really helped me, not only in formal contemplation practice but even outside
of formal contemplation, to begin seeing how all this came together into a comprehensible whole.
Take care and good luck with your studies and practice.
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV