October 18, 2009

Books will get you part of the way

For most of us born in the Western world, remote from Buddhism of any institutional kind, knowledge of the dhamma has come entirely from books and, occasionally, spoken words, some quite excellent and informative, certainly. But this kind of learning still retains a somewhat ethereal air in the absence of actions, traditions, and spiritual observances in which we can participate. That the Buddhist religion has survived so long in the world is a result not so much of the durability of manuscripts as of the power of ideas embodied in custom; and custom, for all our abundant sources of information, is what we lack and cannot in the long run do without. Books crumble easily enough; thought crumbles faster, if not made firm by some sort of concrete practice that holds together believers and sees to the transmission of the teaching to the young.

–Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano, from “Selective Wisdom,” Tricycle, Summer 2007

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HGH's picture

The rise of social networks and communities has created a lot of user generated content. This “We-Me” web intersects with web commerce in the form of reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations. These user reviews enhanced consumer knowledge beyond the information sellers disclosed; their presumably unbiased feedback enabled consumers to better understand what to expect.

The increase of user reviews as a result of the growth of the social web has created a long tail of reviews, which means reviews that address specific personal needs and preferences probably exist for most product and service categories. The content to address your personal drivers of purchase is probably somewhere in the long tail.

Anita's picture

Nate, thanks for yur comment. W/o a community we have to go to books and even on line to find teaching. I wouldn't have begun a practice except for the books I read

Nate's picture

grace, does it make them any less of a "buddhist" by reading from a book on their nightstand? they are trying to make the effort right? Or better yet, right effort?

It's kind of where I started. There were no sanghas near me, noone that I knew that I could ask questions. Books were my only refuge at the time and I don't think I'd be where I am now if it weren't for my nightstand books.

Maura's picture

It' really worth reading the whole article--and perhaps also the whole book that it is taken from--to see this comment in a larger context. Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano is reminding us not to be complacent, or discouraged, but to keep on questioning and investigating and checking and adjusting. We should also feel some compassion for those who are trying, even in snatches, to understand Buddha's way.

grace's picture

cannot remember where I heard it but these kind of Buddhists are refereed to as the "night stand" Buddhists - who read about Buddhism from books on their nightstand :-)

Nate's picture

Thanks for reposting this article from the magazine archive, very helpful! :)