Dec 27, 2010

PHILOSOPHY OF READING BOOKS

I am daring to write on an unusual topic which has been the domain of the ‘educated and elite classes’ and they have been instrumental in shaping a civilized society with their acquired knowledge and wisdom by reading books. Therefore, the topic of my discussion is not about education or the education system or the importance of reading vocational or professional books, but the habit of reading books on different topics of interest. There is no doubt that this is one of the best habits one can have, the best friend and the best companion. They not only provide information and take away one’s mind from all stress but they may also help in the enrichment of thoughts if the books have thought provoking content. Reading helps in developing the analyzing capacity and power of reasoning. Therefore, my topic of discussion is centered on literature of higher learning and accordingly its implied impact on our minds which is the ‘enrichment of thoughts’. Does this really take place? Does it make a difference in our thought process? Do we read books for the sake of having information only, or for the sake of entertainment or pass time? For a reserved person, reading books is also one of the best ways to invest his/her time. However, if learning higher knowledge does not help in uplifting our process of thinking on higher levels, then is it a waste of time?

When I say enrichment of thought I mean that as we get worldly or spiritual information through books, our brains should experience maturity and in the process, perspectives of life should begin to change. This also depends upon the type of books we read. Here, I am not talking about fiction books or books on other abstract topics, but rather, books with substance which may contain moral philosophy, high ethical standards, social and cultural values, and the capacity to look within ourselves. These books may also contain subject matters related to social, cultural or spiritual issues which may convey powerful messages to the reader. These books are written not by ordinary writers but people with heavenly qualities such as world renowned writers and poets. They may be the Bible of Christians or Qur’an of Muslims or Kabbalah of Judaism or Granth Sahib of Sikhism, Bhagawad Gita and Ramayan of Hindus or Tipitaka of Buddhists or Kalpa Sutra of Jains. Even texts like the Gospel of Shri Ramkrishna or Vivek Chudamani of Adi Shankaracharya or world famous writers and poets like Tulsidas, Sant Kabirdas, Rabindranath Tagore, Leo Tolstoy, William Shakespeare, Khalil Gibran, Deepak Chopra, Alan Watts, John Bradshaw, Joseph Campbell etc.

Therefore, if anybody claims to have read some of the above books or anything similar in nature and content, then they may agree that the messages that those books convey, must reflect on the personality of a reader. If read with sincerity, then those books have the power to change one’s thought process and outlook towards life. If an iota of the messages conveyed by those books are not followed and practiced, then was reading made for the purpose of passing time, self glorification or just ritualistic habits?

If I philosophise this topic, then in my opinion, the enrichment of thought should make a person humble, kind, noble, and sympathetic, teach veracity and substantial control on ego and anger.  If these qualities do not inculcate into the personality after reading those great books, then was it a waste of time? Isn’t it duplicity or deception of the mind to claim to have read but to not have extracted the essence? It is something like smelling flowers but not being able to recognize the intensity and nature of the fragrance; listening to the sounds but being unable to differentiate between noise and melody.

A modern day computer has two levels of memories. One is called RAM (Random Access Memory) and another is called Hard Disc (Permanent Memory). The RAM does not hold any information for long and the moment we are off the computer, chances of losing data is high. Does our brain also function in a similar way? We read books but keep everything on the RAM part of our brains and the moment we finish reading, our memories gets disseminated.  All the good words are forgotten and all the teachings go into oblivion. Keeping that in mind, we may group readers into different categories and then analyze their mental psyches:
    
  1) Reading to Read: This group of people read books to pass time. The type of books may be a novel, a fiction, a story, books on nature, or on any abstract matter. While reading these types of books, the mind is generally relaxed, as a result the content of the book is stored on the RAM portion of our mind and some parts may be filtered into the hard disk of our brain depending upon the intensity of the reading. Since the human mind is hundreds of thousand times more advanced than the latest computer, memories stored on ‘RAM’ do not get erased upon closing of the book. Some impressions remain there and can be retrieved on future dates.
    2) Reading to Entertain: This category describes those that read books which provide pleasure to our minds. People read books to gain happiness and then they forget the contents during the course of time. However as I have said above, the impressions remain there unlike RAM of a computer. This type of reading may include magazines on Hollywood or Bollywood, Home and Garden, or on pets and books on comics etc.
     3)  Reading to Understand: The group of people falling under this category, read books in order to understand the content of books and as the understanding clears the cloud of darkness in their mind, they feel elevated. The reading of books gives them a sense of being educated but they may not assimilate the messages in their lives. The content of the literature in this case goes into the hard disk part of our minds, depending upon the importance of the book or the writer.
    4)  Reading to Educate: This type of reading habit generally is possessed by people who read in order to enlighten their minds with the content of the books, depending upon the power of the message these books convey. Books mentioned in the second paragraph fall under this category.

    I have philosophized the fourth category because according to me, reading books does not mean anything unless the message it conveys is deciphered intelligently and then assimilated into the personality.  I have seen many people, who claim to have read several books on knowledge of higher levels, but their overall personalities and their reactions with and to the outside world contradicts this fact. In this case, it seems to me, that the content or messages of those books were stored on their RAM memories, and as long as the impressions lasted in their minds they felt elevated and enlightened. Once the effect of the books faded away, readers come back to their true selves from where they had originally started. Therefore, in no logical sense they can be considered to have read those books.

    The purpose of education of the mind is to provide a sense of balance between good and bad, a sense of prudence, a sense of thoughtfulness, a sense of judgment, a sense of tolerance, humbleness and compassion, control of anger, false pride and ego, personal sacrifices for the happiness of others, a balance in one’s approach towards their own life, family or social life etc.  And if these qualities are not developed even after reading several books of higher knowledge, then for me, the person is still uneducated and reading for them has been a pastime.
     
     Here, I would like to quote a couplet of Sant Kabirdas. Although the poem is not very much relevant to the topic of our discussion it still conveys a strong message:

Pothi Padh Padh Kar Jag Mua, Pandit Bhayo Na Koye
Dhai Aaakhar Prem ke, Jo Padhe so Pandit Hoye.
(Reading books everyone died, none became any wise
One who reads the word of Love, only becomes wise)

I would like to interpret the word 'prem' or love mentioned in the poem, which symbolizes one’s understanding of the universal truth, brotherhood and the compassion towards the nature and its creations. And this universal love cannot be triggered inside the brain unless one enriches their mind with the sense of tolerance, sacrifice, politeness, humbleness and the divinity.

I have left ample room for contradictions on my philosophy and instead of commenting on my own blog, I would like to read your comments on the topic in order to generate a thoughtful discussion for the readers of this blog.
Suman Saran Sinha

10 comments:

DR.T.P.SHARMA said...

Hallo Suman,

I read your article on philosophy of reading books. You have always surprised me with the brilliancy of your mind. I do not think anybody has thrown any light on this topic. The range of articles you have posted on your blog is simply awesome.

However, I do not agree with your views that reading books enriches our thoughts. Most of the time, we read in order to gain knowledge about the subject matter which may or may not enlighten our soul. The reason is that in this materialistic world we are so occupied with daily pressures of life that we do not have much time to deliberate on the contents of the book. We just read books to fulfill our curiosity and know what it is all about.

Therefore, to some extent I agree that reading books on spiritualism does not make us better persons. Keep up the good work.

Dr. T.P. Sharma
Moscow

Annya said...

Ahoy Papa!

Interesting article you have posted here. I think though that you have written this article from a one-sided perspective however.

You say, "I have philosophized the fourth category because according to me, reading books does not mean anything unless the message it conveys is deciphered intelligently and then assimilated into the personality."

But people read books for many different reasons. I read a lot of fiction books and I enjoy reading them because it is a good "escape" from reality - the same as going to the movies. In addition though I don't think we can disregard fictional novels completely as somewhat useless (or thats what I feel you meant from this article, but if you didn't, feel free to correct me) because although they don't state all the truths of the human condition they still convey messages that can influence people's lives. For example, a novel as basic and popular as Harry Potter has influenced many children's lives. In Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling (the author) glorifies and highlights characteristics such as bravery, friendship, trust, faith, and more, and due to her storytelling skills many children try to incorporate these qualities into their own lives.

A point you made is that not many people incorporate what they read into their lives. But it's also said that everything you do, no matter how small, always creates some sort of impact or impression in your life and your thought process. So even if people read and forget, the reading created an impression in their life at some point, and if it created an impression at all then i think the purpose of the book is achieved.

Nobody incorporates all philosophies they have read into their lives. If that were the case, we'd be a glorified human race.

Reading books, however, definitely helps people to set themselves on that path.

And in addition, you yourself said in a previous blog you wrote about human nature, that some people are born with a set personality type. So reading books can influence their personality, but it is by no means going to change it - only a drastic or traumatic experience usually manages to gain such a profound effect.

And now, I'm going to shut up, cause I think I wrote too much.

GOOD DAY :D
-Annya

Anonymous said...

To me the basic gain from reading a book or some thing else that is worthwhile, is to gain some learning from the other person's experience. This saves a lot of time over learning every thing by your own experience

SIRISH SINHA, TORONTO. said...

Thank you Suman for your greetings and kind thoughts.

We send our warmest greetings of the season and best wishes for the new Year.

I recall Edmund Burke's Reading makes a man perfect. It will be interesting to read your thoughts. I am not that short of time as I was when you wrote the last article.

Regards

Sirish

Anonymous said...

Dear Annya,

Your comment is jaw dropping and we never expected this high level of comments from a teenage girl. People in their sixties or seventies are yet to understand these philosophies and are yet to have control on their vanity, anger. ego and false pride. I think this is the impact of samskara (your father's last blog) you have inherited.

Anonymous said...

Dear Annya,

Your comment is jaw dropping and I never expected this high level of comments from a teenage girl. People in their sixties or seventies are yet to understand these philosophies, and one may find several people suffering from mental illnesses like ego, anger and false pride in spite of having best education from the top universities. I think this is the impact of samskara you have inherited.

Best wishes.

Gyan Rajhans said...

I totally agree with Annya. She is brilliant in her comments knowing full well what is on dad's mind. I also agree with Suman ji in that I will soon be in my seventies but can't claim to understand "these philosophies". As far as ego, anger and false pride are concerned, please find time to read my article:http://hinduism.about.com/od/selfdevelopment/a/how_to_kill_pride_ego.htm

Tej Mehta said...

Dear Suman,
Thanks for your message and I wish you and your family
'A Great Festive Season and A Happy New Year'
And Suman, your Articles and Postings are very
informative and introspective, Please keep up.
Regards
Tej Mehta, California, USA

Dr. Madhukar Saran said...

Both you and your wife are very gifted individuals.I will read your article.We are curently in India.The weather is warm here in Kolkata.We will be returning in mid February.Do visit us when you come to India if we are here.Happy holidays and a happy new year to you and your family from me and Sheela.
Columbus, Mississippi.

shubhra said...

Sumanji;
You have written on a wonderful topic just at the beginning of this new year and I am sure this is going to have certain impact on whoever, who reads your blog and would try to cultivate this as their hobby.Myself is a vivacious reader and I pick up anything which I think enhances my thought process and contributes towards making me a better individual in terms of spiritual and mental well being...and in this regard I just wanted to add that not only reading books just for the sake of it but to implement those ideas or facts or truth in real life and to share with others (Like yourself) those knowledge and make this world a better place to live and also reading books offers productive approach to life in general and improves perspective and mental dimension as we know that generations are changing and with each passing day the acceptable norms of life are changing than what it was may be 15 to 20 years back so it is very vital that every individual be progressive or at least make an effort in that direction, in their thought process or else it's surely going to bring in misery & trauma to people in general.

It also helps us to stay in-touch with contemporary writers as well as those from the days of yore and makes us sensitive to global issues.
Pls continue with your good work!We need more multi talented people like yourself...for upliftment of this society...
regards
Shubhra Sen

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