Dec 27, 2010


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