Sunday, 27 November 2016

The Path of Books

If for some reason a student does not find a suitable teacher, he need not lose all hope. Most of the teachings are available in written form. These days the teachings are also available in audio or video form, which is as good as being with a teacher and is perhaps better than books in terms of sensory satisfaction. There is tons of material on the internet in various formats. Some teachers are also available via emails or other communication apps. The information is widespread, in fact, there is an excess of it. It all appears voluminous but most of it is repetition of the same few ideas, interpretations, and reinterpretations, commentaries and perspectives.

This was not the case in past, when such information was held secret. The world has changed and the teachings are no more hidden in secret places, meant for special people only. Most of them are freely available to anyone who is interested. So why don't people simply read those books etc. and get rid of their ignorance and suffering, why are the majority not free? Because just like a teacher, books only point towards the knowledge, they do not transmit knowledge, they transmit only information, written symbols. Knowledge requires a direct seeing, an experience. We have seen that merely gaining knowledge does not do much either, the clouds of habitual ignorance cover up any faint light of knowledge gained via reading very quickly.

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It is easy to read and watch stuff, it is not difficult to see what the text is saying, and it is not impossible to experience the Self by following the teachings and pointers. All knowledge starts with the Self, and it is the most natural and immediate experience one can have, and hence it is possible to know it via books etc. However, doubts arise, questions arise, forgetting happens, the reader usually fails to implement the teachings in his daily life, the Ego takes over very soon. He drifts into the ocean of books, one after the other, he devours them all. Books have a tendency to form beliefs, the written words are powerful, bypass our usual BS checks and have a scent of trust in them. It is our social conditioning that the books speak nothing but the truth. Thus, the end result is a student whose head is full of beliefs, who has very little experience, who confuses information with knowledge and remains as ignorant as before, living almost the same miserable life as before.

Books say exactly the same words a teacher will tell you, they have the same content as delivered by a teacher, and perhaps they explain things in a better and refined way compared to the spontaneous talks. The sentences in a book go through careful editing and rewording many times, and so are more potent than a rough talk. So why aren't they as effective as a teacher? Because a book is a map, not the territory. Well, to be honest, maybe there are some students who receive great benefits from the books, there are stories about people, even illiterate people, who upon reading or hearing just a few sentences from a text, got the idea instantly and got teleported miles ahead on their path. But such miracles are rare, the general case is, as I said, a brief glimpse of light and subsequent forgetting.

It takes many repetitions, constant reminders, practice and cultivation, in order to incorporate the teachings into one's own being. Reading about them is a start, the first step. In the presence of a teacher, repetitions and cultivation etc. happens naturally and necessarily. That is the job of the teacher. Apart from that a teacher can answer questions and clear doubts about the written teachings. A book cannot do that. So a teacher becomes a necessity except when the student shows exceptional commitment towards the teachings and takes on the hard work on his own.

What to read? 

This is usually the first question. What you are asking is which books have answers to my questions. If you don't have any questions, then this question won't arise. Once you have a question, you can search, its not so difficult these days. You will find more books than you can read in one lifetime. Most of them will be fluff, dancing around the trees, repetition of something which was read from an old text. You will find useful info, but it may take some time to arrive at correct books.

The solution to the overdose of books is to ask for recommendations from those who have already sifted through an ocean of books. For this you should be already in the company of wise, which is improbable at this stage. If you are with ignoramuses, common people, you will get recommendations of strange kind, perhaps about the biography of a rich person, a hot novel, some funny stuff etc. In short, with such people around you, you will remain shallow, there is no way to get out of that pit, except by chance. I call it Grace, a happening that invites you on a path. It can be an accidental encounter with a wise man, or you stumble upon a useful book [1]. If you are reading this blog, Grace has happened already [2].

If you find that you are a book lover, but have learnt nothing of value since many years, it has not made you a better person, or has done nothing to push to forward on your path, then suspect that you are in the pit of shallow books and useless recommendations. The only way to get out is to question it all and seek a brighter company. Crazier the better. There are ways to recognize wise people, they are crazy from the point of view of ignoramus. They do sound crazy and if they don't, you need to search more. There are communities, forums and groups on the internet, try them before engaging with wise offline, there are not many of them. If you happen to know someone who has already joined a teacher, get hold of him and start there. Attending Satsangs is a great way to connect with other seekers, even if the teachings go over your head.

Once you get a book that makes sense, you will have a few keywords to narrow down your search for books. Gradually you will converge on the gold mine of knowledge. Note that what others find useful may or may not be useful for you. Everybody has different needs and different questions. But you need to start somewhere. The sign that you have hit a gold mine is that you start getting little nuggets of information that sound just true. You get a feeling that you were looking for it since years. It instantly heightens your interest, so much so, that you cannot put that book down.

Once you have read such a book cover to cover, you are filled with joy, you feel in the right place finally. It brings up a thirst for more, and since the foundation is now there, you find exactly the right books you need. Books lead to the authors, and if the authors are within reach, they may end up as your teachers.

Repetitions and limits of information

Once you have gone through many books of value, you will find that all talk about mostly the same stuff. The same topics keeps coming up in every other book. Soon you will find that some common solutions or teachings start arising out of seemingly noisy chatter of books. The same teachings get repeated again and again endlessly. There are interesting variations, but they are on the surface. You will see a theme that is common to all the good writers.

Very soon you will find yourself yearning for something new, something which you never heard before. This is the tendency of the Mind, it gets bored quickly, especially if its just information. You may find more nuggets, some more exotic writings, some wild ideas here and there. But they will be just entertaining for a while. The real stuff is the boring one, that keeps repeating in the guise of different terminologies, various philosophies, languages, culture specific stuff and some more poetic or mysterious and some very straightforward and pithy texts.

Getting bored of same stuff is a sign of intelligence, because only a stupid can be delighted with same old exact repetitions for years altogether. So most of book lovers stop here, there is no more juice left in the books. In effect, they have hit the limits of information. Its time to put that information into practice. Many do not take this important step, and end up being ignoramus, or worse ignoramus with head full of beliefs and “knowledge”. The knowledge is not in the books, it is in the experiences. A good student starts putting the information gained from the books into practice as soon as he starts seeing a pattern of repetitions. It is repeating, and it is repeating since thousands of years, it must be important!

If you find that you have a huge collection of books and use that to impress everyone, your talk is about what is written is which book by whom, and your statements are a mindless parroting of written material, then realize that you are in the pit of limit of information. You are an encyclopaedia, not a wise person. Ego has taken over you, giving you a sense of superiority over the illiterate uneducated masses. Although there are some benefits of memorizing stuff and of the ability to understand the essence of it all in terms of information only, but this is not what a seeker does. It makes you look educated and cultured but does not result in happiness or freedom. Most importantly, it gives an illusion that you have reached there, you know everything, that acts as a hurdle and retards your progress.

Usually, some event which results in a direct experience or an encounter with a person who is an embodiment of those teachings, triggers a recovery out of the pit of limits of information. Once you realize the value of experiences, you pick up speed again.

Understanding written word

Note that books are a written account of experiences of someone else, and everyone interprets their experiences differently. So it is necessary to not to take the written word literally, because it may not mean what you think it means. Meaning is a subjective occurrence, and most of the time language alone fails to convey it. It becomes even more difficult to guess the real meanings of the words when the text is thousands of years old. You will need to rely on translators and interpreters. They add their own spice in the meaning, and it all becomes a recipe for confusion very soon.

What is the solution? Again, experience it yourself, experiment, find out the meaning. It may mean something entirely different for you. If luckily, you happen to get the same meaning that the author had in his mind, you will find that the whole book falls neatly into place. Everything makes sense, especially if the book was written from authors own direct experiences. If the book is only a commentary on old books, all bets are off.

You may hit this limitation of language and meaning sooner or later, if you do not start converting the written word into solid experiences. If nothing makes sense, you have no clue what is written and why it was written, and you wonder why everyone else seems to worship that very book as if it saved their lives, then suspect that you have hit the limitation of meanings.


In no case whatsoever allow books to form beliefs. This is perhaps the most important sentence in this article. Books should lead to knowledge not to beliefs. Beliefs, as defined in this blog, are mental structures, ideas, concept that pretend to be knowledge, and they have no foundation of experience. The information gained from the books is sometimes called indirect knowledge. It has a potential to become knowledge, but is not knowledge itself. It is of prime importance to know this when all you have is a book as your teacher. A teacher would simply kick you out of beliefs, and show you the real thing instantly, a book cannot do that.

Beliefs coming from the books are formed when you assume that the stuff it says is “true”. Perhaps it is, but how do you know? To know you must experience it first. Once you have an experience , you can analyze it in terms of true or false. Experience comes first, logic is second.

This error is so common that it is mind-boggling, most of students simply assume the truth of the written word. The only exception that I find, who never do so, are lawyers. For a lawyer, each and every sentence of a legal document may or may not be true. It may look like truth but maybe there is some ill intention hidden behind it. May be the meaning is twisted. Maybe it can be interpreted in a dozen other ways. If you wish to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I recommend studying legal stuff, cases, arguments etc. or better, befriend an experienced lawyer, they are not all bad and have their use. A seeker learns from anyone and everyone he can learn from, as we have discussed in the last article on the qualities of a student.

A philosopher is yet another kind of person who pays an immense amount of attention on the definition of words and logic of statements. You don’t need to befriend one, you must become one. There is a tendency to not to invent new words, people tend to reuse and redefine old words to mean something else, perhaps it costs a fortune to coin a new word. As soon as you encounter a word, especially a new word, hunt for its meaning, connotations, etymology, content sensitivity etc. Similarly for the statements written there, what is written, why was it written, what meaning does it convey and how you ultimately understand it. In no case, assume it as true, real or evidential.

When you are in the world of a book, the words are like game money, its not real money, but you can use it in the game. It has no value in real world. Words take on value only when they relate firmly with direct experiences. There is no other way. Till that happens, you can use them as game currency, play the game of mental concepts, juggle them, arrange them, understand them, evaluate them via logic, apply critical thinking and do whatever you want, but never take them into the real world.

So are the books useless then? They are useful as pointers. You must search for a meaning of the teaching in your own experience. Something doesn’t become true for you simply because it is written in a book.


To avoid the deep pit of beliefs, one must convert the contents of a book into experiences. This means one needs to experiment. We have covered this topic before, and same tricks and precautions can be utilized in case of experiments based on books. The simple rule is – do not do it if you do not know what you are doing. Some practices and experiments require strict supervision of a master or a teacher, who has already gone through them personally. Ideally, such a teacher should have taught a number of students before you, and you are not his first experiment.

Next step

Once you are done with the books, done your experiments, and now have a higher level of questions that are based on experiences, it is time to meet a teacher. Many students stop here. It can be a mistake. The need for a teacher will be there as long as there are questions and hurdles. If you find that there is no ample joy and freedom in spite of reading all the books and doing all the practices you could do, you have hit the limits of books. The cultivation must take on a new turn here.

The beauty of the path of knowledge is that, you need to know the Self only once, the rest of the cultivation needs minimal supervision and guidance. Self is the best teacher, it gives you nothing but a direct experience, a direct knowing, something even the greatest master cannot give.

We will explore some experiences the Self can provide in next articles.


[1] The natural way to reach up to the event of Grace is either personal suffering, observing suffering around oneself or extreme curiosity - when one accumulates so much knowledge that one hits the limits of it. The event that happens after this point is Grace. So is suffering Grace? Maybe it is, and most probably it is a prelude to Grace. But there are many who spend their entire lives in suffering and ignorance. Suffering may not necessarily lead to Grace, but it is surely a major motivator.

[2] This blog is not for everyone, as you can guess. It has no general gossip, no celebrity news or political crap. It is very difficult, if not entirely impossible for an average person to reach here. If you reached here randomly, you will not find it useful, but if you are seeking something, and have reached here, it is a sign of Grace. It is possible that the articles here will be useful for some people, as this blog is an essence of hundreds of books, years of experience or fooling around and thousands of hours of listening and absorbing lectures from wise men. But it is entirely possible that you will find a better source. One of the advantages of being born in India is that there is ample Grace here. There is actually excess of it. Just taking birth here is equivalent to initiation. However, when things become so common and ample, they lose value. One simply becomes habitual of being around wise men and surrounded by great texts, so much so, that one can become blind to the obvious, as a fish is blind to the water it swims in. So, the matter of Grace is complicated, all I can say is - it happens on its own and is not at all dependent on person, place or times.

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