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Culture

What Do Your Reading Habits Say About You?

David Langness | Jul 16, 2016

PART 1 IN SERIES Read Something Sacred Everyday

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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David Langness | Jul 16, 2016

PART 1 IN SERIES Read Something Sacred Everyday

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read. – Mark Twain

A lot of people ask me if I were shipwrecked and could only have one book, what would it be? I always say, “How to Build a Boat.” – Stephen Wright

Read much?

I probably don’t need to ask you that question—after all, you’re reading right now. But let’s explore a little deeper, and see if we can figure out something about your reading habits. According to the experts, your reading habits say a great deal about you.

So, time for a simple, five-question pop quiz:

  • What was the last book you read, front to back?
  • Do you have a library card? If so, how many books do you have checked out now?
  • How many books do you own?
  • How many days in an average week do you read for pleasure?

If you can’t remember the last book you read, have no library card, own no books and never read for your own pleasure, you might want to think about introducing yourself to the joys of reading. It’s easy. It’s fun. It can even be free. Go to your public library or your local used bookstore or get a book online and sit down, maybe with a cup of coffee, and then just relax into the process.

ShakespeareIf you’re shipwrecked, see if you can find a copy of “How to Build a Boat” buried in the sand. If you love, say, stories about wizards and flying brooms, read a Harry Potter book. If you love a great mystery, read James Lee Burke or Walter Mosley. If you love lyrical literature, read Susan Straight or Cormac McCarthy or Toni Morrison. If you love love, by all means, read Shakespeare.

If, on the other hand, you clearly remember the last book you read (because you just finished it last night); if you have a well-worn library card and a pile of checked-out books on your nightstand; if you own way more than a dozen books and need to build some new bookshelves; if you already read every chance you get—well, those answers mean you’re a bonafide reader. Maybe, like me, you’re a book addict. Welcome to the club. Repeat after me: We admitted that we were powerless over books—that our libraries had become unmanageable. (Apologies to AA.)

Whichever category you fit into, I would like to cordially and humbly invite you to read something new, something you may not think of reading very often, something truly remarkable: sacred books. In this series of essays about reading something sacred every day, I’ll try to convince you that this kind of reading really will change your life—because it will.

But first, let’s grapple for a moment with the somewhat scary and off-putting term sacred. As a word, it kind of has an overly precious, somewhat pretentious quality these days, doesn’t it? My thesaurus gives four synonyms for sacred: “holy, pure, pious and saintly.” Do you consider yourself holy, pure, pious or saintly? No? Me, neither. Not even close. Working on it, though…

But do you consider anything sacred? How about the Torah, or the Bhagavad Gita, or the Bible, or the Qur’an, depending on your religious orientation? Would those books qualify as sacred?

As a child I had a very devout, pious and saintly Lutheran grandmother, who I loved very much. She was one of the kindest and sweetest people I’ve ever known. Once when I was about four years old, she was reading a children’s book to me on the couch in her living room. When we finished, I put the book on a nearby table, on top of another book. My grandmother quickly snatched the children’s book away, moved it to another spot on the table, and in a hushed and rather awed voice said “David, we never put other books on top of the Bible.”

This made a lasting impression on me, not so much because of her unusually pious book-stacking rule, but because it showed me that she considered her Bible sacred. She held it in high esteem, venerated it and protected it from being diminished or disrespected—or even covered by another book. This taught me my first sense of the sacred. I learned, from my beloved grandmother, that some things have great importance, and that we should respect that importance.

What do you think of as sacred?

For me, the most sacred thing in the world isn’t a thing at all—instead, I think of the world’s great religious teachings, in their original form, as truly sacred:

The essence of all religions is the Love of God, and it is the foundation of all the sacred teachings. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 83.

Baha’is believe that those sacred teachings come to humanity as prophets of God, as holy messengers who embody the light of the Divine. Christ, Moses, Buddha, Krishna, Muhammad, Zoroaster and now Baha’u’llah all came to bring infinite joy to this Earth, and to make it bloom once again:

Man is like unto a tree. If he be adorned with fruit, he hath been and will ever be worthy of praise and commendation. Otherwise a fruitless tree is but fit for fire. The fruits of the human tree are exquisite, highly desired and dearly cherished. Among them are upright character, virtuous deeds and a goodly utterance. The springtime for earthly trees occurreth once every year, while the one for human trees appeareth in the Days of God — exalted be His glory. Were the trees of men’s lives to be adorned in this divine Springtime with the fruits that have been mentioned, the effulgence of the light of Justice would, of a certainty, illumine all the dwellers of the earth and everyone would abide in tranquillity and contentment beneath the sheltering shadow of Him Who is the Object of all mankind. The Water for these trees is the living water of the sacred Words uttered by the Beloved of the world. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 257.

In the next essay in this series, let’s see if we can determine which words are truly sacred.

Next: The Living Water of the Sacred Words

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Comments

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  • David Menham
    Dec 19, 2019
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    I really enjoyed reading this and as I was it made me remember the emphasis that was placed on reading in our family home when I was a young child and really had no exact reading preferences and because our household was not a rich household most of our books were second hand gifts given to us by a variety of people so they were quite random so as result I grew up willing to read almost anything from cover to cover. So at the age of ten I was ecstatic when one of the librarians in our local ...library broke the rules and gave me a ticket for the adult section which opened up a whole new world of reading for me and not really knowing how to approach my reading task I just went through the shelves from A-Z until one day I was happy.
    Read more...
  • Jul 17, 2016
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    I loved this article because I am passionate about reading and have been since 16. The influence of one person slightly older, so different from other guys at that age, had on my life due to the vast reading of great literature he did, and how mature, developed and interesting he was set me on a life long reading path. He is long gone but his influence has been estimable!
  • rodney Richards
    Jul 17, 2016
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    Love this! Especially as a writer. The best book on "How to Write Well," that I've annotated in 14 pages for myself and others, with limited ability to distribute by the publisher, is Stephen King's 2000 book "On Writing," where he said, "read a lot and write a lot.” He uses himself as an example: “seventy or eighty books a year; mostly fiction.” If we seek to understand and write about that subject, we need to read books in that genre or on that subject. Want to know God? Read the Holy Books, for example.
    I've had library cards since ...a kid in the 60's when they were the oinly places with books other than texbooks (and no Wikis). I also volunteer weekly at ours, and pick up a book a week to read over the next months. My wife doesn't like the piles, but I do get thru them eventually. Reading Genghis Khan by Frank McLynn now, and plowing thru "Books of the Century" (1896-1997) from the Times Book Reviews. What fun!
    Read more...
  • Jul 17, 2016
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    Since you asked.
    What was the last book you read, front to back? Seven Principles of Good Government by Gary Johnson because this is an election year and I read political books more often during political years.
    Do you have a library card? If so, how many books do you have checked out now? I don't, I have my effective private library with all the books I buy on a regular basis.
    How many books do you own? Too many to count, but at least over a hundred.
    How many days in an average week do you read ...for pleasure? All seven of them because reading is my hobby.
    Read more...
  • Jul 16, 2016
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    I have many books in my library, but I also have my e-books on my tablets, smart phones, and other mobile devices. I also read stuff available free online. Amazon and Apple are sources I buy most of my books from, but as shown below sometimes stuff is availed free online due to the generosity of religious groups making it available online for everyone to read. I also have physical copies of such books as well.
    The library contains the following English translations of the essential texts of Nichiren Buddhism: The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, volumes 1 and 2 ...(WND-1 and WND-2), The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras (LSOC), and the Lotus Sutra commentary The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings (OTT). To assist in the study of these works, we also offer The Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism.
    The two volumes of The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin include translations of most of Nichiren Daishonin gosho zenshū (The Complete Works of Nichiren Daishonin), the letters and treatises of the Japanese scholar-monk Nichiren (1222–1282). The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings is also a translation of a work from that text.
    The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras is a translation of the Chinese texts of the Lotus Sutra, Immeasurable Meanings Sutra, and Universal Worthy Sutra found in Myōhō-renge-kyō narabini kaiketsu (The Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law and Its Opening and Closing Sutras).
    This Chinese Lotus is the version done by the renowned scholar-translator Kumārajīva in 406. The Immeasurable Meanings and Universal Worthy Sutras are viewed as the prologue and epilogue to the Lotus. Both the above-mentioned Gosho zenshū and Myōhō-renge-kyō are published by the Soka Gakkai.
    The founder of Buddhism is Shakyamuni, also known as Gautama Buddha, who scholars believe lived in India sometime around the sixth or fifth century bce. His words and actions, infused with compassion and wisdom, were committed to memory, organized, and transmitted as narratives that in turn gave rise to various views and doctrines.
    Around the end of the first century bce and beginning of the first century ce, an effort to revive the essential message of Buddhism took shape in a movement called Mahayana, and a new effort to record and edit those narratives produced many scriptures, or sutras. The Lotus Sutra was compiled and recorded in this period.
    The Lotus reveals that all people inherently possess the wisdom of a buddha in their lives and explains the way for all to bring this wisdom forth. Thus the Lotus conveys the fundamental wish of Shakyamuni that people be able to build enduring happiness for both themselves and others. Guiding us to the very heart of his teachings, the Lotus provides a way for people to overcome suffering.
    In India, the philosophers Nāgārjuna and Vasubandhu greatly contributed to the development of Mahayana thought, leaving behind works that advanced and promoted the ideas of the Lotus. In East Asia, in sixth-century China, the Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai, and in the eighth century, the Great Teacher Miao-lo, in their works clarified the preeminence of the Lotus over any other sutra. And in ninth-century Japan, the Great Teacher Dengyō made known their teachings and strove earnestly for their establishment in society.
    In such diverse ages and cultures, people came to accept and believe in the Lotus and in the course of that process, Lotus thought was refined and its universality enhanced, gaining a multilayered richness.
    In thirteenth-century Japan, a society wrought with turmoil and confusion, Nichiren empathized deeply with the suffering of the people; he sought for a solution, finding it in the Lotus teaching of unlocking the unlimited potential all people possess and developing it to benefit society. Nichiren resolved firmly to establish genuine happiness and dignity for people and realize a peaceful society, and just as the Lotus teaches, dedicated himself fully to encouraging people so that they could revitalize their lives. In the course of his efforts, he introduced the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and inscribed the Gohonzon, or object of devotion, a mandala of Chinese characters with Nam-myoho-renge-kyo down the center. With these acts, he identified and set forth the vital teaching of the Lotus Sutra and tangibly presented a means for achieving the enlightenment of all people.
    The Lotus and the writings of Nichiren necessarily deeply reflect the unique cultures and values of their times. The universal message of hope of the Lotus and of the ideas of Nichiren drawn from it, however, transcends time and culture, and shines from passages throughout these works. For example, Nichiren writes, “The sufferings that all living beings undergo . . . all these are Nichiren’s own sufferings” (WND-2, 934). These words express the deep compassion and resolve of his wish for the happiness of people.
    The Soka Gakkai has given new life to this teaching of Nichiren in our present age and introduced it worldwide as a philosophy with universal application. And sympathizing with the suffering of people, it has pointed to the crucial message of hope that “all people possess the supremely noble buddha nature” and continued to encourage them.
    This is a view of religion that finds religious purpose in no less than the happiness of the people and a peaceful world. It is also a view based on the conviction that religion should always exist for the sake of human beings and not the other way around.
    In recent years Buddhist scholarship, particularly research into the Lotus Sutra and Nichiren and his writings, has progressed considerably. To reflect these advances and changes in society that affect editorial style choices, we plan to add to and update this site to keep you informed. Additionally, the volumes here are the latest printings of each work.
    Our heartfelt wish is that this site will help enrich the faith and understanding of those who practice Nichiren Buddhism and enable many others to discover the universal value and wisdom of his teachings.
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