Too Many Books?

Buddhist books on slanted shelf

Kevin Statham contemplate his To Be Read pile . . .

The other day I wandered past my bookshelf and stopped awhile. I am sure I’m not the only Buddhist with an impressive array of books. I have mine sort of organised into sections. There is the Sangharaksita section, the Triratna authors section and one for general dharma books together with a few randomers stacked up. Years ago I found some wood at the back of the offices where I worked and made a triangular bookcase. It seemed quite original at the time as I hadn’t seen one like it but on reflection I can see why: the books look quite sad cramped against the sloping sides of the bookcase.

There is also a section on my bookshelf for books To Be Read. You could look at this pile as that I have too many books, but I like to think of this stack as my next adventures. When I have finished my latest book and do not have a specific one lined up I flick through these and allow my heart to choose my next read.

Can we have too many books?

I suppose being the bookshop manager of Manchester Buddhist Centre it is maybe not wise to ask if we can have too many books. Sometimes a customer says, “I want to buy this book but I have a pile of unread ones by my bed already”. I am not sure how to answer this. Will the next book have all the answers we are looking for or will it end up in the to be read pile?

If you buy books you don’t always get around to reading, then apparently we are not alone. The Japanese have a word for this – tsundoku. Doku can be used as a verb to mean reading, the tsun in tsundoku originates in tsumu – to pile up. Apparently this term has been around for a while: The phrase tsundoku sensei appears in text from 1879. Tsundoku may sound like an insult but apparently in Japan it doesn’t carry any stigma. So when the bookshop is open again . . .

Some of my books I look at and can’t remember reading them or what they were about, but there are others that I love. Even just looking at the cover warms my heart and inspires me. These books seem to have a magic, they are like a gateway. They seem to hold a truth that I get a glimpse of but am not ready to fully receive. And other books are like old friends. Books that have survived the many culls. Books that I bought decades ago and just can’t let go of.

On radio’s Desert Island Discs they are allowed six records on the castaway island but also one book. It is interesting to reflect what book one would take, to re read over and over again?

The book that started me on my spiritual journey many years ago was Feel the Fear and do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers. A friend of Cathy’s had lent it to her. It was just lying on the bedroom floor and as i had nothing else to read i picked it up and was shown that change is possible! I have reread it recently and it always amazes me when I reread a book how different they are now. The book is the same but I have changed.

The joy of randomness

On retreat at Padmaloka I make an effort to go to the library at least once and pick a random book from the shelves to see if there is a serendipitous teaching for me. What i read always seems to be what i need. It is interesting to just pick a book at random from one’s own bookcase, open it at a page and receive a teaching.

There is a thought that we don’t actually own anything. There are things we can use until they are broken, taken from us or we are no longer able to use them. We feel we own something because it is “mine”, it is my “possession”. But how true is this? Eventually we will have to give up all our books. Some will be cleared out, some will be borrowed and never returned, but many of the loved ones will eventually end up in the charity shop or recycling. Is it possible to hold our collection of books lightly, as we have to do with all the possessions in our lives, and yet retain some of the knowledge and wisdom in our hearts?

Next time you are passing your pile of books stop a while and open to what they are telling you. They may be a higgledy piggledy random pile of books or neatly sorted into alphabetical order but they are your books, they are a story of your journey, a reflection of you. They are a reflection of something you are drawn to, something you may not even be conscious of but holds your truth.

Manchester Buddhist Centre
16-20 Turner Street
Northern Quarter, M4 1DZ
0161 834 9232


 

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