Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Best Book Ever

Scott Bradley


I am (obviously) one of those persons who loves to read and study. When I've got a new book on the way, I look forward with great expectations of new treats. I have pestered scholars to please translate works that I am sure will lead me to new heights of illumination. The story of the wheelwright who braves death to tell his duke that his addiction to the words of dead sages is just reading their "dregs" (Zhuangzi, 13) is, therefore, one I also need frequently to hear.

As with nearly all 'good' things, it is not the things themselves which render them otherwise, but our relationship to them. Hopefully, the duke didn't burn all his books, but rather learned to read them in a new way.

However, the best book ever that we could read if we wish to learn how best to live is the book of our own life. This, of course, is just saying again that self-examination ("Know thyself.") is essential to self-transformation.

I have used this metaphor of reading because the richest ore, at least for those of verbal bent, is to be found in what we say and what we write. These, and especially the latter, provide us with a concrete record of our responses to the world. Here, we have an opportunity to look at ourselves with the possibility of a sliver of objectivity.

I learn a great deal from writing these posts, and some of them even provide me with insight into myself. But the truth is, it is not these posts that you read that are my best reading, but those I have not published, but have instead filed away in my "satanic verses" folder. Similarly, our own "angry letter" is great reading. Why am I angry? Yeah, yeah, but what is it in me that allows that I get angry? Thus do we bring it all back home to where it begins and can only have an end.

E-mail has ushered in a new age of angry-letter writing. It's fast and easy. It's often anonymous. And we don't have to look our opponent in the eye. It is likewise so removed from inter-relational context that emotive content is often misunderstood by both the writer, who easily fails to realize the emotive character of what she writes, and the recipient, who discovers content that is not there or was not intended.

I try to follow a rule that, before hitting the "send" button, I ask myself if I have doubts about the emotive quality of what I have written. If I do, I apply a waiting period; read it again tomorrow and see how it feels. Unfortunately, I don't always obey. But whether I hit "send" or not, I do often make sure I have my copy. This is my new "best reading".

You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.

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