Reading Scripture

Scripture

In the introduction to Bhagavad Gita and its Message, Anilbaran Roy writes:

[Truth] cannot be shut up in a single trenchant formula, it is not likely to be found in its entirety or in all its bearings in any single philosophy or scripture or uttered altogether and for ever by any one teacher, thinker, prophet or Avatar. Nor has it been wholly found by us if our view of it necessitates the intolerant exclusion of the truth underlying other systems; for when we reject passionately, we mean simply that we cannot appreciate and explain. …

[T]his Truth…expresses itself in Time and through the mind of man; therefore every Scripture must necessarily contain two elements, one temporary, perishable, belonging to the ideas of the period and country in which it was produced, the other eternal and imperishable and applicable in all ages and countries.

Roy, a disciple of Sri Aurobindo, has beautifully articulated something I’ve been trying to say for years.

As we wrestle with huge questions—such as the mystery of being and the reality of death—as well as the everyday challenges of life, scripture provides us a window into the past wrestling of our ancestors. Deep study of scripture allows our seeking to remain firmly grounded in the stories of those who came before us. In it we see a record of the best and worst of what it means to be human. Reading this record I am faced with both sides of this reality within myself. And inspired to move toward the good.

We live in a wide open world, with a diverse array of scripture available to us. This is a blessing and we are lucky for it, but I have gone back and forth about what it means in my own religious practice. How do I authentically experiment with traditions that are not my own? Through much contemplation, I have come to realize that we live in an era in which what constitutes as “our tradition” has expanded. If we as individuals can recognize this wide open world as a gift then maybe, just maybe, we can stop looking at it as an occasion for judgement and fear. It is up to each of us to find ways to explore the religious diversity of our world and to find respectful, honest ways of implementing what we learn in our own lives and communities.

High in the Colorado Rockies

I have recently been reading scripture before my morning practice. Most recently the Bhagavad Gita—the much beloved Hindu text on Yoga—translated by Sri Aurobindo. I am grateful for the words in Roy’s introduction that have given me a newly articulated sense of the nature of Truth in scripture.

How do you view scripture? What text(s) do you study? What sort of support would be useful to you in your study?

I would love to hear from you.

2 Responses to Reading Scripture

  1. I do not trust in the scriptures which pretend to be wise. Wisdom is never found in the words themselves but in the interpretations of the words. This is what you allude to in your appreciation of the introduction. Words lead to understanding, understanding leads to wisdom…. for the wise. Words alone will never make the fool a wise man.

    Given this fulcrum, what difference does it make what words are studied? Study them all. There is no wisdom in the words, only in the interpretation of them as the beginning of understanding. Nietszche, Twain, Asimov… who has the best words? They are just words till you absorb them into the simulation of the world that runs inside your brain where they can twist and form the rules of understanding according to your interpretation of them. There is no single path, there is no path at all.

    If there is a need to remain grounded in the thoughts of those who came before, what is the point of us who are now? We are not pointless so it must be that remaining grounded in the thoughts of those who came before is not so important. Or is it that we are perhaps pointless? If so, what does it matter the words of those who came before? In either case, make your own path, there is no path to follow.

    • All scriptures are, are thoughts and “records” of the multitudes that came before us. I think we can profit from where they’ve been even if we don’t agree with it. We’re free to reject what doesn’t work for us. Some of them were wise…why not use what they learned and lived as springboards for our own ideas and lives? It’s still our own path to create.

      I’m reading the Yoga Sutras with commentary right now. It seems to work better if I dip into it to find something interesting instead of insisting on reading sequentially. I am starting to get more familiar with the sanskrit terms and that makes for an easier time.

Leave a reply

Like what you're reading? Sign up for a monthly dose of artsy inspiration including things I only share through my newsletter: