“The book to read is not the one that thinks for you but the one which makes you think” – Harper Lee’s words ring in true as books lead us on to a different world on the wings of imagination opening doors to an entirely different and unique universe. The Atharva Veda affirms “Do not be led by others, awaken your own mind, amass your own experience and decide for yourself your own path”.
Books have always been held in high esteem in Hinduism and the fact that we have not one but many Scriptures both primary and secondary, attests the importance given to books and reading in the religion. Books have always provided succor to the lonely and have been a guide to the seeker. That’s why saints and philosophers have written countless commentaries, bhashyas and works to inspire and propel those seeking realization. Seers who have received transcendental thoughts in their metaphysical state have recorded them for posterity. Shrutis are direct messages heard by the seers while Smritis are a compendium of whatever was heard and recollected. Vedas, Upanishads and the countless other texts guide man on his onward journey as he goes about fulfilling his goals of dharma, artha, kama and moksha.
Upanishads verily mean sitting by the side of the guru and learning profound truths. What happens when one does not find such a guru? Despair not, say our scriptures. The body of work that is present before us serves as the acharya or guru. Svaadhyaya or self study is almost a niyama or a discipline in Hinduism. The Taittiriya Upanishad states
— Taittiriya Upanishad, 1.11.1-2
Learning and contemplating whatever is read is an important step towards understanding complex truths. Further the Upanishad exhorts us to first study, understand the truths, contemplate and then teach others
ṛtaṃ ca svādhyāyapravacane ca ।
satyaṃ ca svādhyāyapravacane ca ।
tapaśca svādhyāyapravacane ca ।
damaśca svādhyāyapravacane ca ।
śamaśca svādhyāyapravacane ca ।
agnayaśca svādhyāyapravacane ca ।
agnihotraṃ ca svādhyāyapravacane ca ।
atithayaśca svādhyāyapravacane ca ।
mānuṣaṃ ca svādhyāyapravacane ca ।
prajā ca svādhyāyapravacane ca ।
prajanaśca svādhyāyapravacane ca ।
prajātiśca svādhyāyapravacane ca ।
satyamiti satyavacā rāthītaraḥ ।
tapa iti taponityaḥ pauruśiṣṭiḥ ।
svādhyāyapravacane eveti nāko maudgalyaḥ ।
taddhi tapastaddhi tapaḥ ॥ 1॥
Any good book will inspire you to reflect its meaning. The noble truths enshrined in the Scriptures goad man to a life of reflective thinking and assimilation of ideas. Books themselves become the guru as they are capable of bringing about a gradual transformation.
World Book Day celebrated on 23 April each year pays tribute to all the authors and books who have enriched our lives and opened our doors to an entirely new universe. This is one of the Pancha Mahayagna enjoined by the Scriptures to every householder. Known as Brahma Yagna or Veda Yajna, every man is asked to pay homage to the great masters and the books that have enriched our lives by opening our eyes to knowledge removing the veil of ignorance. The other yajnas being Deva yagna or homage to gods, Pitru yagna or homage to the ancestors, Bhuta Yagna or homage to all beings and Manushya or Athiti yagna.