Thus have I read: the place of reading in the practice of Buddhism

  • Carlos Miguel García Jané

    Student thesis: Master's Thesis


    Purpose: Reading plays a central role in the transmission, reception, and practice of Buddhism. This dissertation seeks to address a perceived gap in Buddhist studies by suggesting that reading constitutes a valid strategy of practice and a useful phenomenon to analyse Buddhist roles and identities.

    Aims and objectives: This study aims to explore several occurrences of reading in Buddhism. It seeks to outline a history of reading in Buddhism and to suggest some theoretical foundations which justify the practice of reading. It also attempts to describe the reception of Dharma-texts through reading in different historical contexts, including the contemporary world.

    Methods: The main body of this dissertation comprises the compilation of a corpus of references to reading found in primary and secondary literature. These references have been contextualised by historical research and justified by an exploration of several Buddhist doctrines and theories relevant to reading. This dissertation adopts a phenomenological stance thus allowing religious agents the capacity to provide meaning to their own actions. Interpretative strategies have been informed by reader-response criticism, aesthetics of reception, narratology, and reception theory. Content analysis of Facebook posts and Goodreads reviews has been employed to analyse recent individual responses to Buddhist literature.

    Results: A corpus of over 14,500 entries with references to reading in Buddhism has been compiled using primary and secondary literature. An outline of the history of reading in Buddhism has been suggested. A theoretical basis for reading in Buddhism has been proposed. The attitudes of different Buddhist traditions and schools towards reading, including the reception of Dharma-texts in contemporary contexts, has been described. A ranking of the top ten recommended Dharma-texts has been compiled based on a list of 1,217 recommendations found on Facebook groups posts between March and September 2020. 500 of the most recent book reviews of those recommended Dharma-texts on Goodreads have been analysed for content.

    Conclusions: No similar study could be traced in the literature. This dissertation concludes that reading constitutes a central practice in Buddhism and one of its main means of transmission. Reading supports Dharma practice, provides moral exemplars, develops faith, purification, and meditation. Buddhism advocates reading slowly and repeatedly, and encourages embodying the teaching by means of familiarity and memorization of Dharma-texts. This study also shows that reviews on social media platforms can be used to understand the reception of Dharma-texts by contemporary audiences, hence enriching the knowledge of the practices of Bookshop Buddhists and Buddhist sympathizers and contributing to the debate about religious identity and affiliation. This analysis suggests that most readers of Dharma-texts seek spiritual fulfilment, religious knowledge, inspiration, and practical advice from a demystified, non-dogmatic, and relatable perspective.
    Date of AwardMar 2021
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorSarah Shaw (Supervisor)

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