is reading sutras a waste of time?

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    Is reading sutras a waste of time? I’ve read a few and parts of others. Aside from endless praise for Shakamuni and the other buddhas and bodhisattvas, they seemed to me, for the most part, rather thin intellectually. For instance, the Avatamsaka Sutra has page after page devoted to enumerating all the beings who were there to listen one of Shakamuni’s sermons. And more pages on the types of jewels and precious stones that the hall and seats were made of. I often think that many of the sutras were intended as someone’s idea of a joke–“Let’s see how many people will be dumb enough to read this and take it seriously.” Any thoughts?

  • #42600
    Jennifer Hawkins
    Jennifer Hawkins

    Is reading sutras a waste of time?
    I’d argue the exact opposite. … I’ll use one of my favorite examples.

    I posted to my Facebook the story of a Bhikkhu who decided to do a walking meditation despite having a small pebble stuck in his shoe. At the end, he noted that the discomfort was minor compared to psychological pain. (I’m summarizing as I can’t remember the exact name of this sutta.) What I, and many on my Facebook, got out of it was an affirmation of the depth of mental anguish and some ways to perhaps put it in perspective. What 2 other SBA Directors (also on my Facebook) got out of it was a story of how not to meditate. They commented on how they often had to stop the students they taught from “powering on through pain,” etc. They were right. So was I. I saw the Sutta as a person who has anxiety conditions. They saw the Sutta as people who primarily teach others how to meditate. That’s the power and point of Suttas. We interacted authentically with the Sutta as we are currently conditioned and each got different, but equally valid and valuable things from it. It didn’t matter if somewhere in there a Deva got mentioned (it didn’t in this one, but just for argument sake). So what if it says a Deva heard this or learned this. Whether or not I take that as literal truth doesn’t diminish the other truths found in Suttas. Devas aren’t the point. The main points of Suttas are the point (lol). And in broad strokes, this is generally what defines Secular Buddhism. It is accepted to interact with Suttas as yourself. If you take everything literally, then that’s fine as long as that’s not used as an excuse to cause harm to others. But generally, Secular Buddhists don’t take the supernatural elements as literal. And nothing is changed or diminished in that. It’s also fine.

    So read Suttas honestly to see what you get out of them and be okay with that. There’s no requirement to take everything as literal truth (not with us). And if you truly don’t get anything from them at all… then that’s something to really think on.

    “thin intellectually”
    Suttas generally are closer to poetry than to a chemistry textbook. Judging them as if they are chemistry textbooks is arguably unfair. That said, there are more technical Suttas. Basically anything in the Abhidhamma will be more technical.

    “Avatamsaka Sutra”
    (All respect to Mahayana Sutras) Perhaps you should begin with the Pali Canon instead of Mahayana Sutras. I suggest Access to Insight. I can get all into it, but for now, I’ll just say that they are of differing styles. Perhaps you need to start with something a little different.

    ” I often think that many of the sutras were intended as someone’s idea of a joke–“Let’s see how many people will be dumb enough to read this and take it seriously.””
    Please be respectful of others here and elsewhere. Just because something isn’t optimal for us as individuals don’t mean that it’s automatically lesser, “dumb” or “a joke.” Other people better interact in those ways, and it’s ethical to respect that others may interact with Suttas different (as with the above example). Let each do what is most beneficial as long as no harm to caused to others thereby.

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