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Can fiction lend a helping hand?

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Can fiction lend a helping hand?
Answer
9/15/20 9:21 AM
Hello All, this is my first post but I have been lurking for a few months and lockdown has allowed me to start a modest 30 min/day mindfulness practice ala Shargrol which has been going now for about 6 weeks.  Perhaps I will ask some technical questions in another thread.

My question is this: what do we think of works of literary fiction as aids in the path?  The extreme version of this idea is "forget self-help books, read fiction" which I've seen on booktube (the booky people on youtube).  Now I can't agree with that, as MCTB2 is a treasure (thanks Daniel) which has helped me make sense of all of the previous reading and practice I'd ever done, and opened a way forward. Wish it was around 30 years ago. But I digress. So is there an element of truth in this? And if there is, are there novels that seemed to move you forward?

For my part, I read a novel last week (nothing remotely "spiritual" or didactic in it, "Normal People" by Sally Rooney), and it tore me up (the first time a novel has ever done this to me), and I eventually realised something about myself that had been distorting my emotional life for many decades (some serious delusion). It only occurs to me now that the novel shows how delusion causes unhappiness, although my response was emotional, not logical. This sounds like the "stuff that comes up" that people talk about happening as you meditate, only this was the other end of the day. I was wondering if others have been triggered by literature and it has helped on the journey?

Of course I'm not talking about books that serve to distract only. 

RE: Can fiction lend a helping hand?
Answer
9/15/20 10:36 AM as a reply to James Hester.
I find fiction on spiritual subjects can help me to maintain a spiritual perspective, to remind me to be spiritual, maintian my spiritual practices, and keep me motivated to live spiritually.

Modern life constantly draws us into a worldly frame of mind, fiction can help counter that.

What also helps is if you belong to a group that shares your beliefs and has meetings such as a sangha, meditation center, temple, or church etc. But if you don't have that fiction can help.

RE: Can fiction lend a helping hand?
Answer
9/15/20 11:36 AM as a reply to James Hester.
James Hester. I was wondering if others have been triggered by literature and it has helped on the journey?:

Of course I'm not talking about books that serve to distract only. 
Hi there.

With a firm basis in following precepts, I've used all resources available, whether written, spoken or sounds. And when the feeling was just right, throw all my beliefs into making the mind jump and flow, and trusted that there will be some footing found when landing. And it has been very beneficial, but it has also been very stressful.

RE: Can fiction lend a helping hand?
Answer
9/19/20 8:35 PM as a reply to James Hester.
I'm unqualified to comment on the role of books in spiritual advancement. (I’ve got 40 years of deep interest in the Dharma, yet only the last 1.5 years contain much dedicated meditation time—thanks, Daniel!—and no achievements unlocked yet.) But I care, and I do know books, so….

Our Buddha was all about skillful means. The written Dharma uses words to run at insight in a thousand different ways, with the understanding that each human being is going to get there via some unique variant of the path and that, although words are never going to entirely close that gap, words can help. Fiction (good fiction) is exactly an attempt to say things with words that haven’t been said before and that maybe can’t be said. Some of those things are social and psychological, but some of them are deeper. There’s probably correlation between lack of delusion in the author and the insight that the work brings in meditative terms, but not a perfect correlation, and any writer honestly documenting the edges of consciousness and struggle is certainly doing some service to collective meditative advancement.

So I can’t answer your question. But when I read it, three books immediately leapt to mind.

*The Passion According to G.H.* by Clarice Lispector. She was a Brazilian novelist. The whole book takes place in her apartment, mostly in one room, and the only action has to do with a cockroach. This is not entertainment. But neither is it just lost Kafkaesque dyshumanism. The character endures something that is either a burst of insight or a Dark Night experience. All of the reference points are Christian or artsy nihilist, but it ends up sounding like what the Dharma would sound like as related by a person who has none of the language or experience of the Dharma to lean on—a report of direct experience. Poetic and fascinating.

*Great Disciples of the Buddha* by Nyanaponika Thera, Hellmuth Hecker, and Bhikkhu Bodhi. This not fiction, but it is narrative centered around characters and events. Mostly what it does is mine the Tripitaka for stories that illuminate the different characters of the Buddha’s original disciples. It does a great job of digging deeply into details of practice while fleshing out Sariputta, Moggallana, Mahakassapa, and another twenty. For me this has made the actual sutras more meaningful since it uncovers ways in which the teaching is adjusted for these folks as individuals and in which their lives have trajectories that are illuminating for us as actual humans trying to do the same stuff.

*Seiobo There Below* by Laszlo Krasznahorkai. This is sort of a novel formed of stories that interlock by theme rather than plot. The stories are about humans in different historical eras striving for beauty and some kind of sacredness within diverse contexts, some literally sacred but many quite profane. I read it a few years ago, expecting something darker and more discouraging (since Krasznahorkai’s other books I’d read are that), and I emerged thinking that if there were ever a novel that was part of a path towards enlightenment then this is it.

So…that’s not an answer, but it is some book recommendations!

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