Writing as Dharma Practice

I was in the kitchen with my wise friend Suvajra, making tea for ourselves. We had many long conversations that day and at one point he suggested to me to take writing as a spiritual practice. That was almost a year ago. However I’m still puzzled by what “writing as spiritual practice” actually means. The word ‘spiritual’ is often very vague, so I’ve rephrased it here as “writing as dharma practice” instead.

First I’ll try to explain ‘dharma’. I’ve heard many translations of this Sanskrit word. It has no singular meaning, which makes it difficult to translate, but for this context I like the translation of dharma as ‘truth’. However it’s not just truth for the sake of truth. Neither are you looking for truth to go on some sort of ego trip. Rather it’s a way of investigating reality that leads to genuine happiness – a form of happiness that is enduring.

And so you have Buddha-dharma, Christian-dharma, Hindu-dharma and even Science-dharma. Countless variations of teachings grounded in reality that lead to genuine happiness and flourishing. These various paths cater to different cultures and personality types.

Five Reasons I Write

  1. To articulate the path as I walk it.
    The path is long. There are setbacks. There are obstacles. There are sidepaths. Often it goes counter to the direction of mainstream society. There are many distractions – pulls this way and that. For me writing is one tool that helps me sift through all those distractions and come back ‘home’ – towards my inner compass. By writing I also improve my ability to express the path to those who ask.
  2. To be my own guide.
    I’m reading and listening to a lot of material. If I don’t have a space where I can distill the teachings, all of this content can be very overwhelming. Even in the world of dharma there is a huge amount of content online. By writing the teachings in my own words as I understand them, I act as my own guide. My own writing becomes a guide that I can come back to.
  3. To develop wisdom.
    In Buddhism, there are traditionally three steps to developing wisdom:
    1) Hearing and learning
    2) Thinking and reflecting
    3) Meditative development
    Writing falls under #2 for me. It allows me to spend an extended time on certain teachings or topics so that I can dive into the nuances of it and gain a deeper understanding.
  4. To teach.
    There’s been some misrepresented research from Edgar Dale that teaching something gives you the highest rate of retention. While there were no scientific studies actually done on that claim, my subjective experience shows me teaching something is a very effective way of learning it. By writing about something (and also holding occasional workshops) I am in a way teaching.
  5. It feels good to create.
    Today we live in a society where we consume a lot. It would probably take thousands of years to consume all the entertainment that was produced in the last ten years alone. There’s a lot for us to consume, so when I create something it feels like a welcome respite. Regardless of whether anyone actually reads what I write.

A Few Other Reminders

At Ziferblat, there’s a poster that reads:

In this place ‘How are you’ means “How are you?”

It’s a good reminder to come back to what’s real. To actually connect with how I actually am in this moment, and not write things because I think I should or because I think it sounds nice. There is value in being real – in a culture that at times can be very superficial, being real is valuable. Even in a society that isn’t superficial, being real is valuable.

The other reminder is the words of Shantideva in A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life:

There is nothing here that has not been said before, nor do I have any skill in composition. Due to the insufficiency of my abilities, I do not think, ‘This is conducive to the benefit of others’ and I have composed this solely to season my own mind.

Writing is first and foremost for my benefit. If others happen to get benefit from my writings – amazing.

So in essence, “writing as dharma practice” is to use the medium of writing as an aid towards my dharma practice. Towards the practice of discovering what are causes of genuine well-being? What are causes of suffering? And is there a way to eradicate suffering at it’s root so an irreversible transformation occurs?

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