Study as spiritual practice?

Studying student from anime Ore no Kanojo

Being studious is surely a virtue and an admirable trait. But I may be exaggerating a bit if I compare it to spiritual practice.

I have noticed this repeatedly for a while now. After I took up studying Japanese vocabulary rather intensely, I feel less urge to pray or meditate. To be more exact, it is a feeling as if I already did that. That is surely an exaggeration.

Now, it is not as if I spent a substantial part of my time praying and meditating as it was. But I felt enough need for it that I can clearly notice the difference.

Perhaps it is simply that both study and spiritual practice require concentration and setting aside time that could have been used for fun and entertainment. In that case, I may simply be feeling that I already spent my “serious time”.

But I wonder if there really is a certain sense of “spiritual practice” in studying, either as such or in a certain context. Obviously if one is studying religious Truth, such as by immersing oneself in Holy Scripture, that would be a spiritual practice. And an important one to many religious people. In Judaism it is so prominent that Jesus Christ claimed the scribes of his era expected to have eternal life in the Scriptures. From the introductions to Judaism that I have read, it does not seem the interest in the Scriptures has waned much in the last 2000 years. (Of course, Jesus himself was clearly well versed in the Scriptures, so that is not the problem.)

But what if one studies something secular? I think it may depend somewhat on one’s motivation or purpose. There are surely frivolous reasons for learning a language as well, although I wonder how much effort one would put into it then. Well, I suppose people can get pretty obsessed with their hobbies; for instance an otaku may want to learn Japanese to watch anime or read manga. Although these days there is little need for that, as translations are up either immediately or shortly after the Japanese release, legally or otherwise (or even both).

To be honest, I am not even sure why I am trying to learn Japanese. Part of it is that I want to find out the truth about Ryuho Okawa, the man who has written 900 books. I get the distinct impression that the literature available in English paints a different picture of him than what people back home in Japan has. Still, if I can find out how to write one book each week, it will be time well spent.

Then there is the fact that learning a new language is adding a huge tool box to one’s mind. English is after all my third language, and it opened up my world in a way I could not have imagined. Of course, in the case of English, much of that was because there is a wealth of literature available in English that does not exist at all in my two Norwegian languages. That is only partly true with Japanese. On the other hand, English is almost a Scandinavian language: There is so much of its grammar that is similar to ours, and even parts of the vocabulary. Dabbling in Finnish has shown me that language can be very different from this. But Japanese is even more alien again. (And, with no offense intended to my Finnish readers, I cannot imagine anything I’d want to read or hear or watch in Finnish. Sorry about that.)

Anyway, I wonder if more generally studying is not a spiritual practice of sorts, if it is for the love of knowledge rather than for money or fame or some such. I have read that people who return after a near-death experience tend to bring with them the idea that only a couple things are truly important: Loving and learning, specifically. Despite experiencing a realm where knowledge is everywhere and can be absorbed directly, they return with the idea that learning is a major reason for our stay on Earth. Although I think that pertains more to learning from experience, perhaps?

In one of my novels in progress, working title “Blue Light”, the main character travels in the World of the Mind (in his astral body) and has an encounter with a being of immense luminosity – not the primordial uncreated Light, but a being perhaps comparable to an archangel in religious terms – which instructs him: “Love by understanding.” To quote Ryuho Okawa, to understand someone is almost the same as forgiving them. I agree with that. Forgiveness is great, but I find much less use for it now than I did when I was young. Many things that I would have attributed to malice, I now attribute to ignorance. They know not what they do. (This is in part because I have discovered so very often that I myself know not what I do.)

Studying is a bit different from that again; but understanding the laws of the mind and the laws of the natural world is still important, I think. It allows us to achieve wisdom, to know what the best course of action is in various circumstances.

So I think a student with a pure heart may be able to devote himself to his studies with the same attitude of vocation or calling as a worker, doing it as if serving God rather than an earthly employer, as recommended in both Christianity (by St Paul) and Hindusim (by Krishna).

But I am not sure how well any of the above applies to my Japanese studies. It is entirely possible that I am just lazy. But the way it feels is this, as if I have already spent time in spiritual practice. Perhaps I will get more light on this in the future, if any.

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