The word scripture is most commonly used to refer to the books of the Bible, which is of course the central text of Christianity, but it can also be used to refer to any body of writing which is considered sacred or authoritative, regardless of the tradition to which it belongs. Some better-known examples of non-Christian scriptures include the Discourses of the Buddha, the Bhagavad Gita of the Hindu tradition and the Tao Te Ching of Taoism.
Whilst it is by no means necessary for a spiritual Seeker to study the scripture of any particular tradition, many find a great deal of value in such a practice, so today I would like to share just a few tips on how to get the most out of scripture study.
#1 – Choose a Hard Copy
My first piece of advice would be for you to obtain a hard copy version of whatever scripture you intend to study. Whilst there are online versions of most scriptures, reading them on a computer screen is a very different experience to reading printed words on paper, and the traditional approach tends to be one which fits more readily into a daily spiritual practice. A printed book of scripture also allows you to use post-it notes and page flags to mark specific sections for future reference.
Of course, this could be a generational stance, so if you are someone who really would prefer to study scripture in electronic format then I would suggest that you do so on a Kindle E-Reader or similar device, which aims to replicate the ink-on-paper experience as much as possible.
#2 – Look Beyond Dogma
Next, when reading your chosen scripture, try to look beyond any dogmatic belief system which is associated with that scripture, and focus instead on considering how the broad message being presented can be applied to your life. For example, most Christians consider the Bible to be the inerrant word of God, and many view the creation story, as written in the book of Genesis, as a literal description of how the universe was created in six days. You, as a spiritual Seeker, can look past that dogmatic stance, and take whatever inspiration or truth you find in that book without necessarily having to believe every word.
Taking such a non-dogmatic approach to your study of scripture will allow you to receive wisdom from a wide variety of traditions without having to accept any single tradition as being wholly accurate or more factually superior than any other.
#3 – Consider the Context
When studying any scripture, be sure to consider the historical and cultural context in which the text was written, as that will often help you to separate the wheat of useful principles from the chaff of ideas which are no longer relevant to life in a modern society. Some scriptures (such as the Bible) are more coloured by their historical and cultural context than others (such as the Dhammapada), but adopting contextual consideration as a general habit will always stand you in good stead.
#4 – Enjoy the Experience
Just because a text is viewed as being scriptural doesn’t mean that the time you spend with it should be dry or boring. Scriptural texts can be enjoyed for their own sake, in the same way that you might enjoy reading great poetry or a classic novel. By allowing yourself to enjoy the experience of reading scripture, you will benefit from the time you invest in the activity regardless of whether or not you manage to extract any spiritual truth that you can make use of in your daily life.
#5 – Compile Your Own Scriptures
This tip might sound controversial, but all I am suggesting here is that you consider acquiring a separate notebook to the one you use for journaling and use it to record scriptural extracts which you feel are worth remembering and giving further thought to in the future. This will enable you to compile extracts from a wide variety of scriptures and have them in one place – in your own personal volume of scripture – for ready-reference.
#6 – Apply the Applicable
Many spiritual truths that you come across during your study of scriptures will be descriptive in nature, which means that they will describe the human condition and spiritual experience in ways that strike a chord with you, but they may not have any practical benefit. Other truths, however, will be extremely applicable to your life, having an instructional tone or providing insights which you can actually work with. Consider the following examples:
‘Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath.’ – Ephesians 4:26
‘Do not speak harshly to anyone…’ – Dhammapada verse 133
‘A cheerful heart makes good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.’ – Proverbs 17:22
When you come across ideas such as these, which can be applied to your daily life (settle arguments promptly, avoid harsh speech and have a cheerful heart, for example) be sure – if you agree with them – to actually follow through and apply them. By doing this, the time you spend studying scripture will benefit you, and the people around you, for a lifetime.
Scriptural study is not something that all spiritual Seekers will be interested in, but for those of you who are, it can be a very rewarding activity. Use the guidelines offered here to get the most from your study, and enjoy the journey!
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