Why Do Buddhism Sections in Libraries / Bookstores Omit the Suttas?

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JubalHenshaw
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Why Do Buddhism Sections in Libraries / Bookstores Omit the Suttas?

Post by JubalHenshaw » Tue Feb 13, 2018 11:47 am

Hi All,

In my recent exploration of Buddhism I had quite a difficult time finding appropriate books to checkout from our library. Despite 15 or so bookshelves full of books on buddhism, it took quite a while to find something that contained the actual texts... instead they were books that were commentary on Buddha's teachings or original works by Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama or books like "The Meditation of Running" or "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Repair". It took quite a bit of searching the shelves before I found a single copy of the Dhammapada. I had a similar experience at the bookstore as well, thankfully Amazon can give me some better direct access (as well as free PDFs I found online).

As someone new to Buddhism, I found it a bit baffling that Buddhism sections at libraries and bookstores would neglect to carry what I assume would be the fundamental teachings of Buddhism. While the commentary books came close as I thumbed through them they gave me the impression that it was similar to watching a movie commentary without watching the movie itself. Why is this? Is this a western thing that aims to make buddhism accessible by focusing instead on modern discussion of the themes and occasionally quoting a few suttas here or there?

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Sam Vara
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Re: Why Do Buddhism Sections in Libraries / Bookstores Omit the Suttas?

Post by Sam Vara » Tue Feb 13, 2018 12:03 pm

Good question. First of all, though, I'm surprised that in your local library there were 15 shelves of books on Buddhism; you're fortunate to live in a literate country where such things are considered worth putting in a library.

My guess as to why there are relatively few actual suttas in libraries is that this is to do with the purchasing practices of the libraries themselves. In my country, there is pressure to save public money by only buying books which have a high chance of being read and borrowed. I wouldn't be surprised if there is a formula which determines the number of loans by unit cost. Purchasers will probably look at book sales on Amazon and trading sites, and buy books for the library which they know are popular. And, of course, the more popular they are, the more likely they are to come down in price and so be affordable. That big hardback copy of suttas translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi will probably appeal to far fewer readers than the Dalai Lama's book of enjoyable platitudes, and will probably cost ten times more.

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Kim OHara
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Re: Why Do Buddhism Sections in Libraries / Bookstores Omit the Suttas?

Post by Kim OHara » Tue Feb 13, 2018 12:07 pm

Hi, Jubal,
I can think of three separate explanations for what you've observed, and they may all be true:
1. Scriptures aren't books "about" the religion so they are treated differently by libraries and bookshops. Are there bibles in the Christianity section? Korans in the Muslim section?
2. Buddhist scriptures are huge - not just one or two volumes, but a shelf full. How would a library choose?
3. Buddhist scriptures are huge, so interpretive books are far more accessible to the lay reader than the original.

The Dhammapada is an exception, being not-quite-scripture and being a stand-alone volume.

If you want a good introductory collection, In the Buddha's Words is great. Get it yourself, and if you want to help the next enquirer at your local library, encourage your library to buy a copy.

:reading:
Kim

binocular
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Re: Why Do Buddhism Sections in Libraries / Bookstores Omit the Suttas?

Post by binocular » Tue Feb 13, 2018 12:24 pm

JubalHenshaw wrote:
Tue Feb 13, 2018 11:47 am
In my recent exploration of Buddhism I had quite a difficult time finding appropriate books to checkout from our library.
In which country is that?
Maybe availability of translated texts an issue.

What type of library is it? Do they have everything on the bookshelves, or is there a storage/basement to it to which visitors don't have access and those books need to be ordered through a librarian?
For example, the university library that I go to has probably the majority of its materials in the basement, not in open access.

Some books are borrowed by people, so they aren't on the shelves. The library has them, but there's a waiting list.

Smaller public libraries can have a lot of popular books about a topic (often donations from people), but lack fundamental texts. Try interlibrary loan, or go to a bigger library.

Last but not least, some books get stolen, and some are decomissioned (because they are too damaged or weren't borrowed enough times).

JubalHenshaw
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Re: Why Do Buddhism Sections in Libraries / Bookstores Omit the Suttas?

Post by JubalHenshaw » Tue Feb 13, 2018 12:54 pm

Thanks all for the replies. To answer some of the questions, it is a pretty large local library so they have quite a few books, plus a large a collection of ebooks and audiobooks that can be checked out online.

I think Kim OHara hit the mark on the reason for this... if I were to look at the shelves of other religions, while there might be a copy or two of The Bible or Koran those shelves are also primarily filled with books about concepts within those religions or original works influenced by the scriptures like The Purpose Driven Life. It also makes sense that libraries would stock current best sellers rather than original texts. Buddhism is also likely much harder than other religions to stock original works because the number of books in The Three Baskets of Buddhist literature are quite massive... there really isn't a single definitive volume like the Koran or Bible for the library to choose to stock.

Thanks for the advice on "In the Buddha's Words", this is cheaply available on Amazon and seems to have a good collection of works from the Pali canon. :-)


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bodom
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Re: Why Do Buddhism Sections in Libraries / Bookstores Omit the Suttas?

Post by bodom » Tue Feb 13, 2018 5:35 pm

Every bookstore and library I've been to in San Antonio always has a copy of Bhikkhu Bodhi's classic anthology In the Buddhas Words. It's usually selling for around $15 dollars. His other translations in his series ranges from $50 to $100 and might not be cost effective for casual readers. I am grateful to see this book on the shelves as it may light the fire in someone unfamiliar with the suttas to broaden there study. It's the best introduction to the suttas one can find.

:namaste:
To study is to know the texts,
To practice is to know your defilements,
To attain the goal is to know and let go.

- Ajahn Lee Dhammadharo


With no struggling, no thinking,
the mind, still,
will see cause and effect
vanishing in the Void.
Attached to nothing, letting go:
Know that this is the way
to allay all stress.

- Upasika Kee Nanayan

JubalHenshaw
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Re: Why Do Buddhism Sections in Libraries / Bookstores Omit the Suttas?

Post by JubalHenshaw » Fri Feb 16, 2018 2:18 pm

Thanks, I picked up "In the Buddhas Words" last night and read through the first chapter... really good tome.

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