NATURE AND RELEVENCE OF SCRIPTURES

Ever since language began, people have used narrative to organize human experience, to orient life in the cosmos. Narrative is part of humanity’s brilliance. Narrative in its broadest sense means stories, the recital of accounts, information and teachings, including scriptures; the framework of worldviews as told in the words of authoritative oral/written texts. In this sense, all scriptures are largely narratives. Each master narrative is a scenario orienting people to some sort of order. Scriptures (from Latin ‘scritura’ meaning ‘writing’) literally are the sacred written texts but in broad sense also include oral ones that serve a variety of purposes in the individual and collective lives of a society, culture and most significantly a religious tradition. These are examples of narrative par excellence telling origin stories, offering expositions of teachings, injunctions, lyrics and wisdom. Scripture narratives, in all their many forms, are so ubiquitous because every coherent life is invariably shaped by some story. Scriptures can thus, be seen to function as ‘attractors’, dynamic system patterns channelling human energies, reminder to people of their place in the scheme of things and thus, channel the passions. At their best, sacred narratives i.e. Scriptures serve as revered repositories storing societal, cultural and religious wisdom. They seem to mirror life, generate order and provide recognizable structures i.e. enduring answers about life’s meanings along with allowing some flexibility for new interpretations and applications as needs arise. They also store information about ideals and make the meanings available and applicable to a great variety of situations by different people over the centuries. Scriptures are kept relevant by commentaries, new translations and adaptive reiterations. At their worst, scriptures can be used to promote unthinking and irrational behavior. With all the research the modern age has accumulated, people still feel growing pains of alternating pride of knowledge power and dismay at ignorance and chaotic change beyond control. Human beings while able in solving some mysteries, continue to face mysteries in the universe that were always in existence since our ancestors started. Common men as well as scholars are still wondering: 1. What is a civilization-founding scripture, and how does it remain significant? 2. How can we begin to better understand the implications of scripture’s global pervasiveness. 3. What new awareness of common bonds and possible cooperation might grow out of respectful encounters with the sacred texts of others? Woefully, even with science growing and new information in every sphere being continuously discovered, meaning of ‘being a person’ is still as elusive as ever was. Perhaps updating current human understanding of the role of scriptures that for so long have oriented so many human lives with ever increasing new knowledge may be a helpful. Assessing anew the importance of scriptures and their meaning in human life. Better understanding of the processes by which they are elevated to authoritative positions and processes involved when they are lowered or lessened in status is also necessary. Perhaps because scientific modernity started treating scriptures, particularly religious scriptures, very shabbily, fundamentalists now upholding them with a vengeance; the pendulum swings both ways. The impact of religious scripture on human behavior has not always been positive. Most of the religions themselves are critical of those who hold to a literal reading of scriptures, which can block comprehension of the ‘Ultimate Universal’. Buddha in his Parable of the Raft spoke about the scriptures as a raft, useful on the path to Enlightenment but ultimately to be abandoned on the other shore as true enlightenment transcends conceptual knowledge (Majjhima Nikaya 1.134-35). Another issue that confounds religious scriptures is whether these contains the whole truth or only a part of the truth. Adherents who believe their scriptures are the complete and full revelation of Ultimate Universal Truth may well have difficulty appreciating the value of other religions’ scriptures. Yet the scriptures themselves counsel humility on this score. Buddha warned his follower Malunkyaputta not to question the philosophical questions that the Buddha had not elucidated, as a person shot with an arrow does not stop the doctor from removing it with questions about who shot it (Majjhima Nikaya 1.426-31).

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