Books, Precious Companions
One can have a friend and companion even when one is alone and relaxing in solitude. These companions are books that provoke one to think upon matters that contribute to one's mental growth and edification. By reflecting upon the writings of great men, who passed away centuries ago, we become familiar with their valuable thoughts and their wisdom and profit from their teachings. The wonderful advancements and progress made by man in the various sciences and arts is not the result of a sudden leap, but the product of his experience through long eras of history as the knowledge and the sciences of earlier generations was transmitted to succeeding ones by the means of books and writings. Although the illustrious lives of great thinkers lie concealed behind a curtain of darkness and uncertainty, the essence of their thought and work has been preserved in the safe custody of books. It is as if the study of these works allows one to travel a distance of several centuries to become acquainted with outstanding human beings, who are now gone, and discover great truths by exploring the vast panorama of their works. One of the advantages of reading is that everyone, rich or poor, can equally benefit from the company of great minds and spend one's time with great heroes, and all that is needed to enter their company is the license of literacy. Reading can be a good means of relief from loneliness and bring peace of mind.
Imam 'Ali, the Commander of the Faithful, may Peace be upon him, says:
One who derives consolation from books will never lose his peace of mind. 31
One who pursues knowledge in solitude is never scared of loneliness. 32
A European scholar writes:
The debt we owe to books was well expressed by Richard de Bury, Bishop of Durham, author of Philobiblon, written as long as 1344, published in 1473, and the earliest treatise on the delights of literature. "There," he says, "are the masters who instruct us without hard words and anger, without clothes or money. If you approach them, they are not asleep; if investigating you interrogate them, they conceal nothing; if you mistake them, they never grumble; if you are ignorant, they cannot laugh at you. The library, therefore, of wisdom is more precious than all riches, and nothing that can be wished for is worthy to be compared with it. Whosoever therefore acknowledges himself to a zealous follower of truth, of happiness, of wisdom, of science, or even faith, must of necessity make himself a lover of books ..."
This feeling that books are real friends is constantly present to all who love reading. "I have friends," said Petrarch, "whose society is extremely agreeable to me; they are of all ages, and of every country. They have distinguished themselves both in the cabinet and in the field, and obtained high honours for their knowledge of the sciences. It is easy to gain access to them, for they are always at my service, and I admit them to my company, and dismiss them from it, whenever I please. They are never troublesome, but immediately answer every question I ask them. Some relate to me the events of the past ages, while others reveal to me how to live, and others how to die. Some, by their vivacity, drive away may cares and exhilarate my spirits; while others give fortitude to my mind, and teach me the important lesson how to restrain my desires, and to depend wholly on myself. They open to me, in short, the various avenues of all the arts and sciences, and upon their information I may safely rely in all emergencies. "
"Books," says Jermy Collier, "are a guide in youth and entertainment for age. They support us under solitude and keep us from being a burden to ourselves. They help us to forget the grossness of men and things; compose our cares and our passions; and lay our disappointments asleep. When we are weary of the living, we repair to the dead, who have nothing of peevishness, pride, or design in their conversation." 33
Even the study of the biographies of eminent figures who have brought about fruitful changes in the world and changed the course of human destiny is not without a formative influence on one's mind and soul. It can reveal to one the meaning of life and initiate him into outstanding spiritual virtues. If historic events and the character and conduct of everlasting personalities are so absorbing and fascinating for the reader, that is because of their intimate relationship and bond with the thoughts and feelings of the great men who authored them. In the same way as the moral character of every person can be judged through the character of his friends and associates, so also one's selection of books and one's interests provides a clue to one's intellectual and spiritual calibre and character. In the same way as one should be careful in the selection of friends to avoid the dangers of inappropriate company, so also a great care is to be exercised in the choice of books. That is because the study of improper material is not only without benefit, their toxic effects poison ours ideas and vitiate the purity of one's soul.
This is especially true of the young people, who have not acquired moral maturity and stability. Their minds are impressionable and they readily digest the contents of such books, subjecting themselves to the danger of deviance and degeneration.
Unfortunately, these days barren and misleading published material, whose evil and harmful influence on youth is not at all hidden, has acquired great currency. These books are like invisible robbers who enter the privacy of one's mind and soul and, with a surprising alacrity, devastate the foundations of one's faith and human merit Mostly base and vulgar writings form part of the means of amusement of young people, and that is the reason why there is an increasing tendency among them to a fantastic approach towards life. For this group of people, that which matters is not the educative content and impact of a book but its soporific and intoxicating power, as is the case with many novels and much fiction. These make their basic conditions for the selection of a book. Obviously, when the material one reads is not selected with care and insight, and amusement and sexual excitement is the only end of reading, apart from the time wasted, that would result in moral degeneration and ruin of one's constructive faculties
Raymond Beach, a Western psychologist, says:
The matter of reading should be given careful attention by the youth Although all sorts of newspapers, and various weekly, monthly and other periodicals make up the most important source of reading by the youth today, it must said that we come across fewer outstanding minds and ideas than in the past
When boys and girls select light and nonsensical material for reading, they gradually lose sight of that which is beautiful, valuable and sublime in life Bad books incite feelings of anger, rage, and excitement in the reader and bring him to the verge of moral degeneration These books enfeeble the will, create intellectual torpor, and debase spiritual life.
The study of worthy and beneficial books, besides giving a special clarity to one's insight, may even open a new chapter in one's life, giving a new direction and impetus to one's energies and efforts and bringing one's spiritual personality to a definite fruition There are many people who have obtained their moral and spiritual vigour and power from this plenteous and fecund source and have been drawn towards personal sublimity and edification.
Thomas Hood writes :
My born interest and attachment to books rescued my life from foundering in the vortex of ignorance and moral ruin in the early years of my life, though someone like me who had been deprived of the blessing of parental care and sympathy in childhood years can rarely escape this frightful danger.
My books restrained me from getting involved in gambling, drinking and visiting improper places Truly, it is impossible for anyone who benefits from the precious and sublime ideas of great men to incline towards the company of base and frivolous characters. 34
31. Al-Amidi, Ghurar al-hikam, p. 632.
32. Avebury, On Peace and Happiness, Persian trans., Dar aghosh-e kaushbakhti, pp.46-448
33. Raymond Beach, Persian trans. by Banu Munir Mehran, Ma wa farzandan-e ma p. 83.
34. Akhlaq-e Samuel, p. 124.
Adapted from: "Ethics and Spiritual Growth" by: "Sayyid Mujtaba Musawi Lari"
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