Sunday, June 23, 2013

Excuse me but you are treading on an MP3 file

The writing that enshrines the Doctrine - that is, books or portion of books - is reverenced almost more than anything else by the Tibetans. They will not pack up their belongings for a journey without making sure that the books have the place of honour on top and will not be crushed under everyday objects. If a Tibetan is handed a book, he will lay it on his head, murmuring a prayer that he may be helped to profit by its wisdom. People are almost morbid about a book or an image coming into contact with shoes. I remember one day, at the Gompa P'hiyang, when we were sitting on the floor of our cell talking to our friend the lama Gyaltsan, that Dr. Roaf, who had just finished looking up some reference in a Textbook of Pathology by Professor Boyd, happened to put his feet lightly on that massive black tome. Suddenly Gyaltsan noticed it and stopping in the middle of his discourse, said in shocked tones: "Excuse me, you may not know it; but you are treading on a book!" Dr. Roaf at once apologised and Professor Boyd's precious volume was duly picked up and laid in a place of safety. I think its learned author would have been surprised to hear of the honour done to his book by a lama in far-off Tibet, an honour that it has probably never received from one of his students in his own laboratory at home.
That quote comes from Marco Pallis' 1939 book Peaks and Lamas. In 2013 society can be divided into the minority who feel pain at the sight of a cracked CD jewel case or defaced book, and the majority who are happy to step on MP3 and eBook files. Digital content is disposable content in more ways than one, and in The Shallows Nicholas Carr cites research which shows that in the digital age much of the information acquired by our newly developed habit of grazing data sources only lodges in our brain's short-term memory, and is disposed of without progressing to the deeper long-term memory vital to cognitive processes. Which means it is not converted from information to wisdom. As classical music, like Buddhism, is a wisdom tradition, those research findings have some profound implications which I will explore in another post. Meanwhile, paths, as always, converge here as the header photo was taken by me at the Temple of a Thousand Buddhas at Boulaye in France and first appeared in a 2009 post about Jonathan Harvey's Fourth String Quartet, a work that inspired my more recent exploration of how audiences become what they listen to.

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