Although it is recommended that you do your sutta reading practice from a book and not from the computer, using an e-book reader in some circumstances might work as well as a paper book.
For the purpose of these recommendations, an e-book reader refers to a device that is dedicated to just reading books, such as a Kindle or a Nook. It’s true that you can read e-books on an iPad, iPod, or cell phone, but all of those devices are similar to computers in their connectedness and potential for distraction. Of course, in a pinch, better to read from one of those than nothing at all.
If you don’t already have an e-book reader, then by all means, just stick with paper books. If you begin to do sutta study as well as sutta practice, you will need to work from paper books.
Benefits of using an e-book reader
- E-books are hard to navigate. They are really designed for people reading novels, which is always done one page after another. This is, in fact, the way we approach the text as a reading practice, not wanting to get distracted by flipping around here and there.
- They are light weight, so if you are walking back and forth when you are reading it is quite convenient.
- They are extremely portable, so you can easily take it with you and keep up your practice when traveling, which can be a rewarding experience.
- You can potentially download your text and start right away.
- A growing number of texts are available for free.
- Checking the hyper-linked footnotes is quick so it doesn’t pull you away from the text for very long.
- Some e-book readers have a text-to-speech function that might be helpful if the hindrances are strong. Of course, the reading will be mechanized and is no substitute for listening to actual recordings of the suttas.
- Some e-book reading devices allow you to highlight passages and later transfer them to another document. This works well if you do feel compelled to take notes.
- You can increase the text size. This is a general quality of all e-book readers but worth mentioning none the less.
- E-book readers usually have a built in dictionary. This is beneficial as translators are often forced to use somewhat uncommon English words.
Disadvantages of using an e-book reader
- Frequently (especially in the Wisdom Publications Nikaya editions) passages that appear in multiple suttas are left out with a remark such as “as Sutta 4, §27”. It is quite cumbersome, as noted above, to navigate to that passage involving potentially dozens of page turn clicks. It is especially important for the first three or four times we are reading a book to read those missing parts.
- Even within a sutta, repetitions are frequently left out and it is not as easy to read them back in as it would be in a paper book.
- When a note refers to a previous note, there is usually no hyper link from the footnote itself so looking it up is near impossible.
- It is impossible, without lots of clicking, to determine how long a sutta is or how much you have left to read. If you have to modify your reading order slightly to accommodate your daily schedule, this would be very hard in a book like the Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha.
- Unless you have highlighted it, it is nearly impossible to flip back through suttas previously read to find a passage.
- You loose the physical reminder of the book in your life. When you have a real book sitting somewhere special in your house you will see it and remember your practice.
- You loose the physical memory trigger of where a sutta or passage is located in the book. Because the idea is to work with a text over a lifetime, when you work with a paper book eventually you will have a sense of where a sutta is located, or even where an important passage falls on the page. With an e-book that is not so easy to do. This may be offset by the ability to do a word search if you can remember the exact word used and it doesn’t appear hundreds of times.
Because of the extreme difficulty in navigation to find elided(condensed) text, people just starting out may want to use e-books only as a backup, especially for the Wisdom Publication editions. If you are working with a book that has smaller suttas, such as the Dhammapada or the Udana, this may not be so much of an issue. Similar with an anthology such as In the Words of the Buddha. And having an e-book version of your text as a backup for when you travel is very convenient.
For practice, a paper book is perfect. So if you don’t already have an e-book reader, just stick with the paper versions.
If you do use an e-book reader for your practice, you may want to consider trying the Don’t Break the Chain tool to have a physical reminder of your commitment and history.
Have you used an e-book reader for a sutta reading practice? Share your experience in the comments below.