Learning Without Practice is No Use

Bahum pi ce saṃhita1 bhāsamāno,
na takkaro hoti naro pamatto
Gopo’va gāvo gaṇayaṃ paresaṃ,
na bhāgavā sāmannassa hoti.
Appam pi ce saṃhita1 bhāsamāno
dhammassa hoti anudhammacārī
Rāganca dosañca pahāya mohaṃ,
sammappajāno suvimuttacitto
Anupādiyāno idha vā huraṃ vā,
sa bhāgavā sāmannassa hoti.

 Though much he recites the sacred texts, but acts not accordingly, that heedless man is like a cowherd who counts others’ kine. He has no share in the fruits of the holy life.
Though little he recites the sacred texts, but acts in accordance with the teaching, forsaking lust, hatred and ignorance, truly knowing, with mind well freed, clinging to nothing here and hereafter, he shares the fruits of the holy life.


Two Companion Monks

 Two nobleman, and best friends, from Savatthi; renounced the worldly pleasures and took up the robes of a monk. The two monks hearing the duties of study and meditation came forth to their teacher and spoke. “Venerable, since I ordained as such an older age, I shall not be able to fulfill my duty of study, but I can fulfill my duty to meditation.” He then left the monastery to live a contemplative life.

The other monk, who was much younger than the other, felt that he could be more ambitious and declared, “I will fulfill the duty of study” and vowed to learn all the words of the Buddha, study the Tipitaka and teach the Dhamma. In time, he became a great dhamma teacher and abbot of the monastery

In the years passing, a group of young monks came to the monastery and greeted the venerable monk.

“Our teacher sends his greetings to you, Venerable,” the monks said.

“Who is your teacher?”

The young monks pointed to their teacher in the group and replied, “Why he is your fellow monk and long time friend, Venerable.”

With that the abbot remembered his old friend who left, and responded, “What have you learned from him? Did he teach you a single Nikaya? Have you learned a single Pitaka? This monk does not know a single stanza of the verses. As soon as he became a monk, he took rags from the garbage and entered the forest.”

The young monks, admonished, bowed in silence and said nothing.

The Abbot then proceeded to ask questions of the Dhamma to the monks. They could not answer a single question.

At that time, the Buddha was listening to the conversation and came to ask the young monks questions. While the abbot could recite every stanza in the discourses, it was the forest monk in rags that received praise as he answered skillfully every question the Buddha gave him: only questions an arahant would know the appropriate answer to.

The abbot outraged asked the Buddha, “Why do you bestow applause to the monk who knows none of your teachings?”

The Buddha replied, “The abbot is like a man who tends cows for hire, and is a fine shepherd. But my son is like a master who enjoys the five products of the cow at his own pleasure.”

 Book Smarts

One of the challenges of Buddhism is that there is no one tradition. There are Theravada, Mahayana, Pure Land, Zen, etc. They are all Buddhists, but they are all at risk of niyataditti (“fixed view”). Some traditions are very strict and teach their students that there is correct and incorrect path to enlightenment.

 However, Buddhism is not a dance. There are no prescribed steps that bring about liberation. Liberation is about developing the individual to a point where they no longer cling or crave to that which is unwholesome.

 There is not correct or incorrect way to suvimutta cito (becoming freed from emotions), all that is important is that we find a way. In this sense we can become anupadiyano (someone who has ended the habit of clinging and grasping to this world and the next).


Even if a lay person or monk were to memorize every word of the Buddha and believe it with all their heart, it would not eradicate the habits of clinging and craving. Habits can only be changed by mindfulness and skillfulness. Mindfulness and skill can only be developed through practice. Practice can only be achieved by effort and wisdom. Correct effort and wisdom can only be achieved with right view. Right view can only be achieved with the knowledge of the Four Noble Truths and a taste for the “Four Heavenly Abodes” (Brahma vihara): which are metta (loving-kindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (appreciation) and upekkha (equanimity).

 In short, we must learn to develop an understanding that the wisdom of the Buddha is not in a book but in ourselves. Books and teachings only offer advice along the way. As we develop sincerity towards liberation and opening our hearts to the world—the wisdom of the Buddha reveals itself like a blossoming lotus regardless.

Categories: Buddha, Dharma, Four Noble Truths, Kharma, Theravada


Joshua Hudson is a license clinical social worker with post graduate certificates in mental health. A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, he has worked as an healthcare advocate for the Department of Veteran Affairs, Director of Psychological Health for the Air Force, in-patient counselor for inpatient adolescents, child and family therapist; and currently is a Prevention Interventionist for the Air Force creating programs to reduce interpersonal and self-directed violence (e.g. Sexual assault, suicide, alcohol abuse, domestic violence, etc.) in the military


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