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November 18, 1973 (Sunday evening)

On the Value of Taking Notes

Venerable Master Hsuan Hua

 

Disciple: In view of all you said about books, do you think itís a good idea to take notes?

Master:

Before you understand, take notes.

After you have understood, destroy them.

When one is confused, a thousand volumes are too few.

After one is enlightened, a single word is excessive.

What does it mean to understand or not understand? Someone who doesnít understand the Buddhadharma hasnít plumbed the depths of the Treasury of Sutras, and so does not have wisdom like the sea. Thatís when you need to take notes. But once you have deeply entered the Sutra Treasury and have wisdom like the sea, the sutra is you, and you are the sutra. The notes are you, and you are the notes. All notes have been recorded in your own nature, and you will never forget them. At that point, what need is there to keep the written notes? ďWhen one is confused, a thousand volumes are too few.Ē When you are confused, you can read a thousand rolls of commentary, and you still havenít read very much. But after you are enlightened, a single word is too much. Even one word would be a hindrance to your own nature. So, what do you think you should do?

 

Disciple: I sometimes wonder if I can hear the lecture well, since Iím so busy taking notes.

Master: The notes you are taking are of the lecture, and you can look at them afterwards. I know you write notes very fast. Thatís why I really dislike the tape recorder. When thereís a tape recorder, no one takes notes. The tape recorder makes everyone go to sleep. When thereís no tape recorder, people all take notes and donít fall asleep. For that reason I think the tape recorder is an abominable thing.

It would be best if there was a tape recorder and everyone also took notes. Then people could correct any mistakes in their notes by referring to the tape recorder. But the way it is now, no one takes notes. Everyone relies on the tape recorder. If the tape recorder were to die, everything would be finished. There would be nothing whatsoever, right? People have become too dependent.

When we started using a tape recorder, I felt the tape recorder was encouraging people to be lazy, telling everyone to fall asleep. Itís there turning around and around, and probably is jealous when people take notes, and so it wants to monopolize the work. It wants to have all the work to itself, including all peopleís notes. It says to people, ďYou can fall asleep; you can take a rest. Iíll do the work.Ē Probably it wishes to be doubly vigorous so others will be lazy. Thatís why I think itís very unfair!

 

Timely Teachings. Page 319