To meditate or to read a book – this might be your dilemma when it comes to improving concentration, relaxation and other benefits associated with meditation.
After all, most forms of meditation are based on slowly paced and controlled breathing coupled with concentration on something. Either the breathing itself or something else like a mantra, external sound, visualization or an object (like a candle).
Since reading a book slows down breathing and requires concentration, it can be very similar to basic forms of meditation. But there are definitely differences between the two and we’ll go through each of them in this article.
1. Mindfulness cannot be achieved with reading
Mindfulness meditation is all about emptying the mind of any thoughts. The process is simple: observe your thoughts and let go of them until you’re left with an empty mind, a blissful state called mindfulness.
But when you read a book, you’re forcing new thoughts and images to emerge in your mind’s eye. So it’s the opposite of mindfulness! The benefits of mindfulness are many, especially reduction of anxiety, since it slows down the wheel of thoughts, allowing you more time to respond to them.
In other words, it gives you more control over your mind. So it’s clear that reading is very different from this type of meditation and its benefits.
2. Similar concentration benefits, but not relaxation
There are two main types of meditation – concentration and mindfulness. While mindfulness is about letting go, concentration is about focusing on one thing. This is where reading can be a form of meditation, because it also requires focus on one thing – the reading material.
In fact, it can provide even greater benefits if you are reading a difficult text. Because in order to understand a difficult text, you will have to improve your concentration. Unlike reading a cheap newspaper article that you can read while thinking about what you’ll have for lunch that day.
However, there is still a difference between concentration meditation and simply reading a book. The first has you focus on only one, repetitive sound, image or movement, so it’s pure concentration. In comparison, reading involves intellectual activity, creation of thoughts, contemplation of what has been read a moment ago. It’s much more active.
This is why after an hour of meditation your mind feels supercharged, but after an hour of reading you may feel tired or like you have a whirlwind of thoughts. Sure, your concentration will improve in both cases, but in case of meditation your mind will just be warmed up for activity, while reading is an activity by itself.
3. It depends what you read!
Most of us don’t have time to meditate AND read as much as we’d like to. In cases when a busy schedule doesn’t allow for performing both activities, combining them can be useful. In that case, reading can serve as a form of meditation.
But reading meditation is not the same as just reading in general. If you want to improve your concentration through reading, read a text that requires your active attention.
That could be a philosophy or a science book that is slightly above your current level of reading comprehension or intellectual capacity. This will be of greater benefit than reading cheap novels or gossip news. Another way to improve concentration through reading is to read in a foreign language that you’re currently learning, and trying to make sense of the text as you go along.
The reading material you choose is very important if your desired effect is to relax. Don’t read aggravating news or books where the author is of a choleric temperament, or too depressive, or to jittery. Nietzsche is one of those philosophers that is very chaotic and definitely not for relaxation. Existentialists like Emile Cioran or Camus are depressive. On the other hand, many self help gurus are too jittery, too action-based.
Instead of reading these energy charging or energy depressing texts (Indians would say rajas for active and tamas for depressive), choose light hearted wise philosophers (satvic) or objective scientific works instead. Writers such as Lao Tse and Sufi mystics, sacred texts from different spiritual traditions etc.
Meditation is about reducing irrational passion, not stirring it up. Something to keep in mind when choosing reading meditation material.
4. Reading doesn’t provide superpowers
Some of us meditate only for basic benefits like improved brain function and positive outlook. But meditation can go much deeper than that. It can be used for acquiring superhuman levels of insight, concentration, astral travel (consciousness travelling outside of the physical body) and even spiritual enlightenment (becoming one with the Absolute).
These are all benefits that more serious practitioners can achieve through disciplined practice. And these benefits are obviously way beyond anything that reading Hegel, Kant or any holy text like the Bible can accomplish.
So if you’re interested in acquiring more than the basic enjoyments of meditation, you’ll have to dig deeper. My article on powerful occult meditation techniques is a good starting point for that.
5. Experiential vs Discursive Knowledge
Reading is the most common way of obtaining discursive knowledge. In other words, knowledge that can be verbalized, put into words. If you want to learn about the history of your nation or about cosmology or any other subject that is outside of your own consciousness, reading is obviously superior to meditation for gaining that knowledge.
However, no amount of reading will provide experiential knowledge. Spiritual enlightenment, astral projection and the zen state of mindfulness can only be experienced, they can’t be shared or felt through the written or the spoken word. So you should choose one or the other method depending on the type of knowledge you wish to obtain. If this criteria is of importance to you of course.
Final Word: Meditation vs. Reading
Meditation is a powerful tool for enhancing the brain and achieving spiritual elevation. On a more basic level, it can reduce anxiety, alleviate depression, improve sleep and make us happier in general.
Reading can serve as a form of meditation. Buddhists refer to this as “reading meditation”. And just like any activity, reading can be used to improve concentration, by well.. concentrating on reading. Just as you would concentrate on anything else and block out other surrounding factors and thoughts while performing the activity.
However, there are many differences between meditation and reading. First of all, there are different forms of meditation, each serving a different function.
The main takeaway is that reading is very similar to basic forms of concentration meditation (focusing on a mantra, breathe, image etc.). But it can’t replace mindfulness meditation nor can it be used to achieve other abilities that are considered extraordinary, such as astral projection, permanent loss of the ego-consciousness or deep instinctual insight into other people’s emotions.
There are so many extraordinary abilities such as these that fall outside of what reading meditation alone can accomplish. So reading can be a good substitute if you want to improve concentration. If you seek further benefits, check out occult meditation techniques that promise so much more. Hope this helps!