The Purpose of Reading Hagiographies



Arguing whether someone was born in this or that year really makes no sense and certainly no difference - the main thing is: that person was born.

In Buddhism we look for something else, the inner story, the motivations and imagery that inspired and moved those so advanced to be able to help generations of practitioners as reliably and decisively as they did. We seek
the answers to questions like, "What practice did they do? What were they able to realize through their efforts? What results did their endeavours bring forth? How did those results truly benefit others?" Many people
criticize that Buddhist biographies are too rosy and do not balance the good and bad aspects of life. With such expectations, critics conclude that Buddhist biographies are biased. This may be the case, but what purpose is
there in knowing how someone so exemplary ate, slept, dressed, or walked? Those aspects are not relevant for a student of Buddhism and there is a reason. We find the answer in the Tibetan term for "biography," which is
rnam-thar in Tibetan and means "total liberation, an example of liberation. "So biographies are recorded and presented to serve as examples, to offer readers insight into the nature of that person's liberation, and that is
what counts.

Buddhist hagiographies, life-stories, speak about what caused someone to turn away from samsara, at which point in their life they decided to do so, how they were able to find the precious teachings, who taught them the
practices they did, and what they achieved from practicing diligently. Hagiographies deal with motivation, faith, trust, enthusiastic endeavour, the aspects of wisdom that arise from specific practices, and the benefits such practices bring for oneself and others. That is why biographies - in the case of siddhas and saints: hagiographies - are written, to inspire and encourage others to lead a meaningful life.

--Thrangu Rinpoche, The Life and Spiritual Songs of Milarepa


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