You wonder how it is that learned men catch on to the significance of a book. I would suggest that it is not so much the 'learned' (if by that the academic university scholar is meant) as the 'intellectual' man who sees the significance of a book.
Two things seem to be necessary. First, a certain maturity of outlook on life, wherein the questions raised by life are clearly present (i.e. the man is looking, either for an answer to these questions, or, preferably, for a further clarification of the questions themselves). This man will read books not so much 'for the story' (though he may do that by way of relaxation) as for the fresh light that they may throw on his problems. In other words, he will be looking for the significance; and it is likely that he will find it if it is there. Secondly, a community of cultural background with the author of the book is necessary. In these days of widespread dissemination of books, any cultured European can be assumed to have the same general cultural background as any other cultured European. (The most intelligent of Chinamen, brought up solely on the Chinese Classics, would have difficulty in making anything of Kafka.)
It is worth noting that the East (by which I mean India and surrounding countries—the Far East is already West again) is not naturally intellectual. Practically all present-day intellectualism in Ceylon (for example) is imported (by way of books). In Europe, intellectualism takes precedence over tradition; in the East, it is the reverse. In Dhamma terms, the European has an excess of paññā over saddhā, and he tends to reject what he cannot understand, even if it is true; the Oriental has an excess of saddhā over paññā, which leads him to accept anything ancient, even if it is false. In Ceylon, therefore, an increase of intellectualism (again, I do not mean scholarship) will do no harm. A more intelligent approach to the mass of Pali books, to separate the right from the wrong, is essential if the Sāsana is to become alive again. (In this connexion, the Notes attempt to provide an intellectual basis for the understanding of the Suttas, without abandoning saddhā. It was, and is, my attitude towards the Suttas that, if I find anything in them that is against my own view, they are right, and I am wrong. I have no reason to regret having adopted this attitude. Regarding the Commentaries, on the other hand, the boot is on the other leg—if this does not sound too incongruous.)
[60.1] 'I am wrong': Cf. M. 70: i,480: 'Monks, a faithful disciple, having scrutinized the Teacher's advice, proceeds in accordance with this: "The Auspicious One is the teacher, I am the disciple. The Auspicious One knows. I do not know."' [Back to text]