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This classic companion to The World's Religions articulates the remarkable unity that underlies the world's religious traditions. Forgotten Truth: The Common Vision of the World's Religions [Huston Smith] on bestthing.info *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. This classic companion to. So, the forgotten truth is that invisible geometry, you might say, that underlies all .. Professor Huston Smith is a world-renowned scholar of comparative religion.
Underneath all this I am really in dead earnest in what I say within that book. One response to the book that I like very much was a very serious letter that said, "I think that the future of the church is," and then he puts a dash in, "--No, I am going to broaden that, the future of the world depends on the issue you described in this book.
But then another response which tops that in my pleasure as the author is a postcard from a friend who is a scientist at Livermore lab, and all it says is two sentences: "Dear Huston, I am reading your book.
You are having entirely too much fun! And I didn't want it to be a complaining book. So I try to introduce playful ways of putting things, and this writer picked up on that. RH: Good, that may be one of the antidotes to our current problem, a new kind of playfulness. We have kind of been backed into a corner and are sometimes too serious.
Not to say that we shouldn't be serious about a lot of these problems, but I think we also need some light-heartedness to ease our existential load.
HS: Yes, you've caught me exactly. That is what I feel. In dead earnest our problems are very serious. But, you can just run the corners of your mouth down so far, and then the muscles get tired and you have to reverse them into a smile.
RH: Definitely! The main thrust of your work over the years has been this idea of "the primordial tradition," or the common vision of the world's religions, and you've indicated that this tradition provides an ennobling vision for the human. You also discuss how an ennobling vision is needed in our world today.
Could you talk a little bit about what you mean by the primordial tradition and how you are trying to reclaim what you call the "forgotten truth"?
HS: Gladly. The more standard word is "perennial" as in Aldous Huxley's perennial philosophy, but that perennial means "always" so it is a temporal thing, where primordial means "no matter where or when.
And, of course, I don't have to tell you, the civilizations and religions are not carbon copies of each other, they are different. We use the analogy of the human body. Human bodies are different in height, in bulk, in coloration, and features and so on.
But underneath all of those differences the human spine is remarkably the same, the curvature. And so it's that spine that I try to lift out, and that is the truth. This truth is forgotten in the sense that it has been neglected. With the coming of the modern scientific worldview, our culture traded the insights of the traditional worldview for the scientific world which I think is inferior to the primordial tradition and was unhorsed by modern science totally for psychological reasons not for logical or factual reasons.
Modernity and post-modernity has discovered nothing, no fact that shows the primordial tradition to be wrong. It's just because it defies the controlled experiment and provable knowledge that is the cornerstone of modern 1 science.
Through that science gave us tremendous access to the laws of nature and then came technology, and then the cornucopia and avalanche of material goods.
That is why the primordial tradition was unhorsed in the common, cultural mind, this feeling that the primordial tradition is second rate. In your book, you make a distinction between cosmology and metaphysics.
I was wondering if you could expand on that a little bit. HS: Yes. Cosmology deals with this physical universe. Metaphysics deals with everything, and is the larger circle that contains cosmology, unless your cosmology is materialism, or more broadly naturalism, which is the metaphysics that holds that the big circle, the metaphysical circle is coterminus with cosmology.
Now, I am not a materialist. I think that these wisdom traditions, as I have come to speak of them, hold that Spirit is the ultimate and fundamental, whereas materialists and naturalists turn that on its head and say that matter is fundamental.
So, that is the distinction between cosmology and metaphysics. RH: You've spoken about the need for an ennobling vision for humanity. What do you see as an ennobling vision that would be appropriate for our times to help renew this primordial tradition?
HS: Well, I am using the great religion, or the primordial tradition and the wisdom tradition in the singular, because I have said already that I think the underlying architecture or the conceptual spine that runs through all of them is the same. And I do want to just throw in that, when I say the wisdom tradition, I don't hold that everything in these religions is wise.
They don't always practice what they preach, so their behavior has not always been very wise; in fact, that is a gross understatement.
Their cosmologies are antiquated by modern science, and their blueprints for social society, slavery, castes, and such can be antiquated. But it's this vision of a nature of ultimate reality, and how human beings can best comport their lives in that vision.
It is there that I see nothing in modernity or post-modernity that tops the wisdom tradition in the big picture. Now built in to that conceptual spine of forgotten truth is the most successful plot device that the human mind has ever conceived. It comes down to this--it is the vision of a happy ending that blossoms after the most horrendously demanding ordeal has been faced and triumphed over.
Okay, now there is the inspiring vision. If you omit the happy ending it's a downer, you know. And if you omit the ordeal that we have to face as a part of human life, then it's Pollyanna wishful thinking. So that's the inspiring vision and it's there. We just need to recognize it. RH: How do you define love and what role does it play in spiritual life and the primordial tradition?
HS: Love is the movement within life that carries us, that enables us, that causes us to break out of what Alan Watts calls the "skin-encapsulated ego. Therefore it expands our lives and, needless to say, enriches it. Any human being would give anything to love or be loved.
When it really happens, it is like heaven on earth. RH: Yes, we could certainly use a lot more of it. HS: Most definitely. RH: Abraham Heschel has been quoted as saying "Praise precedes faith," which is something that has stuck with me. I was wondering if you agree with that assertion and how you define faith.
Also, in your book, when you say, "Religion sees through the eyes of faith," what do you mean? HS: What do you make of that?
Is it legal for me to ask you a question? Side by side they existed, Christianity and Buddhism and folk religions and other spiritual influences.
Let me count them off on the fingers of one hand.
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First there was Christianity. In my childhood home Christianity was indistinguishable from living. Christianity was familial and intimate, but Buddhism and Confucianism had been historical forces in Dzang Zok and had left their visible markers. Chan Zen Buddhism erected its first monastery in China just outside the town, and we often picnicked there. When Confucius passed through Dzang Zok, a young man emerged from bathing in the canal without a stitch of clothing on.
Confucius confronted him, Was not he ashamed to appear naked before a dignitary? Yan Hui is entombed in Dzang Zok, and so venerated is he that even during the Cultural Revolution the Red Guards would not desecrate his tomb. The elusive hint and scent of Taoism. The Taoist classics, the Tao Te Ching and the I Ching, were not much read, not in a town whose citizenry was 80 percent illiterate.
Yet a certain Taoism seeped into my bones. I have undergone a dozen internal revolutions in my life these will form the theme of this memoir , but oddly, in a Taoist way, always without conflict or crisis of conscience.
As the Taoist yin and yang complement each other, so each [ 23 ] tales of wonder new development or upheaval flowed calmly, evenly, out of the preceding stage, though outwardly it might appear its opposite. Finally, on my fifth finger, I shall name the real religion of Dzang Zok.
In any textbook you read that Confucianism and Taoism were the main faiths of China, but the true religion of Dzang Zok was folk religion. Lanes never ran straight but winding, because evil spirits have trouble turning corners. Bottles protruded from houses with their necks facing outward so that demons, whose eyesight is not good, would mistake them for cannons and flee. Such notions, if you do not understand their psychological symbolism, sound superstitious, but my definition of superstition is: what you yourself do not happen to believe.
Later, when I became involved in Native American spirituality, I realized that Dzang Zok had prepared me for the inner validity of its different kind of wisdom. Growing up, I envied my American cousins their sophistication, their living at the center of the center.
However, for the career I was to pursue, I was the lucky one. From the very beginning, even when I was too young to think about them, I was observing and absorbing the different spiritual traditions that met unobtrusively in that quiet, forgotten place.
A child under, say, three years of age, if exposed to them, will learn more than one language effortlessly. The years of childhood seemingly will never end, and then they do end.
Three youth of China: me with my brothers, Robert and Walt. It would be a day of no significance: I must have been under six that early morning I stumbled out barefoot into our backyard.
The moist dew under my feet felt fresh, exciting between my toes. Its freshness penetrated every atom in my body. The day was just dawning, the sun was coming out, cool and warmth intermingled, and I knew that everything would be just right. I use the musical term grace notes to describe such moments, [ 25 ] tales of wonder when our perspective shifts and we suddenly glimpse perfection beyond words.
Yet I am old enough now to have forgotten what went wrong and, for that matter, much of what went right. Still, if I could reenter that morning of grace, that small boy and I would likely recognize each other. For even then that boy was learning two truths or insights in Dzang Zok that have served me well all my subsequent life. The first is that we are in good hands. In , as I packed my trunks for America, nothing would prove more durable than those two hypotheses.
And the first frontier I crossed was, simply, into America. Nobody—not the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock, not Daniel Boone penetrating the virgin wilderness, not a would-be starlet climbing off the bus in Hollywood— could have been more excited, more hopeful than I was as the ship from China sailed to America in the opposite direction.
Try to imagine it. Picture a hick, provincial boy enrolling as a student at, of all places, Harvard University. Or imagine that same youth, ambition-crazed, arriving in New York City, where possibilities rose higher than the skyscrapers. I was that boy. And my Harvard was Central College enrollment, three hundred. I could describe Fayette and Central Methodist College to you, but we would be looking at them through opposite ends of the telescope.
To me, though, it was as exciting as Harvard: there I learned about the life of the mind and how exhilarating it would be to live by it. Arriving there from China in , I felt plunged headlong into a brave new world of pure modernity, at the very turning, churning hub of the universe.
Within two weeks I knew that China for me was over. America, even here in Fayette, Missouri, was too heady and intoxicating. I would be staying. Everything seemed in motion measured by my old Dzang Zok sundial , moving at accelerating speed. The crooked me[ 28 ] dieval lanes of Dzang Zok could not have accommodated an automobile, even if anyone had had one; in Fayette everyone owned a car.
In Dzang Zok nobody had a telephone; in Fayette everyone was calling everyone else on theirs every few minutes with the latest update.
In China to see a movie like The Iron Horse required an arduous trip to Shanghai; here in Fayette—believe it or not—a movie showed every Saturday night.
By the time a newspaper arrived in Dzang Zok it was old news, but in Fayette newspapers rolled off the press twice weekly! Jones invited Mr. Williams to dinner Thursday evening. A good time was had by all. Huston Smith. I had stumbled into a world in motion, and in no time at all I was in motion myself.
I joined the college newspaper staff and became its editor ; I became head of the pep rally; I was elected president of the freshman class and of each subsequent class.
During summer vacation, I earned my keep as the traveling minister to three or four rural churches. I would hitchhike to each one, deliver a sermon, and in return receive the meager offerings from the collection plate. I am a little embarrassed now by how popular I was then, singing and ringing from the pulpit about the lost souls in China. Time itself seemed fuller then, with enough hours in the day to do anything one thought of and then go on and do something else.
But what about the actual education—the courses and classes and teaching—which was, after all, why I was there? Perhaps the less said, the better. In contrast to Central College in the s, universities now offer infinitely enriched curricula. At Central the professors lived across the street from the campus; we were always in and out of their houses; they were like our friends.
And for an education all it takes is one great teacher, and I had that great teacher. Edwin Ruthven Walker was charismatic, handsome, hardly much older than we were, and born to teach. I took his freshman course in Christianity and then made sure to take every other course he offered. All my other Christian preceptors told me what to believe; Walker showed me how to think. At Central College I was president of my freshman class, and of my sophomore, and of my junior and my senior, and then president of the student body.
I was head of the pep rally and editor of the student paper. The days were not long enough, and there could never be too much to do.
They were—they were from my essay! Not a word did I hear after that. When the bell rang, I stepped out onto grass that had never looked so green, under a sky that had never been bluer, and the air hummed with excitement.
Had I died then and there, I would have thought: I have had my allotment of earthly happiness. My mind does work slowly, but probably it has helped me be a better teacher. Often at lectures I hear a torrent of incomprehensible words coming at me like machine-gun fire.
It has made me conscious, when I am the one lecturing, not just of what I am saying but of how those listening are hearing it. Were I growing up today, I might be diagnosed as dyslexic, as having ADD, or with some other incapacitating label. At Central, with a teacher like Walker, the mental cloudiness was clearing.
The first lines go: Some day I intend to invent a wonderful language, Completely useless for conversational purpose it is true, But one that will give me infinite satisfaction, Like staying in bed for those five luxurious minutes after the alarm clock goes off. I will work hard at this language until I know exactly what each word means.
After many years of labor I will be able to tell you exactly what the word soul means. Symbolically, though, it hints that I might come into my own and the world become demystified and comprehensible. And then one unforgettable night it did happen. The blinders fell away; I saw clearly for the first time. Professor Walker had formed an honor society that met monthly, when we would discuss a paper one of us had written on philosophy or religion.
That evening the discussion had been particularly exciting, and we continued our debate as we walked to the dormitory. Three or four of us lingered in the hallway, still unable to call a halt, until we remembered how early morning classes were. I went into my room and turned off the light, but my mind kept churning. Suddenly, it seemed to detonate, shattering mental blockades. I felt I had been catapulted into a fourth dimension, where ideas were the most real entities in the world.
They appeared to hover in the air, like subtle spiritual energy. Plato described ordinary life as unthinking, lived in a dim cave of shadowy reflections, but said that it is possible to leave the cave and see things in sunlit clarity as they actually are. That night it felt like I was emerging from the cave of shadows. Waves of ideas—ideas that did not reflect but were reality—washed over me and revealed their meaning.
That night changed me, forever. That next morning I awoke if I had slept at all with a new vocation: college professor. Being a professor would allow me the maximum time to think, to discover the truth of ideas. My parents, although intelligent, had always lived by the rule, by the book; now I saw that a person might live thinking it through for himself.
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And thus I cross the second great frontier of my life: into the country of the mind. The start of a new decade. I was twenty-one and had just graduated Central College, fired up with a new ambition. Fayette had gone in my eyes from a Missouri New York City to the small town it was. I was ready for a bigger apple. He was one of a trio of figures, the other two being Teilhard de Chardin and Alfred North Whitehead, who attempted to reconcile Christianity with science and modernity.
Martin Luther King Jr. Even now I find it difficult to put into words how at Chicago Wieman moved into the classroom and into our lives.
When he spoke, everyone listened, even those who disagreed with him. For here was a passionate intellect who would make Truth relevant to our times. Henry Wieman had planned to become a journalist until—almost exactly a century ago—he had a vision while sitting on the banks of the Missouri River. That vision: to uncover empirically the reality in this world that corresponds to the word God, and then to discover how human beings can activate that power in their own lives.
After getting a PhD from Harvard, Wieman constructed a philosophy of religion that had little use for church history, biblical authority, or supernatural revelation. God, so he taught us in his graduate classes, is not a Creator but a creative process, superhuman but not supernatural. Since God enters our lives when through our creative interchanges we make history more just, Wieman became a socialist, active even in his old age, opposing the Vietnam War and campaigning for civil rights.
Take that quotation in my billfold: did it really require God, Christ, or even faith? However, years would pass before that thought occurred to me. We would be the first true moderns, who would bring the deepest mysteries under scientific scrutiny and into the service of humankind. And thus at the University of Chicago, full of enthusiasm, I crossed my third major frontier: into the scientific worldview.
But then I discovered there was something better. I met, I marveled, I married. And sixty-five years later we are still married. I knew a literary man whose wife served as his first reader, chief editor, and best critic—as Kendra has done for me. But tell me, did you ever marry?
My memoirs should not neglect to mention: I did marry. Indeed, [ 36 ] My teacher, my father-in-law. Unconcerned with otherworldly metaphysics, it had made its peace with science and was intent on improving this world.
I rank them in that order; the former was, after all, a precondition for the latter. Kendra, the most important person in my life, deserves a chapter largely to herself: see chapter 4.
But chronologically she enters the story here. Kendra and I met at a lecture at the University of Chicago. Her obvious physical attraction only begins what was attractive about her. Never, never had I dated a woman remotely like her. Young women then, when in the company of potential sweethearts, practiced the three feminine Fs— fawning, flattery, and flirting. But Kendra had a mind of her own: her opinions were thought out, and she stood up for them.
I was intrigued, stimulated; this was better than being fussed and gushed over. Today I still keep a pad at the dinner table, to jot down her ideas and insights. My conversation must have made an impression on her, too, overriding my plain looks. She went home and told her sister that she had met a [ 37 ] tales of wonder fascinating man. Her sister asked what he looked like. My background also worked in my favor. Kendra is four years younger than I am, but she was the worldly one.
She wore slacks, and I was shocked then by women wearing trousers. She wore earrings, and I thought only tramps and vamps wore dangling earrings.
I was mildly shocked, and in fact I needed to be shocked—shocked out of the prudishness I had inherited. Who was this woman with whom I was to cast my lot in life?
Chapter 4 will take you inside our marriage. That joke never fails to raise her dander. Kendra is so naturally intuitive, practically psychic. While I read religion and philosophy, she devours newspapers and the Atlantic and the Economist and the New Yorker. I married a clipping service, for she cuts out articles I should read but would never come across except for her.
She worked on her first political campaign when she was eight, for FDR; last year, she was one of the first in Berkeley to wear an Obama button. Last year when our second daughter, Gael, visited Germany, she encountered an actual psychic. The psychic had [ 38 ] Cutting the cake. Nine months and ten days after our wedding I was a father.
By the same token, individuals whose development is not arrested will move through delighting in success and the senses to the point where their attractions have been largely outgrown.
But what greater attractions does life afford? Two, say the Hindus.
In contrast with the Path of Desire, they constitute the Path of Renunciation. But renunciation has two faces. Here we find the back-to-nature people—who renounce affluence to gain freedom from social rounds and the glut of things—but this is only the beginning. If renunciation always entails the sacrifice of a trivial now for a more promising yet-to-be, religious renunciation is like that of athletes who resist indulgences that could deflect them from their all-consuming goal. Exact opposite of disillusionment, renunciation in this second mode is evidence that the life force is strongly at work.
If people could be satisfied by following their impulses, the thought of renunciation would never arise. Nor does it occur only to those who have failed on the former path—the disappointed lover who enters a monastery or nunnery to compensate.
We can agree with the disparagers that for such people renunciation is a salvaging act—the attempt to make the best of personal defeat. For to live, people must believe in that for the sake of which they live. As long as they sense no futility in pleasure and success, they can believe that those are worth living for.
But if, as Tolstoy points out in his Confessions, they can no longer believe in the finite, they will believe in the infinite or they will die. Let us be clear. Hinduism does not say that everyone in his or her present life will find the Path of Desire wanting.
For against a vast time scale, Hinduism draws a distinction the West too is familiar with—that between chronological and psychological age.
Two people, both forty-six, are the same age chronologically, but psychologically one may be still a child and the other an adult. The Hindus extend this distinction to cover multiple life spans, a point we shall take up explicitly when we come to the idea of reincarnation. As a consequence we shall find men and women who play the game of desire with all the zest of nine-year-old cops and robbers; though they know little else, they will die with the sense of having lived to the full and enter their verdict that life is good.
But equally, there will be others who play this game as ably, yet find its laurels paltry.
Huxley and God: Essays on Religious Experience
Why the difference? The enthusiasts, say the Hindus, are caught in the flush of novelty, whereas the others, having played the game over and over again, seek other worlds to conquer. We can describe the typical experience of this second type. They throw themselves into enjoyment, enlarging their holdings and advancing their status. But neither the pursuit nor the attainment brings true happiness.
Some of the things they want they fail to get, and this makes them miserable. Some they get and hold onto for a while, only to have them suddenly snatched away, and again they are miserable. Some they both get and keep, only to find that like the Christmases of many adolescents they do not bring the joy that was expected. Many experiences that thrilled on first encounter pall on the hundredth. Throughout, each attainment seems to fan the flames of new desire; none satisfies fully; and all, it becomes evident, perish with time.
Eventually, there comes over them the suspicion that they are caught on a treadmill, having to run faster and faster for rewards that mean less and less. Might not becoming a part of a larger, more significant whole relieve life of its triviality? That question announces the birth of religion.
For though in some watered-down sense there may be a religion of self-worship, true religion begins with the quest for meaning and value beyond self-centeredness. But what is this renunciation for?
The question brings us to the two signposts on the Path of Renunciation. In supporting at once our own life and the lives of others, the community has an importance no single life can command.
Let us, then, transfer our allegiance to it, giving its claims priority over our own. This transfer marks the first great step in religion. It produces the religion of duty, after pleasure and success the third great aim of life in the Hindu outlook.
Its power over the mature is tremendous. Myriads have transformed the will-to-get into the will-to-give, the will-to-win into the will-to-serve. Not to triumph but to do their best—to acquit themselves responsibly, whatever the task at hand—has become their prime objective. Hinduism abounds in directives to people who would put their shoulders to the social wheel. It details duties appropriate to age, temperament, and social status.
These will be examined in subsequent sections. Here we need only repeat what was said in connection with pleasure and success: Duty, too, yields notable rewards, only to leave the human spirit unfilled. Its rewards require maturity to be appreciated, but given maturity, they are substantial. But in the end even these rewards prove insufficient.
For even when time turns community into history, history, standing alone, is finite and hence ultimately tragic. It is tragic not only because it must end—eventually history, too, will die—but in its refusal to be perfected.
Hope and history are always light-years apart. The final human good must lie elsewhere. By and large they are good.
Some of them are good enough to command our enthusiasm for many lifetimes. As long as people are content with the prospect of pleasure, success, or service, the Hindu sage will not be likely to disturb them beyond offering some suggestions as to how to proceed more effectively. The critical point in life comes when these things lose their original charm and one finds oneself wishing that life had something more to offer. Whether life does or does not hold more is probably the question that divides people more sharply than any other.
The Hindu answer to the question is unequivocal. Life holds other possibilities. To see what these are we must return to the question of what people want. Thus far, Hinduism would say, we have been answering this question too superficially.
At best they are means that we assume will take us in the direction of what we really want. What we really want are things that lie at a deeper level. First, we want being. Everyone wants to be rather than not be; normally, no one wants to die.
A World War II correspondent once described the atmosphere of a room containing thirty-five men who had been assigned to a bombing mission from which, on average, only one-fourth returned. None of us take happily to the thought of a future in which we shall have no part. Second, we want to know. Whether it be scientists probing the secrets of nature, a typical family watching the nightly news, or neighbors catching up on local gossip, we are insatiably curious. Experiments have shown that even monkeys will work longer and harder to discover what is on the other side of a trapdoor than they will for either food or sex.
These are what people really want. To which we should add, if we are to complete the Hindu answer, that they want these things infinitely. A distinctive feature of human nature is its capacity to think of something that has no limits: the infinite. Mention any good, and we can imagine more of it—and, so imagining, want that more. Medical science has doubled life expectancy, but has living twice as long made people readier to die?
To state the full truth, then, we must say that what people would really like to have is infinite being, infinite knowledge, and infinite bliss. They might have to settle for less, but this is what they really want. To gather the wants into a single word, what people really want is liberation moksha —release from the finitude that restricts us from the limitless being, consciousness, and bliss our hearts desire. Pleasure, success, responsible discharge of duty, and liberation—we have completed the circuit of what people think they want and what they want in actuality.
This takes us back to the staggering conclusion with which our survey of Hinduism began. What people most want, that they can have. Infinite being, infinite awareness, and infinite bliss are within their reach. Even so, the most startling statement yet awaits.
People already possess them. For what is a human being? A body? Certainly, but anything else?
A personality that includes mind, memories, and propensities that have derived from a unique trajectory of life-experiences? This, too, but anything more? Some say no, but Hinduism disagrees. Underlying the human self and animating it is a reservoir of being that never dies, is never exhausted, and is unrestricted in consciousness and bliss.
This infinite center of every life, this hidden self or Atman, is no less than Brahman, the Godhead. Body, personality, and Atman-Brahman—a human self is not completely accounted for until all three are noted. But if this is true and we really are infinite in our being, why is this not apparent?
Why do we not act accordingly? The answer, say the Hindus, lies in the depth at which the Eternal is buried under the almost impenetrable mass of distractions, false assumptions, and self-regarding instincts that comprise our surface selves. A lamp can be covered with dust and dirt to the point of obscuring its light completely. The problem life poses for the human self is to cleanse the dross of its being to the point where its infinite center can shine forth in full display.
If we were to set out to compile a catalogue of the specific imperfections that hedge our lives, it would have no end. We lack strength and imagination to effect our dreams; we grow tired, fall ill, and are foolish. We fail and become discouraged; we grow old and die.
Lists of this sort could be extended indefinitely, but there is no need, for all specific limitations reduce to three basic variants. We are limited in joy, knowledge, and being, the three things people really want. Is it possible to pass beyond the strictures that separate us from these things? Is it feasible to seek to rise to a quality of life that, because less circumscribed, would be life indeed?
To begin with the strictures on our joy, these fall into three subgroups: physical pain, frustration that arises from the thwarting of desire, and boredom with life in general. Physical pain is the least troublesome of the three. Pain can also be accepted when it has a purpose, as a patient welcomes the return of life and feeling, even painful feeling, to a frozen arm.
Again, pain can be overridden by an urgent purpose, as in a football game. In extreme cases of useless pain, it may be possible to anesthetize it through drugs or control of the senses. Ramakrishna, the greatest Hindu saint of the nineteenth century, died of cancer of the throat. A doctor who was examining him in the last stages of the disease probed his degenerating tissue and Ramakrishna flinched in pain.
The patient had focused his attention to the point where nerve impulses could barely gain access. One way or another it seems possible to rise to a point where physical pain ceases to be a major problem.
More serious is the psychological pain that arises from the thwarting of specific desires. We want to win a tournament, but we lose. We want to profit, but the deal falls through. A promotion goes to our competitor. We would like to have been invited, but are snubbed. Life is so filled with disappointments that we are likely to assume that they are built into the human condition. On examination, however, there proves to be something disappointments share in common. Each thwarts an expectation of the individual ego.
If the ego were to have no expectations, there would be nothing to disappoint. If this sounds like ending an ailment by killing the patient, the same point can be stated positively. Seeing all things under the aspect of eternity would make one objective toward oneself, accepting failure as on a par with success in the stupendous human drama of yes and no, positive and negative, push and pull.
Personal failure would be as small a cause for concern as playing the role of loser in a summer theater performance. We are told that Sri Ramakrishna once howled with pain when he saw two boatmen quarrelling angrily. He came to identify himself with the sorrows of the whole world, however impure and murderous they might be, until his heart was scored with scars. When it occurs, life is lifted above the possibility of frustration and above ennui—the third threat to joy—as well, for the cosmic drama is too spectacular to permit boredom in the face of such vivid identification.
The second great limitation of human life is ignorance. The Hindus claim that this, too, is removable. More probably, it refers to an insight that lays bare the point of everything. Given that summarizing insight, to ask for details would be as irrelevant as asking the number of atoms in a great painting.
When the point is grasped, who cares about details? But is transcendent knowledge even in this more restricted sense possible? Clearly, mystics think that it is. Academic psychology has not followed them all the way, but it is convinced that there is far more to the mind than appears on its surface.
Psychologists liken the mind to an iceberg, most of which is invisible. Some think it contains every memory and experience that has come its way, nothing being forgotten by the deep mind that never sleeps. Others, like Carl Jung, think it includes racial memories that summarize the experience of the entire human species. Psychoanalysis aims a few pinpoints of light at this mental darkness.
Who is to say how far the darkness can be dispelled? Not, certainly, by the amount of physical space our bodies occupy, the amount of water we displace in the bathtub. It makes more sense to gauge our being by the size of our spirits, the range of reality with which they identify. A man who identifies with his family, finding his joys in theirs, would have that much reality; a woman who could identify with humankind would be that much greater.
By this criterion people who could identify with being as a whole would be unlimited. Yet this seems hardly right, for they would still die. We need, therefore, to approach this question of being not only spatially, so to speak, but also in terms of time. Our everyday experience provides a wedge for doing so. Strictly speaking, every moment of our lives is a dying; the I of that moment dies, never to be reborn.
Yet despite the fact that in this sense my life consists of nothing but funerals, I do not conceive of myself as dying each moment, for I do not equate myself with my individual moments.
I endure through them—experiencing them, without being identical with any of them in its singularity. Hinduism carries this notion a step further. It posits an extensive self that lives successive lives in the way a single life lives successive moments. It identifies completely with each incident, being unable to see it against the backdrop of a whole, variable lifetime. A lot of living is required before the child can withdraw its self-identification from the individual moment and approach, thereby, adulthood.
Compared with children we are mature, but compared with saints we are children. No more capable of seeing our total selves in perspective than a three-year-old who has dropped its ice cream cone, our attention is fixated on our present life span.
If we could mature completely we would see that lifespan in a larger setting, one that is, actually, unending. This is the basic point in the Hindu estimate of the human condition.
The World's Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions
We have seen that psychology has accustomed us to the fact that there is more to ourselves than we suspect. Like the eighteenth century European view of the earth, our minds have their own darkest Africas, their unmapped Borneos, their siteian basins.
Their bulk continues to await exploration. Infinite in being, infinite in awareness, there is nothing beyond them that remains unknown. Infinite in joy, too, for there is nothing alien to them to mar their beatitude. Hindu literature is studded with metaphors and parables that are designed to awaken us to the realms of gold that are hidden in the depths of our being. We are like kings who, falling victim to amnesia, wander our kingdoms in tatters not knowing who we really are.
We are like a lover who, in his dream, searches the wide world in despair for his beloved, oblivious of the fact that she is lying at his side throughout.
What the realization of our total being is like can no more be described than can a sunset to one born blind; it must be experienced. The biographies of those who have made the discovery provide us with clues, however. These people are wiser; they have more strength and joy.
They seem freer, not in the sense that they go around breaking the laws of nature though the power to do exceptional things is often ascribed to them but in the sense that they seem not to find the natural order confining. They seem serene, even radiant. Natural peacemakers, their love flows outward, alike to all. Contact with them strengthens and purifies. We carry it within us: supreme strength, the fullness of wisdom, unquenchable joy.
It is never thwarted and cannot be destroyed. But it is hidden deep, which is what makes life a problem. The infinite is down in the darkest, profoundest vault of our being, in the forgotten well-house, the deep cistern. What if we could bring it to light and draw from it unceasingly? Her people sought religious truth not simply to increase their store of general information; they sought it as a chart to guide them to higher states of being.
Religious people were ones who were seeking to transform their natures, reshape them to a superhuman pattern through which the infinite could shine with fewer obstructions.Religious people were ones who were seeking to transform their natures, reshape them to a superhuman pattern through which the infinite could shine with fewer obstructions. Being a professor would allow me the maximum time to think, to discover the truth of ideas.
My parents considered me angelic, but… Shown here in this photo with my brother Robert— you can easily tell which of us is playing up to the camera. Matthew Fox is a great dharma combat person, and we have had some have had some wonderful set-tos! The town wall kept out not only thieves and robbers; it shut out almost everything you would be familiar with today, which in any case had not been invented or simply was not available there.
When it occurs, life is lifted above the possibility of frustration and above ennui—the third threat to joy—as well, for the cosmic drama is too spectacular to permit boredom in the face of such vivid identification. Here the major ones—as determined by their longevity, historical impact, and number of current adherents—are dealt with individually, and smaller, tribal ones considered as a class.