Huston Smith: Essays on World Religion

Huston Smith: Essays on World Religion

Huston Smith: Essays on World Religion

Huston Smith: Essays on World Religion


Huston Smith is revered in the world's spiritual community as an ecumenical sage of the twentieth century. From considerations of individual identity to reflections on humanity's broadest religious and philosophical venturings, he has bravely explored the deep connections among world spiritual traditions for over thirty years. The nineteen essays collected in Huston Smith: Essays on World Religions span the career and chart the intellectual journey of this groundbreaking thinker. Originally published in journals of very small circulation, this work has never been available to general readers before. Smith writes with erudition and a warm personal style on such varied phenomena as the psychedelic experience of soma and the vedic religion, the supernatural as it appears to the Chinese intelligentsia, spiritual discipline in Zen training, the simultaneous octave sung by a single Tibetan monk, and the West's obsession with a dichotomy between God and man. This collection provides an intimate glimpse into the development of an extraordinary mind. The guiding motive of Huston Smith's life and work has been to tenaciously bridge the gap between diverse cultural realities and a single transcendent reality. In this collection's new and engaging foreword, he discusses this approach to a truly global perspective on the spiritual life of humankind. Editor M. Darrol Bryant illuminates the backgrounds of Smith's life and thought in an insightful introduction.


Huston Smith

The editor of this volume has asked me to precede his Introduction with a brief Foreword that situates these essays in the historical currents of our time. Since it is a personal assessment he asks for, my mind goes back to a moment on the Today show the morning after Irving Berlin died--at the age of one hundred, as I recall.

I was surprised to find that to reflect on the lifework of this tune- smith, Today had invited a world-class musician, Isaac Stern; the host of the program wanted to learn from him the secret of Irving Berlin's success. As a musician, Berlin was so mediocre that he could play only in the key of C and to move to other keys had to build a piano that could transpose by pulling levers. Yet this run-of- the-mill musician became the most successful songwriter of our time, composing over one hundred hits, many of which will outlive our century. How did Stern account for the discrepancy between Irving Berlin's achievement and his modest native talent?

Isaac Stern's answer was so direct that it was breathtaking: "To him," he said, "it was obvious."

Irving Berlin's philosophy of life, Stern went on to explain, was simple. He saw life as composed of a few basic elements: life and death, loneliness and love, hope and defeat, not many more. in making our way through these givens, affirmation is better than complaint, hope more viable than despair, kindness nobler than its opposite. That was about it. But because Berlin believed these platitudes implicitly, without reservation, he helped people cut through the ambiguities and complexities of our bewildering century.

I relate this anecdote because, on the disparity between talent and achievement together with Stern's explanation for it, my case parallels Irving Berlin's. My mind and writing ability are no more remarkable . . .

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