Tales of Wonder: Adventures Chasing the Divine, an Autobiography
Fadiman, James, Journal of Transpersonal Psychology
SMITH, HUSTON, with JEFFERY PAINE. (2009). Tales of wonder: Adventures chasing the divine, an autobiography. Foreword by Pico Iyer. New York: HarperCollins. xxvi+209 pp. ISBN-10 0061154261,Hardback, $25.99. Reviewed by James Fadiman.
"Make your whole life a life of unceasing gratitude," he said. "What is Zen?" I asked. "Simple, simple, so simple. Infinite gratitude towards all things past; infinite service to all things present; infinite responsibility to all things future." (p. 135). His Zen master told this to Huston Smith, bidding him good-bye after Huston, tall and long-legged, had successfully and painfully sat zazen for hours every day of an intense two-month meditation retreat while struggling unsuccessfully with a koan. He had just been told that Zen was not about resolving koans nor was it about meditation.
This biography might well be read as an expansion of this single speech. Thus, the book is more profound than a conventional biography and more uplifting than a tell-all memoir. It is like spending a few long evenings with Huston while he recounts what events, during his life changed him, usually for the better.
Still, his has been a remarkable journey from his boyhood as the missionary's son in the only white family in a rural village in China to Central College in Fayette, Missouri that to Huston was life in the big city. He was elected class president each of his four years, was school president as well as editor of the student paper. He continued to be successful and eventually became the most popular and appreciated teacher of world religions in America. This reflective biography mentions his achievements only in passing and only to the extent that they allow him, at age 90, to reflect on their ultimate value.
While that other great spiritual biography, St. Augustine's Confessions, is a total attack upon his earlier life, seeing almost everything he did as forms of sin, Huston's life is a kaleidoscope of being pleased, amazed and grateful for what opens up for him.
In l961, lying on Tim Leary's living room rug, he had a pivotal psychedelic experience with a small group of other first time explorers. He discovered that those truths that he had studied, clarified and taught to so many others were actually to be found in the core of his own being. "Thanks to entheogens, I came to see what the mystics asserted were not poetic metaphors, but factual reports. In addition, what previously I only believed, I now knew- experientially" (p.175).
Perhaps, it was this experience that made him such an early and trusted friend of the transpersonal from its beginnings when psychologists and theologians alike tended to dismiss Transpersonal Psychology as neither materialistic enough to be real psychology or spiritual enough to illuminate theological inquiry. …