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The Huston Smith Reader

The Huston Smith Reader: Edited, with an Introduction, by Jeffery Paine

Edited, with an Introduction, by Jeffery Paine
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    The Huston Smith Reader
    Book Description:

    For more than sixty years, Huston Smith has not only written and taught about the world's religions, he has lived them. ThisReaderpresents a rich selection of Smith's writings, covering six decades of inquiry and exploration, and ranging from scholarship to memoir. Over his long academic career, Smith's tireless enthusiasm for religious ideas has offered readers both in and outside the academy a fresh understanding of what religion is and what makes it meaningful.The Huston Smith Readeroffers a comprehensive guide to understanding religion and spirituality as well as a memorable record of Huston Smith's lifelong endeavor to enrich the inner lives of his fellow humans.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95235-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xviii)

    Who is Huston Smith? The answer seems straightforward. He is a retired college professor in Berkeley who taught at various universities, and he wrote books, one of which sold incredibly well. Oh yes, there’s one thing more. Huston Smith did something that nobody, no one else in the history of the world, had done or even had thought to do before.

    What has Huston done that no one else had done? Simply this: he was a practitioner of practically all the major world’s religions, a unique feat in the annals of spirituality. There used to be on official forms a...

    (pp. xix-xx)
    Huston Smith

    • 1 No Wasted Journey A Theological Autobiography
      (pp. 3-12)

      Socrates told his tribunal that he didn’t fear his sentence because if death was the end it would be like falling into untroubled sleep, while if his soul migrated to another realm he would meet the heroes of the past and a just tribunal, which would make it no wasted journey. When I found that passage from theApologyinscribed on a historical marker in Athens, the wordsno wasted journeyjumped out at me, for I was on my first trip around the world, and they captured my mood perfectly. Not only was girdling the globe not a waste....

    • 2 The Way Things Are
      (pp. 13-28)

      Timothy beneke Tell us how you started your day.

      Huston smith I began with the Islamic morning prayer to Allah. That was followed by India’s hatha yoga, and after that a chapter from the Bible—this morning it was the Gospel of John—which I tried to read reflectively, opening myself to such insights that might enter. Then I was ready for coffee.

      Beneke What do those practices do for you?

      Smith Rabbis say that the first word you should think of when you wake up in the morning is the wordGod. Not eventhank-youshould precede it. I...


    • 3 Two Kinds of Teaching
      (pp. 31-39)

      When I think back over the memorable teachers I had or have known, the fact that stands out most is the diversity of their styles. Bill Levi at Roosevelt College would sit cross-legged on the desk, moving nothing during the entire class hour save his lips and his mind. Meanwhile, at nearby University of Chicago, David Greene was a pacer. Fresh from his farm at eight on wintry mornings, manure still clinging to his boots as Greek poured from his mouth, he strode with a vigor that made the advancing wall seem adversary. We felt sure that sooner or later...

    • 4 The Sacred Dimensions of Everyday Life
      (pp. 40-52)

      Jeffrey kane Let’s begin with the idea that there is a spiritual dimension to reality and that it should make a difference in the way we educate children. The first question I’d like to ask you is, As you walk down the street, or as you eat your meal, or as you go to bed at night, do you see a spiritual dimension which pervades everyday existence?

      Huston smith If I answer honestly and personally (it’s a personal question), the answer is some days I do, and some days I don’t. But let me say immediately that on the days...

    • 5 Light
      (pp. 53-57)

      Light is a universal metaphor for God, and what science has discovered about physical light helps us to understand (more profoundly than even the spiritual giants of the past could do) why light is uniquely suited for that role. If Einstein could say at one point in his career that he wanted for the rest of his life to reflect on the nature of light, surely we can do so for a few minutes. Light is different. It is strangely different. And paradoxically different. All three of these assertions hold for God, as does a fourth. Light creates.

      Uncanny as...

    • 6 The Revolution in Western Thought
      (pp. 58-67)

      Quietly, irrevocably, something enormous has happened to Western man. His outlook on life and the world has changed so radically that in the perspective of history the twentieth century is likely to rank—with the fourth century, which witnessed the triumph of Christianity, and the seventeenth, which signaled the dawn of modern science—as one of the very few that have instigated genuinely new epochs in human thought. In this change, which is still in process, we of the current generation are playing a crucial but as yet not widely recognized part.

      The dominant assumptions of an age color the...

    • 7 Empirical Metaphysics
      (pp. 68-74)

      My initiation into the entheogens took place in 1961 under the auspices of the Center for Personality Research at Harvard University as part of a project directed by Professor Timothy Leary to determine if a certain class of virtually nonaddictive mind-altering chemicals—mescaline, psilocybin, and LSD—could facilitate behavior change in desirable directions. Such changes are not easy to gauge. Subjective reports are notoriously unreliable, but two populations do lend themselves to statistical measurement. Six months after an entheogen experience, is a paroled prisoner still on the streets or back behind bars, and is the recovered alcoholic still off the...


    • 8 My Three Other Religions
      (pp. 77-95)

      To describe my encounters with the world’s religions, I might adapt Will Rogers’s famousbon motthus: I never met a religion I did not like. When people hear that I practiced Hinduism unconditionally for ten years, then Buddhism for ten years, and then Islam for another ten years—all the while remaining a Christian and regularly attending a Methodist church—they assume I had a checklist and went down it checking off the major religions one by one. To the contrary. When I discovered Hinduism and saw its beauty and profundity, I intended to practice it, a faithful devotee,...

    • 9 Explaining Fundamentalism
      (pp. 96-103)

      Although Huston Smith’s talk ranges from metaphysics to comparative religion, since the tragic events of September 11, 2001, one of his most impassioned topics has been what he calls “the hijacking of religion.” Under that combustible phrase falls the explosive topic of “fundamentalism.” When I approached him about the possibility of this interview, he immediately agreed out of his deep conviction that we must seek out the root causes for the dark side of religion and its exploitation by militants. In this exchange he reveals his deep desire to “set the record straight” on the true nature of the religious...

    • 10 What They Have that We Lack: On Native American Religion
      (pp. 104-111)

      My title derives from the justly famous tribute to the Native Americans by John Collier, one-time United States Commissioner of Indian Affairs, which begins, “They had what the world has lost . . .” The losses that Collier mentions are “reverence and passion for human personality, and for the earth and its web of life.” Accepting them as genuine losses, I shall build on them to target three other losses our civilization has suffered. We are less clear in our values, which is to say less sure as to what is important in life. We are less able to see...

    • 11 Three Ways of Relating to the World. Three Geographies. Three Religious Traditions
      (pp. 112-124)

      Inescapably, human beings are involved in three basic encounters: with nature, with other people, and with themselves. Roughly these may be identified as humankind’s natural, social, and psychological problems.

      The great surviving cultural traditions are also three: the East Asian, the Indian, and the Western. It helps us to understand and relate the unique perspectives of these three traditions in their religious as well as other dimensions if we think of each as having attended to one problem more diligently than to the other two. The decision to do so represents each tradition’s fundamental option, the main direction each has...

    • 12 Shinto: A Japanese Sense of the Sacred
      (pp. 125-126)

      All life-forms look out upon the world from a center of individual identity, and this holds for collectivities as well as for individuals. For the Japanese people Shinto constitutes their identity while Buddhism opens them to the world—most directly to the peoples of China and Korea, but beyond those to India and all Asia. Thus while Buddhism is centrifugal, Shinto is centripetal; at heart it is reverence and love for things Japanese. Spatially this reverential love is directed towards the land, the Japanese islands. Temporally it focuses on a genealogy which, beginning at home and in neighborhoods with family...

    • 13 The Spiritual Heritage of India
      (pp. 127-130)

      Around the middle of this century Arnold Toynbee predicted that at its close the world would still be dominated by the West but that in the twenty-first century “India will conquer her conquerors.” Preempting the place that is now held by technology, religion will be restored to its earlier importance and the center of world happenings will wander back from the shores of the Atlantic to the East where civilization originated five or six thousand years ago.

      The spiritual heritage of India is one of the world’s standing miracles. It would rank among its greatest human achievements were it not...

    • 14 The Importance of the Buddha
      (pp. 131-134)

      That Arnold Toynbee should have emerged from his twelve-volumeA Study of Historylisting Gautama the Buddha as one of the dozen or so “greatest benefactors of the living generation” surprises no one, I suppose. But who was this Buddha, this “Awakened One”—one of a handful of snowflakes that deserve to be singled out from the total human snowfall for attention and gratitude?

      There is no need for me to dwell here on the well-known facts of his life. Instead I shall pick up on Toynbee’s point and speak to its importance. What was there about the Buddha that...

    • 15 Tibetan Chanting
      (pp. 135-139)

      On a recent sojourn among Tibetan lamas, I stumbled on an extraordinary phenomenon that lends itself to rigorous inspection (by spectroscopic analysis and computer simulation). It is the capacity of certain specially trained lamas to chant in a way that makes multiple tones audible simultaneously, the capacity of single lamas to sing—solo—chords.

      I shall begin my report of this phenomenon with a personal narrative, in which I recount the circumstances under which I encountered the chanting. An acoustic description, which consists of a report by scientists of what, in terms of the physics of the human voice, the...

    • 16 The Relevance of the Great Religions for the Modern World
      (pp. 140-148)

      Religion can, of course, be irrelevant and often is. No human endeavor is immaculate, and one that traffics with millions is bound to emerge a mixed bag. In this respect religion is no different from other corporate enterprises—education which quickens and represses, government which orchestrates and restricts. Religion has been revolutionary and conservative, prophetic and priestly, catalytic and incubus. It creates barriers and levels them, raises church budgets and raises the oppressed, makes peace with iniquity and redeems, in part, the world.

      Religious relevance takes different forms according to the period in question. I propose to distinguish three great...


    • 17 Educating the Intellect: On Opening the Eye of the Heart
      (pp. 151-161)

      The topic I wish to reflect on in this essay takes the form of a question. Is there a faculty of knowing that has not evolved from our sensory equipment but instead precedes and empowers the senses while doing much more? Myconclusionis that there is such an organ. I shall begin by calling it the Eye of the Heart; but then, building on the metaphors I rely on in Section I, I shall shift in Section II to the abstractions of philosophy where I will call the organ the Intellect. There are many reasons why it is important...

    • 18 Do Drugs Have Religious Import?
      (pp. 162-171)

      For several years following my initiation, entheogens were the center of my reflective and social life. Reflectively, to have become overnight a visionary—one who not merely believes in the existence of a more momentous world than this one but who has actually visited it—was no small matter. How could what felt like an epochal change in my life have been crowded into a few hours and occasioned by a chemical? I knew how my MIT colleagues—Hans-Lukas Teuber, its renowned experimental psychologist, and its equally legendary professor of microbiology, Jerome Lettvin—would answer that question. The mescaline had...

    • 19 The Levels of Reality
      (pp. 172-185)

      The triumphs of modern science went to man’s head in something of the way rum does, causing him to grow loose in his logic. He came to think that what science discovers somehow casts doubt on things it does not discover; that the success it realizes in its own domain throws into question the reality of domains its devices cannot touch. In short, he came to assume that science implies scientism: the belief that no realities save ones that conform to the matrices science works with—space, time, matter/energy, and in the end number—exist.

      It was not always so,...

    • 20 The Levels of Selfhood
      (pp. 186-204)

      As without, so within—the isomorphism of man and the cosmos is a basic premise of the traditional outlook. If man does indeed mirror the cosmos, a quick review of the traditional cosmology will alert us to its regions that call for human counterparts. Visualized, that cosmology shows the earth, symbolic of the terrestrial sphere, enveloped by the intermediate sphere, which in turn is enclosed by the celestial, the three concentric spheres together being superimposed on a background that is Infinite.

      Considered in itself each sphere appears as a complete and homogeneous whole, while from the perspective of the area...

    • 21 Western Philosophy as a Great Religion
      (pp. 205-218)

      In a striking paper titled “Philosophiaas One of the Religious Traditions of Mankind,” Wilfred Cantwell Smith argues that the Greek legacy in Western civilization deserves to be ranked as one of the world’s great religions. We couldn’t recognize this earlier, he says, because our notion of religion was too tightly tied to Judaism and Christianity. A century of work in comparative religion has now loosened this parochial mooring; it has enabled us to bring the entire human heritage into view, lining up its components in our mind’s eye, arraying them side by side, and according reasonable justice to each....


    • 22 Encountering God
      (pp. 221-222)

      I must confess that the prospect of sharing what it’s like to have a day-to-day, moment-to-moment personal relationship with God made me apprehensive. Why? Was it presumption that I have a moment-to-moment relationship with God—one that I am consciously aware of? Or was my reluctance one of good taste, the issue of whether it’s appropriate to parade intimacies in public? Underlying these doubts was the question of whether I know what my relationship to God is. The arrangement feels more like a mystery that is open to my conscious awareness and direct inspection.

      In the end, though, the premise...

    • 23 Reflections upon Turning Ninety
      (pp. 223-228)

      May 31, 2009. Ninety years old. As my birthday nears, people are congratulating me as though I’d done something—run a marathon blindfolded, say. That may not be an entirely inaccurate description of reaching ninety, but never before have I been congratulated for doing nothing, or nothing more than continuing to breathe in and out. Behind the congratulations, though, I sometimes detect fears and a need for reassurance that it will be all right. The fears are real. And it will be all right.

      A year ago, however, I did do something. I moved from my home on Colusa Avenue,...

  11. Conclusion: The Sacred Unconscious
    (pp. 229-236)

    More than once I have foresworn prophecy. There are times, though, when to act as if somethinghashappened helps it to happen, and this next statement adopts this approach. Taking the human self as its object, it describes that self “from the further shore,” as Buddhists would say.

    There is need to see it in that light, for the view from this shore does not do us justice; as Saul Bellow points out in the Nobel Lecture, “we do not think well of ourselves.” The complete edition of the works of Sigmund Freud contains over four hundred entries for...

  12. Afterword: The Man Who Took Religion Seriously: Huston Smith in Context
    (pp. 237-246)
    Dana Sawyer

    When Huston Smith was growing up in Dzang Zok, China, he couldn’t possibly have imagined he would become the leading figure in the academic study of religion for the twentieth century. But that’s what happened.

    Prior to Huston Smith, the modern mind viewed religion as a waste of time or worse. Freud had said that religion is a delusion we create to comfort ourselves in an uncertain world. We, based on an “infantile model,” project a cosmic father or mother onto an indifferent universe to have someone to plead to when things go bad. Karl Marx, to cite another modernist...

    (pp. 247-254)
    (pp. 255-256)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 257-257)