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The Way Things Are

The Way Things Are: Conversations with Huston Smith on the Spiritual Life

EDITED AND WITH A PREFACE BY PHIL COUSINEAU
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Pages: 338
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1ppn14
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  • Book Info
    The Way Things Are
    Book Description:

    "Where can we find what is ultimately meaningful? How can we discover what is truly worth knowing?" In one form or another Huston Smith has been posing these questions to himself-and the world-all his life. In the course of seeking answers, he has become one of the most interesting, enlightening, and celebrated voices on the subject of religion and spirituality throughout the world. The twenty-three interviews and essays in this volume, edited by cultural historian and filmmaker Phil Cousineau, offer a uniquely personal perspective on Smith's own personal journey, as well as wide-ranging reflection on the nature and importance of the religious quest. InThe Way Things Are,readers will find Smith in conversation with some of the world's most influential personalities and religious leaders, from journalist Bill Moyers to religion scholar Philip Novak, and recounting his personal experiences with such luminaries as Joseph Campbell, Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary, Daisetz Suzuki, Ram Dass, and the Dalai Lama. Throughout these engaging exchanges Smith speaks with passion and humor of his upbringing as the son of missionary parents in China, of the inspiring and colorful individuals he has known, and of his impressions of the different religious and philosophical traditions he has encountered. A fascinating view of the state of world religion and religious leadership over the past fifty years, the book also looks to the future with a final interview on the vital importance of the transcendent message of religion for the post-9/11 world. Readers will findThe Way Things Areto be Huston Smith's most and accessible book to date.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93881-6
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE The Way Things Are for Huston Smith
    (pp. ix-xxiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION NO WASTED JOURNEY: A Theological Autobiography
    (pp. 1-12)
    Huston Smith

    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....

  5. PART ONE THE HEART OF RELIGION

    • [PART ONE Introduction]
      (pp. 13-16)

      For Huston Smith, the longing for ultimate meaning and the promise of its fulfillment are at the heart of religion. There lies within us—in even the blithest, most lighthearted among us—a fundamental dis-ease. It acts like an unquenchable fire that renders the vast majority of us incapable ever of coming to full peace. All great literature, poetry, art, philosophy, psychology, and religion try to name and analyze this longing. We are seldom in direct touch with it, and indeed, the modern world seems set on preventing us from getting in touch with it. But the longing is there,...

    • CHAPTER 1 THE WAY THINGS ARE
      (pp. 17-36)
      Timothy Beneke

      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...

    • CHAPTER 2 THE PRIMORDIAL TRADITION
      (pp. 37-58)
      John Loudon

      John Loudon: The latest published writing of yours that I’ve seen is your enthusiastic introduction to the new edition of Frithjof Schuon’sThe Transcendent Unity of Religions.There you speak of the primordial tradition. What do you mean by it?

      Huston Smith: If we look at human beings, the first thing that strikes us is how different they are—different heights, different shapes, different complexions—and yet we know that underlying this manifold diversity, the structure of the human spine that holds all these bodies erect is surprisingly similar. Now, it has come upon me that the collective outlooks of...

    • CHAPTER 3 WINNOWING THE WISDOM TRADITIONS
      (pp. 59-74)
      Mark Kenaston

      Mark Kenaston: Did theological differences with Christianity play any role in fostering your interest in other spiritual traditions?

      Huston Smith: Not really; I was a late bloomer, or a slow learner.

      Kenaston: I find that very difficult to believe.

      Smith: I had none of those questions regarding the theology of Christianity. These questions were not major for me—what I became aware of was a belongingness to the universe, or reality. In our community the focus was Jesus, but I wasn’t considering the particulars of religion.

      Theological issues that are so alive for many people just passed me by. Christianity...

    • CHAPTER 4 THIS IS IT
      (pp. 75-82)
      Richard Marranca

      Richard Marranca: What do you think of the guru tradition?

      Huston Smith: In principle, it is important. Basically, it’s only a special case of having a role model—someone you look up to and try to imitate. Children couldn’t develop if they weren’t surrounded by people who have mastered life’s basics and can show them the way. Language is a particularly obvious case. When it comes to how life should be lived, we are children to the end.

      The shadow side, of course, is that like every good it can be perverted. And, as the Latin warns us,corruptio optimi...

    • CHAPTER 5 THE SOUL OF THE COMMUNITY
      (pp. 83-94)
      Philip and Bridgett Novak

      Philip and Bridgett Novak:The Religions of Manhas been the most successful world religion text of our times. Its insight and clarity have been widely praised. Yet you wrote it at age thirty-seven. How did you do it?

      Huston Smith: One wishes that one knew. It’s the kind of question that teases out autobiography. If I was not born with a religious impulse, at least it got built in early in a Christian missionary family, in China. I have always had a positive attitude toward the subject matter and a sense of its importance. In the beginning, that was...

    • CHAPTER 6 ENCOUNTERING GOD
      (pp. 95-98)

      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...

  6. PART TWO THE STRUGGLE BETWEEN SCIENCE AND RELIGION

    • [PART TWO Introduction]
      (pp. 99-102)

      If the heart of religion is faith in the reality of another world, then the heart of science is evidence of the deep structure of this world. For Huston Smith, the problem with modernity’s worldview is that it accepts the second half of that sentence but not the first, producing a truncated worldview. In limiting us to what science and common sense tell us exist, it discounts what our highest intuitions register as the noblest part of the objective world.

      In this second part, Huston Smith tells Steve Reuys of MIT, “Between religion and science proper I see no conflict...

    • CHAPTER 7 THE PLACE OF SCIENCE
      (pp. 103-110)
      Steve Reuys

      Steve Reuys: You’ll be leaving MIT, at the end of this term, is it?

      Huston Smith: Yes.

      Reuys: Are there any particular reasons you decided to leave? Is it the kind of thing you are willing to discuss, or are the reasons private?

      Smith: I wasn’t job-hunting, and when Syracuse University first approached me, I told them they could try but I didn’t think they would succeed. But in the end they did succeed for two reasons. Here my interests are peripheral to the main thrust of the philosophy department and I am, as it were, token representation for other...

    • CHAPTER 8 THE LIMITS OF THE SCIENTIFIC WORLDVIEW
      (pp. 111-120)
      Jeffrey Mishlove

      Jeffrey Mishlove: It’s a pleasure to have you here. One of the points that you make in your bookBeyond the Post-Modern Mindis that we tend to think in the West, in our contemporary culture, that our worldview has expanded from earlier generations, and that we are progressing. We think of our time as a time of great progress. You point out that this may not necessarily be totally the case.

      Huston Smith: Well, let’s begin with the first of those. Progress is one thing, and the question of whether we are enlarging our view of reality is a...

    • CHAPTER 9 SCIENCE AS THE ORACLE OF OUR AGE
      (pp. 121-133)
      Michael Toms

      Michael Toms: Huston, why have religious structures seemingly lost the Vision, so that people have to seek it elsewhere?

      Huston Smith: I think that they, like perhaps all the other institutions in the modern world, were taken in by a development that goes back about three or four hundred years and set the modern world on its course. That development was, of course, the emergence of modern science.

      Science in the generic sense had been around as long as art and religion. But what was discovered then in the sixteenth, seventeenth centuries was the controlled experiment, which escalated science to...

    • CHAPTER 10 SCIENCE, FAITH, AND INFINITY
      (pp. 134-142)
      Tracy Knauss and Reverend Jack Young

      Tracy Knauss and the Reverend Jack Young: In your bookBeyond the Post-Modern Mind,you suggest that we postmodern Westerners no longer know who we are.

      Huston Smith: I would like to quote Walker Percy, the writer, who is also a psychiatrist. He points out that in the West we no longer have a coherent view of the human self, such as was contained in the Middle Ages, or seventeenth-century New England, or in tribal societies today. Whether or not those views were correct, people believed them, and they provided models for human behavior. Now Percy says we no longer...

    • CHAPTER 11 TOWARD A PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN SCIENCE AND RELIGION
      (pp. 143-148)
      April Thompson

      April Thompson: There is a Buddhist parable that says one won’t find water by digging many shallow holes. What do you make of the claim that one must dedicate one’s life to a single spiritual path?

      Huston Smith: I don’t think the cafeteria-style approach to religion works. Chogyam Trungpa, a great Tibetan teacher, put it very accurately. When you go to a salad bar, you pick out what you like. But, as Trungpa says, that’s not necessarily what you need. If at the start of the “salad bar” to make your own religion you knew what you needed, you’d be...

    • CHAPTER 12 THE BATTLE FOR THE HUMAN MIND
      (pp. 149-152)
      Richard Gazdayka

      Richard Gazdayka: You have written that the most important thing you inherited from your parents was faith. Is this faith in the Divine, in the divinity of humankind, or faith that the human species will survive, if not thrive?

      Huston Smith: I think that faith is a character structure, and therefore if it’s present, it’s present more deeply than the specifics one has faith in. George Santayana, the great philosopher from mid-century, wrote a book,Skepticism and Animal Faith, in which he brings this out. Even animals have faith. They don’t articulate anything, but they have faith that if they...

    • CHAPTER 13 THE NEW PARADIGM
      (pp. 153-162)
      Richard Smoley and Jay Kinney

      Richard Smoley: How would you characterize the primordial tradition?

      Huston Smith: It’s a synonym for the phrase used by Aldous Huxley: the “perennial philosophy.” Both phrases suggest that a common conceptual spine underlies all of the major religions. Crucial to that “spine” is the distinction between the fully real and what is only partially real. “This world” and “another world”—Mircea Eliade called them the “sacred” and “profane”—have the same connotations.

      All religions start with that distinction and then subdivide both halves. “This world” divides into its visible and invisible (or material and immaterial) components. As I look at...

    • CHAPTER 14 COUNTERING SCIENTISM
      (pp. 163-172)

      In every conscious attempt at either personal or social transformation, we need to begin by taking a clear, critical look at where we stand, and how we got there. Personally or collectively, this quest is affected by the assumptions of our times, which being constantly with us, are as little noticed as glasses in our field of vision. The life and work of Huston Smith, world-renowned philosopher, author, teacher, lecturer, and filmmaker, have been devoted to illuminating the buried assumptions of modernity to reveal errors that have drained our lives of meaning, releasing the “magic” from what Max Weber called...

    • CHAPTER 15 THE STRIKING PARALLELS
      (pp. 173-186)
      Phil Cousineau

      Phil Cousineau: How did your experience at the World Parliament of Religions in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1999, influence you? Are you any more optimistic about the future of religion than you were before?

      Huston Smith: Cape Town exceeded my expectations. What were there—seven thousand people? This pilgrimage, a journey not for quantity, but for quality, and with the most important objective—the most important objective—peace and justice. For that many people to come together, during this time of terrible ethnic conflict, was a statement to the world that conflict isnotthe bottom line of religion....

  7. PART THREE FROM PLATO’S CAVE TO THE ENCHANTED GARDEN

    • [PART THREE Introduction]
      (pp. 187-190)

      While Huston Smith believes that intriguing points of overlap exist between the worldviews of religion and science, he doubts that reconciliation between them is just around the corner. Figuratively speaking, it is as if we were in a bungalow in North India facing a window that commands a breathtaking view of the Himalayan mountain range. What modern science has done, in effect, is to lower the window shade to two inches above the sill so that, with our eyes angled downward, all we can now see is the ground on which our bungalow stands. That ground stands for the physical...

    • CHAPTER 16 THE SACRED DIMENSIONS OF EVERYDAY LIFE
      (pp. 191-206)
      Jeffrey Kane

      Jeffrey Kane:Holistic Education Reviewbegins 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...

    • CHAPTER 17 DEMYSTIFYING SPIRITUAL PRACTICE
      (pp. 207-211)

      It began nineteen years ago when a six-year-old granddaughter paid us a week’s visit in Syracuse. Some six-year-olds are content to watch television, but not this self-starter. She wanted projects. Some were quickly dispatched—an hour here, a half-day there—but this is the story of one that has lasted nineteen years thus far and has affected my spiritual journey.

      At one end of our vegetable garden there was a compost heap. For the most part it enjoyed benign neglect, as the saying goes, but occasionally I would poke at it indifferently. One brisk morning we vigorously attacked it together...

    • CHAPTER 18 THE VARIETIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPLORATION
      (pp. 212-221)
      Jeffrey Mishlove

      Jeffrey Mishlove: It’s a pleasure to have you here. Your background in religious studies and philosophy and psychology is very extensive, and the topic that we’re going to discuss is so very broad in some ways; there are so many religions and they’re so diverse. And yet ultimately they all seem to reflect the mind of humanity. Would you say that as a scholar of religion you’ve become a more religious person yourself ?

      Huston Smith: I certainly don’t feel that I’ve become less religious, and I also feel that these studies have deepened and broadened my understanding of religion....

    • CHAPTER 19 CLEANSING THE DOORS OF PERCEPTION
      (pp. 222-227)
      Richard Scheinin

      Richard Scheinin: You write that peyote, like the other entheogens, can be a moral compass. Will you explain?

      Huston Smith: The typical entheogenic experience or vision is of another world. Just like Plato tells us: the world outside the cave is a more significant, momentousotherworld. And once you have had a glimpse of it, compassionate behavior is the natural response.

      Scheinin: How come?

      Smith: Say you were in the presence of Mother Teresa. Can you imagine following her for a day and then going off in the evening and getting drunk or doing abominable acts? Well, these visions...

    • CHAPTER 20 FATHOMING PSYCHEDELIC MYSTICISM
      (pp. 228-242)
      Timothy White

      Timothy White: I understand that you once defended R. Gordon Wasson’s theory that soma—the plant that inspired the ancient Rig Veda—was probably the psychoactive mushroom known as fly agaric or Amanita muscaria. Do you think that it is possible that other early religions could have been inspired by entheogens?

      Huston Smith: I think it is more than a possibility. I definitely wouldn’t say that all early religions arose from chemically induced theophanies, but I think there is clear and undeniable evidence that psychoactive substances have played prominent roles in some religious traditions.

      In 1972, I wrote an article...

    • CHAPTER 21 THE WISDOM OF FAITH
      (pp. 243-256)
      Bill Moyers

      Bill Moyers: Is God an objective reality to you?

      Huston Smith: Yes. I would want to qualify that because it doesn’t—my conviction does not stay on even keel all the time, and there are desert periods of the spirit. But by and large, my answer to your question is, “Yes.” Was it H. G. Wells of whom somebody asked the same thing? He wasn’t overly pious. He once said that the only two things that matter are sex and God. But somebody asked him, “Do you believe in God?” He groaned, and said, “What else?”

      Moyers: If anything characterizes...

    • CHAPTER 22 WHY RELIGION MATTERS NOW MORE THAN EVER
      (pp. 257-280)
      Phil Cousineau

      Phil Cousineau: For many years you have written and taught that religion has always mattered, through human history. How has your belief that religion matters been affected by the tragedies of September 11, 2001?

      Huston Smith: Well, there has been a shock effect, and people have been drawn up sharp, and that’s very understandable. However, there has never been a time in our history when clear thinking was more important than it is today. This is at the heart of the matter. Let’s get one thing straight right at the start. There are many things here that must be taken...

  8. REFERENCES
    (pp. 281-284)
  9. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 285-286)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 287-314)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 315-316)