In a Nutshell: Here is a wonderful selection of world religion expert Huston Smith's writings over a 60-year period. He is known for his interest in adopting practices from Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam to his Christian faith. This book is divided into sections on A Personal Starting Point, The Sacred Dimensions of Everyday Life, I Never Met a Religion I Didn't Like, The Big Picture, and Return to the Personal, where Smith comments on turning 90 and taking up residence in an assisted living facility.
About the Author: Huston Smith is the foremost authority on the world's religions and has spent a lifetime teaching, savoring, and practicing them. He was the focus of a five-part PBS television series with Bill Moyers and has taught at Washington University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Syracuse University, and the University of California, Berkeley. The recipient of 12 honorary degrees, Smith has wriiten15 books including his classic text, The World's Religions, which has sold over three million copies.
Sum and Substance: After a fine introduction to the inimitable Huston Smith, editor Jeffrey Paine has organized these essays and interviews in such a way that they keep shedding more light on the variety and complexity of his writings. We especially liked the pieces on everyday spirituality, Shinto, India, Tibetan chanting, and encountering God. The interviews with Smith by Timothy Beneke ("The Way Things Are") and Phil Cousineau ("Explaining Fundamentalism") reveal more of this scholar's personality than the essays do.
Quotes to Go:
• "Don't search for a single essence that pervades the world's religions. Recognize them as multiple expressions of the Absolute, which is indescribable."
• "I began [the day] 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."
• "At the center of the religious life is a peculiar kind of joy, the prospect of a happy ending that blossoms from necessarily painful ordeals, the promise of human difficulties embraced and overcome. We don't see the complete picture."
• "We live in a politically divided world in which each half shouts: 'We are on God's side.' The flip side of that is believing your opponents are the devil, the evil axis, the empire of evil. The rhetoric is exactly the same. The vicious circle of religious or political blame games leads to the dehumanizing of entire peoples, when, in fact, authentic religion is the search for the deeply real and is the greatest humanizing force we have."
• "One can generate little interest in India over whether Hindu myths are 'true' in our Western sense — whether Krishna really lived, for example. The accounts are true to the needs of the human spirit. What could be more important?"