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Lions Roar : November 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2009 38 working on a biography of smith that will come out next year. “as a naturalistic theologian, a rationalist, he hadn’t been ex- posed to mysticism at all. when he was presented with the idea of transcendent experience, noetic insight, it rang true to him in a way that went beyond the rational.” as he was seeing smith off, heard told him there was some- one he might like to meet, and jotted down huxley’s name and phone number. smith was startled when he saw the famous man’s name. he called the number when he got to Los angeles, and it turned out to be the mojave desert hideaway of huxley and his wife, maria. smith made his way there and visited with them in their cabin. when i mentioned huxley to smith, he instantly brightened, saying, “he was one of the most amazing, lovable, generous, and knowledgeable people you could ever know. stravinsky said talking to him on the phone was like having the entire British museum on the line. The New York Times asked him to review the Encyclopedia Britannica. who could tackle that? he graced me with thirty-five years of wonderful friendship. i loved every minute with him. he was majestic and modest. one of the last things he said to me was, ‘it’s a little embarrassing to have spent one’s entire life ponder- ing the human situation and find oneself in the end with nothing more profound to say than try to be a little nicer.’ ” That first day in the desert, though, huxley was more expan- sive and romantic, speaking of how drawn he was to the empti- ness of the desert, how it provided him with direct experience of god. smith had mentioned that he was soon to move to st. Louis to teach at washington university. Before they parted, huxley suggested smith look up a “first-rate swami” he knew there. smith had never heard the word “swami” before, but as soon as he arrived in st. Louis he dove into a regular study of vedanta, the renowned hindu philosophical school, with swami sat- prakashananda. he was developing the template he would follow in exploring other religions: learn the texts, absorb the example of a living teacher, and internalize the religion through ritual, devo- tion, and practice. at that point, in 1947, smith says, “i would leave the christian frame of reference (but not christianity) and move into the synoptic perspective of all religions complementary and combined.” in combining the overarching viewpoint of the peren- nial philosophy with exploration of differing religious expressions, smith was following the example of his swami’s forebear, the nine- teenth-century adept sri ramakrishna, a vedantist who practiced islam and christianity and said that all paths led to god. it was in this spirit that smith offered a course at washington university covering all the world’s religions. such a thing was unheard of at the time, but several trends were converging that were about to catapult smith’s little course into something very big. For one thing, the gi Bill was changing the face of the amer-